In the 1980s Greenwich Council ‘twinned’ with Easington - then an area known for its coal mines. Much of the coal mined in County Durham had come to London and for years collier ships lay stacked on stands off the Greenwich riverside. In a world now largely forgotten Greenwich and Easington were twin towns long before such municipal celebrations were thought of. Now no coal is mined anywhere in County Durham - but, inevitably, a heritage centre is now under way. The following is an extract from material published in the Sunderland Echo on Wednesday 16th August, 2000.
A poignant reminder of an East Durham village's industrial heritage has been unveiled. It once used to plunge hundreds of miners into the dark depths of Easington Colliery, the pit cage is now perched on the crest of a hill overlooking the former pit site and coal-blackened beaches. The 30ft-high structure was restored after being rescued from the scrapheap and has been reinstated as a piece of art above the surface of its original location. But the 12-tonne pit cage is only part of a major transformation of the old colliery site. Turning The Tide, an ambitious £10m project to restore the Durham coastline after decades of colliery waste tipping, has landscaped the old pit site - and the area will be a public park.
Only seven years ago, Easington Colliery employed 1,100 man and the area is still struggling to recover from the huge job losses. The colliery was the scene of one of the worst mining tragedies the area had seen when dozens of workers perished in 1951. But despite its chequered past, community chiefs are keen to remind the close-knit community of its rich mining heritage and the cage plays a large part in this. Easington District councillor, Dennis Raine said: "This is only the first phase - we are hoping to gather pieces of mining equipment to create a kind of outdoor museum. "Eventually, we hope to lay a length of rope which will measure the depth of the shaft so people can walk along it and see just how far down we had to travel to go to work.
“We now have bairns starting school that have no memory of the colliery. We want to preserve this piece of heritage for generations to come." Coun Raine was one of dozens of people who gathered at the site to see the unveiling of the cage yesterday and said the occasion was particularly moving because he worked in the pit from the age of 14. "I used to use the very same cage when I worked in the pit," he said. "It was a bit of a shock to see it - although I had used it for years and realised it was made up of three decks - I hadn't seen it out of the shaft. "It was found in a council yard at Horden and was in a very sorry state so it was very good to see it in mint condition again." A cage which once carried pit men down to the dark dank seams of a coastal colliery has become the focal point of a project for the future. The cage at Easington Colliery carried thousands of miners to their grim place of work each day for years. But after the pit closed it stood neglected until it was decided it should be a monument to the mine. And so the large lift was packed off to Sheffield where the 12-tonne transporter was shot-blasted and painted ready for its return to the transformed pit site. Under its new guise as a 30 ft work of art, the cage has not only been given a pride of place on the hillside, but is also to be a receptacle for historical items. Every one of the pit community's 1,800 houses has been provided with a small plastic container, and residents are invited to donate an item which will help preserve the village's history. Photographs will be transferred on to CDs and all the pieces of memorabilia will be enclosed in vacuum-sealed time capsules and placed in the cage. A spokesman for the project said: "It will mean that future generations will be able to see what went on in Easington at the turn of the century. The newly-restored cage was dedicated by the Rector of Easington, the Reverend Neville Vine. Pupils from Easington Colliery Primary School led a procession up to the new landmark. The site of the colliery is undergoing a transformation into a public park as part of the Turning the Tide Project. The £3m clean-up scheme has been funded by One NorthEast, the Millenium Commission, British Coal and the EU.