Not many readers of the Seaham Weekly News might have noticed on Friday last that that day's issue of that quaint little journal was number 2,601. Such, however, was the case, and the paper has entered upon its second half century. Its jubilee was on April 22nd, and so modest is its proprietor that the anniversary was allowed to pass without any reference to the interesting fact in its own columns.
The Seaham Weekly News, and Seaton, Murton, Hetton, Rainton and Houghton-le-Spring Advertiser, to give it its full title, was begun in 1860 by the late Mr John Richardson, when the harbour was filled with sailing ships and the Rainton Collieries – now laid in – were in all their glory and contributing materially to the prosperity of the port. As years roll on they bring their changes, and the changes in newspaper production during the past half century have been among the most striking in our national progress, but the Seaham Weekly has gone serenely on its own way, and is the same to-day as it was when it first appeared. It is a local paper and claims to be nothing more, and it, at least, cannot be accused of sensationalism. On the death of Mr Richardson it was carried on by his widow and their son, the late Mr Harrop Wight Richardson, and it is conducted to-day, together with an old-established printing and stationery business, by Mr Stephen Richards. It is now printed by a machine driven by a gas engine, but there is still in the office on the North Terrace the old hand press from which it was first sent forth. As a record of passing events it fills its place in the town it has served so long, and though it may be, in some respects, obscure it is posted to many parts of the world where former inhabitants of Seaham have made homes, and is by them highly valued.
I was recently contacted by a reader, Clare Abbott, who told me of an interesting family diary in her possession. Her own piece on the diary in the Journal of the Northumberland & Durham Family History Society can be read online here, and it tells the very interesting story of the diary of Eleanor Richardson (1825-1905) of Seaham Harbour, wife of the John Richardson mentioned in the piece above.
But for the purposes of this blog, the main interest is John's link with Hutton Rudby – which might incidentally help anyone trying to disentangle the Richardsons who lived in the village in the mid 19th century!
Eleanor Wight recorded that she married John Richardson of Hutton Rudby on 20 June 1848 in the church of Dalton-le-Dale, the Revd J Brown officiating. John was then 27. The following year, on 7 July 1849 at 2.30am, his mother Elizabeth died at Hutton Rudby.
John and Eleanor settled at Seaham Harbour where they ran a shop and started the Seaham Weekly News.
I think John was probably the son of John & Elizabeth Richardson who lived in Enterpen. The 1841 census shows:
John Richardson 45, general mechanic(All were born in Yorkshire)
Elizabeth Richardson 45
John Richardson 20
Jane Richardson 15
James Richardson 13
Robert Richardson 8
Clare tells me that when Eleanor died in 1905 she left £50 each to her nieces Hannah and Emma Richardson of Darlington.
I think there are two prominent figures associated with the Seaham Weekly News.
Thomas Summerbell (1861-1910), first Labour MP for Sunderland, was one of them, His story is told by Chris Mullin (author, journalist and former MP for Sunderland) here. Summerbell was, he says, "apprenticed to a printer on the Seaham Weekly News". This printer must have been John Richardson himself; in the 1881 Census he is described as a "master printer".
After serving his apprenticeship, Summerbell went to work as a journeyman printer in Felling and then Jarrow. He became interested in politics and was elected in 1906 as one of the 29 original members of the Parliamentary Labour Party. His main concerns were, explains Chris Mullins, "the dreadful condition of the labouring classes":
"A glance through Hansard shows him asking questions about the education of paupers, deaths by starvation in Whitechapel, the wages of labourers at Kew Gardens and the incidence of TB in the army."He died untimely at the age of 48.
The other significant figure was the journalist and independent Irish Nationalist MP, Captain Daniel Desmond ("D.D.") Sheehan (1873-1948).
The Seaham Weekly News was one of the local newspapers to carry his anonymous weekly column ("The War and Westminster") during the 1914-18 War. Sheehan's party, the All-For-Ireland-League Party, aimed to achieve Home Rule through reconciliation and consent of the people, but he nevertheless believed it was his duty to fight in the War and he and four other Irish Nationalist volunteers joined the Royal Munster Fusiliers. His story is told in the stories of Parliamentarians in the First World War.
For more on Seaham itself, visit the the Seaham Family History Group website.