A FORMER coalfield community is preparing to mark the 50th anniversary of the closure of a village colliery.

It will be half a century next spring since the demise of the pit in Craghead, near Stanley, which employed more than 1,600 people.

A group has been formed and a range of activities are being organised to commemorate the village’s coalmining past.

There will be a banner display and a march with a brass band from the former colliery weighbridge to Bloemfontein Primary School where there will be a community fun day as well as displays of mining memorabilia.

Graham Eddy, chairman of Craghead – 50 Years On, said: “It is quite poignant that it is 50 years next year since the closure.

“In another 10 or 20 years we wonder if there are still going to be people still around who can remember the pit.

“It was such big part of the village and it is important to remember our industrial heritage because of what County Durham brought to the rest of the country in terms of prosperity.

“The country was built on the coal industry and there is a lot of community pride around here.”

The village dates back over 200 years and the first shaft at Craghead was sunk in 1839.

It became one of many close-knit communities across the Durham Coalfield the black gold from the ground was once the life blood of the area.

The decision to close the pit on April 9, 1969, was devastating for the families who depended on the wages from the mine.

Group secretary John Gibson, who also runs the Facebook site, Craghead Past and Present, which has around 1,800 members, said his father, George, and brother, Maurice, were both miners.

He said: “We lived in Fawcett Hill and one of my memories growing up was every time they tested the buzzer it would send shivers through you.

“They used to set it off if there was an accident, but they had to test it. It was a bit frightening.

“Coal was a massive part of village life. Everyone had someone who worked at the pit.”

Mr Gibson, now 69, worked in sales at the Co-op, and remembers growing up in a happy prosperous, hardworking village

He said: “It was a close knit community and you never locked your door, ever.

“Even if you did go away for the day there was a big key hanging on a string through the letter box.

“You would see the miners coming down from the pit with their white hats and knee pads on.

“Some of them would go to the public baths top get cleaned up, but some of them would just go home.

“People would do pitch and toss on the green with their coins.

“All of the miners would be there on a Sunday morning, gambling away their hard earned money.”

The closure of the colliery meant those who continued in mining could no longer walk to their local pit and work with their neighbours.

Some got the bus across the county to a new pit and others left the area completely to head for Nottinghamshire.

Others found work at the Ever Ready plant, near Tanfield Lea, or the ball bearing factory at Annfield Plain.

But the high levels of unemployment had a lasting impact and a knock on effect on local businesses, which benefited from the village’s collective prosperity.

Mr Gibson said: “I was working at the Co-op at the time and sales just disappeared overnight. No-one was working and there was no money.

“It was quite hard and quite a few families would have went into debt.

“Nobody paid their bill. They would come and get groceries and only be able to pay so much off.

“People who used to come in regularly with grocery bills of £10, which was a lot of money in those days, would come in and ask to see the manager and would go upstairs and then pay £2.

“It felt as though the heart had been ripped out of the place.”

The group, Craghead – 50 Years On, is looking for more people to get involved to share memorabilia and ideas to enhance the commemorations.

Meetings are held on the last Monday of each month at The Punch Bowl from 7pm.

Mr Gibson said: “There was so much camaraderie and friendship, and there are still hundreds of people, who are now very old and remember me when I was at the Co-op.

“Craghead is still a tight knit community and this sort of event brings people closer together.”