MEMORIES 97 told so much, butit didn’t say where the ins alubrious - sounding Duff Heap Row actually was.

According to our man atthe Black Bull bar, the consensus was that the row was initially named Williams Street – either after the builder, or possibly because Welsh people settled there – and it was “at the top end of the pitheap”.

To an outsider, the Trimdons are baffling: as well as the village and the grange, which had a colliery, there’s Trimdon Colliery, which once contained Trimdon station, and there’s Trimdon Station.

Loading article content

These merge with Deaf Hill, which itself was once a Trimdon colliery.

Somewhere, there once was Trimdon Foundry as well.

Trimdon Village is the original Trimdon. “Treo mael dun” may mean “hill with the wooden cross”, and so it is guessed that somewhere near the ancient St Mary Magdalene Church, in the middle of the village, there was a pilgrims’ stopping point en route to St Cuthbert’s shrine in Durham.

Trimdon Grange was a grain store owned by the monks of Durham Priory. It was north of Trimdon Village, separated fromit by a deep valley. In 1845, Newcastle merchant Joseph Smith sunk for coal on the grange side of the valley. When he found it, five primitive houses were quickly thrown up for the firstworkers to live in.

To the Trimdon villagers, these became known as the “Five Houses Over the Watter”,the watery bit either coming from a pond in front ofthe houses, or from the beginnings of the River Skerne that can be found at the bottom of the dividing valley.

In 1864, Peter Lee was born at Five Houses. He became a miners’ leader and, in 1919, when he took charge of Durham County Council, the first Labour leader of a local authority in the country.

According to our intelligence from the Black Bull, his birthplacewas eventually covered by the expanding pitheap.

Trimdon Grange’s pitheap was one of the largest in the county.

During the Second World War, rainwater collected in a depression on top of it. The water broke out, cascaded down the heap and flooded houses in the Plantation area of Trimdon Grange.

In May 1965, under a headline “Gigantic pitheap poses tidy problem”, The Northern Echo reported that the heap contained one million cubic yards, and one hundred years, of debris.

“It dominates the front street, giving the impression that one day it will move like an avalanche and engulf a large part of the village,” said the Echo.

In October 1966, of course, after days of rain, exactly that happened in theWelshmining village of Aberfan. The pitheap slid onto a school, killing 116 children and 28 adults.

In Trimdon Grange, the 1960s saw great change. Old pit slums, like the Plantation area,were demolished;the colliery was closed, with the loss of 700 jobs, and the heap was landscaped. Therefore, nothing remains of Duff Heap Row.

L AST weekend’s history day in Wheatley Hill – where Peter Lee is buried – was attended by his granddaughter, Win Colman, who is a mine of information.

Peter was, for example, a keen early cyclist, doing 50 or 100 miles a day, holidaying in Scotland on his bike, pedalling with his coat-tails flapping in the wind behind him, and usually singing at the top of his voice as he went.

Wheatley Hill History Club was selling its book about the Weardale Steel, Coal and Coke Company, which owned three collieries in the area: Thornley, Ludworth and Wheatley Hill.

The book contains a story of the “sad fatality” of a Mr Hagan, of Thornley, taken from an 1886 newspaper.

“He and his wife went to a duff heap in the vicinity of the colliery to secure some fuelfor the fire, when a large quantity of duff suddenly came upon them, completely burying Hagan, and almost covering his wife,” said the report.

“She was, however, able to give an alarm, but too late to be of any service to her husband, as he was quite dead when rescued. He leaves two children.”

In 19th Century pitmatic – that curious language that Durham pitmen spoke – duff was a very fine coal, or coal dust. Duff would have been considered useless by the pitowners, but, when wet, it could be moulded by hand into coalballs that could, in an emergency, go on a fire.

They often caused an emergency because of their worrying tendency of exploding.

For Mr Hagan, it must have been a terrible way to go, suffocated by a cloud of coal dust.

For Mrs Lee, it must have been a terrible place to have a baby, beside a heap of fine coal. How would you ever get your clean washing dry with so much duff drifting about?