Dawdon Colliery – Seaham’s National Diving Centre ” plays host to Britain’s future diving champions – 1956″
Dawdon Colliery was an amphitheatre set in the cold winds of the North East. A sun trapped basin from which all bright new diving champions emerged.
As well as hard work it provided fun, games and… trips down the Dawdon Colliery.
16 Divers from all over the country attended Dawdon Colliery National Diving Training Centre. They were selected by the authorities of the sporting districts over UK. The Amateur Swimming Association made their choices from the years’ competition results and training schedules. Those showing potential for representing Great Britain one day, were the chosen ones. It was a strenuous and hard week. Physical jerks were the order of each day. Diving, diving, diving from the varied equipment around the pool until tea time. After supper there were films and lectures. Early nights were enforced with an early rise next morning. Then it was time to start all over again repeated for seven days.
On the Saturday during the 1956 intensive National training week took place – (photo above) there was a Great Britain versus Italy Diving Match. Crowds flooded to see the Great Britain Team perform their outstanding technical dives. The sun baked amphitheatre surrounding the pit pool was packed.
Men’s Team: Peter Squires from Highgate Diving Club; Keith Collin from Isleworth; Frank Mercer from Omega; David Tarsey from Ealing; Ray Cann from Highgate and Brian Phelps.
Women’s Team: Chairman Welsh from Durham City; and Elizabeth Ferris from Mermaid . Charmian Welsh, a local girl, trained every hour of the day. She became Commonwealth Champion and Olympic representative.
I list these divers for “memory lane sake” Alas, nothing lasts forever nor do very sadly, some of these personalities featured on this page.
The Pit Pool was filled with the warm water used to cool the colliery air compressors, pumping it directly into the pool.
As well as being a very famous diving centre, it was home to Dawdon Colliery Swimming Club. Many young children can boast about learning to swim in this unique distinguished pool. The pool was quite black and divers never wanted to go the bottom of this deep pool for fear of meeting something unknown waiting to grab them. We needn’t have worried. During a visit at the time of the pool’s demolition, it was experienced that the pool had a very smooth nice concrete bottom!
The miners and their wives hosted the divers during the annual weeks training. It was very comfortable staying in the cosiness of the small cottages. The divers enjoyed and stuffed themselves with wonderful food. They were treated as members of their own families.
A miner who lived in “our” street possessed the one and only television. The divers crowded into his front parlour to watch Brian Phelps. He was training with us. He had been filmed for “Sportsview” with Peter Dimmock which had taken place earlier in the week. Of course Brian had the best seat on the floor, in the front row!…naturally.
The purpose of the filming was because Brian had been selected for the European Games that year. The youngest ever GB representative in the sport. He came back with a silver medal. He later went onto win a bronze medal in the Rome Olympics 1960.
Dawdon Colliery Swimming Club was founded in 1945, soon achieving specatacular success. The combination of the ambitious Frank Watt, his committee, and the Colliery Management plus colliery helpers the “Pit Pool” – haunt of tiddlers and amphibians – was turned into a dream pool. A national state of the art diving stage was equipped to Olympic standard. There was a band stand, sandpit, loud speaker, and multiple terraces for spectators. It was to be declared fit for purpose in 1951. Dawdon Colliery Pit Pool was constantly in the news. Most weekends the amphitheatre hosted galas with beautiful rhythmic swimming. A Russian International took place, and a German International was filmed for Movietone News.
A wonderful account of Dawdon Pit Pool given by Charmian Welsh – Commonwealth Gold Medallist, Olympic finalist, who trained here every hour of every day in the year.
OUTCOME: There was steady desertion during the 70s into the 80s. parents and children were moving to warmer waters. There were overwhelming high tides and vandalism. Also the future of all Colliery’s was in question. Eventually, all the founders and substantial serving officials of the swimming club went their own ways and the Club was disbanded in 1982. Dawdon Pit Pool steadily came to a close as the miners and their families drifted away – a community lost.
It was announced the colliery was closing down in 1992 and sadly the buildings, pool and minors cottages were razed to the ground. The site was completely cleared, the beaches were cleaned and the area reverted to grassland (2008) A Community gone.
Anyone had the privilege of swimming or diving here. Any more hints?