||This article needs additional citations for verification. (June 2008)|
Seaham shown within County Durham
|Population||21,714 (2001) |
|OS grid reference|
|Unitary authority||County Durham|
|Ceremonial county||County Durham|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Fire||County Durham and Darlington|
|EU Parliament||North East England|
|List of places: UK • England • County Durham|
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. When rail company Grand Central Trains announced it was to run new rail links connecting Sunderland to York and London from September 2007, a stop-off at Seaham was not originally planned. However, lobbying from local people has launched fresh interest in this possibility.
Local bus services operated by Arriva and Go North East also provide access to the nearby towns of Murton, Peterlee and Houghton-le-Spring, as well as further afield to Sunderland, Newcastle upon Tyne, Durham, Darlington, Stockton-on-Tees and Middlesbrough.
Seaham also is home to Seaham School of Technology, a secondary school for children aged 11–16. The School is the only secondary school in the area and therefore acts as a hub for all year 6 children leaving the local primary schools. The School currently does not have its own dedicated sixth form but it does sponsor Byron College which acts as a sixth form for all teenagers in the area. The School plays a major part in the society and numerous after school clubs are available for both pupils and parents. After the UK's general election in 2010, it has been confirmed that the plans to build new premises for the School have been cancelled.
Following the success of St. Peter's Sixth Form College (a partnership between the schools of Sunderland), Seaham School of Technology has announced that it has created a partnership between City of Sunderland College and two other schools to create a state of the art Sixth Form centre to be called Headways.
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.
The town has recently been spotted in the BBC Three sitcom Live!Girls! present Dogtown which premiered on the channel in Autumn 2006. According to the February 11, 1999 edition of the Sunderland Echo, scenes from the 1998 box-office hit Saving Private Ryan were also going to be filmed in Seaham, but Government intervention moved production elsewhere.
The opening scene in Alien 3 was filmed on Blast Beach at Seaham, released 1993.
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 January 2007, it was announced that a consortium of investors were at an advanced stage in their quest to bring a multi-million pound, fully equipped film studio to unused, private fields in the Dawdon area of the town. A planning application is expected in Spring 2007.
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.
Between 1929 and 1935, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Seaham (UK Parliament constituency) (the defunct constituency which covered the area now renamed Easington) was Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. The constituency has long boasted fiercely strong Labour support, and at the 2010 General Election, Labour candidate Grahame Morris was elected with a majority of 14,982 votes.
Seaham has also produced several gifted footballers, some of whom have gone on to play for Sunderland AFC, the team the vast majority of the local populace support. Terry Fenwick and Brian Marwood, moreover, went on to play for England, with the latter carving out a post-playing career as a commentator and pundit for Sky Sports. Paul Gascoigne also lived in Seaham in the late 1990s while playing for Middlesbrough.
Other notable residents include:
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