So much of the North East is dedicated to its industrial past, none more so than the mining industry, and my regular reader will have seen various memorials along my photographic journies recorded here. The Washington ‘F’ mine pit has been restored so you can see it in action, and as Sophie was in Spain when it had an open day, I dragged Phil along with me and let him use my fuji XT2 whilst I did the iPhone shots and a couple of videos.
First though, as always,
The History Bit. ☕️ 🍪
In December 1775, a banking and mining tycoon from Sunderland called William Russell, leased all the coal underneath the village of Washington. There were two other leasers, those being the Lords of the Manor of Washington, one of whomst was Robert Shafto. Appropriate name thought I. Shafto ~ mine-shafts, you see? Robert Shafto was a member of parliament who used an old British (possibly Irish) folk song in his election campaign ~
Bobby Shafto’s gone to sea,
Silver buckles at his knee;
He’ll come back and marry me,
Bonny Bobby Shafto!
Anyhoo, I digress. A series of pits were sunk in the leased area, known as “the royalty”, and imaginatively labelled A to I, and they would comprise the New Washington Colliery.
They started hoying out the coal in March 1778 and transported it to Sunderland by waggonway; a horse-drawn railway. By 1786 another waggonway ran to the Tyne, meaning Washington coal could be exported by ships on both the Wear and the Tyne. The ‘F’ pit was sunk about 1777 but got flooded in 1786 after an explosion, and so was abandoned. Roll on 1820 and it reopened, presumably after the water had soaked in, and in 1856 it was deepened 660 feet, (200 meters) to reach the Hutton seam and it became the most productive of Washington Colliery’s nine pits. Seams were given names with a bit more pzazz than the pits. In 1954 it was deepened again this time to reach seam ‘Busty’ 🤷♀️. By the 1960’s new owners had taken over and modernised the colliery, and also by then a Labour government had nationalised the coal industry. The colliery was no longer owned privately, but by the National Coal Board (NCB).
By the mid-1960s it was annually producing 486,000 tons of saleable coal and had a workforce of over 1,500. But it was to be the pit’s last hurrah.
The NCB had a programme of modernisation which didn’t include Washington. All of its remaining pits including ‘F’ closed on Friday, June 21, 1968. Following closure the NCB presented the pit’s winding house (the building containing the huge coil of steel rope that raised and lowered the lift) and headgear to the people of Washington to honour their mining heritage. I’m sure they all appreciated that when they were queuing up at the dole. (The dole:- Unemployed and in receipt of state benefit.)
In the 1970s the Washington Development Corporation took up restoration of the steam engine. It’s recognised as a unique example of 19th century mining machinery: a twin-cylinder horizontal type Simplex for one of the earliest colliery shafts in England. In April 2013 Sunderland City Council took over the Grade II-listed building. Visitors can see the steam engine used to wind the lift up and down. It was once steam operated, but now works from an electric motor for demonstration purposes.
On with a few photo’s and a couple of short videos.
Two very short videos of what it looks and sounds like. The twin-cylinder horizontal type Simplex steam engine.
Mining was, is, such a hard and dangerous job even now, I wouldn’t want to spend all day 600 feet underground digging stuff!
All photos can be embiggened with a click.
Anyways that’s it, stay tooned for wherever next!