Northumberland man salutes Newbiggin's pit past

A retired mineworker has dug deep into his own pocket to ensure that his former pit town has a fitting memorial to its proud industrial past

Tommy Charlton and Billy Harris with the miners 'tub' in Newbiggin by the Sea
Tommy Charlton and Billy Harris with the miners 'tub' in Newbiggin by the Sea

A retired mineworker has dug deep into his own pocket to ensure that his former pit town has a fitting memorial to its proud industrial past.

Community stalwart Bill Harris, 71, has spent £1,000 of his personal savings to buy, refurbish and install a former pit tub next to the main road through Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Northumberland. It will commemorate Newbiggin Colliery, which operated from 1908 to 1967 and employed 1,400 men in its heyday.

Bill, one of four generations of a mining family, decided to provide the memorial after a previous pit tub on the site of the former pit became a rusty, vandalised and neglected eyesore.

With the help of his friend, Peter Bewick, he found the tub in a builder’s yard in Widdrington, and had it painted, inscribed and mounted on a plinth, rails and chains.

It was installed on the route of the old wagonway, along which tubs of coal were taken from Newbiggin Colliery to the washing and screening plant decades ago.

Bill, who is part of the Newbiggin Colliery Residents’ Association and lives in the town with his wife Kathleen, said: “I’ve bought a lot of stupid things in my life, but I really think this is one of the best things I’ve ever bought.

“I had the money to do it, after selling off some old watches and clocks which I’d repaired, and thought this was a great way of doing something for the community.

“I believe this is the best pit tub in Northumberland and it’s in mint condition.

“I’ll make sure it is kept in a good condition and painted, and I’ve already been asked by quite a few local kids what it is all about, because some of them have never seen a piece of coal.”

Bill, who worked at Lynemouth Colliery before retiring, said the town’s previous pit tub had become rusty and unsightly, and was going to cost more than £3,000 to do up. The one he bought had been used at a pit in Yorkshire.

“I just think people here, especially young people, should be reminded that there was once a colliery in Newbiggin. It is just a gesture I wanted to make to my home community. I could have bought a public seat or something, but this seemed more appropriate, and the cost was nothing to me.”

Mr Bewick, who also lives in Newbiggin, helped Bill find the tub and did much of the work on restoring it, including putting stones in it and painting them black to depict chunks of coal.

They secured planning permission from the county council to install it on Woodhorn Road.

“People driving into Newbiggin can see it clearly, and will know there was a colliery here,” he added.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer