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For the town of the same name in New South Walesmarker, Australia see Seaham, New South Walesmarker


Seaham, formerly Seaham Harbour, is a small town in County Durham, situated south of Sunderlandmarker and east of Durhammarker. It has a small parish church, St Mary the Virgin, with a late 7th century Anglo Saxon nave resembling the church at Escombmarker 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, Gerlingenmarker.

The people of Seaham have strong historic ties to Sunderlandmarker.

History

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 Hallmarker 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:

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 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 five men 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.

Today

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 Projectmarker, the prize for Outstanding Achievement in Regeneration in the annual Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors awards. Seaham Hallmarker 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 Peterleemarker 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 Stationmarker, which lies on the Durham Coast Line, running from Middlesbroughmarker to Newcastle upon Tynemarker, via Hartlepoolmarker, Stockton-on-Teesmarker and Sunderlandmarker. When rail company Grand Central Trains announced it was to run new rail links connecting Sunderlandmarker to Yorkmarker and Londonmarker 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 Murtonmarker, Peterleemarker and Houghton-le-Springmarker, as well as further afield to Sunderlandmarker, Newcastle upon Tynemarker, Durhammarker, Darlingtonmarker, Stockton-on-Teesmarker and Middlesbroughmarker.

Seaham also is home to Seaham School of Technologymarker, 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. In 2007 it was confirmed and reported in the local newspaper, The Seaham Star, that the school is to be rebuilt on a field at the back of the Milton Close area of Deneside. Pupils and parents were invited into the school to voice their opinion on plans for the new school. The estimate of the cost of the new school so far stands at £16,000,000 and it is due for construction in 2010.

Following the success of St. Peter's Sixth Form College (a partnership between the schools of Sunderlandmarker), Seaham School of Technology has announced that it has created a partnership between City of Sunderland Collegemarker and two other schools to create a state of the art Sixth Form centre to be called Headways.

Seaham in the media

The rich mining history of the town was highlighted in the 2000 blockbuster film Billy Elliot which was set during the 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 Collierymarker - 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 (1991), 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.

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, (McNee, 1992) a Channel 4 documentary profiled the town in 1991. St. John's imposing tower forms a focal point casting a shadow over Church Street, the town's main shopping parade.

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.

Seaham rarely threatens the headlines of the national press, but controversy surrounded the town's Aldi supermarket in 1999 when it was announced the store's manager had been sacked because he was HIV-positive. The reason offered by the chain for the dismissal was that other staff felt uncomfortable around him and his condition could lead to a downturn in sales. After initiating court proceedings under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, the manager reached an out-of-court settlement with the company in April 2000.

Seaham is also becoming known for its surfing after the Seaham Youth Initiative put in a successful funding bid of £6000 to get ten young people and two youth workers who call their group "Banzai Pipeline" through sufficient qualifications to be able to coach others who wish to try the sport.

Notable people

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 2005 General Election, Labour MP John Cummings was re-elected with a majority of 18,636 votes, making it the second safest seat in the country.

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. Gary Rowell, now a popular match summariser on Magic 1152 is one of only three post-war players to score 100 goals for Sunderland. Paul Gascoigne also lived in Seaham in the late 1990s while playing for Middlesbrough.

Other notable residents include:

References

External links




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