Sporting Pastimes at Seaham Harbour

The development of sport as a social pastime began to grow from the mid-19th century when working people began to enjoy the concept of the "weekend" when they did not work. This exploration of sporting pastimes at Seaham Harbour covers the period from 1835 through to the mid-20th century when sport and recreational activities were woven into the very social fabric of every-day life in the town.

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About Fred Cooper

Fred Cooper BSc ACMA CGMA was born in 1950 in Seaham, a small town in County Durham on the North East coast of England.

He spent much of his teenage years sitting around coffee bars with his school friends, walking around the harbour and watching the pilot cutter bringing in cargo boats laden with timber and building materials and re-loading with coal bound for counties on the East coast of England. He agrees that anyone born in Seaham has a natural affinity with the sea, the harbour and the harbour area - in fact - the majority of Seaham born folk have ancestors who worked on the numerous sailing ships visiting the port in the Victorian era.

In his first published book, "The Hole-In-The-Wall" - a social history study - he explores the lives of mariners transporting coals from the coastal ports of County Durham to coal hungry counties on the east coast of England. If the reader has ancestors who worked on collier sailing ships visiting County Durham in the 19th century they may find them listed here. Each chapter takes the reader on a different journey building their knowledge of the coast; the sea; the sailing ships and the town of Seaham Harbour.

His second book is a spy thriller novel full of espionage, action and adventure. "A Master Mariners Tale" brings to the reader an all-round experience of the thrills and perils of sailing a brigantine in Victorian England and was inspired by real events and characters uncovered in the research for his first book. The town of Seaham Harbour provides the stage for this story. It was here that the aristocrat, the Marquess of Londonderry invested £165,000, a small fortune in 1828, to develop a new harbour that was to be the stimulus for the building of a new town. His grandson the 6th Marquess portrayed the typically flamboyant, fantastically wealthy and over-indulged aristocrat born into a privileged world but what secrets were lurking behind this façade? How could the covert activities of this party loving nobleman have any bearing on the security of his nation?

Richard Raine is the master of the collier brigantine "The William Thrift" that enters Seaham Harbour in April 1881. Thus begins a tale that takes the reader by the hand and walks them through a time and lifestyle long forgotten. Richard could never have imagined the adventure that was to unfold when he sailed out of harbour and the part he would play in maintaining the fragile peace that existed in Queen Victoria's empire. More than a century after these events took place the real story, "A Master Mariners Tale" is finally uncovered.

During his intensive research through old newspapers and books Fred began to realise that an area of his home town's local history had been totally overlooked by historians. Seaham once built ships, not large ships, but fine wooden sailing ships. Determined that this historic issue should be documented he has recently published a definitive history "Shipbuilding at Seaham Harbour".

One of the finest buildings in Seaham is the Londonderry Literary Institute. Delving into the archives Fred realised how interesting and important this building was to the social life of the town and in the personal improvement and development of many men and women. This prompted further research and the publication of "A History of the Londonderry Literary Institute".

Commanding an imposing site on the corner of North Terrace and Tempest Road stood the Seaham Infirmary. Building of this two storey gothic stone building began in 1844 to care for the needs of the townsfolk and to treat the increasing number of accidents to workers on the railways, docks, new industrial ventures and later the collieries in the district. The full history of this building is documented in "History of the Seaham Infirmary".

Social history records the development of the working week from six long working days to the normally accepted five days with bank holidays and annual holiday entitlement. Sport and recreational activities for the working man and woman began to appear as the concept of the "week-end" and holiday time became part of the normal week. Fred's research into how people in Seaham used this new found recreational time is documented in "Sporting Pastimes at Seaham Harbour"

Churches are to some people central to their spiritual existence. To some people visiting churches is a hobby. To others, churches are places they wander into whilst on holiday to look around, to sit and meditate in the quiet. Often the visitors book is signed with comments such as beautiful , lovely or fascinating but do people really know anything about the building they have looked around? "A History of the Churches at Seaham" brings together all previously known publications and literature of each church and together with new research it tells the story of all twenty-four, past and present, churches in Seaham.

Many people in Seaham know of the existence of the "2nd Durham (Seaham) Artillery Volunteers" but their previously known history can be summarised in two pages. The full history of the 2nd Durham's was researched and written in a 180 page book by Fred Cooper.

Fred’s family moved from Seaham Harbour to Seaham Colliery when he was just a boy and he spent much of his childhood living in the pit village and community of Seaham Colliery. The pit yard at the bottom of the street was his playground during the day and at night he fell asleep with the sounds of the busy colliery ringing in his ears. He knew about the tragic 1880 Seaham Colliery Disaster that killed 164 men and boys – everyone did – but during the research for this book he was totally unprepared to learn about the unbearable pain and heartache suffered by the pit community. His book “One Year of Hell” chronicles the grief and hardship of the widows and children of the victims that perished in the horrific explosion. It tells of the miners who refused to work whilst the bodies of their comrades were entombed in the Maudlin seam and who went on strike to uphold that long established principle followed by Durham coalminers. Some miners were sent to Durham jail for intimidation of strike-breakers in the colliery village and some; the “sacrificed men,” were denied re-employment by the coal owner and had no option but to emigrate and make a new life in America. It was exactly one year to the day after the explosion that the last body was recovered from the mine. Descendants of the miners killed in the explosion will learn for the first time of the terror and horrific injuries caused by the fiery blast that ripped through the Hutton and Maudlin seams. This is the story of “One Year of Hell” in the history of Seaham.

Meanwhile planning and research for book two of "A Master Mariner's Tale" continues......

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