Seaham Colliery, opened in 1849, almost immediately acquired the nickname ‘The Nicky-Nack’ or, more simply, ‘The Nack’; though, as time passed, I suspect that not many folk knew quite why.
The story goes that in the 1820s and ‘30s a local man by the name of Tommy Chilton became well known in the vicinity of the future pit, being something of a local character. He held the now long-gone windmill, and also ran the local pub, The Mill Inn (still standing). Besides his dual career, he was also something of a technical genius, and regularly entertained folk with his ‘electrical devices’ (whatever they were). Most famously, though, he had a talent for repairing women’s spinning wheels.
At the time, a model called the Knack-Reel was in use, with its distinctive ‘nicky-nack’ action. These new-fangled contraptions were somewhat complex in arrangement and prone to mechanical failure – and in would step Mr Chilton to fix ‘em. Tommy, it seems, had the knack, like no one else for miles around; and, in time, his dwelling at The Mill Inn became full of old spinning machines in various states of repair. And so the inn came to be commonly known as ‘The Nicky-Nack’ – and Tommy, in turn, became ‘Tommy Nicky-Nack’.
So when, in 1849, a new coal shaft was sunk within a stone’s throw of Tommy and his inn, it, too, borrowed the curious tag of ‘The Nicky-Nack’ – or more commonly still, ‘The Nack’.
It’s true, I tell you.