East Hetton Colliery Village, Durham, England
Both William and Mary Jane Hill nee Woodward grew up in this tiny pit village in Durham, England.
In the 1830’s, many coal mines or collieries had opened at numerous places in County Durham. At each locality there had sprung into being a large village or town, with a population “almost exclusively of the collier people, beer-shop people and small shopkeepers.” The houses were built by the colliery owners so that the invading hordes of workmen and their families could secure accommodation within walking distance of the pit head.
In County Durham wages were higher and more consistent than in other mining counties, there was a free house and free coal for the fire. Many Durham mining villages also had free schools supplied by the mine owners and these gave the children educational opportunities which did not exist in the counties they had left.
About 12km South of Durham city lies the small pit village of East Hetton. It was established to house the several hundred miners’ families who worked at the East Hetton Colliery. It consisted of about 6 rows of attached houses. In each row lived roughly about 125 people. In this town, the rows of houses were literally called 1st Row, 2nd Row, 6th Row etc.
Each tiny house likely had a small back yard for growing vegetables and a small lean to for storing the coal which like the house, came free with the job.
In older versions of Google Earth you can make out the faint outline of these rows of houses which are now little more than a pile of rubble amongst the scrub because houses were demolished in the 50’s or 60’s. Jon and I visited there in March, Though now a jumble of half buried rubble and low scrub, we were able to pick out a piece of red brick and half a slate roof tile to bring home to NZ with us! Jon has since made me a slate drinks coaster where I can sit my wine glass and toast to William and Mary Jane on occasion.
We visited the area in early Spring and the weather was cold, drizzly and a bit miserable. The whole area has a bit of an unloved dilapidated feeling. Many shops stand empty and the Keep Coxhoe beautiful committee has long since disbanded. The whole wider area here is dotted with former mining village after village and in a 20-minute radius we could visit many of the colliery towns where various Hill family members lived over the past 180 years. Each village looks almost exactly the same, rows of attached miners’ houses, a couple of rustic pubs, a village shop and a parish church. The area is decidedly flat with only low rolling hills visible here and there and was misty, dreary and really cold. Not an uplifting scene in the Winter months that’s for sure and they would have been perfectly acclimatised for West Coast winter living.