Life in Lambton
By Norman Sweeting
“A bit smelly and dirty but lots of fun” is how Norman describes life at the Lambton Coke Works before it closed in the 1980s.
I started work on my 16th birthday, September 1966 and worked at the Lambton Coke Works until it closed in February 1986. The plant was a big part of my family’s life.
My father and brother were there when I started and, later, two of my uncles started. There were several family groups there as, in those days, people were given jobs if they had relatives working there. My oldest brother worked at Hawthorn coke works.
With only about 320 people employed there it was a close-knit community and you virtually knew everyone’s name. My closest mate (Derek, alias DOC) started one year earlier and we are still working together at Caterpillar, Peterlee.
My father worked for the company that built the coke works and started work at the new plant straightaway in 1955 and retired in 1983 and so missed out on the big redundancy payments in 1986.
Collapsing cooling tower
It was a great place to work, a bit smelly and dirty but lots of fun even with management. Not a great deal happened over the years, but a few notable events occurred, like in 1968 the tall wooden quenching tower used for cooling down the red hot coke, which was transported in a large bucket wagon from the ovens, collapsed.
I think it was hit by lightening, which ended up with a group of men with big hoses quenching the coke down for months afterwards while it was repaired.
“On the day we finished there in February 1986 there wasn’t many dry eyes when we said our goodbyes.”
Lord Robens visited us in 1970 to open the new Blending plant. Everything in the Blending plant was run from the main control office. We had 20 large bunkers filled with different coals from around the world and they were mixed together to make top quality coke for foundry work and household use.
Lightening does strike twice
In around 1980 lightening struck again. This time it struck the lightening conductors on top of the tallest chimney. It did not damage the chimney but shot down the copper strips hit the ground and set fire to everything around it, and what a noise it made when it hit.
In all the time there, there was no one killed or even seriously injured and once we won the top safety award as well as the tidiest plant award (takes some believing but it did happen).
We didn’t just work together we went out socially as well. We also had our own football team, crown green bowling team, which I joined and was one of the youngest playing.
We played our football games at Fencehouses Y.M.C.A. which sadly was demolished only months ago to make way for new houses.
My trade was a maintenance fitter and I learnt a vast array of skills, including lead burning which I loved doing. We were trained off an old timer who used to line the insides of the tall chimneys with lead. Never had to use it since.
On the day we finished there in February 1986 there wasn’t many dry eyes when we said our goodbyes. Some people we never saw again, only reminded when we found out they had passed away.
Left to right, back row,