THE work was dangerous, dirty and cramped. But to the thousands of miners who worked on the Durham coalfield, it was not just about work.

For 400 years, mining was at the heart of the region and provided a way of life for the communities which surrounded the pits.

The black day for the once mighty coalfield came on October 13 1992, when the final pit closure plan was announced with the loss of 4,500 jobs.

The closure of Easington, Vane Tempest, Westoe and Wearmouth collieries brought the curtain down on a way of life.

The picture had been so different 40 years earlier. In 1952, the Queen's coronation year, there were 130 pits employing 100,000 miners in County Durham.

Five years earlier, nationalisation promised better pay and conditions and improved investment. But it was not long before the miners realised that tough economic conditions applied just as much under the National Coal Board.

The demise was slow at first.

From 1953 to 1960, only 15 pits were closed, often due to the natural exhaustion of coal reserves, or geological problems.

To the miners who worked in 2ft waterlogged seams, closure often came with a sense of relief.

But throughout the 1960s, there was a massive rundown as gas and electricity replaced coal and by the end of the decade the coalfield had shrunk to 34 pits employing 35,000 miners.

By the 1980s, the mining community was in direct competition with the nuclear power stations, North Sea gas and cheap foreign coal.

The battle for survival saw a further nine Durham mines close between 1980 and 1984.

Even though the year-long miner's strike brought closures to the top of the agenda in 1984, ultimately it could not stop the decline.

The axe fell again and again. Herrington, Sacriston, Horden, Seaham, Murton and Dawdon went before 1991.

By October 13, 1992, the death knell sounded for the last few remaining pits in the coalfield.

On the day of the announcement ten years ago, Dave Guy, the National Union of Miners' area president, emerged from a sombre 20-minute meeting with British Coal, angry and frustrated.

"They have butchered our industry, our communities, and thrown away a vast national asset," he said.