Life & Death

   of/in the Coal Pits

   A History of Coal Mining in Ferryhill

 

The Origin of Coal - 360 million years ago...

 

 If one is to appreciate the heritage of coal mining, one must start right at the beginning - exploring the origin of coal.

 

Most of the earth's coal was formed between 360 and 286 million years ago, when prehistoric tropical forests containing giant fern-tress, large horsetails and many smaller plants that grew on swampland.  As the trees and plants died and fell into the swamps, the swamp water contained very little oxygen which speeded up the action of the bacteria which caused decay.  The rotting plants decayed and turned into peat.  In the production of peat, methane, or "marsh gas" was released.

 

Peat, to turn into coal, had to be compressed.  A layer of peat between 10 and 15 meters thick formed a coal seem only 1 meter thick.  As layer upon layer of decaying plants and vegetation built up in the swamps, this squeezed the lower levels under their weight.

 

During this period, the Earth's crust was in a perpetual state of upheaval.  During this disturbance, salt and and silt piled up on top of the peat, creating new layers of sedimentary rock where above, more peat will be compressed.  After a great amount of time, an underground sandwich shaped formation was created  of sedimentary rock, then peat, then sedimentary rock, then more peat, then surface rock.  

 

Many regions were coal was extracted, there was recorded that the ground contained a number of seams, sandwiched between layers of sedimentary rock.  Some seams were millimeters thick whilst others were many meters thick.  Fast forward...

 

Medieval Coal Mining

 

The history of coal mining in the village of Ferryhill, County Durham, can be traced as far back as the 14th Century, when in 1343, it was recorded that a coal mine was mentioned in the ordination of the Vicar of Merrington, and that in 1347, Robert Todd and Hugh Smyth of Ferryhill paid 36s to the Abbey for the right to mine coal.  In 1354, it was wrote that coalmines were leased to the Prior of Durham for thirty years:

 

"1345.  Thomas, fil. Richard de Fery, leases to John Prior of Durham, all his coals and seems of coals in the north part of the village of Fery; viz. in those lands which lie betwixt the King's High Street from Durham to Fery South, and the path called Hopesiderode East, for 30 years, with license to sink pits and drifts for carrying off water, and with sufficient way-leave; and the Prior bargains that, during the same term, Thomas and his heirs shall have ½ cart load of coals every week in which coals shall be there on and worked".

 

Geology studies of Ferryhill show the presence and location of the coal strata:-

 

 

Until the Industrial Revolution in the 19th Century, mining conditions were extremely bad.  In the book "A History of Ferryhill, by the Ferryhill Women's Institute, it is wrote: "Way back in 1447 we read of strikes in the Tudhoe Pits, near Spennymoor.  As coal was being dug further away from the shafts, barrows were used to carry the coals.  Lighting the mines depended on the use of candles.  Low wages, long hours, juvenile employment, bad ventilation and lighting was some of the evils."

 

The earliest type of pit used for coal mining was called the "Bell" Pit, as its shape.  This worked coal was shallow depths within a limited radius of shafts.  The early shafts of pits were holes dug into the ground through the surface rock to the coal, and ladders were used as a means of access.  It must be noted that during heavy rain these types of pits were extremely dangerous.  Water could drown the person(s) in the pit, and landfalls must have been common since no proper support mechanisms were used.

Mining in the 19th Century

It was recorded that in the mid 1800's, Mr Thomas Arrowsmith, owner of the Manor House, were providing employment in his works that attracted workers from the neighbouring villages and towns. 

Dean & Chapter Colliery

 

In 1902, the first technological shafts at Dean & Chapter Colliery, Ferryhill, were sunk with the mines going into commodity two years later by Bolchow Vaughan & Co. Ltd., a popular company at that time.  The colliery had a remarkable impact on the village, both physically and economically. In fact, the conditions of the industry had outlived the colliery, which closed in 1966.  The location of this colliery was at 250 feet north of Ferryhill, beside on the left of the Great North Road (A167), and was immediately north of of the magnesium limestone outcrop known as the Butterknowle Fault (see first illustration).

 

  

The colliery used to lie on the eastern edge of the exposed part of the Durham Coalfield, the very rich layers out cropping at the surface of the soil. The 19th Century village lies to the southeast, 700 yards from the site of the old colliery miners homes.  

 

There were three shafts of the colliery.  No 1 Shaft winded down to the Brockwell.  No 2 Shaft, from the Busty and Harvey.  No 3 Shaft, from the Main Coal and Five Quarter.

