HUNDREDS turned out to pay their last respects to a prominent figure in the North-East travelling community.

The coffin of Kenny “Blacky” Eilbeck, also known affectionately as “Little Blacky Tyres”, was placed on a cart drawn by Friesen horses and headed a colourful cortege, including drays and a flat cart.

People lined the streets as the procession made its way from Blacky’s house in Coast View, Blackhall Rocks, east Durham, to St Joseph’s Church for his funeral service.

Son-in-law Bill Tooney, said: “He will be sadly missed. He was highly regarded both in the travelling community and beyond.”

Blacky, 61, was born in nearby Wingate, where he grew up with his mother. When he married Carleen, a fellow traveller, he decided to take to the road.

They moved to Lynemouth, Northumberland, where Blacky became one of many seacoalers.

Their three daughters were brought up in a caravan, and Mrs Eilbeck recalled that there were no amenities such as hot water or electricity for many years, before Blacky and other travellers were instrumental in getting the council to set up of a formal campsite.

Blacky and other seacoalers exploited coal washed onto Lynemouth beach by tidal movements. Seacoalers still used traditional methods, jealously guarding their respective patches.

The lifestyle was captured in the iconic docu-drama Seacoal, with Blacky and one of his daughters appearing in the background at one point.

Mr Toonie said: “He lived for his horses and was well known at the Appleby and Yarm horse fairs. He loved to be on the road and never cared for motorised transport. He always went to the fairs with a horse-drawn caravan.

Mr Toony added: “Blacky used to buy all kinds of things.

He would go to auctions and come back with all sorts. He once home with a monkey.

“You never knew what he would bring back with him.”

Blacky was also a keen breeder of goldfinches.

He moved from Lynemouth when he fell ill three years ago.

Blacky is survived by his wife Carleen, daughters Sharon, June and Rosie, six grandchildren and one great grandchild.

■ The Northern Echo attended the funeral with permission of the family.