Wearside Echoes: Free breakfast washes up on Seaham beach

FREE BREAKFAST: The cargo which washed ashore from the wrecked steamer Niord -  butter, bacon and eggs.
FREE BREAKFAST: The cargo which washed ashore from the wrecked steamer Niord - butter, bacon and eggs.
Have your say

IT’S an ill wind that blows nobody any good – as the people of Seaham were quick to realise a century ago.

Scores of ships were left wrecked or washed up along the rugged coastline through the decades, after falling victim to squalls, storms or even pirates.

But although the disasters sometimes sparked widespread misery, they occasionally brought a touch of joy to residents of the little town built on coal.

One such incident occurred in 1894, when the General Havelock ship was wrecked and barrels of beer were swept ashore at Seaham Hall.

A large crowd of men gathered for an impromptu party on the beach, but a shock was in store – as many of the barrels contained vinegar.

Another cause for “celebration” took place on New Year’s Eve 1899, when the steamer Niord ran aground close to Seaham Hall.

The 11 Niord crew members were rescued by sailors from the Skynner, while the cargo of the ship was “rescued” by local residents.

Our main picture today, provided by Echo reader Ken Malkin, shows the crowds which gathered to “welcome” what became known as the Butter Boat.

“It was carrying a cargo of butter, bacon and eggs when it went ashore,” said Ken, of Parkside in Seaham.

“Two days later the ship began to break up and the cargo became fair game to the local inhabitants.

“Only 500 of 2,504 casks of butter were recovered. Also missing were 161 bales of bacon.”

The favourite way of sneaking the plunder, according to the book Seaham Harbour: The First 100 Years, was for women to wrap it in shawls and carry it like a baby.

Many local larders were filled for weeks with bacon, butter and eggs salvaged from the ship – although latecomers to the free breakfast party were not so lucky.

Indeed, 28 were arrested and convicted of larceny at Seaham’s Magistrates Court, and the rest of the cargo was then sold by auction at Elgey’s timber yard.

“Now that is what I call a real British breakfast. Bread, butter with two eggs and two rashers of bacon, with a much better taste when dropped on your own doorstep,” said Ken.

“The gentlemen in the photo would have had enjoyment and pleasure for weeks, with the only problem being there was no wine to wash it down.”

l Historical details taken from Seaham Harbour: The First 100 Years – 1828-1928 by Tom McNee and David Angus. View further old pictures of Seaham at: http://www.east-durham.co.uk