THE SUNDERLAND SITE - PAGE 191
A FEW OF THE DURHAM COLLIERIES

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This page is a page in progress. Hopefully more collieries will soon be covered - just Eppleton Colliery today.

EPPLETON COLLIERY, near Hetton-the-Hole

Elsewhere in these pages (here), Len Charlton honoured the place in history of the Hetton Railway, which opened to much fanfare on Nov. 18, 1822. A major achievement in its time, the line was both surveyed & built by none other than George Stephenson - to carry coal from the coal mines of the Hetton Coal Company to staithes located on the south bank of the river Wear, just west of the bridges in central Sunderland. A railway line just 8 miles long - but at the time a major technological triumph.

 

An Eppleton Colliery pit token.

Amongst the collieries that were serviced by the Hetton Railway was the colliery at Eppleton (Elemore & Hetton collieries were the others). It was, I read, one of the earliest coal mines in Durham, the first shaft being commenced in 1824 or 1825. When it eventually closed, in 1986, Eppleton Colliery could lay claim to being one of the oldest operating coal mines in all of Europe, in production since 1833.

The pit's early history? I do try, in these pages, to be fully accurate, but that said it is most difficult to establish Eppleton Colliery's early history with full assurance. The next paragraph summarises what I have read at prominent WWW sites:-

Work on the first shaft at Eppleton commenced, in 1824 or 1825. Problems, big problems, were encountered - the shaft hit a band of aquiferous sands & as a result the shaft both collapsed & became filled with water in quantities greater that the available pumping capacity could manage. After 8 years of struggle that first shaft was successfully completed - the Caroline shaft - which on Aug. 1, 1833 reached the Hutton seam, a major seam of coal at a depth of 270 metres (about 886 ft.). In 1837, a second shaft was sunk, the Jane, to access the Busty coal seam.

Is that data accurate? I have significant doubts as to its accuracy.

In 1974, Michael Sill wrote a thesis respecting his seeking a Master of Arts degree. His thesis, entitled 'Hetton-Le-Hole: the genesis of a coalmining landscape 1770-1860', is made available by Durham University in the form of a 166 page 'pdf' document. A most diligent study indeed as you will see if you choose to read or download it. We thank Michael Sill & Durham University for making it available. Michael indicates that the Jane shaft, stated above to have been sunk in 1837, was in fact the shaft begun in 1825, abandoned in 1827 (at 399 ft.) & resumed in 1831. It was the Jane shaft which encountered the Lower Main seam at 931 ft. & the Hutton seam at 1046 ft. And that it was the Caroline shaft that was sunk in 1837 but would appear to have been commenced earlier since it had been abandoned in 1832. Michael's thesis does not refer to the Busty seam.

A third shaft was sunk in 1874, the Lindsay, to connect with the Hutton coal seam. The coal seams were known as the Busty, Five Quarter, Hutton, Main, & Maudlin - such seams were easily worked I read, & also the unworkable Low Main. The mine was considered to be most modern - it certainly was a major employer - at times the mine had more than 1,600 miners working underground and 400 or so at the surface. It produced in the range of 2,000 to 3,000 tons of coal a day.

An item of related interest. Trove, Australia advises me that the average production in the Busty seam at Eppleton Colliery was, in 1946, 5 or 6 tons of coal per shift per man. To the webmaster that sounds like an enormous quantity of coal. But .... in Apl. 1946, a miner named John Thomas Barker 'hewed & filled', in the Busty seam, 18 tons of coal in a single 6 1/2 hour shift using a pneumatic pick & an ordinary shovel. As you can read here. My word!


A postcard image of Eppleton Colliery, prominently featured by the Hetton Local and Natural History Society (see links below or click image).

The mine was not accident free - the Durham Mining Museum site lists the names of 193 men & boys who lost their lives in the mine over its lifetime.

The biggest losses were:- i) On Jan. 28, 1836 there was an underground explosion which resulted in the deaths of 20 men and boys, one of those boys being just 10 years old. ii) On Dec. 13, 1895, 3 men died in the pit when overcome by gas. Relatively recently , 9 men died as a result of an explosion at 1:50 a.m. on Jul. 6, 1951, caused by the electric arcing of a faulty 'Joy Loader', which arcing ignited a build up of methane.


 

An Eppleton Colliery miner's lamp, available via e-Bay as this page is first created. An SL Patent 'Protector' lamp (1 & 2), manufactured by The Protector Lamp & Lighting Co. Ltd. of Eccles, Manchester, & stamped '131 EPPCOL 55/5660 L, which would seem to date the lamp to 1955.


The ownership of the mine changed over the years. Essentially Hetton Coal Company gave way to the Lambton & Hetton Coal Company in 1911 and to Lambton, Hetton & Joicey Collieries Ltd. in 1934. In 1947, the mine was nationalised at which time The National Coal Board took the mine over. Soon after the miners' strikes of 1984/5, the mine closed for good - on Mar. 30, 1986. The Hetton Lyons Country Park is now on the site.

There are a number of websites which cover the history of Eppleton Colliery. Amongst those I found to be of interest are:-

i) the many Durham Mining Museum pages with especial mention of the report of H.M. Deputy Chief Inspector of Mines's investigation into the 1951 explosion.
ii) many photographs offered by the Hetton Local and Natural History Society here, or as a slide show here.
iii) Ian Winstanley's well detailed page about the 1951 disaster.

You might also enjoy reading about Tom Scott, who worked in the Eppleton mine at age 15 as a wagonway lad & pony driver. He later became the mayor of Sunderland - in 1986. He nearly made a century, (he died at age 97) & is commemorated here.

At left below an interesting image that comes from a New Zealand page (thanks Keith Johnson!) about Eppleton Colliery - but the image's location is not indicated and it may not have been taken at Eppleton. No matter. A great photograph, regardless. At right a portion of a fine image by Anthony Killeen (thanks!) - of the winding wheel at Eppleton.

Quality images of Eppleton Colliery seem to be scarce. Do you have any images of Eppleton Colliery, perhaps postcard images, that could be included here? If you do, please consider being in touch with the webmaster.

HETTON COLLIERY, at bottom left in this little map

As for Eppleton Colliery, Len Charlton elsewhere in these pages (here) honoured the place in history of the Hetton Railway, which opened to much fanfare on Nov. 18, 1822. A major achievement in its time, the line was both surveyed & built by none other than George Stephenson - to carry coal from the Hetton, Elemore & Eppleton collieries of the Hetton Coal Company to staithes located on the south bank of the river Wear, just west of the bridges in central Sunderland. A railway line just 8 miles long - but at the time a major technological triumph.

It would seem that a local Parish magazine was published in the village of Hetton-Le-Hole back in 1918. Maybe it continues to be published - I certainly do not know. All I have seen is an e-Bay item that offered for sale the Jan. 1918 edition of such magazine. And then, it would appear, withdrew the item from sale. It had an image of the parish church on its cover. Click the image to see a larger image of the church.

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