  

The Three Bridges of Ferryhill Village

Personal Photography, 2007

 

The usual way for miners to get to the colliery was going down, what is now called, Eddie's field in Dean Bank, or the way for transport by going slightly down Durham Road in the village and turning on the left over the old colliery bridge which is still in use by, today, Dean and Chapter Industrial Estate.

 

The colliery held many competitions, including pit pony shows, quoits, first aid, carnivals, and brass bands.  Indeed Ferryhill Brass Band still exists today.  

 

An average of 2600 men and boys worked at the colliery, and its annual output was 750,000 tons of coal.  In 1938, the weekly output was 15,000 tons, and it had worked 20 Million tons of coal since it opened.

 

In 1926, Bolchow Vaughan & Co. Ltd merged with Dormen Long & Co, and in 1947, it was taken over by the National Coal Board (NCB Durham Division No 4).  In 1931, Dean and Chapter Colliery connected with Leasingthorne Colliery, via the Harvey Seam. Coal was hauled underground at Leasingthorne, and drawn at Dean and Chapter.

 

The colliery, above ground had good facilities for the miners, including its own canteen and showers.  It also had its own well equipped laboratory, where they sampled mine dust, air sampling analysis, and the scientific side of coal production. 

 

During the Second World War, an influx of Welsh Miners were drafted in and they were accommodated at a colony of Nissen Huts (now gone) behind the village Post Office.

 

Working underground was very dangerous, with always the possibility of rock collapse, gas explosions, being crushed by tubs, etc..  Luckily there were adequate training for the miner to ensure that these incidents of injury and even fatality were few.  For example, the miners were provided with good lighting sources, and tools to do their work in safety.  The disc office would know that if a miner's disc was not back by the time their shift finished, them the miner would either be classed as "stopping back" or missing.  Of the average of 2600 men and boys working at the colliery, there were about 150 fatalities.

 

The Life of the Miner

 

The starting life of a miner started at the age of 14 years old. After finishing school on the Friday afternoon, he was taken to the mine with a family relative on the Saturday morning, he would then be introduced to the Foreman, then to the Manager, and he took his disc with his allocated number from the disc office, then went to the lamp cabin, then we would have been shown the ground and underground layout of the mine. 

 

On the Monday morning, he started work.  They would be welcomed into a world of cursing and swearing.  Normally, for young employees, they would first work above ground, on dredging and tipping,  then they would be given training to become what is known as a "Bevin Boy" to work underground.

 

There were two compartments in the shaft cage.  The top compartment was used to stand in, and the bottom was where the miners had to bend.  They would be taken down with a whoosh of chains to a approximate depth of 600 feet where the coal seam is.  Through many of the twists and turns of going through the underground mine, and going through air tight doors, there were a few number of stables were the pit ponies were kept.  These stables were painted white and there were brethrens and pulling chains.

 

The lowest amount of pay a colliery employee would get was about £2.50 per week and this was mainly when the employee was on the "screens".  The highest amount was £23.00 per week and this was the stonework.

 

The "Knock up" Slate in front of a terraced house in Dean Bank.

Personal Photography, 2007

 

The usual shafts were miners were around 2am to about 10am, and 10am to 6pm, and 6pm to 2am.  Each shift would comprise of about 8 - 9 hours work.    Each house in Dean Bank which were designed and built for the miners had a rectangle slate in a metal frame which was fastened to the front of each house, and each miner would write with chalk what was their early shift time.  An "knock up" man, employed by the Colliery would come to the house where a miner had a do a foreshift and "knock up the miner out of bed" to ensure he got to work on time.

  

The Creation of Dean Bank and the Larger Improvements of Ferryhill.

 

The current population could not contribute a satisfactory large work force and an influx of workers and their kin’s from all Home Counties caused a sudden housing and educational problem.  A new housing development, called Dean Bank, consisting of solidly built and much acclaimed terraced housing, began in 1902.  

 

By 1907, the work was complete. 999 houses in Dean Bank in total. Many of the terraced streets was named after great industrial inventors, such as George Stephenson and Michael Faraday.  The design of the development was extremely formal, and the allocation of the houses to a strict hierarchy.  Those streets whose home was for the ordinary miners, were made of small houses, and each house held a ‘knock-up’ slate outside.  This was a piece of slate on the outside wall, beside the front door, where the miner would chalk the time of his next shift so he could be woken.  Many of these slates are still in position.

  

Rules and Regulations of a miner’s house were put up on the inner back door.  Cloth lines were situated in the back streets.  In the back yard of a miner’s house, there was a toilet and a coal shed.  Every week a man would come round the back streets of Dean Bank to either empty the toilet tray (sometimes seeing a bottom) and filling it again with sand, or filling the coal shed with coal.  Very later, the toilets were placed inside the houses.  

