Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The ‘Hell Pit’ of Seaham (NZ410496)

[From an article which appeared in the Sunderland Echo of 22nd July 1992]

The Seaham Colliery Disaster of 9th September 1880 was one of the worst of its kind in history. One hundred and sixty-four men and boys died after an explosion swept through the pit-workings, thereafter dubbed ‘Hell Pit’ by the press at the time of the occurrence.

The episode is rife with tales of individual heroism and sad stories of epic proportions. Among them, the tale of one George Dixon, who chose to stay in the devastated pit with his young injured putter boy rather than take the chance to escape. “Nay, I’ll stay with the lad,” he was heard to say – his last words, as it happened, for their two bodies were later found lying together.

One other touching find was a board found next to four bodies with the words, written in chalk: “Five o'clock: we have been praying to God.” And, on the reverse: “The Lord has been with us. We are all ready for Heaven.” The board now stands in nearby Christ Church.

Perhaps the most heart-wrenching tale of all, however, is that of miner Michael Smith, who scratched a last message to his wife, Margaret, upon his tin bottle with an old nail the following: “Dear Margaret, there was 40 of us all together and some was (sic) singing hymns, but my thoughts was on my little Michael that him and I would meet in Heaven at the same time. Oh dear wife, God save you and the children, and pray for me.... Oh, what an awful position we are in.”  ‘Michael’ was Smith’s own 18-month-old child who had died that same morning....

(my thanks to J.C.Coyne for this piece)

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