MINING MEN REUNITED AFTER 40 YEARS BACK IN SUNDERLAND
“Life has a funny way of coming full circle and more often than not, all roads lead back home”, says Tom Robson, 89 who now lives in Sunderland. “You can take the man out of the Northeast, but you can’t take the Northeast out of the man”, he jokes.
Tom worked the coal pits across Blyth, South Durham, and Northumberland for 35 years. Mining could be dangerous with the mines susceptible to flooding and poor working conditions which made the work gruelling.
However Tom looks back fondly on mining days. He comments: “Local life at that time revolved around the collieries. Social clubs, close-knit communities, friends, were all made in the mines.”
In 1981, Tom decided to emigrate to Canada where he lived for 39 years. But wanting to be close to his grandchildren and great grandchildren, Tom decided to return to his roots recently, and move back to Sunderland where he is enjoying being part of a new community at Herriot Gardens.
With plenty of stories to tell Tom was interviewed by the McCarthy Stone team for its Emerald Magazine, a lifestyle publication distributed to all McCarthy Stone developments across the country.
As fate would have it, the magazine landed in the lap of McCarthy Stone House Manager, Philip Watson, in Alnwick, who recognised some of the things Tom spoke about during his time down the mines. Philip shared the magazine with his father, Tom Watson, 77, convinced the pair may even know each other.
Tom Watson now living in Northumberland, took one look and to Philip’s surprise recognised him straight away. Tom was reading about his former boss. Tom Robson had been a mentor to him all those years ago where they worked together at Bates Colliery in Blyth, Northumberland, during the seventies, but had lost touch.
As well as working together in the pits, the pair would bond together in their spare time, often having a beer together, playing snooker and football. Tom Robson’s daughter Diane, even babysat Tom Watson’s children back in the day.
In the early 1980s, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher announced her plans to close 20 coal pits. Miners started to strike to prevent these colliery closures, but Thatcher was victorious and hundreds of pits began to close leaving many men and boys unemployed and struggling. Tom Robson took this as an opportunity to emigrate to Alberta in Canada to work as part of ‘the Smokey River Project’, coalmining across the pond. Meanwhile Tom Watson stayed behind, finishing his career as Colliery Manager of three mines in Murton, Westoe and Ellington.
Speaking of his shock, Tom Watson said: “I couldn’t believe what I was reading. My friend had returned home after almost 40 years in Canada. Never would I have imagined he’d return to the North East. I was chuffed to read what a good life my old boss Tom had made for himself. I always had such respect for him.
“Working in the pits was dirty work, but it was where I learnt my craft and Tom Robson was such a big part of that. He looked after me and took me under his wing. We weren’t just work colleagues we became close friends.”
The magazine was the golden opportunity that Tom Watson needed, to reach out to his former friend with a little help from his son Philip, and fellow House Manager at Herriot Gardens, Jude Kane where Tom Robson now lives.
Tom Robson was thrilled to be contacted by Tom out of the blue and jumped at the chance to meet up after 40 years apart.
Tom Robson said: “If I hadn’t of done the interview with Emerald magazine, I’d have probably never heard from Tom again. I have made many new friends at Herriot Gardens, but being able to catch up with Tom has been a pleasure. We won’t be losing touch again.
“After initially chatting over the phone, Tom invited me to visit him and his wife Edith, at their home in Northumberland. Reminiscing over old memories, cold, dark days down the mines, Sunderland Football Club, and what we have been up to with our lives the past 40 years. We also remembered old colleagues who are sadly no longer with us. Tom even surprised me with a visit from another old colleague, Norman Jackson, and his wife Jean, who I had no idea was still in the area, and it was brilliant to catch up with them too.”
With the pair now reacquainted after so long apart, the two Toms have plenty to catch up on. Keeping in regular contact with each other, Tom Watson has also visited Tom Robson at Herriot Gardens where Tom took great pleasure introducing him to all his new friends at the weekly coffee morning.
Speaking of his visit to Herriot Gardens, Tom Watson said: “I haven’t lived in Sunderland for almost 50 years myself, so I was eager to visit once Tom invited me down. I know the area very well, and the McCarthy Stone development is only 100 yards away from the church where my wife and i married. It’s been lovely to visit the area that holds many great memories for me and to see how Sunderland has changed over the years. I was very impressed by the way the Herriot Gardens community has developed in such a short time, with a number of group activities already well established.
“We are both really grateful to the teams at McCarthy Stone for making this all possible.”