Mining town’s golden age that will never be forgotten

The Northern Echo: UNDERGROUND ARMY: A group of men leave a shift at Dean and Chapter Colliery on July 7, 1963 – three years before it shut. Does anyone recognise anyone? UNDERGROUND ARMY: A group of men leave a shift at Dean and Chapter Colliery on July 7, 1963 – three years before it shut. Does anyone recognise anyone?

Ian Guthrie now lives in Ottawa, in Canada, but he grew up in Ferryhill more than 60 years ago, Inspired by Memories 58, he recalls “a golden age”.

I GREW up in Ferryhill in the Forties and Fifties, and in many ways it was a golden age, a time which benefited from generations of hardship and sacrifice by countless men and women who had gone before.

Memories 58 brought back many memories, and to write about them is something of an indulgence – a wallow in nostalgia!

The photograph looking down Durham Bank and across to the winding towers of the Dean and Chapter Colliery reminded me of the army of blackened miners who came across the old wooden bridge over the Cut at the end of their shift – a formidable group of men. The photo also shows Charlie Cornforth’s woodworking shop on the side of the bank. Many a miner had his final resting place constructed by Charlie in that shop.

The Northern Echo: COLLIERY VIEW: Looking down Durham Bank towards Dean and Chapter Colliery in the SixtiesColliery view: Looking down Durham Bank towards Dean and Chapter Colliery in the Sixties

On the left in the photo is The Saddlers Arms pub – reputedly Durham Bank was so steep and the 46 United double decker buses so slow up the ascent that a nimble passenger could hop off, have a pint at the bar, and then catch the bus again at the top of the hill.

There was also a picture of the Ferryhill Cut in May 1955.

In the top left corner is Dean Bank School, which I attended.

One of the thrills of our young lives was to cling to the railings above the roadway and watch the gigantic Pickford trucks hauling turbines from Tyneside to power stations in the south. To us, the Pickford flatbed lorries and the turbines represented British strength.

It saddens me that the Dean and Chapter pit heap was flattened and is now only a subdued part of the landscape.

The final pit heap was mountainous and a monument to the blood and sweat of the men who had hauled all that waste material from the depths of the earth while providing the coal to warm the nation, make steel and generate electricity.

I spent many an hour watching the waste being hauled by a vehicle – I think it was called a pig – up the trackway to the top of the heap and then being spilled down the side.

Ferryhill at that time, and much of County Durham, had an amazing culture of hard physical work, brass bands, co-ops, chapels and Salvation Army, working men’s clubs, the Workers’ Educational Association and the miners’ union. There was an immense sense of community strength and bonds, but it was created by a shared danger and hardship – there was often a black flag flying from the winding gear to show that a man had been killed in the pit, usually crushed by a fall of stone.

Every day there was the possibility of fatalities caused by an explosion, such as happened at Easington Colliery.

Working underground was physically demanding and wore away at a man, and eventually many miners succumbed to miners’ lung, pneumoconiosis as the doctors would say. I would not like to think of future generations working in such conditions.

Then there were the heroic generations of women who supported their men and brought up the children – their fortitude and strength will not be forgotten.

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