During the 1939-45 War, two enemies had been at work in Seaham - the sea and German bombers.
Coastal Erosion had washed away the sea banks and undermined North Road. The Government sanctioned the building of a sea wall. Begun in 1953, it cost £168,000, stretched for 3,700 feet from the Featherbed Rock to Seaham Hall, and its top deck made a pleasant undercliff walk. Eleven groynes were added in 1955 to help break up dangerous tides and minimise beach movement, but 40 years on they are now largely buried under sand and gravel. Two good cliff-top car parks followed to provide viewing points and a picnic area near Seaham Hall.
Altogether by the War's end 8 air raids had caused 57 deaths, injured 224 and left a legacy of 500 bomb damaged houses, and over 1,000 people in temporary accommodation. Several slum streets still awaited demolition. The two worst raids were:-
August 15th, 1940 - daylight raid - Messerschmitt 110 shot down - bombs dropped in Dawdon area - 12 deaths - 119 people homeless – 5 houses demolished - Dawdon Church, vicarage and 230 houses damaged.
16th May, 1943 - night raid - land mine dropped on corner of Viceroy Street, Sophia Street and Adolphus Street West - 34 deaths - 154 casualties - Presbyterian Church and 113 houses totally demolished - 1,200 houses damaged - 102 families homeless - 1,200 other persons billeted out. Wagonworks, St. John's Church, Viceroy Street Infants and National Schools all damaged.
Housing Needs were met initially by re-occupying old Colliery houses; deserted army huts were pressed into service and prefabs erected on old bomb sites. But from 1948, as building restrictions were lifted, slum clearance began again in Seaham Colliery and the town centre areas around Frances Street and Adolphus Street. New Council house estates replaced them on the fringes of the town at Parkside, Eastlea, Westlea, Dene House Road and Northlea. Private houses burgeoned in the same areas.
The completion of the Cornelia Terrace and Clara Street overbridges and the Strangford Road underbridge eliminated the curse of traffic hold ups at the Dawdon and Seaham Colliery level crossings. This improved traffic flow to the town centre where a much needed complex of Civic Buildings, St. John's Square, opened in September, 1964 - Council Offices, Magistrates Court, Job Centre and Child Welfare Clinic joined the new County Library, already opened in 1961.
A Garden of Rest created from the old St. John's Churchyard, a new bus station, pedestrianisation of nearby Church Street, with adequate free parking at either end soon followed to give Seaham folk the pleasure of a compact, worthwhile centre with easy access to shopping and civic amenities.
But Civic Pride received severe blows with the transfer of local government to Easington (1974), closure of Seaham Hall Hospital (1978) and closure of the town's Lifeboat Station (1979).
After 109 years of R.N.L.I. service, closure came on 24th February, 1979 - a sad day for Seaham. But the bravery and sacrifice of the crews of her lifeboats (Sisters Carter, Skynner, Elliot Galer, Elizabeth Wills Allen, George Elmy and Will and Fanny Kirby), their record of 137 launchings on service and 259 lives saved will echo proudly down the years.
The Lifeboat Disaster of 17th November, 1962 was undoubtedly their worst moment. The "George Elmy", after completing the successful rescue of 5 persons from the fishing boat "Economy" in heavy seas, was capsized in the mouth of the Harbour by a giant wave. All five of the crew and four of the five from the "Economy" were lost - a tragedy that stunned town and nation.
Industrial Changes: 1947 - 1992
Londonderry influence disappeared with coal nationalisation in 1947. Thereafter National Coal Board policy controlled the working of the town's pits. Increasing demand for coal throughout the 1950's and early 60's led to intense mechanisation, electrification, improved standards of safety, health and welfare. This brought ever increasing production, full employment and work satisfaction. The three pits constantly beat their targets. Dawdon won regional, national and European awards. A £76,000 Training Centre opened at Seaham Colliery in 1965. The N.C.B. Drilling Rig estimated 180 million tonnes of coal off shore. The picture looked bright for the town's pits.
Seaham Harbour Dock Company reflected these changes. Annual coal shipments declined from 2 million tonnes in the 1950's to 329,000 tonnes in 1978 when only 340 ships used the port. The N.C.B. decision to move all coal by rail was a bitter blow. But under a new Dock Company, new developments came thick and fast. Demolition and replacement of the staiths by cranes and conveyors, splendid new dock head offices, warehousing and distribution facilities enabled 600 ships to handle a million tonnes of cargo - grain, timber and minerals - by 1985. How quickly the scene changed. Throughout the late 1960's and early 1970's cheap oil, North Sea gas and nuclear power captured Seaham's traditional London, South Coast and Scottish markets. Ugly stockpiles of coal grew, coal sales declined, so did wage packets. Recession, galloping inflation and ever increasing inland pit closures led to the 1979 winter of discontent. Seaham's morale was low.
The 1984/5 N.U.M. strike had serious consequences for some Seaham businesses - Crompton & Harrison, steel fabricators; Snowdon & Bailes Ltd. (Bakers) left the town and Elgeys Timber Yard closed down. The South Hetton Mineral Line closed and its rails were ripped up in 1988.
Much worse was to follow for Seaham's 3 pits. Seaham Colliery closed in 1987; Dawdon Colliery in 1991 and the last pit in the town, Vane Tempest Colliery, closed in 1992.
Seaham has a long association with mining. The difficulties through periods of strikes forged a bond of friendship and community spirit that still lives today. It would have been easy to say "No pits, no heart, no hope and no future" but Seaham people are resilient. They and generations before have experienced hard times and there is a fierce determination in Seaham for new success.
No-one in Seaham will ever be able to forget the wonderful legacy left to the town by generations of miners who bought, maintained and then handed over to Seaham Town Council the former miners recreation grounds which today are major parks at Dawdon Welfare and Seaham Town Parks.
Want to know more about pits and banners? Then visit www.seaham.com/bannerfund/contact.html
Want to find out more about Historic Seaham? Then visit the History of Seaham Website.