Pickerings of Seaham Harbour

The following was written by my grandmother Audrey Clark Kelly (born Audrey Clark Bullock on 4th May 1928) and is an account of the history of one branch of her family (her mother’s side) who lived at Seaham Harbour. It was probably written in the 1980s (the latest publication mentioned in the list of sources is 1985). The additions in square brackets are my clarifications and corrections of typing errors.

David Pickering, a shoemaker of Baxtergate, Whitby, was born in 1809 at Fossit, Yorkshire. In the early 1830's he married Eleanor Woodwark. She was born at Lythe in the parish of Barnby in 1810, the daughter of Francis and Elizabeth Woodwark. There were 2 shopkeepers called Woodwark in Whitby in 1851, and Francis may have come from this family. At the present time there is still a Woodwark’s yard off Church Street.

David and Eleanor had 7 children, the first born in Barnby in 1834 and the rest at Whitby. In 1841 they were living in Baxtergate with 5 children, Eleanor’s parents and 2 shoemakers journeymen. In 1851, David was 42, a master shoemaker employing 1 man and 1 boy. In the house in Baxtergate also lived his wife and 6 children, Eleanor’s widowed mother and 1 journeyman shoemaker. A son called John, who would have been 16, is not mentioned. He may have died, because their last child, born in 1852, was also named John. They had daughters, Elizabeth, 17, Jane, 12, and Hannah, 5, and sons Robert, 13, David 10, and Thomas, 1.

In the Register of Seamen 1854-6, David Pickering, born at Whitby, is recorded as serving as an apprentice on the “Leverett” of Whitby. He joined the ship on 10 June 1854 and returned to Whitby on 29 May 1855. David, son of David and Eleanor, would have been 14 at this time.

By 1861 the Pickering family had moved to Seaham Harbour and were living at 24 South Railway Street. David was still a shoemaker and his wife and 4 sons were living with him. Robert, 23, and David, 20, and Thomas, 11, were mariners and John, 9, was a scholar. Jane, 22, was a servant in the house of John Cruikshank, master mariner of 60 Church Street.

The harbour at Seaham was built by Lord Londonderry between 1828 and 1835 to ship out the coal from his wife’s collieries at Rainton. The new town of Seaham Harbour was built around the docks and until 1850 a high proportion of the inhabitants were seamen. During the [eighteen-]thirties and forties other coalowners built railways from Hetton, Merton and Haswell to ship their coal from Londonderry’s harbour.

When Seaton and Seaham Collieries were opened by Londonderry in 1852 the capacity of Seaham docks was finally overloaded and it became necessary to build a railway line from Seaham to Sunderland docks.

When the Londonderry Railway was built in 1853-5 the foreman platelayer was George Davison. He worked for the Railway for the rest of his life, “a good and able workman”, according to the manager, George Hardy. George Davison came from a family of railwaymen. He was born at High Heworth in 1817. His father was Thomas Davison, carpenter and waggonwaywright, his mother was Mary Read and they were married in Lanchester in 1803. Thomas Davison was born at Tanfield in 1781 and lived at various places on Tyneside. In early times coal was mined near the banks of the Tyne, close to waterborne transport. In the eighteenth century pits were sunk west of Newcastle in areas more remote from the river. A vast network of wooden waggonways was built with cuttings and embankments to ease the gradients and bridges over streams to facilitate the movement of horsedrawn coal waggons to the river. One of the best known is the Tanfield waggonway built in 1720. Thomas was born at Tanfield and may have begun work in this area. The Davison family believe that he worked at one time for George Stephenson at Killingworth.

George Davison followed his father’s trade and he was a waggonwaywright and platelayer when he married Mary Ann Hunter from Haswell at Bishopwearmouth in 1837. In 1841 they were living at Henry Street, Seaham Harbour with Robert, 3 and Jane, 1. In 1851 the[y] were living at Ryhope, now with 1 son and 4 daughters. In 1861, George’s brother [T]homas, also a railwaywright, lived in Ryhope, his son George was a foreman. Their father Thomas was living as[at?] Houghton at Copt Hill Cottage with a second wife and stepdaughter. He was 79 and said to be a platelayer.

