THE recent death of Baroness Thatcher reopened many old wounds in former mining communities due to the accelerated programme of pit closures she was seen as being responsible for.
But some devastating losses had already occurred before her ascent to power, including the shutting of Wheatley Hill colliery 45 years ago this week. ANDREW LEVETT reports.
IN a cruel irony, the Durham Miners’ May Day Parade was held in Wheatley Hill in 1968 – the day after the village’s pit was closed.
The Mail’s report, headlined Death of a colliery, said the pit “passed quietly away”.
It went on: “Its heart started faltering as 59-year-old winding man Bob Blacklock set the massive winding drum in motion to haul out the last cage of miners from the deep shaft and as the cage neared the top with a last hiss from the steam pistons the pit was dead.”
As with many later closures there was criticism and scepticism about the reasons for ending production at the pit.
Chargehand fitter William Gibson, of Burns Street in the village, told the Mail: “However much coal comes up there is a demand for it so it is difficult to understand why the pit should have closed.
“I know our output per man shift could be higher, but I feel this could have been remedied if more money had been spent on the pit.”
He pointed out there was another seam yet to be opened which could have kept the pit going for another six to eight years.
Mr Gibson was one of around 50 men being being kept on for a few months for salvage work but he offered a grim prediction for the following years: “What happens when this is finished?
“It may mean another job at another colliery but what guarantee is there that will not close in the near future?
“What will happen then if there are no more jobs in the coal industry?
“Who will employ us when we get to that age? Extra redundancy pay is all right but few men want to be redundant in their 50s.”
Many of the men – 498 out of 606 – were transferred to other local pits such as Easington or Blackhall and some were happy to take redundancy, such as 64-year-old Jimmy Mather, of Wordsworth Avenue, Wheatley Hill, who was looking forward to spending time with his daughter and granddaughter, visting from Zambia.
Thomas Ayre, of Burn Street, had spent 33 of his 49 years working at the colliery and was hoping to try something new.
“Why can’t they get industries to take over these old buildings?” he said.
“I would give anything a try.
“It certainly couldn’t be any worse than working down there.”
Do you have any mining memories to share? Contact Andrew Levett by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or write to him at Hartlepool Mail, New Clarence House, Wesley Square, Hartlepool, TS24 8BX.