 

The Toilet (bottom hole) and Coal Shed (top hole) in the backyard of a Miner's house

Personal Photography, 2007

   

A single street of larger houses with a small front garden as well as a back yard, known as Westcott Terrace, were allocated to the Shift Foremen. A row of six larger houses with an adequate back garden and small front garden, known as The Villas, housed the deputies. Set fittingly aside from the compact workers’ department is a large house, called Dean Hurst, and was used by the Manager and his wife.  This house set in extensive grounds, is now a private nursing home.

 

Dean Hurst Nursing Home, once the Dean & Chapter Colliery Manager's Home

The Villas, once occupied by the Deputies of Dean & Chapter Colliery

Westcott Terrace, once occupied by the Shift Foremen of Dean & Chapter Colliery

Dean Hurst Nursing Home, once the Dean & Chapter Colliery Manager's Home

The Villas, once occupied by the Deputies of Dean & Chapter Colliery

Westcott Terrace, once occupied by the Shift Foremen of Dean & Chapter Colliery

Lightfoot Terrace, the type of home occupied by the Miners of Dean & Chapter Colliery

Photography by Darrell Nixon, 2006

 

Also completed in 1907, was Dean Bank Primary School, built to replace the suddenly inadequate school provision, and built to educate 1400 children at any one time.  This was a school that kept the boys and girls separate, even in the playground which was divided by a wall (now since gone).  Two sets of toilets were situated at the bottom of the playground.  These were demolished in the middle of the 1950's to 1960's, and were placed in a extended building at the middle back of the school.

  

Dean Bank Primary School, during the renovation for the inclusion of Dean Road Nursery

Dean Bank Primary School, during the renovation for the inclusion of a nursery

Personal Photography, 2006

 

For the Girl's Side of the school there was an extra building facing west, which used to be the music school.  In the mid 1990's this was demolished as it was considered hazardous.

     

On Dean Road, there was created a nursery to educate and learn the miner's toddlers.  The nursery is now located inside the building of Dean Bank Primary School.  It is unknown at this moment in time if the nursery on Dean Road will be demolished.

 

Road communications were improved to cope with the demands of the new industry.

    

Another physical legacy was the recreation grounds, called the Miner's Welfare Park (now Dean Bank Recreation Park), created in 1926. These was a large piece of land, no more than five football patches, with good recreational facilities, and were originally invested by the Dean & Chapter Colliery miners to provide a recreational park for their families. Included in the park was Tennis Courts, Sports Ground with Pavilion, 2 Bowling Greens, a Band Stand, a Playground for the miners' children and, of course, toilet facilities.  The Tennis Courts, Sports Ground (without the Pavilion), and 2 Playgrounds (one being where the old Bowling Greens used to be) exist today.  Where the band stand stood, is now the memorial of a coal truck with two plaques which include a list of names of men and boys who dies as a result of working in Dean and Chapter Colliery.

 

The Garden, with the original water fountain in the background. The original water fountain Sports Field

Dean Bank Recreation Park, 

Personal Photography, 2007 

 

At the opposite side of the bottom of Darlington Road, there used to be a Football Athletics area, but unfortunately this was since disappeared.  However there was some recent talk about building a new sports track in the same place. 

 

Miners were also provided with allotment gardens which are still located at the top of Dean Bank (close to Stephenson Street), and the bottom of Dean Bank (close to Dean Bank Primary School).  There was also allotment gardens situated where Ramsey Drive is located today.

  

There remains a small complex of crescent bungalows, set in the west of the village, built in 1931-2, to accommodate retired miners.  These are called the ‘Joseph Patterson’ and ‘William Keers’ Crescents.

 

The middle of the miner’s social organisation was the Miners Welfare Hall and Reading Room, a two-floored building that housed their library and officers, were dues were to be paid, as well as chambers for social and professional meetings.  Only the tower remains opposite Dean Bank Primary School, and on the left of the tower is Ferryhill Community Centre.

 

The creation of Dean Bank meant that the water supply to the town was considered inadequate, and it wasn't until about 1920 that this was improved.  Gas lighting was used to light the streets and homes, whilst electricity produced by the colliery was used to light the homes of Dean Bank.  Very little homes now use gas lighting, as it is generated by Hartlepool Power Station.

 

Did you know?...

 

The North Fields in front of Ferryhill Village Centre 

(notice the A167 road on the left)

Red Hall Farm, on the A167 north of Ferryhill
Colliery Beck Colliery Beck Tunnel

Location of the Colliery Beck, 

Personal Photography, 2007 

 

About 3/4 mile north of the village center of Ferryhill, in the fields right and opposite of Red Hall Farm, hidden away by trees is the old Colliery Beck.  It is believed that this beck removed all the waste water from the colliery.

