Post War Redevelopment 1945 - 1993

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.