New play remembers Seaham pit disaster

Members of the Vane Tempest Theatre Group picture during rehearsals of a play that recalls one of Seaham's darkest episodes.
Members of the Vane Tempest Theatre Group picture during rehearsals of a play that recalls one of Seaham's darkest episodes.
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A PLAY recounting a pit disaster which claimed 164 lives will be performed in the shadow of where the colliery once stood.

Seaham Vane Tempest Theatre Group will debut The Bitter Taste of Coal co-written by the great, great, great grandson of a man who left his family and his young dying son a message on the side of a water bottle as he was trapped.

PIT SCENE: A picture of Seaham Colliery.

PIT SCENE: A picture of Seaham Colliery.

It will make its premiere as part of the opening celebrations of Seaham Town Hall in Seaham Town Park.

Songwriter Mick Smith, whose ancestor Michael McLoughlin left the note following the explosion in 1880, approached the group with his idea and was put in touch with Steve English, an ex-miner and former mines rescue officer, who wrote the script and penned in local dialect.

Music producer Mick, who went to St Cuthbert’s Primary in Seaham and St Aidan’s in Ashbrooke, moved to France with his wife in 1993, but will return to his home town to see the play performed.

He was inspired to launch the project by the phrase “It’s five o’clock, we’ve prayed to God, have mercy on our souls” found next to the bodies of miners.

Mick, who will travel over for the shows, said: “Always aware of the tale within the family, I read this one day a couple of years ago and recognised the rhythm of the line.

“That turned it into a song, then I decided it could be a play.

“We think it’s a relevant piece of theatre about the local mining industry and not just for Seaham, everybody had disasters big and small.”

Lindsey Southwick, the group’s secretary, added: “Although the play contains some fictional incidental scenes for artistic effect, they remain true to the traditions of a typical mining community of that era, and following extensive research by the authors, the actual facts of the disaster and its aftermath are historically accurate.

“It’s extremely rewarding for us to see this project develop from Mick and Steve’s original idea, and to finally watch this important piece of our mining history being brought to life through our rehearsals, and so far the interest shown by local people is very encouraging.”

The cast of 25-plus have already taken part in workshops with Steve as he explained the working conditions of miners, the political history of the time and a guide to the pitmen’s vocabulary and dialect.

The play will be staged from Tuesday, July 15, until Thursday, July 17, at 7.15pm.

Tickets are £7 and can be bought by calling Helen Southwick on 581 9631, 07879 891 640 or emailing