TRIBUTES were paid yesterday to those who lost their lives in one of the darkest chapters in South Tyneside’s history.
The names of the 51 men and boys killed in the St Hilda Colliery disaster in South Shields were read out at a church service to mark the 175th anniversary of their deaths.
They died in an underground explosion at the pit on June 28, 1839. The youngsest victim was only nine years old.
Many were buried in the graveyard at St Hilda’s and it became a focus for the town’s grief.
Representatives of the mining community, South Tyneside Mayor Coun Fay Cunningham and South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck joined residents in remembering them at the service at St Hilda’s Church, in South Shields.
Several of the victims of the disaster were buried at Holy Trinity Church in Laygate, and a two-minute silence in their memory was also observed as part of a service at St Jude’s Church at Laygate, South Shields.
Both services were complemented by a community play being staged at the weekend at St Hilda’s.
Commissioned by the town’s Customs House theatre, Cold In The Clay is based on contemporary accounts of the tragedy and told the story through the eyes of one of the families caught up in it.
Youngsters from St Bede’s Primary School also helped artist Bob Olley to design a new banner for the Harton and Westoe Miners’ Welfare Club, and it was unveiled for the first time at St Hilda’s.
The pupils lit a candle for every life cut short at the service, led by the Rev Chris Fuller, the vicar of St Hilda’s Church.
Westoe Brass Band played as the banner was carried into the church by Harton and Westoe Miners’ Banner Group secretary John Watson and committee member Ian Robertson.
Prayers and hymns followed, with Mr Fuller praising the solidarity shown by people in South Shields during the worst disaster to ever hit the town, before a minute’s silence was held.
Mr Fuller said: “We have come together to remember those who lost their lives in a pit disaster 175 years ago.
“It is clear that, at the time of the disaster, the people of South Shields showed their concern for the wellbeing of others.
“The Customs House has put on a production about the disaster here in the church which shows, quite clearly, the solidarity of the people of South Shields, how they came into this very building to bring in those who had died and and care for those who’d lost loved ones.
“We remember those people because this is the anniversary of the greatest disaster South Shields has ever suffered and, hopefully, ever will.
“Some 51 men and boys, one as young as just nine, lost their lives.
“The mining community in South Shields laboured long and hard in the ground, to bring prosperity to the surface.”
“The splendid banner will be present at the next Durham Miners’ Gala on July 12 and will be blessed at Durham Cathedral.”