George and his family were back in Seaham Harbour at 16 South Railway Street. His son Robert had been married the previous year. One of his daughters, Mary Margaret was in service in Ryhope. The other 4 daughters were living at home. A week after the census his eldest daughter Jane Ann was married at St John’s Church, Seaham Harbour to David Pickering, Mariner, son of David the shoemaker from Whitby.

George’s only son, Robert Hunter Davison, joined the Londonderry Railway as a ticket clerk. He issued tickets at Seaham then travelled by the train to Ryhope where he again issued tickets if required and waited at Ryhope until the train returned from Sunderland. George Hardy comments “the long periods between trains gave him sufficient opportunities to enjoy himself in many ways.” Robert Davison had a reputation in the family of being rather a rascal and inclined to drink too much. He used to sell pills made of soap coated with icing sugar and once doped somebody’s pie with jollop. He became a foreman and then a driver on the Railway. His wife sometimes had to collect him, drunk, from the cells. Finally he was sacked for a drunken prank, hiding someone’s presentation clock in a garden. He joined the North and Eastern Railway as a fireman. In 1872 he and William Davison, guard, were caught stealing 2 gallons of whisky from a railway truck at Belmont Station. They were syphoning it into a zinc pail while the engine driver looked on. They were tried at Durham Quarter Sessions and Robert was sentenced to six months imprisonment. He worked later as a colliery engineman.

George’s youngest daughter, Georgina, worked as a cook at Seaham Hall. She married Peter Strong the coachman. After his death she married James Arthur Watson, a cousin of George Stephenson.

Between 1861 and 1865 George Davison moved into 2 Marlborough Street, Seaham Harbour, then newly built near the railway station. It was there that David and Jane Ann’s first child, George Davison Pickering was born on 13 September 1865.

In the 1850's further expansion began in the town of Seaham, Two collieries, the High Pit and the Low Pit, were sunk, close together about one mile from the harbour near the Mill Inn. The colliery village which grew up round the pits was known as Nicky-Nack or Seaham Colliery. New streets were built round the pithead. Lade Londonderry built a new church, Christchurch, in memory of her husband. Wesleyan and Primitive Methodist Chapels and two schools and 2 reading rooms were built. In 1866 a writer commended Seaham Colliery’s “roomy dwellings, good gardens and wide streets”.Workers flooded into the area. Many came from Northumberland and Durham but others came from Cornwall and from Ireland. Some had children born in Australia. The street names reflected these connections, Australia Row and Cornish Row. The coal owners of the time sent agents to recruit men in rural areas where wages were low, and several men at Seaham came from Norfolk. Among them was James Clark who left Norfolk with his wife and family between 1864 and 1867.

James was born in Norfolk in 1833 and he was a husbandman when his son James William was born at Dilham near Smallburgh in 1860. His wife died, and he was married again to Sarah Ann Whittleton at the New Congregational Chapel at Erpingham in 1863. She was 33, born at Smallburgh and had been in service in North Walsham. Their first child, Elijah, was born at Erpingham in 1864. Soon afterwards they left for the North East taking with them furniture and household goods. There used to be a kitchen table and chest of drawers said to have come with them from Norfolk and I have 2 large meat plates which belonged to them.

They settled first near Chester-le-Street at Breckon Hill, Little Lumley, where James was a furnaceman at the pit. Tow more children were born at Lumley, Ellen in 1867 and George in 1870. They moved to Seaham and in 1871 were living in Office Row, Seaham Colliery. As well as their three children they had living with them James William, James’ son by his first marriage. Their youngest child, Mary Jane, was bornwas born at New Seahm in 1875. The family attended the Primitive Methodist Chapel at Seaham Colliery. I have 3 small books which Ellen received as prizes at the Sabbath School in 1874, 1875 and 1876. In 1879 Elijah went on a trip to London and brought bock another small book as a present for Ellen.

On September 8 1880 a terrible tragedy overtook the Clark family and the whole community of Seaham Colliery. At 2.50 in the morning an[ ]explosion took place in the Hatton Seam at the High Pit. The explosion caused a rockfall and many of the 230 men in the pit at the time were trapped in the Maudlin Seam. A rescue operation was begun and 67 men were brought out alive. In the first few days bodies were found of men who had been killed in the explosion or under the rockfalls. It was several weeks before the bodies trapped in the Maudlin seam were found. The final total was 164 men and boys killed.

