By David Morton
October 5, 2017 - Ashington, one of North East England's most famous towns, has been celebrating its 150th birthday this year.
It was the sinking of the Bothal mine shaft in 1867 that led to the rapid growth of coal mining and development of the town.
As the Ashington Coal Company handbook recalled in 1926: “Ashington Colliery proper started in 1867 with the sinking of the Bothal shaft … from this small beginning was to grow one of the biggest mines in the world.”
During 2017, there have been a range of celebrations in the town, from outdoor events, exhibitions, public art, musical performances, fairs, parties, town clean-ups and more.
One and a half centuries ago, the rapid expansion of Ashington was astonishing.
It grew from a hamlet of around 800 people to a thriving town of 30,000 in less than five years.
A spokeswoman for Ashington Town Team recalled: “The mining families who came to live and work in Ashington created a resilient community spirit.
“Strong relations with neighbours, friends, businesses and organisations meant Ashington was a great place to live and work.”
Coal thrived for decades and provided work for thousands of people in South East Northumberland.
The town’s pits were among 200 across the Northumberland and Durham coalfields and, at the end of the Second World War, there were 148,000 men employed in the region’s mines.
Along the way, Ashington has produced famous sporting sons (the Milburns and Charltons among others); a rich cultural heritage from Pitmen Painters to opera singers; and a strong retail tradition as exemplified by Sir John Hall.
Sadly, like other towns in our region, Ashington has suffered as the North’s industrial landscape has been radically re-drawn in recent decades.
Deep pit coal mining in the area declined during the 1980s and 1990s leaving just one colliery, Ellington, which closed in January 2005. Ashington Colliery had already closed in 1988.
Once known as “the largest mining village in the world”, Ashington’s current population is around 28,000, and set to rise with more housing developments planned.
Today the town has a high-tech business park, a good range of shops, and a busy weekly market. Here’s to the next 150 years...