Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Gifts from the sea

Thursday's Guardian Country Diary describes sea glass collecting at Blast Beach, at Dawdon near Seaham on the Durham coast. 

Until about 20 years ago this beach was used for dumping colliery waste and was such a desolate, polluted place that it was chosen as a location for the opening scenes of the 1992 movie Alien 3. Over the last 15 years this stretch of coastline has undergone a major restoration and improves every year - you can find some photos of the wildlife of Blast beach and the nearby Hawthorn Hive by clicking here and here and here.

It was coal dumping that despoiled this coastline but for over 70 years another kind of industrial waste - glass - was thrown into the sea here. That stopped in 1921 but the glass, now sand-polished into pebbles that are used by local craft jewellers, are still washed ashore with every tide. Some of it even ends up on the other side of the Atlantic.


The bottle works at Seaham was opened by John Candlish in 1853, exploiting the convenient supply of local coal from the Dawdon pit, under the patronage of the 4th. Marquess of Londonderry who whose father built Seaham harbour for coal exporting. 

During its peak period of production the Londonderry Bottle Works employed 500 people, producing 20,000 hand-blown bottles a day and burning 21,000 tonnes of coal every year in two twelve-hour shifts that lit up the night sky with the glow from the furnaces. Every week a cargo of bottles was shipped from Seaham harbour to Rotherhithe in the 'bottleboat'. Waste glass was simply thrown into the sea. 

You can read more about the Londonderry Bottle Works by clicking here.

















These polished glass pebbles, mostly in shades of green, blue and amber are still washed ashore 92 years after the bottle works closed.


8 comments:

  1. Have a happy and satisfying 2014.

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  2. Thanks Adrian - and all the best to you too ....

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  3. I would so love to live near the beach, a lot of thing would be coming home with me..have collected glass when we have visited...

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    1. Collecting sea glass, pebbles and shells is quite addictive, isn't it Amanda?

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  4. I know of at least two bloggers who use the glass in their silver jewellery making. I think it looks beautiful.

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    1. Some of the blue and green pebbles are particularly beautiful. I wonder how long the supply will last - there doesn't seem to be as much on the beach as there was 30 years ago?

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  5. Saw someone shuffling the pebbles on the beach at Chanonry Point (Black Isle) whilst we were waiting for the Dolphins. I was bold enough to ask her what she was doing, and she told me she was collecting sea glass (I'd never heard of the term before). Ever since, whenever I'm on a beach, I'm looking for sea glass (as well as fossils). I've still not found a place to beat Chanonry Point for sea glass, however, although it looks as if Dawdon should be on my agenda!

    Best wishes for 2014, Phil.

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  6. I've only realised in the last few days how many people collect sea glass. All the best for 2014, Richard........

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