Planting Golden Seeds in Northumberland, Tyne & Wear, and Durham





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"I think that we in our family don't need bombs and guns, to destroy to bring peace - just get together, love one another, bring that peace, that joy, that strength of presence of each other in the home. And we will be able to overcome all the evil that is in the world." - Mother Teresa, 1979


When the colliery banners were carried aloft through the streets of Durham on Miners' Gala Day in 1967, who could have predicted that King Coal would soon be gone from the Great Northern Coalfield. But, it happened and hazardous times fell upon many workers and their families.  

The process in which my family were involved was inevitable from the time the first shaft was sunk a century before. Everything - even coal - runs out after a while.  I was there with a ringside seat on history in the making and I was worried. There was an undercurrent at large in society and hard-working people felt the sting. 

 _____________________________________________ I


Here are a few words from a book about the County of Durham, a book of historical significance and first published in 1967. The name of the book in question is a Portrait of County Durham. It was written by a Darlington schoolteacher with a keen eye for history, a particular way with words, and a curiosity above and beyond the norm.  The author's name is Peter A White and he prepared the story of the County of Durham with meticulous attention to detail.

We are told, Mr White motored many thousands of miles, walked high hills, explored derelict lead mines, sailed down the river estuaries and crawled along narrow, two-foot coal faces, two thousand feet below the cold North Sea. His brief was to present the county in the round, and as a living community.  And, this he accomplished admirably in all but one respect - his take on the persona of the Durham Miner. His was an outsider's view and flawed as is often the case when biases become 'the truth of the matter' and get set in stone.


To set the scene, I fast forward to a chapter in the book about Durham County and to a snippet where a schoolteacher turned author is taking his readers on a tour of Durham Cathedral. He has paused to look at the miner's memorial where, in letters of gold, you are asked to:

"Remember before God those who gave their lives in the defence of this country, and those who work there today".  

Mr White also wrote of this forgotten memorial: 'It is made from antique Spanish mahogany, and is decorated with a laurel wreath and a miner's lamp.  A miner's lamp also hangs from a welded ring nearby, a welcome symbol that, after its centuries of extortion and neglect, the Church has at last joined the miners' cause.'


'All great minds love the light (e tenebris lux).'

The second quotation is taken from the Houghton Lodge Banner, a replica of which I spotted recently whilst having a meal out in Houghton-le-Spring. Houghton-le-Spring is an ancient township near to Durham City and it is where I have made my home. Until the closure of its coal mine, it was a hard-working, close-knit mining community very similar to the one I grew up in to the west of Durham City.  For the record, I was born in the White House in Brandon Village during World War II.  My father was a coal miner and - after the war - my family moved to North Street in Brandon Colliery. 

'A world fit for heroes' saw the building of large council estates all over England and County Durham was no exception.  In 1950, we moved to the newly-built, prize-winning Sawmills Estate out in the fresh-air of the Brandon countryside. At twenty years of age, I married and moved to Longframlington in Northumberland.  For a few years, we were 'here and there' around the north east, until eventually settling in the old part of this ancient township. I taught Houghton's young people for nearly twenty years, and can safely say that Houghton-le-Spring is our home. We have lived here now for nearly fifty years.


That aside, I am dismayed to learn that the line of blue marble across the nave of the Cathedral represents the limit beyond which no woman was allowed to set foot. This was when the Cathedral was a Benedictine monastery; the monks birthed a rule that had the effect of putting St. Cuthbert's shrine out of bounds to 50 per cent of the population - the women who were (and are) 'half the sky'. 

During the early 1960s, I worked briefly for the clergy of Durham and going to 'the office' meant walking through the Cathedral every morning and evening. Solid. Reliable. Connected.  How often do we still our busy lives to contemplate the history of that which is on our doorstep - be this an ancient cathedral, our beloved NHS, or the people we love? 

_____________________________________________ II

Between Sunderland and Chester-le-Street (and five miles from Houghton-le-Spring) is the township of Washington. 'Beside the church stands Washington Old Hall, beautifully restored and rarely without an American visitor, camera at the ready and Cadillac parked nearby.' The Washington Family were the ancestors of the famous first President of the United States of America. Mr Peter A White, points to the family crest of three stars and five stripes as 'obviously the prototype of the American flag'.  

But, I must press on. I have only scratched the surface, but hope that I have whetted your appetite to learn more about Durham's links with the American people, a great people and rich beyond imagination. But, this is a culture that has never quite managed to replicate a 'national health service free at the point of need'. Ask friends across the pond about the shadow of being without health insurance.


Fortunately for me, I am decidedly female and was not sent down the pit to spend my working life in dark coaly places. Here, I remind you that mining was an occupation that was brutal and lives were often cut short. Life in a colliery village revolved around 'the pit'. The pit-head was on the doorstep, alongside the inky pit ponds and the even inkier heaps of spoil. Women like my mother didn't work outside the home and life was no picnic for them, either. It was the boys who were treasure-trove, for - when grown - it was they who would work to to bring in the weekly wage-packet.  

