‘Bad pint’ saved granddad’s life

HAPPY DAYS: Graeme Wheatley and his granddad Tom Noble during the Durham Miners' Gala in 1961
HAPPY DAYS: Graeme Wheatley and his granddad Tom Noble during the Durham Miners' Gala in 1961

MUSICIAN Graeme Wheatley has more reason than most to remember a mining disaster which claimed 83 lives.

A sickness caused by a bad pint the night before meant his granddad, Tom Noble, didn’t go to work at Easington pit that day and he escaped an almost certain tragedy.

Sadly, Tom’s brother, Bob, then 45, was among those who lost their lives when a spark at the coalface ignited a pocket of gas, causing a blast that lifted coaldust which fuelled an explosion, killing everyone down there.

Graeme later wrote a song about the disaster with fellow ex-Hartlepudlian Geoff Grange of his former band, The Blue Bishops, who will perform the poignant tune, called The Black Diamond, during a 60th anniversary memorial concert.

Graeme, who lived in the Hart Station area of Hartlepool before moving to London in 1980 to play base guitar with the band, Tenpole Tudor, said: “My granddad should have been killed at about 5am on May 29, 1951.

“He wasn’t but his brother was and so were 82 more people on that grim morning.

“I grew up surrounded by the story of the Easington Colliery pit disaster.

“When I was a kid it was something that affected everyone in Easington.

“I was the generation born after the disaster and people were always determined to remember the lives lost.”

The youngest victim was just 18, the oldest was 68.

Graeme, who is now a member of a band called The Little Devils and lives in London, recalled how his granddad had been feeling unwell when his brother Bob called on him to start the early morning shift.

The 55-year-old, who is married to Catherine and dad to James, 15, said: “I used to be taken as a child to the memorial and look at all the names and point out my granddad’s brother.”

The song is named after The Black Diamond pub, where Tom had drank on the eve of the tragedy and still enjoyed a few pints well into his later years.

Tom passed away aged 80 in 1990 after a battle with cancer and never got to hear the song, which was written five years ago.

Graeme, who has also played with Ray Davies of The Kinks, The Who’s guitarist Steve Boltz and Jethro Tull guitarist Martin Barre, remembers childhood fishing trips and searching for treasure on the black beaches of Easington with his granddad.

He said: “If he hadn’t had a few beers on May 28, 1951, I would have had a much poorer childhood.”

Tom’s daughter, June, Graeme’s late mum, was around 20 at the time of the incident.

She later moved to the Hart Station area of Hartlepool and was married to former West View Primary teacher Robert Wheatley.

Tom was also dad to Vera and Carol and his wife was called Polly.

The Blue Bishops will be performing at the Easington Social Welfare Centre, in Seaside Lane, on May 29, with doors opening at 6.45pm.

Entry is free, with donations to the centre.

For more information about the event, call (0191) 5270635.