 

The End of an Era

    

Dean and Chapter Industrial Estate 

(formerly the site of Dean and Chapter Colliery)

The site of the old pit leap, now leveled and planted with woodland trees

Personal Photography, 2007

 

No remains of the old mining colliery  can be seen today.  Dean and Chapter Colliery closed in 1966, and was demolished in the 1970's.  The pithead gear having being pulled down soon after the closure of the Colliery.  A small industrial estate has been built on the same site, but the colliery footpath down the pit bank from Dean Bank to the Industrial Estate is still in use.

  

A huge spoil heap, which was dangerously close to the A167, has been leveled down, reshaped, and planted with grass, flowers and trees.  It mixes perfectly in with the countryside’s hilly landscape to provide pasture for sheep and a wooded backdrop to a nature reserve, itself on the old colliery railway lines to East-Howle, scene of another closed mine. 

   

A close town called Spennymoor had a vigorous industrial estate that took in most of the redundant miners of Ferryhill.  But Ferryhill existed the closure of this once fabulous industry, it continued to expand and our mining history still influences our way of life, texture, and agriculture.

 

In 1947, a Book of Remembrance was presented to Durham Cathedral, Durham City, which contains a thousand names, "one miner's life for every year of Durham's Millennium".

   

Dean Bank Hero

    

Within the Town Hall garden, situated in the market square, there stands a memorial, erected by fellow miners, to a Ferryhill hero, Mr William Walton.  

 

Commemoration Monument dedicated to William Watson who died saving two boys from a fire in Dean & Chapter Colliery (1906) - Ferryhill Town Hall garden

 ERECTED

BY THE

OFFICIALS AND WORKMEN

OF DEAN & CHAPTER COLLIERY

To The Memory

OF THE LATE

WILLIAM WALTON

(OVERMAN)

WHO SACRIFICED HIS LIFE

IN SAVING THE LIVES

OF TWO BOYS

AT DEAN BANK

AUGUST 5TH 1906

Monument in the Town Hall Garden, dedicated to William Watson who sacrificed his life whilst saving two boys at Dean Bank, 1906.

Photography by Darrell Nixon, 2006

  

William Walton, aged 39, an Overman of Dean and Chapter Colliery, was walking home from work on August 5th, 1906, when he noticed two young boys swinging from electricity cables that ran from the colliery to Dean Bank.  The electricity carried 500 volts of electricity, which was generated by the colliery.

 

The inquest into his death reported that  it was popular amongst children to swing on the cables, as the colliery had a huge impact at the time.  Of course, the cables had been insulted, but by this activity, the insulation had began to wear away and sparks were being produced.  William had noticed that the guide wire where the children were swinging from had become live, however, the boys must have managed to earth themselves as their feet came in contact with the ground.  William ran up to the two children, jumped up and tried to shake them off.  500 volts ran through his body.

 

His friend, Mr John Race, came to his aid but he was thrown backwards due to shock.  Mr William Harry Thompson, a Deputy of the Colliery, came also to pull William clear but he too was thrown back.  When Mr Thompson regained his composure, he hurried down the hillside to the pithead to turn off the generator.

 

When he returned, Mr Walton and the two boys laid on the ground, and doctors and a Police Constable Whaley, and others attempted to restore the lives of the casualties.  The boys came round, but Mr Walton never gained consciousness.  He was dead.

 

"The Coroner said the act of the deceased was a very gallant one.  He lost his life in saving the children."

 

A stone memorial was paid for by the officials and workmen of Dean and Chapter Colliery, and it stands today (without the original top obelisk) in the right front side of Ferryhill Town Hall.  Its writing is gradually fading away but it is still readable.

 

In Memoriam of those men and boys whose deaths occurred while working at the colliery.

 

IN MEMORIAM

DEAN & CHAPTER COLLIERY

IN MEMORIAM

DEAN & CHAPTER COLLIERY

ALLAN, W

ANDERSON, JOHN

ANDERSON, WILLIAM

ARMSTRONG, R.C.

ASH, ARTHUR

ATCHINSON, J. E.

BARRASS, G.

BATEY, WILLIAM

BEAVIS, EDWARD

BELL, WILLIAM

BELLIS, SAMUEL

BETTINSON, H

BINKS, JOHN

BIRBECK, STANLEY

BIRD, THOMAS

BLENKINSOP, T

BLOOD, ALBERT

BOTT, WILLIAM

BRAIN, ALBERT

BROWN, P

BULMER, G

BUNN, ROBERT

BURGESS, THOMAS

BURKE, JAMES

BURNS, R

CAHILL, J

CHRISTLOW, G.A.

