Potential royal credentials of a former colliery community in the North-East have re-surfaced with the announcement of the engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Next year’s royal wedding date may now arouse a little extra interest in the ex-mining town of Hetton-le-Hole, in County Durham. Bruce Unwin reports.
NEWS of the impending marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton had them reaching for the local history books in one corner of the North-East yesterday.
For the future queen of England is a descendant of mining stock in the heart of the old Durham Coalfield.
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Until now, the only apparent royal connections of Hetton-le-Hole stemmed from the fact the one of its former pits, Hetton Lyons, was once owned by a wing of the late Queen Mother’s family, the Bowes Lyons.
Other royal references are found in the names of some of the old watering holes frequented by the thirsty pitmen at the end of their shifts, including The Crown and the Prince of Wales, near neighbours in Railway Street.
But now a town whose most famous son or daughter is the legendary ex-Liverpool footballer and manager Bob Paisley, also with a mining background, could gain prominence through the blood line of the future queen.
Although the would-be Windsor is the daughter of an airline officer and granddaughter of a pilot instructor, on her father’s side, her humbler origins stem from her maternal line.
Ms Middleton’s great-grandfather, Thomas Harrison, was the son of a miner at the town’s other former pit, Eppleton, born and brought up in one of the nearby old colliery terraces, Nicholson Street, in Hetton Downs.
Thomas broke several generations of family tradition of mining by becoming a carpenter and moved his family to London at some stage in the mid-20th Century.
Back in Hetton, Eppleton Colliery was among the last pits to close in the Durham Coalfield following the pivotal strike of 1985.
The divisive year-long dispute is still fresh in the memory of one of Hetton’s most prominent female figureheads.
Long-serving town councillor Florence Anderson also represents Hetton on Sunderland City Council, of which she is deputy leader.
As a miner’s wife she was prominent in the strike as chairwoman of Eppleton Colliery Miners’ Support Group, and was even arrested for her activities at one stage.
She welcomed the attention that may fall on Hetton with the town’s connections to the future monarch’s wife.
“Our main claims to fame are with Bob Paisley and another well-known old footballer, Ralph Coates (ex-Burnley and Tottenham).
“But, I think everyone with connections with the town has coal dust in their veins, so it’s not surprising that if her ancestors were from Hetton that they were miners.”
Town council clerk John Price said he was unaware of the royal connection until the relationship between the young prince and Ms Middleton came to light in the press in 2006.
“If they do go on to marry, it will probably attract quite a bit of interest,” he said.
“We’ve just established a local history group and they are active in digging up things like this, so I imagine there will be a lot of research done in coming months to find out more about her connections with Hetton.”
Mr Price said Nicholson Street, the home of Ms Middleton’s great-grandparents, was among a number of former colliery terraces to be demolished in recent years.
Former Eppleton and Murton colliery miner Leslie Foster, who still lives nearby, surveyed the scene yesterday and recalled another possible distant relative of the royal-to-be, a “Tot Harrison”.
“He was at Eppleton when I started in 1947, but he was a colliery official and so, if he was from the same family, he will have moved from the old colliery houses here, down to the officials’ houses further down the road,” he said.
Like Ms Middleton, 78-year-old Mr Foster has his own forthcoming date at Buckingham Palace. He is looking forward to attending a ceremony to see his grandson, Lance Corporal Andrew Wardle, a member of the 2nd Battalion Yorkshire regiment, receive a Military Cross for bravery in Afghanistan next month.
What is known about the Harrison family history in Hetton stems back to 1821, when Ms Middleton’s greatgreat- great-great grandfather, James, born in Byker, Newcastle, in 1796, began working at Hetton Lyons colliery when it opened.
His son and grandson, both John, were also pitmen, with the mining heritage only broken by the eventual London-bound carpenter Thomas, who was born at 22 Nicholas Street, on June 23, 1904.