Bearpark Colliery

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Desparate Times
This telegram was sent from Bearpark Colliery to the Colliery office in Middlesborough in 1891. It reads:
What prospects of orders for tomorrow. Present orders will only keep pit working today. Wire soon.
At the time this telegram was sent thier was a dispute over wages and union recognition going on in Ushaw Moor

Pit Closure

A sad, silent death

Miners gathered at the smallest colliery in the Durham coalfield yesterday, knowing they would never work there again. It was a quiet end for the tiny Bearpark pit near Durham City which was officially closed after 110 years. For like the county's other collieries it had been idle since the miners' stike started four weeks ago. The winding gear stood silent with no final shift to bring to surface. But across the road, men who had called to collect pit clothes from thier lockers, stood talking - reluctant to leave.


Some were thinking about thier transfers to bigger pits, others wondered how to use redundancy payments, said to the most generous in British industry. Miners' lodge secretary Jordan Leng who was 49 on March 12, the day the strike started, has accepted a transferto Wearmouth Colliery in Sunderland. "Bearpark was always a real family pit, with a close feeling there. It was always the main employers in the village and the closure will obviously make a difference to the community," he said. The pits workforce declined from 826 in 1947 when the National Coal Board took it over, to a final figure of 148. Of those 95 have accepted volutary redundancy while the other 53 are being transferedto pits such as Wearmouth, Dawdon, and Murton.

The number taking redundancy rose from 52 when the Government improved its terms in March. Maximum pay out is now more than £36,000 for a 49-year-old with 33 years service. Production at the end was down to 750 tonnes per week, less than the daily output from the giant coastal pits. The closure, which leaves only Sacriston pit operating west of the A1, was not opposed by the unions.


The only permanent reminder of Bearpark pit will be a plaque in St Edumund's church to the 51 men who died in underground accients. Jordon, a power loader, of College View, Bearpark, was born and bred in the village and worked at the pit from the age of 15. But for some of his workmates the closure is not a new experience.Clive Hughes, 41,of Renny Street, Ferryhill, is transfering to Dowdon. He had worked at the old Esh Colliery before starting at Bearpark 13 years ago.
"I could have had redundancy, but why sell your job? If there had been any prospects of other work I might have considered it, but there is nothing else going." he said.
" I am not looking forward to the travelling, but what can I do?" For 47-year-old rope man Henry Kelley, Bearpark was the third and last pit in his career - he's opted for redundancy, and stands to collect £1,000 for each of his 30 years in the industry. But he said "It is not like winning the pools, it's not really anything to celebrate."


Bachelor Henry said he had no plans to move from the council house he shares with his 70-year-old mother, Doris, in High Shaws, Brandon He does not drive, so there would be no new car, and this year's summer holiday would be in Filey as usual. "I have Known blokes blow it in no time, and I don't want to make the same mistake," he said At the pithead, 49,000 tonnes of coal lay ready for delivery to power stations at the end of the strike.most of the machinery is to be abandoned for ever, with only the cages and cables being salvaged before the shafts were copped. Colliery manager, Ralf Blance, 56, said the pit had always had a good industrial relations record, despite difficult working conditions on the two 24 inch thick seams. "Managment and miners have always respected each other's postions here, and there was a lot of give and take," he said Although his 17 years as manager had ended in the middle of a strike there were no hard feelings and he'd accepted an invertation to last night's special social evening in Bearpark Workingmen's club..

• A Mining World - The Story of Bearpark, County Durham - Douglas Pocock - 1985
• Banners of the Durham Coalfield - Norman Emery - 1998
Copyright 2002© Gary Taylor