The lonely shell of the engine house is all that remains of the former Haswell Colliery on Mazine Terrace at Haswell Plough in County Durham. The colliery was abandoned 1896 but is still remembered principally for the disaster that occurred on the 28th September 1844, sensitively commemorated by Michael Disley’s sculpture which stands within the building’s enclosure.
On that fateful day a sudden roof-fall underground in the Hutton seam released large quantities of methane gas that exploded and killed 95 men and boys. The oldest victim was 61 years old whilst the youngest – who had been visiting the mine for the first time with his pitman father – was only 10. Only four miners survived; those that died were killed either by the blast and flames or by asphyxiation from the ‘choke-damp’ that permeated the seam after the explosion – many were found sitting peacefully together, hand in hand.
Perhaps even more poignantly, the miners were only just returning to work after a protracted and acrimonious strike that saw them turned out of their houses by the mine-owners and their notorious ‘candymen’. What resulted was a period of miserable hardship for the miners and their families with children often having to resort to begging on the streets while the owners brought in an unskilled ‘scab’ labour force that was quickly discarded when the miners returned.
On a very much more agreeable note: thanks to the technical skill and innovation of the Durham mining engineers, Haswell Colliery can lay claim to being the site where the first steel cable ever to be used down a mine shaft was deployed. Haswell Engine House is on Mazine Terrace in the village of Haswell Plough, County Durham (NZ 373422).
Tragedy of a sporting kind is associated with the village of Haswell further up the road: it is the birthplace of the racing cyclist Tom Simpson who was a World Champion in 1965 and who later died in controversial circumstances on Mont Ventoux during the 1967 Tour de France.