Saturday, 5 September 2009

From Whitehaven 1

1. Some 1200 miners were killed at Whitehaven's Haig Pit.

Cumbria suffered two major disasters, both in Whitehaven. The Wellington Pit disaster killed 136 men and boys, while the William Pit Disaster in 1947, claimed 104 victims.

Harrowing as these reports may be, they can do little to convey the full misery and suffering. The news that the families bread winner, or winners as was so often the case, had perished, must have only been the beginning of the suffering. The widow's pension of 2 shillings was considered high in 1839, but must have been hard stretched to raise a family. Even "Lame persons doing nothing" received 5 shillings a week in the 1802 payroll for the Howgill Colliery. Even without the frequent accidents, the conditions underground were horrendous. An account of a visit to William Pit in 1814 vividly describes the suffering of the young children and miners at the hands of the coal owners.

The mine extended miles under the sea bed and methane was the danger.

2.Sellafield (aka Windscale) is just a little way down from Whitehaven:

The "Beach Incident"

1983 was the year of the "Beach Discharge Incident" in which high radioactive discharges containing ruthenium and rhodium 106, both beta-emitting isotopes, resulted in the closure of a beach. BNFL received a fine of £10,000 for this discharge.[48] 1983 was also the year in which Yorkshire Television produced a documentary "Windscale: The Nuclear Laundry", which claimed that the low levels of radioactivity that are associated with waste streams from nuclear plants such as Sellafield did pose a non-negligible risk.

As you approach over hill you catch sight of the sea. There is the marina and the beach in the next natural inlet. The sand is greyish from the coal. No-one bathes there.

It is a rather lovely Georgian town in the centre now. Tony R picks me up at Carlisle and in about an hour or so we are there. The old port might well have been a rival to Liverpool, even supplanted Liverpool, at one time. The port authority buildings stand there still mostly converted into accommodation. Back at the time of the American War of Independence in 1778 it was important enough for John Paul Jones to launch an attack on it that failed because of bad tides and mutinous crew. There is a bench in the marina that commemorates it. There is also a Millenium Pavilion, a wave sculpture, gulls, swans, dogs darting into the water, but not much traffic even at 5.30-ish. Not much unemployment here, says Tony, most people on a fairly equal economic footing. Chemical works nearby. All quiet if a bit isolated. And, despite the Tourism Office in the marina, not much tourism either. A lot of boats though gently knocking in the bay.

But I am here to write about the fiftieth anniversary of the Rosehill Theatre, founded by the Hungarian silk-manufacturer and merchant, Sir Nichols Sekers, and its relaunch as a venue for concerts and plays under Richard Elder, the Director. To that end there is a weekend of events, the first of which was on Thursday night, involving a short film about the designer Oliver Messel who worked with Sekers to create the theatre. Anthony Snowdon does a very passable Sekers imitation in it, complete with Hungarian accent and pencil as cigarette holder. I am also dipping into the newly published history of Rosehill.

The world of Sekers and Messel is a million miles from the world of the miners, but here they were together, and here last night were many who remembered Sekers and Messel. It was primarily that world at the event last night. I shall keep reading and see what transpires. Notes to continue. This in haste complete with possible typos.


The Plump said...

It is also Rugby League territory, as is most of Cumbria - a hard sport suited the tough mining communities.

George S said...

I know, Peter. I seem to remember the team on the tv some time in the Eddie Waring past. Is that right?

The Plump said...

Yes - and these days on Sky TV on Thursdays. They are in the Co-operative Championship (or division two as it was). Nearly made it to Super League a few years back losing a couple of play off finals.

Have slipped back a little now, Barrow have become the leading Cumbrian club. The Whitehaven ground, (the Recreation Ground) is a decent, old fashioned little stadium, splendidly set in an open area in a valley. Can be bloody cold there though and the visitors usually come away well beaten.

The pitch used to be a quagmire but summer rugby now means that it pretty decent. Haven't been up there for a few seasons, we aren't in the same division any more.