The village was stunned by the catastrophe. In some streets almost every house had drawn blinds denoting a bereavement. No children played and men spoke with hushed voices. The bell at Christchurch tolled and frequent prayer meetings were held. The pithead was quiet, the only activity was the coming and going of rescue teams. Funerals were held as the bodies were brought out. One man left a widow and 12 children. At another house 8 men died, father, five sons and two lodgers.

Several fathers and sons were killed, including James Clark and his son James William. They were brought out nearly 2 weeks after the disaster and buried on Monday September 20 with 3 others in the mass grave at Christchurch. The service was attended by the whole families whose fathers or husbands had already been interred. People crowded into the graveyard hen the burials took place. George Pickering said he first saw Ellen Clark at this time.

George and Ellen came from quite different communities, although they were not far apart. Ellen lived in the close knit colliery village where all the men worked at the pit and all the families were united by the knowledge of the danger their men faced and by the expectation of mutual help when trouble came. George lived in the seafaring and railway community at the Harbour. His father was a seaman and often spent long periods away from home. His mother’s family were railwaymen who lived close to the railway station in the centre of the small town.

In 1881 Sarah and her children were living in Doctor’s Street, New Seaham, next door to Dr Beatty. Her son, Elijah, 17, was working as a gardener and Ellen, 14, was a monitress at Seaham Colliery School. George, 11, and Mary Jane, 6, were scholars. The widows were awarded a small pension after the di[s]asterwith an increase for children of school age. Ellen continued to work as a pupil teacher until her marriage when she was 19.

George Pickering left school when he was 11 and worked as an errand boy. In 1881 the Pickering family were living in Cross Street, Seaham Harbour, and George, aged 15, was a labourer. When he was old enough his grandfather got him a job with the Londonderry Railway. He was a platelayer when he married Ellen Clark at St John’s Church, Seaham Harbour on February 17 1887.

They settled in Seaham Harbour and had two children, Ellen in 1888 and Amelia in 1890. George became a foreman on the railway and then an engine driver. He was a member of the volunteers and attended the Londonderry railway ambulance class. He was a teetotaller and staunch Methodist. The family attended the Primitive Methodist Chapel, where he became Sunday School Superintendent. In 1891 his grandfather George Davison, railway inspector at the Londonderry Railway, died. He left his house at 2 Marlborough Street to his six children, which included George’s mother, Jane Ann. To his grandson, George Pickering, he left his watch and guard.

In 1895, tragedy again touched Ellen’s life when her daughter Amelia died at the age of 5 from an infectious disease. I was told she caught it from “the smell in the sink in the yard”. Ellen’s mother died in October 1896 from “dropsy” after several years of illness.

George and Ellen had three more children, Edith in 1897, Florence in 1899 and Alice in 1902. In October 1900 Ellen’s sister Mary Jane Teasdale died at the age of 26.

All Ellen’s previous misfortune was eclipsed by the scandal which befell the family in 1909. Their eldest daughter, Nell, worked for Charles Waights in his haberdashery shop in Church Street. In 1909 she gave birth to his child at her parents home. The baby was called Ellen and registered as “father unknown”. In 1910 Nell was again pregnant and she left for Australia with Charles Waights leaving his wife and 2 children in Seaham. The scandal in a small town can be imagined, especially as George was such a respectable man and a pillar of the chapel. They moved from Seaham Harbour up the road to Seaton to try to get away from the gossip and in 1913 they left the area altogether. The Londonderry Railway had been taken over by the North Eastern Railway in 1900 and George transferred to the Durham depot as an engine driver. The family lived in Atherton Street, another railway community close to the station.

During the 1914-18 War [First World War], Nell returned from Australia with her 3 children and lived with her parents. Presumably Charles’ army allowance went to his wife at Seaham. She refused to divorce him and Nell and Charles were not married until after her death in 1937. They never told their children they had not been married and the story only came to light when young Nell applied for her birth certificate in the 1960s after they had both died.

Edith Pickering emigrated to Australia with her husband in 1923. Florence and Alice married [the latter married Fairfax Bullock, Audrey’s father] in Durham and lived there for the rest of their lives. Ellen died at Finney Terrace in 1942, and George died at Florence’s house at Lowes Barn in 1952.