On the 200th anniversary of the 1815 Heaton Colliery Mining Disaster Heaton residents created a programme of participation in the east end of Newcastle upon Tyne celebrating Heaton then and now. It continued until Autumn 2016 and included a fine series of concerts in Heaton and the Mining Institute; massed choirs and bands performing Heaton Main Suite at festivals and Northern Stage; the making of the ‘Under Heaton Fields’ film; a programme of ten artists in residence in Ouseburn schools; an exhibition of work in the People’s Theatre; two outdoor lantern events; and a free book given to each KS2 child in Ouseburn’s schools.
On the morning of Wednesday 3rd May 1815, the worst disaster in the history of Newcastle took place in Heaton near the site of St. Teresa’s Church on Heaton Road, when men working in Heaton Main Colliery broke into the abandoned workings of Heaton Banks Colliery. The influx of water cut off their escape route and the pumping technology of the day was unable to drain the mine before their air supply ran out. A rescue was initially attempted from an old pit near the windmill in Heaton Park but this was thwarted when the pit collapsed. A second attempt was made from the Avenue Pit in Byker which was situated where the High Main pub is today. This was also a failure. It is likely that the 75 men and boys died within a few days of the accident but the first body was not recovered until 6th January 1816 when the water had been reduced sufficiently to allow access. The final bodies were not recovered until 6thMarch. Most of the men were buried at St. Peters Church in Wallsend.
Both these collieries in Heaton were major enterprises of international significance using the most advanced technology of their day. The greatest concentration of steam power in the world was to be found in the Ouseburn Valley in the early eighteenth century; and at the beginning of the nineteenth century Heaton played a significant role in the development of the steam locomotive. These enterprises brought considerable wealth not only to the royalty owners and the mining partnerships but also to the workforce, who were widely regarded as being amongst the most prosperous sections of the working classes. Several of the mining families employed servants. It is right that we remember the bicentenary of this tragedy; but we should not forget the great achievements of the men who made the name of Newcastle synonymous with coal throughout the world.
The accident is remembered with trees and a brass plaque in The Spinney, a ten minute walk from the site of the collapse.
We raised awareness of the full history and remembered the event in a programme of events: a remembrance service, lectures, concerts, performances, massed choirs, bands and dancers, artists in residence in primary schools followed by an exhibition ….. all in collaboration with 4 Corners Music Network.
Read more about the disaster from Les Turnbull’s book ‘A Celebration of our Mining Heritage’