1880 Seaham and Rainton Colliery Disaster Memorial
A sandstone memorial in the Gothic style. It is decorated with foliate mouldings and granite pilasters.
The bodies of those killed in the 1880 disaster were interrred together next to the grave of those killed in the previous explosion at Seaham (DUEA84, qv). It is said that when the memorial was unveiled no less than 60,000 people attended the ceremony.(6)
An explosion at the Seaham colliery at 2.30am on the 8th September 1880 was the first of eight major blasts to hit the Durham coalfield in the 1880s. Over 200 miners were working underground when the pit 'blew'. Half a mile away the inhabitants of Seaham were woken by a tremendous noise and shudder. News of the accident spread quickly around the county and by 4am a crowd of thousands stood at the pit mouth. It was not known or recorded how many men and boys were trapped below ground but early estimates based on the number of lamps issued at the beginning of the shift indicated two hundred and forty. By noon a rescue party of five men had been lowered into the pit with a basket of provisions. Within two hours they brought the first survivors to the surface and by midnight sixty seven men had been recovered. Others were rescued during the next day and night.
The rescuers found the remaining men dead or entombed. Many had been mutilated or burnt by the blast, some beyond recognition. There were also men who had died through inhaling the gas known as afterdamp.(1) It became apparent that some of those trapped below ground had not died instantly. One miner, Richard Cole, recorded the time on a chalk board, revealing that he had been underground for at least twenty four hours before his death. Michael Smith, also found dead, had scratched a message on his tin water-bottle: 'Dear Margaret there were 40 of (us) alltogether at 7am. Some was singing Hymns, but my thoughts was on my little Michael that him and I would meet in heaven at the same time... Dear Wife Farewell, my last thoughts are about you and the children, be shure and learn the children to pray for me. Oh what an awfull position we are in.'(2)
During the next three weeks one hundred and thirty six corpses were recovered. Others were removed when the Maudlin Seam was re-opened the following June. Over 150 ponies also failed to survive the blast.(3)
The disaster received national news coverage and an engraving of the rescue appeared on the front page of the Illustrated London News.(4) Though the inquest proved inconclusive, the Government Inspectors of Mines, miners' representatives and the chief Government representative of the enquiry, Mr R.S.Wright, favoured the theory that the explosion was generated by the firing of a shot. Mr Wright's report cited the 'urgent necessity for prohibiting the firing of shots when any large numbers of men are underground.'(5)
Incised on east face in black Roman letters: THERE IS / BUT A STEP / BETWEEN ME AND / DEATH. / (list of names incised on plaque below)
Incised in black Roman letters at base of east face: ERECTED BY THE WORKMEN OF / SEAHAM AND RAINTON COLLIERIES / AND OTHER FRIENDS / IN MEMORY OF THE 164 ABOVE NAMED MEN AND BOYS WHO LOST THEIR LIVES / IN AN EXPLOSION AT SEAHAM COLLIERY ON 8TH SEPTEMBER 1880.
Incised on north face in black Roman letters: HE WILL / SWALLOW / UP DEATH IN / VICTORY/ (list of names incised on plaque below)
Incised on west face in black Roman letters: BLESSED / ARE THE DEAD / WHICH DIE IN THE LORD (list of names incised on plaque below)
Incised on west face in black Roman letters: WHAT MAN / IS HE THAT / LIVETH AND SHALL / NOT SEE DEATH
Incised on south face in black Roman letters: THIS GARDEN OF REST / WAS PROVIDED BY PUBLIC SUBSCRIPTION / IN MEMORY OF ALL SEAHAM MINERS / WHO HAVE GIVEN THEIR LIVES IN THE COURSE OF THEIR DUTY / DEDICATED 1965
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