A History of Eppleton Colliery the Oldest Coal Mines in Europe

When it closed in 1986 Eppleton Colliery was one of the oldest coal mines left in Europe. Work on a shaft at the site at Hetton Downs, in Hetton-le-Hole, was started in 1825. The mine was owned by the Hetton Coal Company, which also owned Elemore Colliery in Easington Lane. It took 8 years to finally finish this first shaft, called The Caroline pit. It took so long because soon after digging down, the miners found lots of sand and water. The work was very dangerous because the mine often caved in and flooded. Many people did not believe it was possible to have a pit there. There was 30 meters of sand and water flooded in at a rate of 1200 gallons per minute, but the Main coal seam was reached 270 metres underground on August 1st 1833.

A second shaft, the Jane pit, was sunk in 1837 and reached the Busty coal seam. It was at this time that the terraced houses in Hetton Downs were built where the Eppleton miners and their families lived. A third shaft the Lindsay pit was sunk in 1874 to connect with the Hutton coal seam. Over time Eppleton Colliery changed ownership from the Hetton Coal Company to the Lambton & Hetton Coal Company and finally to the Lambton, Hetton & Joicey Collieries Ltd.

By the end of the 19th century, Eppleton Colliery was one of the most modern in the Durham Coalfield. It employed 1100 men and boys underground and 300 on the surface. The coal seams were fairly thick and could be easily worked. The three shafts at Eppleton were ventilated by furnaces and coal fire boilers which pumped air to the underground coal faces. The daily production for coal was 3000 tons per day, making it a one of the most efficient in the country.

The National Coal Board (NCB) took control of Eppleton Colliery when the pits were nationalised in 1947. Investment was increased and the latest cutting machinery was installed underground meaning that the coal no longer had to be removed by hand. In the 1950s, a work began on building the Hawthorn Complex, between Murton and South Hetton. An underground railway was built to connect Eppleton, Elemore, South Hetton and Murton collieries. When Hawthorn opened in 1960 all coal from these four collieries was sent underground to Hawthorn, were it was washed, stored and transported. This meant the closure of the branch line, which used to carry coal from Eppleton by train.

By the 1960s many of the pits in the Durham Coalfield closed because they ran out of coal. At Eppleton, the Main seam was closed down, the Caroline shaft abandoned and demolished in 1968. Eppleton became less profitable as demand for coal reduced as power stations turned to oil and nuclear, and more homes became heated by gas and electricity. The number of jobs at Eppleton reduced, so by the time Eppleton closed in 1986 only 500 miners were working there. In the 1990s all the colliery buildings were demolished and the waste heaps were reclaimed to form part of the Hetton Lyons Country Park. The only sign left of the colliery is the old winding gear from the Jane shaft which has been erected as a memorial in the park.