HANNAH is the everywoman of the 19th Century Durham coalfield – the woman who features large in every family tree.

Her life is one of toil, touched regularly by death as her children succumb to tuberculosis and her husband, inevitably, is killed down the pit.

But throughout it all, she runs a tidy – if cramped – home in a miners’ terrace, ensuring there are meals for her pitmen on the table, that there is plenty of comfrey to treat her children’s ailments, and that the kettle is constantly boiling.

She earns pin-money through dressmaking and she finds solace through the chapel.

But she is also very human, with human quirks – she insists on her giant four-poster bed filling up her overcrowded home – and she makes human mistakes, such as falling pregnant at the age of 18 but stubbornly refusing not only to marry the father but even to reveal his identity. She achieves great human triumphs: her delicious three-tier jam tart was the must-have centrepiece for all community gatherings.

Hannah was a dutiful daughter to her parents, easing the passing of her own mother at the age of 54 to “general decay”, or what we now consider to be complications of the menopause.

She was a caring sibling to her sister, Mary, who only weeks after getting married, was so badly burned when her nightdress caught fire at her home in Trimdon, that Hannah could only nurse her through her dying days.

Hannah was also a loyal life-partner to her husband, John. He was ten years older than her, so perhaps they married out of convenience after her youthful predicament, but he spent eight years on the other side of the world, mining in Australia in the hope of securing a better life for her away from the dangers of Durham. Together they discussed the great issues of the day – should he break his bond at the mine, should he join the Permanent Relief Fund? Plus, of course, she nursed him in his final days as he lay dying in the four poster bed after his right leg had been mangled by the cage at Ludworth pit bottom.

And Hannah was a mother figure to her seven children (only three made it to adulthood) and 25 grandchildren, and also to the wider community as children who lost mothers to illness and fathers to accidents were gathered up in her skirts.

In truth, hers was a very ordinary coalfield life: she was born in 1823 in Great Lumley, and she died 1901 in Trimdon Colliery, and as she couldn’t read or write, she left no letters or diaries to be remembered by, and as she was never involved in the strikes or the dramas or the deaths of the menfolk, no fragments of her life were recorded by the papers. Women in the coalfield appear to have been largely silent as they went about the day to day drudgery.

But Hannah’s great-great-grand-daughter, Margaret Hedley, has found her story in the bare branches of the family tree and added flesh through researching the mandatory documents and registers of those around her. She has then added in the stories of life in Hannah’s pit villages – she lived mainly in the Ludworth and Shadforth area, but also spent a couple of years on a farm at Seldom Seen, near Willington.

Margaret, of Wheatley Hill, also had a couple of physical connections to Hannah, including her ring and a pioneering photograph, plus she had the family gossip – was Henry Winship really the father of Hannah’s first born? what caused her to fall out with her favourite daughter, Susan? why did she embark on a disastrous second marriage late in life? where did she get the recipe for the three-tier jam tart?

Margaret has weaved all these elements together to create a very vivid and human story of a woman who was at the heart of the Durham coalfield.

Hannah’s story is told in Margaret’s book, Women of the Durham Coalfield: Hannah’s Story which is published this week by The History Press – you can find it on Amazon.

Margaret is launching the book at the Wheatley Hill Mothers’ Club on March 6, when the club is celebrating its 70th anniversary, and with a talk and signing session at The Mining Art Gallery in Bishop Auckland at 6pm on March 14. Tickets are available now for £6 at the gallery.