Seaham

Street Map

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Seaham, formerly Seaham Harbour, is a small town in County Durham, situated 6 miles (9.7 km) south of Sunderland and 13 miles (21 km) east of Durham. It has a small parish church, St Mary the Virgin, with a late 7th century Anglo Saxon nave resembling the church at Escomb in many respects. St Mary the Virgin is regarded as one of the 20 oldest surviving churches in the UK. Seaham is currently twinned with the German town, Gerlingen.

The people of Seaham have strong historic ties to Sunderland.

Until the early years of the 19th century Seaham was a small rural agricultural farming community whose only claim to fame was that the local landowner’s daughter, Anne Isabella Milbanke, was married at Seaham Hall to Lord Byron on 2 January 1815. Byron began writing his Hebrew Melodies at Seaham and they were published in April 1815. It would seem that Byron was bored in wintry Seaham, though the sea enthralled him. As he wrote in a letter to a friend:

Upon this dreary coast we have nothing but county meetings and shipwrecks; and I have this day dined upon fish, which probably dined upon the crews of several colliers lost in the late gales. But I saw the sea once more in all the glories of surf and foam.

The marriage was short-lived, but long enough to have been a drain on the Milbanke estate. The area’s fortunes changed when the Milbankes sold out to 3rd Marquess of Londonderry, who built a harbour in 1828 to facilitate transport of goods from the industries locally encouraged (the first coal mine was begun in 1845). However, this harbour later proved inadequate to deal with the millions of tonnes of coal and 6th Marquess commissioned engineers Patrick Meik and Charles Meik to reclaim land and extend and deepen the dock. It was officially opened in 1905. The harbour is of particular interest because it consists of a series of interconnecting locks rather than the more typical two wall construction.

In 1928 production started at the last town colliery to be opened, Vane Tempest. By 1992, however, all three pits (Dawdon Colliery, Vane Tempest Colliery and Seaham Colliery – known locally as “the Knack”) had closed, a process accelerated by the UK miners’ strike (1984-1985) and cheap coal imports from Eastern Europe. The pit closures have hit the local economy extremely hard, and Seaham sank into a depressed state in the 1980s and 1990s.

Many local families were affected by the tragic loss of eight men and one boy in the ‘Seaham Lifeboat Disaster’, when the RNLI lifeboat, the George Elmy, sank on 17 November 1962. To commemorate the event, the new coast road was named George Elmy Lifeboat Way.

Seaham has fine beaches and easy transport links to the eastern side of the country. From 2001 most of the Durham coastline was designated as a “heritage coast” and Seaham beach was entirely restored. In 2002 the Turning the Tide project won, jointly with the Eden Project, the prize for Outstanding Achievement in Regeneration in the annual Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors awards. Seaham Hall is now a luxury hotel and spa.

In homage to the town’s link to Lord Byron, the new multi-million pound shopping complex, which now includes an Asda supermarket as well as Argos and Wilkinson stores, is named Byron Place. It aims to revitalise the area, using the successful redevelopment of the central shopping district of neighbouring town Peterlee as a benchmark. Asda officially opened on 3 September 2007 and the rest of the shopping centre opened in November 2007.

In 2006, a survey conducted by Halifax revealed that Seaham is the top property price increase hotspot in England and Wales as average prices rose by 172% since 2003. The average price of £117,266 is still, however, well below the national average. It is believed this surge has been greatly helped by regeneration work in the area, and in particular the popular new housing estate East Shore Village, built on the site of the former Vane Tempest colliery.

Today, the town has a population of around 22,000, and is served by Seaham Railway Station, which lies on the Durham Coast Line, running from Middlesbrough to Newcastle upon Tyne, via Hartlepool, Stockton-on-Tees and Sunderland.

The rich mining history of the town was highlighted in the 2000 blockbuster film Billy Elliot which was set during the UK miners’ strike (1984-1985) in the fictional County Durham town of ‘Everington’, but which displayed characteristics particular to East Durham pit communities such as Seaham and Easington Colliery – both towns feature as locations in the film, notably Dawdon Miners’ Club, into which Billy’s dad runs when he learns his son has won an audition at dance school. The town has also served as a location for the films Alien 3 (1992), and the BAFTA nominated Life For Ruth (1962) starring Janet Munro and Patrick McGoohan.

According to Tom McNee’s 1992 portrait of the town The Changing Face of Seaham: 1928-1992, St. John’s parish church was used as the setting of a 1985 service recorded for BBC Radio 4. Also, a two-part Channel 4 documentary profiled the town in 1991.

In Dawden Dene to the south, beside the road to Dalton-le-Dale, are the remains of Dalden Tower, comprising the ruins of a sixteenth century tower and fragments of later buildings.

Note: this page is partly based on a Wikipedia page. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. Where possible, text is being updated to original, fully referenced research. ‘Our photos’ means we took the photographs. The Street View and streetplan visuals are courtesy of Google.

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