Bonnie Pit Laddies - every one.  And, rightly so in my opinion.  It was our menfolk who put food on the table and a roof over our heads. Coal miners had to be resourceful, resilient and brave beyond my ken; and it was bred into them. That's just the way it was. Children, like me, born during World War II represented new horizons.  We manned the flagship called 'Hope for the Future' and we were treated accordingly - girls and boys. 


Despite a popular urban myth, people who work with their hands also work with their heads. Again, I am surprised that inaccuracies pertaining to the conventional wisdom continue to be accepted as read even in the best of circles. For instance, my parents' knowledge of 'parenting' was carefully sourced and as well thought-through as any academic dissertation by a PhD student. They worked to a hidden agenda concerning their children, adhering to a set of parenting guidelines that were implicit rather than explicit. On reflection, I believe this all came about from the trials and tribulations they experienced when young.  

My mother certainly paid heed to how 'the other half lived' during her days 'in service'.  Prior to her wedding in 1939, she worked for a distinguished Durham doctor and his wife, this at a time when second opinions were valued in the inter-linked communities of Old Durham. Doctors of medicine were particularly highly thought of and many were beginning to see through the artificial barriers of class which had beleaguered social progress for some centuries past. That seemed to be the case in respect of my mother's employers who remained unobstrusively supportive of my family until their generation was gone. I have anecdotal evidence of their recognition of a common humanity, but will leave it for another time and place.

Whatever and whoever was behind the thinking re our upbringing, the net result was that my older sister and I both grew to be free spirits and free thinkers. At the root of all this freedom were unwritten rules, those parenting guidelines I spoke of earlier. My mother worked at home as a housewife; my father worked down the pit as a miner. He worked underground for over forty years and left only because his mine closed. Fifty-seven years of age and no golden handshake to soften the blow.  Nature's way?  Apparently so.

_____________________________________________  III


My father was the youngest deputy ever appointed at Pit House Colliery, this at just 24 years of age. I can still see him now 'black from the pit' heading home after his shift.  This was in the days before pit-head baths made life a tad easier for miners (and their wives). Eventually, my father became an overman, thus becoming an official at the mine. He still worked underground, the difference now being that he was responsible for safe-guarding the lives of the men when he was on shift. These men were also neighbours and his friends. Little wonder that sometimes he was short-tempered with his two giggly girls! Lest we forget, his was a truly awesome responsibility.  

A Mines Rescue Worker, my father had responsibility for lives in this capacity, too. This became apparent to me as an eight-year-old when he had a difficult and dangerous job to do, this in the aftermath of the Easington Colliery Disaster.

"On 29th May 1951, an explosion occurred at Easington Colliery.  As a result 81 miners lost their lives.  This horrific death toll was made worse as two rescuers gave their lives trying to save others bringing the final death toll to 83.  The colliery was the main employer in the village and most if not all families had someone or knew someone who worked at the pit."  The Disaster (website). 

No medals for bravery, just a simple letter of thanks from the National Coal Board for a Team Leader - my dad. My father had memories that would haunt any man to the end of his days. This was the price of coal. We held our breath and prayed.  My father was his own man.   


Durham miners didn't look for accolades; it was sufficient that they were in regular work and able to support their families. It was with heavy-heart that my father left mining when his colliery closed in the early 1970s. He told me then that there was a fortune in 'black gold' still buried beneath the fells. Pit House Colliery was a 'wet pit'. On the instructions of some unseen hand, its steel and machinery were salvaged, the pumps were turned off, and the mine was flooded. Nature, helped along by a few tons of grass seed, took over.  Not a trace was left behind.

My father and his friends saw the closure of the mines as an act of political and economic sabotage, a betrayal by the British Government of the time.  We cannot ever know for certain why the Great Northern Coalfield ceased to be. Social, political or economic - plenty of theories. But, the real truth of the matter is still lost to me. My father upped-sticks and went elsewhere to look for a job outside of mining. He never truly recovered his spirit and, thirteen years after the closure of Pit House Colliery, he died. He was three score years and ten.  He had reached his target.  Only love remains.


My father was a staunch supporter of trade unionism and all it stands for. From the age of three, I was 'unionised' simply by sitting quietly on the top of the stairs in our North Street colliery house. Alone and in the dark, I listened to him and his three brothers argue the toss about social justice long into the night. Young though I was, I got the gist of these earnest conversations and recall the rise and fall of men's voices. A life-time later, I morphed into a grammar school teacher who chose to study politics and economics at degree level. I lived politics, economics and education with a passion; that too is just the way it was.  And, still is! 

When the grammar school I had grown to love 'morphed' into a comprehensive school in 1976, I got the prize of a full-time and full-on career as a classroom teacher! I was ready for the challenge and delighted in every day that dawned - for 18 years. Even now, I am not happy to sit back and simply go with the flow.  I know people have to get involved - more so on reaching retirement when they can speak out freely without the fear of losing their livelihood. I've seen what can happen to older people when they opt out; some opt out of life.  But, it is an individual's own choice ... free-will, and all that.

_____________________________________________ IV

  • African childCHERISH PEOPLE OF GOLD.

