Magazine article Geographical

The Coal Porters

Magazine article Geographical

The Coal Porters

Article excerpt

Ellington colliery leads a charmed life. A year ago, when final closure seemed inevitable, it won a last minute reprieve. Its closure would have marked the end of deep pit mining in the Northumberland and Durham coalfield. It would have also heralded the end for the seacoalers of Lynemouth and Newbiggin-by-the -- Sea now the only area in Britain where men work with horses and carts to gather seacoal. A negligible amount of coal washed up on the shoreline is eroded by the sea from outcrops in sea cliffs and open seams on the sea bed. The remainder is waste that is tipped into the sea in Lynemouth Bay, to avoid unsightly spoil heaps. It is ironic that now the future of the pit seems more secure, the way of life of the seacoalers is yet again under threat. As part of the Lynemouth Bay Reclamation Scheme, which aims to clean up the surrounding coastline, the beach will soon be off limits to the public -- seacoalers included.

one of the remaining seacoalers, 62-year-old Joe Smith, collects coal from the surf with the `chip pan'. Up until the 1970s the seacoalers would skilfully scoop coal from the waves with a shovel. When, one day, a Scotsman turned up with a metal ring on the end of a pole and a mesh onion bag stretched across it, it caused great hilarity. But the seacoalers started in disbelief as he scooped coal from the waves at about three times the usual rate. This quickly evolved into the wire mesh `chip pan' net they use today Joe, assisted by his nephew George, collects coal left by the receding tide from the rockpools. Nowadays there are just seven or eight men who work the seacoal on a regular basis. All are approaching or past retirement age, and several of them have worked the beaches all their lives. It was once a common sight to see 100 horses and carts working on the beach at Lynemouth. Buyers would turn up from all over the northeast. …

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