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Durham Mining History. Heaton Banks Colliery, 1815.
There are some areas, where mining goes back a very long way indeed, the County of Durham, being just one. Newcastle-on-Tyne has had a fair share of disasters over the years, but on 3rd May, 1815, this one stopped everyone in their tracks. Formerly known as the Heaton Banks Colliery, the area was again in Coal production, this time with the new name of Heaton Banks. It was on a lower level than the old pit, the disused shafts farther up the hill having been either filled in, covered up, or were water filled. There were about 90 men and boys at work at about 4.30am on Wednesday 3rd May, when, unknown to the new owners, a thin wall of coal gave way, and a massive torrent of water rushed into the mine. Those near the breach, ran for their lives, but there was no way of warning the 75 men and boys working in the higher levels. Within minutes, the 3 large mine engines were set to pumping, but to no avail, as the water in the shafts rose to over 54 feet. Rescue attempts were directed to the old shafts, but proved impossible as they were blocked, or now filled with poisonous gas as well. The pumps continued, drawing over 2,000 gallons a minute from the pit, but it was a hopeless task, as by Thursday morning, the level had risen to over 198 feet, and all hopes of recue had now faded. The landscape, between Heaton, and Benton Bridge, had changed dramaticaly, as the much older, and not until now known about shafts, all collapsed, as the water entered the new workings. The old mine it appeared, had been abandoned due to flooding, around 1710, hence the enormous amount of water that had inundated Heaton Main. It would be a long time before the families of the dead would see their loved ones again.
On 6th January, 1816, over 9 months since the disaster, the first of the victims were bought out. Most had to be indentified by clothing or possesions. They had been working on a coal face about 300 feet above the flood, but of course, there was no way of escape with all the roadways under water, all they could do was pray for rescue. There is no way of really knowing when the last one died, but its certain that they lived on for at least two days, as some of them had killed one of the horses, and they had been eating it. The cause of death was the foul and poisonous air, which struck them down as it ebbed and flowed with the steady rise of the water. While carrying out the grim task of putting bodies into coffins, a search was made for any marks or signs chalked on walls or tubs, they found nothing until they came across the body of John Thew. In his coat pocket was his tin Candle Box, and written in it was a message, not penned by John, for he couldn't write, but by his Sunday School educated son, William Thew. He may have been the only one out of the 75 dead, who could write, given that nothing else was found. The message he left behind, gives an insight into the supposedly rough life of a collier, especially as both he and his father probabley knew they were going to die. The short epitaph, in two parts,one dictated by his father, you will find below.
" Fret not dear mother, for we were singing while we had time, and praising God. Mother, follow God more than I ever did." And on the other side of the Candle Box.
" If Johnny is saved, be a good lad to God and thy mother." And signed, John Thew.
A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day. ( See my Blog entry )
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