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Days of Old King Coal inspires book on East Durham vilages

Miners picket Easington Pit, March 12,1984.
Miners picket Easington Pit, March 12,1984.

A former mayor of Peterlee has drawn on her interest in family history to pen a book about the coal mining roots of East Durham.

The Birth of Billy Elliot Land, by Maureen Taylor-Gooby, charts the early history of Easington, Horden and Blackhall collieries.

Hartlepool Mail Memory Lane scanned hard copy  date  June 1991   old ref number  M9564      'Maureen Taylor Gooby.

Hartlepool Mail Memory Lane scanned hard copy date June 1991 old ref number M9564 'Maureen Taylor Gooby.

“I decided on the name for the book because quite a bit of Billy Elliot was filmed in the area,” said Maureen, a miner’s daughter.

“The slow decline of colliery villages made me want to recapture the early days of these communities, when the miner was at their throbbing heart.”

Maureen was born to Horden pitman Richard Carr during World War Two and grew up surrounded by relatives involved in the fuel industry.

Her paternal grandfather and great-grandfather were both miners, while her maternal grandfather and great-grandfather worked in the coke industry.

“I was born in Horden in the days when Horden was a living, vibrant colliery village, as were Easington and Blackhall,” she said.

“Later in life, being interested in family history, I found members of my family living in Horden on its early days and recorded in the 1911 census.

“This family interest developed into research into the development of Easington Colliery, Horden and Blackhall - all once thriving pit villages.

“These vibrant communities had their hearts ripped out when the collieries closed. Horden especially has empty boarded-up houses with few chatting neighbours.”

The three villages of Easington Colliery, Horden Colliery and Blackhall Colliery all owe their existence to coal - as well as the industrial revolution.

Easington was the first of the three pits to be sunk, with the first sod cut in 1899. Thousands flocked to work at the mine, with the first coals drawn in 1910.

Two miles down the road, on farmland which was to become known as Horden, sinking of a pit began in 1900. By the 1930s it employed over 4,000 pitmen.

And just a few years later, in 1909, Horden Collieries Ltd branched out to build a new pit, this time at Blackhall. Almost 2,500 were employed at its peak.

“The strength of these mining communities would make it easy to conclude that the villages had been involved in mining for many, many generations,” said Maureen.

“But this is just not so. They had life-spans similar to a single person , and my book is the story of the birth and early years of these villages.”

Stories of wartime heroism, industrial developments, schools, shops and village life are all documented within the pages of BIlly Elliot Land.

Tales of individual miners, colliery disasters, churches and chapels are included too - as well as the early history of East Durham.

“I was brought up when coal was king. Today there are very few signs our pits ever existed - and I wanted to remember them in my book,” said Maureen.

* Billy Elliot Land is available from Amazon and Waterstones at £9.99.