Mr Peter Lee was born in July 1864 at Duff Heap Row, Fivehouses, Trimdon Grange. He was one of eight children. His working life started at Oldham Cotton Mill before moving on to County Durham where he worked in 15 pits up until he was 21. By the age of 10 he was working ten hours a day underground at Littletown Colliery for ten (old) pence a week.
His Mother started Peter’s love of books through reading to the family around the fire, his love of books continued throughout his life. At 20, he had little schooling and could neither read or write, so he began his education, a man of over 6 feet tall, sitting at a small desk in a room full of children. He took it upon himself to become better educated and headed for America in 1886 where he worked in the mines of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.
In 1888, he returned to England and began work at Wingate pit where he was elected delegate to the Miners Conference, which probably inspired him to improve his status. It was also this year in which he married Alice Thompson of Thornley. He was elected Checkweighman at Wingate in 1892 and in 1896 he travelled to South Africa, returning a very different man. He was now a committed christian and the christian ethos was central to all he did. He continued to work in the mines of Durham County, as well as reading, studying and preaching in local chapels.
In 1890, at the age of 33, he returned to Wheatley Hill and became Checkweighman there. Once in the Parish Council, he soon became Chairman. He was responsible for the provision and purity of water, sanitation, new roads and cemetery at Wheatley Hill.
As Chairman of the local Co-operative, he denounced the North Eastern Railway Company for its disgraceful Thornley Station and its approaches.
He was elected as Chairman of Durham County Water Board, became a member of Durham County Council in 1909 and elected Chairman in 1919. He became the agent of the Durham Miners Association, later became the General Secretary and then the President of the M.F.G.B.
Peter Lee died in 1935 and is buried in Wheatley Hill Cemetery.
Although he died before Peterlee was built, his name lives on to show that his dreams of a better way of life were eventually achieved. Peter Lee would have fully approved of this town and what it is trying to do. He would have been proud that it bears his name, as are the members of his family.
Information contained in this prose has been extracted from the Foreword of ‘Memories of Peterlee’ written by Win Coleman (2004), grand-daughter of Peter Lee.