By Paula Newman
Visitors to Seaham and its beaches are often on a pilgrimage. Seaham is a bucket list destination for visitors who come from as far away as Alaska, Hawaii, and even Australia. It is not unknown for a regular visitor to buy a property in the town and then rent it to other seaglass hunters when they are not staying themselves. The beaches that Seaham sits astride are easily rated and each one is different. Chemical Beach is the name given to the beach south of the harbor. The Seaham Chemical Works operated from the 1860s until it closed in 1885 and much waste and glass was dumped into the sea. A “better” method of waste disposal was created, dumping the glass further out to sea, north of the harbor. This meant that over time, the tidal drift brought pieces, smoothed by a century of sea tumbling, onto the beach with every tide.
North Beach, a long stretch that runs from Seaham towards Ryhope and Sunderland, is the prime candidate and preferred beach on which to search for sea glass. The quantities that wash up on a daily basis are fairly consistent, as evidenced by the daily sight of stooping hunters spaced out along the beach. The North Sea has a wild side, and following the storms that lash the sea wall and lighthouse will bring in larger pieces, sometimes entire “gobs” of glass, dumped onto the beach. Seaham attracts serious collectors for many unique treats. Uranium glass, spooky in appearance, is found occasionally and is best confirmed by taking a UV torch with you on the beach. There are thousands of pieces left undiscovered along the length of the beach, in colors vary from cobalt to red, with olive green pieces of considerable age – most likely from wrecks – adding to the desire to track them down.
Then there are the multies, ranging from simple color layers, as practiced by the many glass making apprentices until they perfected their skills, to strange patterns – embedded within the glass, not eroded from the surface. “Flip-flops” are another favorite find—clear (white) glass, with a thin layer of color running through the centre. As it reflects light, the color makes one half of the glass appear coloured. This changes as you rotate the glass, so the color appears to flip-flop between halves of the glass. Bright reds are another sought after local specialty, as the Candlish family (owners of the Londonderry Bottle Works, which housed six glass making factories in Seaham and at one time were the largest bottling business in Europe) was known for their bright colors, thanks to the chemists who joined them as the glass works grew.
There’s a third beach that visitors should also consider, the smaller beach next to the harbor and accessed by steep steps from the cliffs. This little cove entraps more than its fair share of glass and is worth a low tide visit. Looking South beyond Chemical Beach is the long “Blast” beach which is recovering from years of abuse as a site for the disposal of mining waste, via a conveyor. At one point, there was a recorded 30ft of horrible sludge on the beach and even now you will see a considerable layer sitting on the beach as the sea slowly reclaims the area.
1) The local shopping centre is Byron Place. This references the marriage of Lord Byron to the daughter of the original owners of Seaham Hall. Within years he had spent the family fortune and forced the sale of Seaham Hall and its land to Charles Stewart – later Charles Vane, who orchestrated the building of the town and the harbor.
2) Seaham has been a film location for Billy Elliot, while nearby Blast Beach was used in the third Alien film and before that, in the dramatic climax of Get Carter starring Michael Caine.
3) As the beaches recover from the Victorian abuse, the sea life is recovering too, with divers reporting sightings of velvet crabs, octopus and more recently even an occasional shark!
4) Seaham is well served by public transport. It is possible to come straight to the town by Metro and train from Newcastle airport. Trains from London don't stop in Seaham, but you can catch a connection in Newcastle very easily.
5) As well as the beach, there is plenty to do when the tide is in. Durham is a short bus ride from the town; Newcastle is a quick train ride away and even closer, Hartlepool is just to the South where you will find HMS Trincomalee still afloat after 200 years. Worth a visit.
6) The closest city is Sunderland and is easily reached by bus or train. Here you will find a statue of John Candlish, the Bottleworks genius, as well as the National Glass Centre with live glass blowing and some stunning exhibitions.
Where to stay...
1) Eastshaw Guest House is the perfect choice situated on the cliffs overlooking both the North Beach and the harbor. A friendly family run guest house, sea glass hunter friendly and well known to many visitors from around the world. http://eastshawguesthouse.co.uk/
2) New for 2017, there will be a house available to rent for a longer stay, that can be used as a base for exploring as well as sea glass hunting. Just a short walk from the station and close to the shopping area, restaurants and the beach of course. For more details email email@example.com
3) Seaham Hall – now an upmarket Spa Hotel, frequented by celebrities and the well healed. If your budget isn't limited why not treat yourself to a stay here with its perfect location just a short stroll from the North Beach and its range of tempting ways to spoil yourself.
…And Don’t Miss
1) The Lookout – a fine cafe with great views along the coast, in both directions. Situated on the harbor wall adjacent to the newly built Marina, this is an ideal place to shelter from the wind while waiting for the tide to turn. Try a freshly made panini, or a bucket of chips! The cheesecake is awesome too.
2) Downey’s Fish and Chips – for that traditional British treat, situated close to the seafront and the Eastshaw Guest House, Downey's is a highly rated traditional Fish and Chip restaurant with the most authentic offerings in Seaham.
This article appeared in the Glassing Magazine September 2017 issue.