The magazine of the photo-essay
February 2017 issue
by Claude le Gall
“A free, really high quality photo-essay magazine. Fabulous!”
Stephen Fry. British actor, writer and film & documentary maker
After photographing the kelp-gatherers of my native village in Brittany throughout the seventies, I decided in 1987 to
go to northeast England and take pictures of the seacoal-pickers or ‘coalies’ as they are called in the Seaham area.
It was a dull winter morning in February and snow fell now and again over the Blast, at the foot of Dawdon colliery. The
beach was covered in thick black slime, which made progression rather difficult. Men loaded sacks with black lumps of
anthracite which had been flushed out to sea from the mine and washed onto the shore by the tide. Once the sacks
were full, they were loaded on to all kinds of bicycles that the men pushed up the steep slope that led away from the
Blast. Most of them were going towards Sunderland.
It was the end of a way of life in the north east. Many mines were closing and the big steel-works at Consett was being
dismantled. I visited some villages nearby and met miners or former miners who spent much of their free time working
in their allotments, looking after their pigeons or walking their greyhounds.
In 1994, I went there again. Dawdon mine had closed down and the ‘coalies’ no longer roamed along the shore for sea-
coal. The allotments were still in the same place, beyond the railway tracks and I did some more work there. The bitter
years that had elapsed since my previous visit had left deep wounds and unemployment had soared.
In 2013 I returned to Seaham. I did not recognize the place. The site of Dawdon mine had been totally reclaimed and
a paved promenade with stainless steel railings had been built along the sea-front. It was like being on the Devon coast.
Coalie going home.
Man and greyhound, Wilton Gilbert.
Man and pigeons, Wilton Gilbert.
Man and horse, Blackhall.
Workingmen's club, Sacriston.