Friday, 22 July 2011

Seaham or Seaham Harbour? (NZ430495)

To look at the map now, you would think that Seaham must have been there for ages.  Its piers reaching confidently out to sea, the lines of its railways – current and past – twisting their way through the town, to say nothing of the considerable scattering of churches, halls and the like thereabouts.  But almost all of that which is man-made between the modern-day A19 and the eastern seaboard has sprung up in the last 170 years or so.  Like many other settlements of the region, of course, it owes its spectacular growth to the Industrial Revolution.

Before the arrival of industry, ‘Seaham’ amounted to little in the way of conurbation, and centred on the still countrified environs of Seaham Hall, including the ancient church of St.Mary’s and the Old Vicarage, all of which lie a mile north of the town centre of today.  Even as late as 1894, it was described thus: “There is really no village of Seaham: the church and the residence of the rector constitutes what is known as Seaham, which is situated on the coast, about five miles south of Sunderland.”  What we now recognise as Seaham was, formerly ‘Seaham Harbour’, where, to quote the same 1894 source, “seventy years ago there was not a house or a path; and when it was proposed to create a port at the place, the project was treated as visionary and absurd.”  The harbour was build  in the early years of the Victorian era – curiously, at a point where no river meets the ocean – for the sole purpose of meeting the needs of industry, namely, getting coal and glass bottles out, and timber and silver sand in.  Pits were sunk, too, of course, in great profusion from the 1840s, leading to the creation of, among others, New Seaham, or Seaham Colliery, a little inland.

During the course of the early twentieth century, the variously-named settlements grew and merged into the Seaham we now see on the modern OS map – whilst swallowing nearby villages such as Dawdon; and leaving others, such as Dalton-le-Dale, the centre of the former ancient parish, languishing in the past.

The history of the town is well-served by many websites, which can be easily Googled.

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