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Seaham shown within County Durham
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|Unitary authority||County Durham|
|Ceremonial county||County Durham|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Fire||County Durham and Darlington|
|EU Parliament||North East England|
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 one of the 20 oldest surviving churches in the UK. Seaham is currently twinned with the German town of Gerlingen.
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 locally encouraged industries (the first coal mine was begun in 1845). However, this harbour later proved inadequate to deal with the millions of tonnes of coal and the 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 and cheap coal imports from Eastern Europe. The pit closures 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, foundered on 17 November 1962. To commemorate the event, the new coast road was named George Elmy Lifeboat Way.
Seaham has fine beaches and transport links to the eastern coast. 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 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.
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 has one secondary school, without a sixth-form, called Seaham School of Technology.
Seaham in the media
The rich mining history of the town was highlighted in the 2000 film Billy Elliot, which was set during the 1984–85 UK miners' strike 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 Elliot's dad runs when he learns his son has won an audition at dance school. Elliot's "angry dance" scene takes place on Dawdon's Embleton Street.
The opening scene in Alien 3 (1992) was filmed on Blast Beach, at Dawdon, released 1993. The town has also served as a location for the BAFTA nominated film 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 11 February 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.
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 Dalden 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 (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:
- Renowned baritone Sir Thomas Allen was born in Seaham in 1944.
- Martin Brammer of the 1980s band The Kane Gang was born in the Dawdon area of the town
- Peter Burdon, former chief executive of Poundstretcher and of Thorntons, was born in the town
- Bill Griffiths – Poet and dialect expert
- Janie Jones – singer
- Agony aunt and author Denise Robertson lived in the town for many years
- Richie Pitt – former Sunderland AFC footballer who recently retired working as a Maths teacher at Seaham School of Technology
- The Worldwide Guide To Movie Locations: Alien3 film locations
- "Election 2010 – Easington". BBC. Retrieved 19 April 2013.
- Seaham Marina Independent Information Website
- The history of Seaham and surrounding towns and villages, Great picture archive
- BBC Wear – Seaham stories and pictures
- Seaham council
- Seaham history project
- Flickr Group, Images of Seaham
- History of Seaham Hall
- Seaham Harbour Online
- Seaham Lifeboat Disaster
- Tide times for Seaham from the BBC and Easytide.
- The George Elmy Disaster