Film ID:
NEFA 11654

COSTA DEL COAL

1971

Visitor Tabs

Description

A Tyne Tees Television programme presented by radio and television storyteller and presenter Johnny Morris about Seaham Harbour on the North East coast near Sunderland. He investigates the history of the town and its links to the Londonderry family. The town flourished during the height of the coal industry but has declined to the point where lack of employment and investment is creating stagnation. However a new enterprise may change Seaham’s fortunes.

The film opens with a train of coal trucks heading towards a coal depot away from the camera. The film cuts to Johnny Morris enjoying a ride on the front platform of a small diesel engine shunter. Taking in the view and enjoying the ride he reminisces as the landscape passes by. The film cuts to a front view of the engine where Johnny Morris stands as it approaches the camera. Behind the engine a train of coal trucks. A travelling shot shows the approaching railway and landscape ahead. Johnny Morris gets off the engine, commenting on how similar Seaham seems to the area in South Wales he knew fifty years ago.

General views follow of Seaham Harbour and of men congregating on the harbour wall, one man makes lobster pots for fishing. Johnny Morris describes the men as the ‘the skeleton staff of a dead old harbour’. The coal staithes reach out into the water. Johnny Morris walks to the dock company offices which is now the police station, a statue of Lord Londonderry who established the dock company stands nearby. Pub names such as the Londonderry Arms and the Vane Arms show the historical connection of the Londonderry family with the town. General views follow of a man walking along the beach with his dog. Johnny Morris observes that the local coastline could be as popular as the Spanish Costas, if only the weather was kinder, however Seaham, he concludes is destined to remain the ‘Costa del Coal’.

Cut to Johnny Morris reading the gravestone of two members of the Watson family, both killed in mining accidents. He moves amongst the headstones, the local church behind him.

Seaham Hall is shown in a middle distance shot, is now a hospital but was formerly the home of a local squire whose daughter married the poet Lord Byron. The squire later sold the hall to Lord Londonderry who established the railway at Seaham as well as the docks. The film shows the private halt that was built by the family at Hall Dene, then the film cuts to Hall Dene signal box. In the signal box the signalman pushes levers which close the level crossing, allowing an approaching diesel engine with a train of empty coal trucks to pass through. A high angle shot shows empty coal wagons about to be filled at a colliery coal yard. General views follow of the coal yard.

Inside the colliery miners start their shift. A miner signs out a lamp from the ‘Flame Lamps Issue Point’, a canary in a cage reinforces the fact that old methods of detecting foul air have never been surpassed. Miners enter the cage lift that will take them down the pit shaft. Before entering the cage they pass a token or check to the banksman. The token shows that the man has gone underground and also indicates that he was being paid. In voiceover Johnny Morris talks of society’s reliance on coal. The banksman pulls the safety gates across the cage, he presses a button and the cage descends.

Blank section, but commentary continues.

A long shot out to sea shows a collier ‘packed tight with coal’ making its way through the swell, above the area where the seams of Dawdon colliery go out under the sea.

The camera pulls back to reveal the buildings which make up Dawdon colliery, near the coast.

An interior shot shows cables winding around large wheels, an indicator shows the position of the cage in the shaft. A man nearby operates a lever for the winch. Close ups follow of machinery followed by a shot of the large skip which is hoisted out of the pit carrying 9 tons of coal.

General views follow of coal coming to the top of a conveyor belt, then tumbling down a chute to a screen which separates large and small pieces. Johnny Morris comments ‘some say there is enough coal left to satisfy us for 200 years’ A young miner watches carefully as larger pieces of coal go by on a conveyor belt.

General views follow of miners coming off shift. An interview with a miner follows as he talks about the comradeship of the miners and the ‘marra’ system amongst miners and families, although their life was often very hard they knew how to enjoy themselves.

The film cuts to general views of the pit head buildings which then changes to the miners’ hall. The sign above the doorway reads ‘Durham Miners Association’ ‘Seaham Lodge’. Other community building names are shown, including the Salvation Army, and the Methodist Chapel.

A general view of Seaham’s main street, with a brief shot of Lord Londonderry’s statue. Shots follow of High Street businesses such as the ‘Harbour Casino’ offering prize bingo and slot machines. Johnny Morris walks slowly down the street, past the premises of ‘A. Sloane – Upholsterer’. His commentary states ‘for Seaham and its harbour fell asleep in the Thirties’. He walks past a large pub (formerly the Harbour View Hotel?) with windows now ‘boarded and blind’. He passes an old teashop also closed. He contrasts those places with a shop very much open for business, its windows festooned with special offer notices.

Johnny Morris then picks up the scent of baking and makes his way to the source, a meat pie factory. He comes to an anonymous looking door and knocks. It opens and he walks inside.

General views show a machine winding pastry into a large roll. A machine pushes and drops pastry into tin foil trays. They go past on a production line, a former presses the pastry into shape within its tin foil base. Johnny Morris appears in a white coat and hat, as he watches the women at work on the production line. The meat and gravy is squirted from a machine into the pastry base. The film cuts to another woman hammering out lids for the pies using a specially shaped cutter, working her way very quickly across a sheet of pastry. The pies have their lids put on by hand, and the edges crimped by machine. They are then cooked in large numbers in wire trays.

The film cuts to Johnny Morris tucking into a well prepared Lobster Thermidor, he speaks to camera as he explains that until he experienced the Lobster Thermidor he is now eating, the best one he’d ever had was in Trondheim in Norway, some ten years before.

The film cuts to Johnny Morris out at sea on a small lobster fishing boat. Skipper Bobby Tuck explains that there are good periods and bad periods, and often he’s at the mercy of the ‘going price’ which can be variable. As the lobster pots are emptied Johnny Morris is given two lobsters to handle. The lobster pots are baited again and returned to the sea.  A fisherman on board puts rubber bands around the large claws of the lobster. The film cuts to a long shot of a fishing boat coming into harbour.   

General views follow of the landscape around Seaham Harbour which is showing signs of disrepair and decay. A railway coal truck, probably from the last century stands on a harbour pier, unprotected from harsh weather.

The film cuts to a diver, who is wearing a rather old fashioned looking brass and copper diving helmet who is being helped into the water at the harbour side. He is about to do some repair work on the dock gates.

Cut to the ‘antique machine’ which operates the dock gates, a gleaming brass and steel engine which is fed with oil. Outside near the dock gates a man operates a lever and the gates open as the camera pulls back.

A ship enters the dock, called the ‘Fletching’ which is ‘hungry for coal’. A tug helps it into position next to the coal staithes. Men working on the staithe, hit the coal trucks to loosen the coal so it travels easily down a chute into the hold of the ship. A general view follows of the men hitting the trucks and the coal filling the hold in the ship.

General views next in a blacksmith’s shop where two men fashion red hot metal on an anvil. Next a shot shows the forge and the old bellows that provide the forge fire with air, an array of tools hang on the wall.

Seaham lifeboat sets sail for trials, a replacement for an older vessel that was lost at sea. Rough seas break on the harbour wall.

The film cuts to a skip being lifted by crane at the dockside. It is loading scrap metal into the hold of a ship. This is new business for a new export company which is selling scrap metal to Spain. An interview by Johnny Morris with Maurice Hutson, the export company’s new manager reveals that the future for Seaham is bright. The film cuts to the Spanish ship ‘Marjan’ entering the harbour. The film ends with Johnny Morris watches the ship come in, and as the ship manoeuvres the end music fades up.