They say that busy people are always the first to volunteer. My father found time to become a member of team of men (pitmen) who travelled around the county at weekends singing songs, telling jokes, and sharing stories told in verse. Mining was a mission; music was a passion. When I reached 18 years of age, I was allowed (even expected) to go along to the local Workingmen's Club to show my support for the mining community. I should mention here that my future in-laws were 'chapel-going-folk'. Their religion sat uneasily alongside visits to 'The Club' on a Saturday and visits to 'The Chapel' on a Sunday!  For the record, I don't drink alcohol and I didn't take to chapel-going, either. 

Chapels and pubs were on every corner in my time. The moral values (ethics) of the Methodist preacher, Charles Wesley, were integral to mining communities across the whole of northern England, as were their leanings towards New Horizons as preached by the charismatic politician, Kier Hardy. Hardy was a Scottish trade union leader and the first Labour Member of Parliament. In relation to the various power structures that I encounter (some things never seem to change) I continue to cherry-pick my way delicately through the maze, remaining quietly determined as befits a coal miner's daughter who was 'unionized' at three.


Thanks to my parents' wisdom, I have danced on the edge of mystery all my life. My older sister did, too. She died in Christ Church, New Zealand in 2008, having devoted her entire life to the care of the sick, the bereaved and the lonely. My sister walked tall, always with an air of authority. Like me, she lived life according to internalised north-eastern values learned in the home and practised out in the field. My sister - the nurse/matron - was also an accomplished water-colour artist and could easily have followed this route through life. But, she chose to care for the sick and dying and this very early on.  

Teaching was ever on the agenda for me, this from a very early age.  I went through the grammar school system, headed off to college for some work-skills, and then jobbed around testing the water. In 1962, I married my childhood sweetheart, birthed two healthy children, and eventually got round to qualifying as a teacher of Business Studies - in that order. My Certificate of Education dates from 1976, although I taught evening class students from 19 years of age - a second job.

You could say I did it my way and you would be right.  I started young, a life-long learner who (whatever happened) was always safe in the knowledge that to be loved deeply gives you strength, to be loved unconditionally gives you courage.  I rested awhile from my labour, unable even to speak (1989-2001), but I was never completely broken at the wheel.  My father was.  His experiences of the pain of living were very different to mine in every respect, not least work-wise: 

'Fortunately for me, I am decidedly female and was not sent down the pit to spend my working life in dark coaly places.'    


A symphony is 'a harmony of sounds agreeable to the ear'. Whilst Mr. White's research is superb in so many ways, in relation to King Coal his words are not in tune with my memories. I hope my friends in Cyberspace have picked up on the fact that the miners had something rather special going on in their lived communities, in their families and in the workplace. The spirit of the Durham Miner lives on hereabouts and he is a hard act to follow.  As, indeed, are my father and my mother.

Brought up to the sound of music, my sister and I trilled merrily away in complete and absolute harmony throughout our lives. Give me a song or a hymn, and I'll give you the tune. Music was our (private) comfort zone. Singing from the same hymn sheet, Margaret (the nurse/artist) and Marian (the teacher/writer) were connected at a deep cellular level to each other - something not yet understood by science.  Will it ever be?  Our connection was instantaneous and across continents and we, two spirited sisters from Durham, danced on the edge of mystery from opposite sides of the planet for nearly forty years.  We laughed, lived (and suffered) together and in unison. Entangled.

As above, so below.  As within, so without.

_____________________________________________  V


African child

Miners learnt lessons the hard way, and don't we all. For the miners, however, it really was 'the hard way' and many paid the price with their lives.  Now an elder-woman, I have come to the conclusion that happiness and wellbeing are dependent on living in harmony whether at home, work, or play. I know full-well that I am fortunate among women and I am also well-aware of the opportunities that life has afforded me.

Mother Teresa spoke from her heart when she spoke the importance of the home.  Get this right and the world becomes our oyster - a pearl among pearls.  I've learned today that Mother Teresa also said, "None of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful".

Mother Theresa, I thank you and ask you to pray that Baby William's bone marrow transplant will work its magic and he will heal from the inside out.  My wonderful friends in Cyberspace, please believe that a little baby boy from Durham will live to enjoy music, laughter, and love.  And, now I leave William and his family to heal in peace.

They're home.  This is Nature's Way. 

Finally, Mr. Peter A. White, reminds anyone who cares to listen  that St. John said, 'these books are written that ye may believe!" 



Marian Moore, 2012 



PORTRAIT OF COUNTY DURHAM: White, Peter A (1967), Portrait of County Durham, pub. London, Robert Hale 

DICTIONARY: Nuttall's Popular Dictionary of the English Language, Edited by James Wood, (1933), pub. Frederick Warne & Co., Ltd. London & New York  


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Fundamental realizations are often gift-wrapped in a crises. If we can fully grasp their meaning, we need not suffer their drama again. - KRAMER

Viktor Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning:

  • in work (doing something significant),
  • in love (caring for another person), and
  • in courage during difficult times.
Take heart.








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