Members of a former County Durham colliery community congregated to commemorate generations of pitmen who served in the village’s coal mine.

A special service was staged at St Edmund's Church in Bearpark, today (Sunday, April 14) to mark the 40th anniversary of the closure of the local colliery, ending 112 years of coal mining in the village a few miles west of Durham city.

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Sunk in 1872 by prominent Quaker businessman Theodore Fry, Bearpark Colliery employed an on-site workforce of up to 1,300 at its peak in 1925, but its last day, in April 1984, was a low-key affair, as it fell a month into the year-long strike, ironically over pit closures.

The site was almost deserted with a mere handful of colliery and coal board (NCB) officials present, with the gates remaining firmly locked.

The Northern Echo: Bearpark Colliery during its 112-year working life

Following the end-of-strike return to work in 1985, those Bearpark miners who had not chosen to retire were transferred to the surviving coastal collieries in the Durham Coalfield.

The colliery site has long since been restored and the only evidence of the coal-mining history of Bearpark is the pit wheel memorial and the two fading colliery banners, one in the village workingmen’s club and the other at the church.

There is also a church memorial to the Bearpark men and boys who gave their lives working at the pit, 56 who are named, but with up to a further 15 victims of fatal accidents at the pit unidentified.

The Northern Echo: Art work reflecting on the life of Bearpark Colliery at St Edmund's Church in Bearpark

Only the handful of surviving ex-miners attended the service but descendants of Bearpark pitmen, some whose families have long since left the village, made a point of returning for the occasion.

A group of local school children entertained the congregation with a rendition of the specially-written song The Pit Closure, under the direction of Amy Ward, the music missioner at nearby St John’s Church, in Neville’s Cross.

Bearpark and Esh Colliery Band also performed at the service, which was attended by Ian Hancock, the chairman of the Bearpark Banner Group, and some of his members, who are fundraising to produce a replacement for the two fragile ageing standards.

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Representatives of the Durham Miners’ Association, plus local councillors were also present.

Among church figures attending were Bishop John Pritchard, the retired former Bishop of Jarrow and of Oxford, who is now an honorary assistant bishop in the Durham diocese.

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Local mission priest The Reverend Canon Dr Alan Bartlett and the Reverend Barnaby Huish, of St John’s, Neville’s Cross, officiated at the service, which also saw the formal blessing of new facilities, including a small kitchen, disabled toilet and lobby, at St Edmund's.

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Churchwarden Margaret Shotton, who also helped to organise a similar service staged at St Edmund's to mark the 30th anniversary of the pit closure in 2014, said: “The service was wonderful, with a very, very full, happy and emotional church.

“It was a lovely service.”

Following the service, guests and many of the congregation retired to the nearby village Methodist Church for refreshments and further reminiscences of the colliery.