Looking back at proud heritage

Ian Lavery wins the Wansbeck seat at the Northumberland General Election count 2017
Ian Lavery wins the Wansbeck seat at the Northumberland General Election count 2017

This year marks two special anniversaries linked to our proud Wansbeck heritage as one of the greatest coal production communities in the country.

It is 150 years since coal production really got into its stride at Ashington with the sinking of the shafts at the pit, and it is 50 years since Newbiggin Colliery closed.

Both are being celebrated as a way of reminding ourselves of the part mining played in all our lives.

A commemorative pit wheel is being erected at the west end of Ashington, just a stone’s throw away from the entrance to the pit, and over the Bank Holiday Newbiggin will be remembering the contribution the local colliery made to the town after its shaft was sunk in 1908. Until then it had primarily been a fishing village.

During the 59-year history of the colliery it employed 1,400 men at its peak in the 1940s, producing just short of 500,000 tonnes of coal. Tragically, 41 men lost their lives working down the pit, a stark reminder of the dangers associated with our industry.

Next weekend, the anniversary of the pit’s closure, will be marked during the Newbiggin by the Sea Festival when the annual St Bartholomew’s Fair will be held.

A festival of art and floral displays will be held in the church, appropriately called Black Diamonds, when Newbiggin will be sharing the story of its mining heritage, remembering the lives of those who worked at the pit and how the present day community has been shaped by its past.

On the Saturday, August 26, at 7pm, Newbiggin’s Jayess Brass Band will help set the mood by recalling how bands were such an integral part of life in mining communities.

While I am one of the greatest advocates of looking to the future with hope and optimism, I am also a great believer that we must never forget our past, particularly our mining heritage. The Black Diamonds weekend will offer us a marvellous chance to do just that.