The township of Killingworth in the north of England was a new town established in the 1960’s on and around what was left of the mining community in the area, on land that was home to several pits (mines) including the internationally renowned Killingworth Colliery. Men had been working at the Killingworth Colliery since at least 1760 and by 1882 it had the deepest coal mine in the world. Nowadays, these collieries that dominated so much of the landscape in the north east of the country for centuries are all gone with the put heaps reclaimed and converted back into the natural landscape. However, coal mining is one of the oldest and most intensive industries in the area and played an influential part in shaping the land and character associated with this part of England from medieval right through to modern times. There is even evidence suggesting that coal was burned and excavated in the region as far back as Roman times.
Coal is mentioned in the records of County Durham as far back as the 12th century, however it was during the centuries that followed that it become more in demand and mining became widespread. This was in part due to the expansion of towns and villages in the area that resulted in a growing population but also due to its close proximity to the city of Newcastle which is the closest sea port. The merchants here had a great deal to gain as the coal seams were easy to access and transport as they were situated so close to the shallow water ways and banks of the River Tyne which ran through the city. The Bishops of Durham were also heavily involved in this burgeoning industry as they were among the first to see the advantages and profits to be made from it. Coal that originated from this area was referred to as ‘sea coal,’ throughout this era, even if when it was mined inland, miles from the coast however the term comes from the fact that is was delivered to other ports via the sea. There are also those that believe the term originates from a washed up form that had come unattached from the coal face which was regularly found on beaches in the region.
Thanks to the success of the coal mining industry, Newcastle would become the fourth wealthiest town in England by 1334 and by 1378 the town was shipping 15,000 tons of coal each year much of which was exported to many parts of Europe too. Trades continued in this manner for several centuries and coined a phrase that is still used today back in 1538, ‘Coals to Newcastle’ meaning a pointless exercise. By 1547 the population was around 10,000 and by 1615, 200 ships were transporting coal to London while another 200ships supplied coal to the rest of the country. Coal mines were opened all over the region with 7,000 pitmen working in the Tyne and Wear Region, which had grown to 10,000 by the end of the first decade of the 1800’s. Over a hundred years later there were 223,000 reaching a peak in the 1920’s before going into decline in the later part of the century.