Shining a light on Marsden: A history of a demolished Category D mining village.
What connects the world’s first electric lighthouse, the natural phenomenon of a proud coastal arch, a hidden cave bar, England’s smallest train station and the site of a thriving mining village?
You might be surprised to find out that at one time all of these could be found on a stretch of coastline less than one mile long in South Tyneside, North East England. They also play the setting to my novel, ‘The Last Village’.
Marsden was the name of this village which was placed precariously on an open clifftop and basked in the glow of Souter Lighthouse whilst looking out onto an uninterrupted blue sea. The village was built by the Whitburn Coal Company in the 1870’s and was a thriving mining community. However, by the 1960’s it had been completely demolished following a Category D rating from the Development Plan Board. This in turn also led to the demolition of ‘The Rattler’ which was the small hardworking train which carried the fresh coal linking the town of South Shields to the mine and was also host to England’s smallest train station.
The iconic Marsden Rock, with its arch in full display, was also only a stone’s throw away from the village. This was a naturally formed arch which succumbed to marine erosion in 1996 causing the arch to collapse and splitting the rock into two stacks. By 1997, the second stack was declared unsafe for the public and it was sadly demolished. The cave bar that hides in Marsden Bay and the shadow of the great rock still remains there to this day and is now also a boutique hotel. The remaining Marsden Rock and its surrounding area now holds the status of being the largest mainland breeding colony of seabirds between the Tweed and the Tees rivers.
Today, there is sadly no trace that a village and its thriving community existed in this open grassy space except for the odd piece of brick which may be found lurking in the long marram grasses and which hide a well of memories.
I was always fascinated that this open and sparse piece of land used to house a full community and it was this intrigue which led me to writing ‘The Last Village’. I would often imagine what it must have been like to live there. Despite the harsh Northern winters with no central heating and the hardship of those who lived there, it must have been such a wonderful place to wake up to and witness the impressive view of Souter Lighthouse and the powerful North Sea.
Inspired by not only the location but also my late Gran, I wanted to write a novel which was dedicated to this area of natural beauty but which also highlighted love and how it can bind the generations. The novel is a moving love story and is dual timeline between the 1940’s and present day, telling the story of Lily, the Gran, who lived in the village and Anna, the Granddaughter, who discovers her Grandmother’s past. The change in the area and the attitudes towards love can clearly be seen between the two different timelines, as well as some really nostalgic references. Nevertheless, the novel also highlights how some aspects of love have not changed at all, even across three generations.
I am very proud to be from the North East and I hope that the novel offers just a small insight into the deep history that is rooted in this region.
A Chill with a Book Premier Readers’ Award winner and 2019 American Fiction Awards Finalist, ‘The Last Village’ is available to purchase on Amazon in both Kindle and Paperback format. The cover photo depicts Souter Lighthouse today alongside the Leas, the former site of Marsden Village.
Further information about Souter Lighthouse and the Leas can be found at the National Trust which now protects the area. An exhibition displaying the demolished mining village will run from 14th September 2019 at Souter Lighthouse.