East Durham's colliery coastline to feature in National Trust project mapping social change

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

A photography collective will lead part of a project which will draw on the mining history of the East Durham coast and its part in bringing about social change.

The National Trust is launching the People's Landscape, inspired by the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre to explore landscapes and places which have a tie with transformations within their communities.

Nose's Point at Dawdon, which was cleaned up following the closure of Seaham's collieries.

Nose's Point at Dawdon, which was cleaned up following the closure of Seaham's collieries.

A 5 mile stretch of East Durham coastline will be the focus of one part of the programme, which will draw on artists including Jarvis Cocker and Bob and Roberta - aka Patrick Brill - with Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller to be its artistic adviser.

The programme will also focus on five miles of the Durham coastline looked after by the National Trust, which has transformed from an industrial area with "black beaches" to become a haven for wildlife.

Easington was once home to one of the largest coal mines in Europe, and film and photography collective Amber will work with local people to explore its mining heritage, the impact of the miners' strike and its aftermath.

The National Trust has said the East Durham aspect will look at how the coastline has become a haven for wildlife, including wildflowers and rare butterflies.

It suffered some of the worst coastal pollution in the world and its beaches were buried under two and a half million tonnes of colliery waste every year, making it a no-go area for people, animals and birds.

Transformed by a massive clean-up project, Turning the Tide, the vast majority of the waste has now been removed and wildlife and people are able to use the coast again.

But this landscape has been shaped by major social as well as environmental change.

Easington Colliery employed over 2,000 local people at its peak.

About 1,400 miners lost their jobs when the pit closed.

Amber will be working with the local community to explore the area’s mining heritage, the impact of the miners’ strike 35 years ago, and residents’ evolving relationships with the coast’s former ‘black beaches’.

Special events during 2019 will mark key moments in the history of the area and look at life during and after the strike, from picket lines and people’s cafés to the inventiveness and community spirit that resulted from those experiences.

The programme will also include two properties, Dunham Massey and Quarry Bank in Cheshire, which have links to the protest in Manchester in 1819, when a cavalry charge of thousands of pro-democracy and anti-poverty protesters left 18 dead.

Kinder Scout, in the Peak District, site of the mass trespass in 1932, the Tolpuddle Martyrs tree in Dorset, the symbolic birthplace of the trade unions movement, and the Durham coast which has been shaped by its mining heritage will also be in the spotlight.

The massacre of protesters gathered in St Peter's Field in Manchester, which also injured nearly 700 people, was a catalyst for movements for parliamentary reform and workers' rights.

John Orna-Ornstein, director of culture and engagement at the National Trust, said the people's landscape programme would use contemporary arts to celebrate places which served as a backdrop to social and political change.

"Our places are so much about that connection between people and an individual place and individual stories that come out of that.

"The Peterloo Massacre seemed a challenging but appropriate launch point," he said.

He said it was important to have a theme that resonated outdoors as well as with collections in houses, but said the Trust was not aligning itself with left-wing politics in its choice of the people's landscape programme.

"It's just a conscious decision to find the stories that resonate most closely with our places and to do so in an interesting way with contemporary artists.

"There's absolutely no intention to take one particular focus or another in terms of politics."