CLEAR, C

CONROY, THOMAS

COURTLEY, G

COUSINS, R

CUMMINGS, LUKE

DAGLISH, T

DAVIS, JOE

DAVISON, CLIFFORD S

DAVISON, FREDERICK

DAVISON, HAROLD

DIXON, GEORGE

DUGGAN, R.W.

DUNN, ROBERT

DUNN, SAMUEL

EBDEN, WILLIAM

ELLIS, ROBERT WILLIAM

EVANS, H

FORSTER, GEORGE SKELTON

FRYATT, ISHMAEL JARVIS

GARTHWAITE, J

 

GLEESON, F

GIBBS, ISSAC

GRAHAM, JOHN W

GRAYSON, R.W.

GUY, CHRISTOPHER CHARLES

HALL, THOMAS

HALPIN, THOMAS

HALTON, JOHN

HARDY, A

HARRISON, W

HEWARD, W

HEWITT

HINTON, JOE

HINTON, JOSEPH HENRY

HODGSON, WILLIAM

HOPPER, G.W.

HUNTER, E.

IRVIN, JOHN G

JENKINS, JOHN THOMAS

JOHNSON, HARRY

LATHERON, JOSEPH

LEE, T

LONGSTAFF, T

MARSDEN, JOHN

MARSHALL, JAMES

MARTIN, PATRICK

MAYOCK, MICHAEL

McCORMICK, J.H.

McDERMOTT, M

McFARLANE, P

McGILL, M

McKENNA, JAMES

McKERN, M.T.

MEEK, THOMAS

METCALFE, A

METCALF, HERBERT PARKER

MURREY, CECIL

OLDHAM, GEORGE

ORD, J.W.

OVINGTON

PRATCHETT, EDWARD

PATTISON, FREDERICK

PATTISON, THOMAS

PINDER, W

PLATFORD, W

PLETTS, M

POTTS, R

PUMFORD, JAMES

RAILTON, W

RIDBY, THOMAS SECIL

RIGBY, THOMAS

RILEY, EDWARD, G

RILEY, J

RILEY, JOHN

ROTHERY, J

RUTTER, WILLIAM

RYDER, GEORGE WILLIAM

SAMPLE, GEORGE ARTHUR

SCHOLLICK, THOMAS WILLIAM

SEWELL, WILLIAM

SEYMOUR, A

SHIPPON, W

SIMPSON, THOMAS

SMITH, ALBERT

SMITH, E

SMITH, J

SMITH, JOHN

SMITH, M

SMITH, WALTER

SOKELL, J

STANTON, J

STEWARD, THOMAS

SUMMERBELL, THOMAS

SUNLEY, W

THOMPSON, A

THOMPSON, W

TODD, EDWIN

TWEDDLE, J

WALLER, HARRY

WALTERS, D

WALTERS, F

WALTON, R

WALTON, W

WATERWORTH, J.G.

WAYMAN, JAMES

WHITE, BERNARD

WHITFIELD, ERNEST

WIGHAM, J

WILKINSON, RITSON

WILLIAMSON

WILLOWS, G

WILSON, A

WILSON, F

WILSON, HENRY

WILSON, J

WILSON, WILLIAM

WRIGHTSON, TOMMY

YOUNG, J

To find out more about the circumstances of the above people's death, visit, the Durham Mining Museum Website

Memorial where the Band Stand originally stood.

Recreation Park, Dean Bank

Personal Photography, 2007

 

 

Sources of Information:

Memories and Photographs of Mr Joseph Varty, of Ferryhill.

William Walton Memorial at the Ferryhill Town Hall

Miners Memorial at Ferryhill Dean Bank Recreation Ground.

"History of Ferryhill", Ferryhill Women's Institute, 1960.

G. D. Wall "Memories of Ferryhill" Durham County Council Arts, Libraries, and Museums Dept, 1994.

Anne Dixon, "Ferryhill in old picture postcards", European Library.

Anne Dixon, "The People's History: Ferryhill and District", The People's History Ltd, 2001.

Durham Federation of Women's Institute, "The Durham Village Book", Countryside Books, 1992.

Martin Dufferwiel, "Durham: A Thousand Years of History and Legend", Mainstream Publ Co (Edinburgh) Ltd, 1996.

Durham Miners Museum Website

The Northern Echo, Article "Faery's, Farming, Fishes - The Story of Ferryhill", Date Unknown

North East History Website (The Northern Echo), Article by Chris Lloyd, "Towns may change but the memorials tell a tale forever", 8th June 2005.