|Location of Seghill and Burradon Collieries (click to enlarge)|
When James Fryer died at Blyth in Mar 1911 the Blyth News and Wansbeck Telegraph carried this family notice:
Husband of late Margaret M Fryer and son of the late John Fryer of Burradon Colliery. Internment at Horton churchyard on Thursday. Cortege leaving residence at 2pm. All invited.James' father John had died in 1888, but was still considered influential enough to be mentioned in this notice. John Fryer was born in 1822 the 4th generation of ordinary, Newcastle pitmen. By the time of his death in 1888 he had been the long-time manager of both Seghill and Burradon collieries, a licensee of the Ship Inn at Byker and a property developer of a shop and seventeen terraced dwellings in four blocks at Burradon.
|Fryer's Terrace Burradon (part of) 1901 Now a Millennium Green|
|Alan Carr Unveils a Memorial on Fryer's Millennium Green Oct 2011|
So, what could I actually piece together from available evidence as to how John became so successful?
In 1841 as a 17 year old he was living in a basic, and probably quite squalid, pitman's dwelling at the still fairly new Seghill Colliery, which was part of a row of terraced housing. Both he and his father are listed as coal miners. By 1851, although he was still living in basic pitman accommodation at Seghill, he was now married with with a young family and was enumerated on the census as an Overman. An Overman was a senior supervisor within the colliery and his father, living two doors away, was also listed as having this occupation. What stood out from the census returns, though, was that John was employing a 15 year old girl as a live-in servant. This was surely a highly unusual practice for an ordinary pitman living in basic housing?
|Seghill Colliery Housing|
|Seghill Colliery c1860|
It was not until 1872 that colliery managers (viewers) were required to take an exam before being issued with a certificate of competency. The situation prior to this date is described by Peter Ford Mason in "The Pit Sinkers of Northumberland and Durham":
The ‘viewer’ was the [owner’s] ‘eyes and ears’ who took care of his mining investment by daily inspections, with particular responsibility for ‘free communication of air through all the works’. Colliery viewers were trained as mining engineers, with under-viewers and apprentice viewers obtaining practical experience before promotion to the senior position. They often had a background in surveying in the coal industry, and were sometimes introduced to this position at an early age.
|Newcastle Journal 11 Sep 1858|
|John Fryer Grave at Killingworth, St Johns|
|Charles Carr 1862|
We will probably never know the full story?