Washington 'F' Pit

In December 1775 Robert Shafto, Sir Gilfrid Lawson and Dr. James Musgrave, the Lords of the Manor of Washington, leased the coal under the northern part of the parish to William Russel and Partners.  Russel was a coal fitter (shipping agent) from Sunderland and also owned the famous Wallsend Colliery on the Tyne.

Russel’s men rapidly sank a series of pits in the leased area (the ‘royalty’), that became New Washington Colliery.  Each pit was known by a letter of the alphabet, running from A to I.  In March 1778 the first coals from the colliery were taken by waggonway (an early form of horse-drawn railway) to Sunderland. By the summer of 1786 another waggonway had been built to Bill Quay on the Tyne, and Washington coal was being shipped from both the Tyne and the Wear.

‘F’ pit is believed to have been sunk in about 1777 and continued in use until sometime in 1796 when it had to be abandoned, and allowed to fill with water, as a result of an explosion.  The pit survived this accident despite a recommendation to fill it in and sink another shaft nearby, and was re-opened in about 1820.  In 1856 ‘F’ pit was deepened to reach the Hutton seam at a depth of 110 fathoms (660 feet, 201 metres).  By 1870 the ‘F’ Pit had become the major coal outlet for the colliery.

In 1903 the pit was completely re-modelled for the third and last time, although additional buildings were constructed from time-to-time until the 1950s.  In 1926/7 a new pit, Washington ‘J’, was sunk just north of the ‘F’ Pit to the Busty seam which was 929 feet (283 metres) below surface.  Also, from 1927 new owners embarked on a modernisation scheme, bringing electricity to all the faces and introducing pneumatic picks.

Until 1946 the Washington ‘F’ Pit was, like all the other collieries in Britain, owned by a private company.  Then, on the 1st January 1947 the coal industry was nationalised and the ‘F’ Pit became a part of the No. 1 Area of the North Eastern Division of the National Coal Board. Development work continued into the 1950s and the shaft at ‘F’ Pit was deepened to reach the Busty seam in 1953/54.  The ‘F’ Pit reached its peak in the mid 1960s.  In 1964/65 it produced 486,000 tons of saleable coal per year and employed over 1500 men.

By the late 1960s, however, the colliery was getting old and did not fit well into the NCB’s ‘Super-Pit’ development philosophy.  It was decided the ‘F’ Pit should close, and the last coal was drawn there on 21st June 1968.    Following closure the NCB presented the winding house  and headgear to the people of Washington as a  monument to the important part that the mining industry  played in the history of the town.  The museum was opened in 1976 by the Washington Development Corporation and responsibility for its administration passed to Tyne & Wear Museums Service on the 1st April 1984. In April 2013 Sunderland City Council took over the direct management of the F Pit.

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Sunderland's Friendship Agreement with Washington DC makes us the only city in Europe to enjoy such a relationship with the world's most powerful city. Washington Old Hall is home to the direct ancestors of the first president of the United States of America.

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