Tuesday, 26 October 2010

‘Big E’: The Last Pit (NZ283917)

Ellington Colliery in Northumberland holds the distinction of being the last of the North-East’s deep coal pits to close, so ending the 800-year+ history of the industry in the region. When the ‘Big E’ finally shut up shop on 26th January 2005, it was also the last remaining British deep mine to extract coal from under the sea – a practice in which it solely specialised.

Ellington didn’t actually gain its colliery until 1909, when the Ashington Coal Company began operations there – with production starting in 1911. It slowly grew and grew, combining with nearby Lynemouth Colliery and reaching over 1,300 employees by the time of nationalisation in 1947. Despite the mechanisation of the post-war period, the workforce had swelled to well in excess of 2,000 by the otherwise troubled times of the mid 1980s.

It was a big pit, producing 45,000 tonnes of coal per week at one point, but began overstretching itself under the North Sea as time wore on – miners having to travel an astonishing 16km to reach the coalface. Flooding was always a problem, with as much as one million gallons being pumped out of the pit daily, and it was reported that at one time three tons of water were being raised for every ton of coal wound. Flooding effectively led to the closure of the pit when, in early 2005, water catastrophically burst from a new coal face that had promised to provide another five year’s work. Its operators had little choice but to close the colliery in its entirety and the last 340 jobs were lost, along with the Great North Coalfield itself.

A few years before its closure, the pit found international fame via its appearance in the 2000 film Billy Elliot, where it doubled for the long-gone Easington Colliery. And in 2009, 100 years after the pit was sunk, a bronze memorial was raised on the deserted site, in honour of both the 83 men who lost their lives there and the industry in general across the region.


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