Friday 2 September 2022

Limited Faith In a Rickety Staithe


It is, historically, a dialect word, so the dreaded interwebnet, biased towards american rather than english English, offers no origin.
It comes from an old Norse word meaning harbour or landing place.

There is a delightful North Yorkshire village called Staithes which is a harbour or landing the Norse sense ...
... whereas the staithes at Seaham Harbour were definitely for loading coal on to ships.

Looking at old maps of the harbour, we note first the tracks approaching from the present Durham Coast Line station, along, surprisingly, Station Road and then splaying out to serve, well, the staithes.
This edition is before the Londonderry HQ building was erected, roughly where the big "S" of Seaham is shown above. 

But move away from the fan of tracks and ...
... it becomes baffling in the extreme. The layout changed over the years and understanding the detail is well beyond fbb's pay grade. 

But to keep it simple we need to realise that there were, effectively, TWO networks of sidings. The upper level, for loading the ships, ran atop the staithes.
But, over the years the staithes were not as solid as they perhaps should have been. Lord Londonderry was, after all, selling coal not building harbours!
So little trucks and little locomotives were all that could safely (?)  shunt over the staithes.

But there was a secondary network at stone-built dock level. This was used for collecting spillage (too valuable to ignore), to deliver coal for fuel to the ships (more profit to be made) and to mend the infrastructure to make the first two possible.

The lower level looked like some dystopian science fiction film set ...
... with tiny trains lost in a forest of staithe timberwork!
fbb is not sure whether it is photogenic or frightening!
The stars of the show were a diminutive 0-4-0 saddle tank loco called Lewin ...
... and the two coffee pots! Lewin was numbered 18; the coffee pots 16 and 17. A short video of Lewin is worth enjoying before we move on!
Coffee pot 17 is also preserved in working order at Beamish ...
...  where its most recent restoration eschewed the somewhat minimalist protection for its driver that a previous refit provided!
No 16 is static at Preston Park Museum, Teesside.
One thing is certain; none of the three looked as neat and tidy as their preserved manifestations when they worked at Seaham! This bit of video is ex 8mm film and thus of poor quality - but you will get the atmosphere!
Alas, Seaham Harbour is now Marina-ised, modernised and manicured to the point of obliterating its past ...
... but you might find a piece of track on one of the breakwaters ...
... and if you stand there with eyes half-closed, as well as the thwack of wave upon stone, you may just hear ...
... the ghost of coffee pot No 17 languidly trundling along with a solitary chauldron wagon - for no apparent purpose!


 Next Variety blog : Saturday 3rd September 


  1. Amazing footage of the Coffee Pot at work. Thanks for digging up this obscure story.

  2. Lewin wasn't the loco's name, but Stephen Lewin was its builder! There is an Industrial Railways Society book, 'Stephen Lewin and the Poole Foundry', which apparently tells more. I think the Seaham loco/s were the last survivor of his products but am open to correction on that. See