Monday, April 13, 2009

What comes around ...

It's funny stuff, industrial heritage.

One century you're waving placards, getting up petitions and demanding the truth.

"Out demons OUT..."

And the next, you're waving placards, getting up petitions and demanding a different truth. A chapter in the KeyStage 3 history curriculum, perhaps.

There's no way of knowing when or where it will strike, industrial heritage.

Take Seaton Sluice, for example.

Back in 1860 it was the largest bottle maker in the UK. It says so on a plaque.

Now, i don't know much about bottle making but i'm prepared to bet that it wasn't a very nice process. Hot things, smokey things, kill you when you're not looking, things.

I bet too that the Duke of Northumberland had a finger in those bottles; shaking them up, making them fizzy - and getting money back on the empties.

But just how bad was bottle making? Was it worse than mining, for example?

Well, the folks of Seaton Sluice could easily find out because just across the field, was Hartley village and its pit.

"Was" because in 1862 the colliery beam engine fell down the shaft; the only shaft, blocking the only shaft - and 204 men and boys suffocated. Slowly. Helplessly.

And that was the end of Hartley.

Perhaps it was the pit disaster that also spelled doom for the bottle factory in Seaton Sluice - it closed eight years later.

Or maybe Wimpey built some smart new hovels in Seaton Sluice and the incoming residents objected to the bottle factory.

"We prefer Evian..."

Anyway, today they're all gone.

There's just the plaque that i mentioned. And in Earsdon church yard there's an overgrown, tear-stained memorial to the people who died down Hartley pit.

Maybe they're your tears. It's impossible not to weep.

Oh, and out in the middle of the field, there's a bloody great big, cold, dark monument. But i never go there.

In 1862 they took up a collection for the people of Hartley and Queen Victoria sent a few bob. I bet the Duke put his hand in his pocket too.

I think that's how they built the monument. I bet the bereaved families of Hartley were grateful.

They're generous people, the rich. Oh ... and parliament passed a regulation saying that henceforth all pits had to have two shafts. Thoughtful.

But by then, Hartley was just about gone.

And soon, soon without its bottle factory, Seaton Sluice would be a 'nice place' for a walk, for a pint and for fish and chips.

Today people living there look happy. Blokes in boats look happy. I was happy.

How do we measure these things? Dunno.

But take it from me, me up-north, someday, when all the placards, spit, venom and unhappiness have gone, the yet-to-be-built third London airport will also be, 'gone'.

Gone, perhaps to open space. Or gone, but remembered at local insistence - by a 'living heritage centre'. Or maybe recalled by just a plaque - like the one for Seaton Sluice bottle factory

Funny stuff, industrial heritage.
* Seems that some of my guesses were right .... which ones? Have a look here, it's an interesting read, i promise

An account of the Hartley Disaster

Photo, 204 names on church memorial

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