Friday, 7 January 2011

Seaton Sluice’s Sluice (NZ338768)

An unlikely name for a coastal village if ever there was one; but the little piece of engineering ingenuity which gave this settlement its name is worthy of investigation.

You see, before it ever had a sluice, Seaton Sluice, as a name, quite obviously didn’t exist. The area around the outflow of the Seaton Burn was known as, firstly, Hartley Pans, then Hartley Haven up until the mid- to late-1600s. The tiny little natural harbour shipped salt and coal, but was prone to silting – an issue which greatly hindered the port’s economic viability. The problem was solved by the local landowner, Sir Ralph Delaval, who hit upon the clever idea of constructing a pier with sluice gates that trapped the sea-water at high tide. By opening the gates at low tide, the water would rush out and cleanse the harbour. Everyone was so pleased with the new-fangled set-up that they re-christened the village Seaton Sluice. This all happened during 1660-90.

This worked with varying degrees of success for several decades; until, that is, the Delavals’ ambitions moved to a new level in the 1760s. Sir John and his brother, Thomas, decided that is was time to construct a new entrance for the village’s harbour, and set about cutting a new channel through solid rock to the east of the old entrance. A monumental task in its day, the new Cut, or ‘Gut’, measuring 52ft deep x 30ft wide x 900ft long, could be ‘sluiced off’ at both ends, thus allowing ship-loading to continue no matter what the state of the tide. Completed in 1764, the Seaton Sluice MkII proved to be a resounding success – in 1777, for instance, 177 ships carrying 48,000 tonnes of coal sailed from the harbour. The ingenious initiative also greatly helped the growth and prosperity of the local bottleworks – another Delaval family institution.

All of this is still very much in evidence today at Seaton Sluice – with many more historical remnants on view, besides. The area around the village and Seaton Delaval Hall is well worth a day’s outing, though a little historical research beforehand will help the visitor appreciate all there is on offer.

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