For many years, the economy of Seaham in County Durham relied on three large mines that extracted coal from coal seems several miles out under the North Sea. After the contraction of coal mining in the U.K. started in the mid-1980s, the mines of Seaham closed, one after another.
The longest-surviving mine was the Vane Tempest Colliery, closed in 1993, which was situated on a cliff overlooking the Vane Tempest Beach at Seaham. The site has been redeveloped, largely for housing, and now features some wonderful public art.
One of the most imposing works is a group of sculptures called “Jewels of the Sea.” Located in a delightful little public park on the edge of the East Shore housing development, the piece by artist Andrew Mckeown is a series of 34 cast iron sculptures inspired by unicellular aquatic organisms called diatoms. Here in the park there is also a fantastic sculpture incorporating a sundial, known as “Wind and Fire,” created by sculptor Craig Knowles.
Almost opposite the park is a large sculpture that serves as both a memorial to the miners killed in the Vane Tempest Colliery and an interpretive installation providing information on the history of the mine. Made of steel, bronze, and plastic, it portrays the profile of the coal mine’s surface buildings, including the winding gear, boiler house, and chimney. Between the sculpture and the cliff there is a seating area where metal inlays in the floor represent the miles of tunnels created under the North Sea to access the coal seams.
Know Before You Go
The Vane Tempest sculpture is located on the side of a small roundabout on North Road overlooking Seaham Beach. The "Jewels of the Sea" sculptures are just a short ways up the road, heading northwest.