County Durham’s prosperity was founded on coal mining. Coal has been mined here for centuries, but it wasn’t until the 18th century that the industry was established on a commercial basis. When the railways came along in the 1840s, the industry prospered creating great wealth for the landowners, and occasionally great misery for the miners. An explosion in Trimdon Grange Colliery in 1882claimed the lives of 74 miners – some of them no more than boys. And in May 1951, an underground explosion in Easington Colliery killed 81 men.
Now that the industry has all but disappeared, the scars it created are being swept away. Spoil heaps have been cleared or grassed over, pit heads demolished and old industrial sites tidied up. The colliery villages such as Pity Me, Shiney Row, Bearpark, Sunniside and Quebec still exist – tight-knit communities that retain an old-style sense of belonging and sharing, and even in the most unprepossessing of villages there are delightful surprises to be discovered, such as the near perfect Saxon church at Escomb.
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