Alnwick, Family History Society

The Barbican of Alnwick Castle
The Barbican of Alnwick Castle

The autumn programme of the Alnwick Branch of the Northumberland and Durham Family History Society continued with an excellent talk on “Broomhill Colliery and its Families” by Eleanor George.

As a historian she was keen to find out if the anecdotal memories collected by the National Archives and lodged at The Woodhorn Archives about mining communities were true.

In order to do this Eleanor studied the growth of the community at Broomhill’s between 1841-1911 as part of her master’s degree and collected evidence about Broomhill’s mining community. Mining in the area goes back to the 1700s. In 1808 John Anderson of Broomhill Farm started a bell pit and then a drift mine to extract coal. The area was littered with small shafts and this was a modest enterprise, with coal being sold locally.

Roads at that time were poor and coal would have been transported in baskets by ponies. It was the advent of the new Amble harbour and railway links to Newcastle and beyond that allowed mining in the area to boom, with different companies leasing and expanding the Broomhill mine and its worker accommodation over time.

By the 1850s, in order to attract the right type of miner who would be a reliable worker, they were supplied with free or low-rent housing. Houses were still only “One up, one down” with no ceiling and a ladder up to the bedroom above – with shared communal ovens and water.

In the 1860s new proprietors leasing the mine built more houses at North and South Broomhill but conditions in the latter were still atrocious, with high infant mortality.

By the 1870s places of worship were established, a Co-op shop and pubs opened, creating a thriving community where miners settled with their families. Production of coal in this decade, again under new management, rose to 700 tons per day, with the pit employing 1,000 men.

It was a mixed community of married and initially many young unmarried men, plus married and single women and children.

Women played a vital role in cooking, cleaning and generally supporting the working men folk whether as wives, or often initially the unmarried sisters of miners.

Over time the community settled down and inter-married so that by 1881 half of the families were related to each other and extended families were the norm.

At that time over half the community was made up of children. Illegitimacy was common, as “Victorian morality” did not exist in practice. Many children were absorbed and living happily in families unaware of their true parentage as there was no formal adoption at this time.

The community stayed together expanding up until First World War closely linked by family ties. They had comparatively good housing by this time, guaranteed work and social facilities. Eleanor concluded from her findings that anecdotal evidence of a strong community was true.

A drop in help session takes place on Saturday, November 21, between 10am -1pm. All welcome.