Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Opening of New Delaval Christian Lay Church

John Wesley had a great influence on his tours of the Northern Coalfield during the 18th century. The mining district adopted the Methodist Lay Church with great vigour. The Church of England was often seen as "the Tory party at prayer". Coal mine owners often welcomed the Methodist churches into their colliery villages as this religious influence had a positive effect on what could be quite a "rough and ready" society of mineworkers.

1897 OS New Delaval

Location Map

However, it was not a Methodist church (as Methodism had split into separate branches by this stage) that the Morpeth Herald were reporting on the laying of a foundation stone in 1886 at New Delaval Colliery Village to the west of Blyth but a Christian Lay Church. The Church by the time of the 3rd edition Ordnance Survey in 1922 was another branch of the Methodist movement and was pulled down in recent years to make way for educational buildings. But according to the newspaper article a time capsule was buried in the church. Was it ever found during demolition? What happened to it? This is the article:

"On Saturday afternoon an interesting ceremony took place in the laying of a foundation stone of a new Christian Lay Church at New Delaval. The Christian Lay Denomination first took up habitation at this colliery about three years ago and has hitherto worshipped in the in the colliery schoolroom which was kindly lent by the Seaton Delaval Coal Company. The body grew rapidly in earnestness and numbers until the building now became an imperative necessity. An excellent central site was secured in the heart of the village, in close proximity to the Weslyan Chapel and to several school buildings, and the work of erection briskly commenced. Fine weather favoured the ceremony on Saturday, and there was a large attendance. After the opening of the proceedings Mr James Haswell of Newcastle [Christian Lay Church Minister] gave an address bearing on Lay Church affairs. He said that though the church was of comparatively recent establishment it had already unquestionably justified its claim to live and had given unmistakable evidence of its vitality. Progress had marked its brief career and that day they had a practical demonstration of advancement and a promise of future usefulness. The church had had its disappointments, which the members had met manfully and nobly. He then referred to the kind treatment the church had received from the owners of Seaton Delaval Colliery. He congratulated the members upon the site they had obtained; it was all that could be desired. He reminded them that though as a denomination they were comparatively young as a church they were the most ancient of all dating from Apostolistic times. They were also the most democratic of the churches. Mr Haswell concluded by presenting, on behalf of the members of the church, a silver trowel to Mr R E Ornsby of Seaton Delaval [The manager of Seaton Delaval/New Delaval Collieries]  in commemoration of that gentleman’s connection with the laying of the stone. Mr Ornsby having returned thanks, said that though he did not belong to the church, yet from the bottom of his heart he was glad to offer a helping hand to every denomination. He then proceeded to lay the stone. In the cavity beneath there was placed a bottle containing a newspaper for that day, copies of the circuit rules, preacher’s plan, names of trustees and teachers and a bill of the day’s proceedings - Mr Ornsby expressed the hope that the church would prosper, not only in his lifetime, but for ages to come - A public tea was afterwards held in the colliery schoolroom, and a meeting was held at night. On Sunday the anniversary services of the Sabbath School were successfully held."
1922 OS New Delaval

As can be seen on the 2nd edition Ordnance Survey map of 1897 the Church of England had established a small mission chapel near to the Christian Lay Church. This also had the assistance of the colliery owners who donated the land and the necessary building materials. Previously the parishioners had to walk across the field to Horton Church, some distance away. It was opened in 1892 but by 1920 had proved to be too small and the present St Bede's Church was opened on Newcastle Road in 1930 and was the centre of a parish in its own right.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Burradon Heritage Trail

Manager’s House and Office

This building was shown to be in existence on the Ordnance Survey mapping of 1858. It was the house and office of the resident manager, known as a viewer and his officials. Sometimes also referred to as the pay office, it was for most of the first 100 years of the colliery the main administration building. The exact building date is not known, but it could date from the very beginning of the colliery in the 1820s and 30s. This is a two storey building with the living accommodation on the upper floor, a similar house can be seen at the end of Pit Row in Beamish Museum, but in 1859 a row of 40 terraced cottages, called Office Row, was attached to the manager’s house. These were demolished in the 1960s.


One of only a few survivals of a stone-built building among all the brick houses. In 1861 this was the butcher’s shop and dwelling of Samuel Pollock. A building is, however, marked at this site on the 1858 OS mapping. A 1920s photo indicates that the building was probably a former semi-detached dwelling house with one half later converted to a butcher’s shop. The building could be from the 1830-40s when the street was first being developed. In a trade directory Joseph Morrison is listed as the butcher and proprietor here. The Morrison family remained in the business until the 1980s. Formerly, all of the buildings in this street were of a similar style but in the early 20th century were demolished to make way for the housing and pubs we see today, with stone being replaced with brick as the favoured material. The stone was quarried commercially by Adam Tate and Co at sites near the farm.

Travellers Rest

Behind the modern rendering is an old stone-built building dating from between 1828 and 1841. The other pubs in Burradon were rebuilt and modernised around the 1900 period as was fashionable at the time, although the Travellers Rest did undergo some structural work in the latter part of the 20th century having many small rooms made into one open space. It continues to be known locally as the Beerhouse. The Beerhouse Act enabled a license to be bought to brew and sell beer for only two guineas without the need to gain approval of magistrates. It was hoped that the competition from the sale of cheap beer would help wean the working class away from the consumption of gin, which was proving to be ruinous.

Fryer’s Terrace

This is the last surviving part of three terraces that once occupied the space of Fryer’s Millennium Green consisting of seventeen houses. The property on the left was converted into a dwelling in recent times from a shop premises. The properties were built in 1861 by the manager of Burradon Colliery. As well as being a property developer he also went on to own pubs in Byker. The shop was at first the Post Office ran by Fryer’s son-in-law and then was leased for a few years by the fledgling Cramlington and District Co-operative Society as a store. The Fryers had moved away by the 1920s and older residents may know this shop by the name of the long-standing shopkeeper Paddy Mills.

Pit Interpretation Board.

Looking at the board on your left was the original site of the colliery buildings. The yard and spoil heap covered most of the landscaped area now visible. The path away to the right was the course of a railway running all the way to Willington where the coal was shipped from the Tyne.

Tower House

This tower was a small defensible tower house. There were many of them in the area although this one was smaller than most and later in its construction. It was built for Bertram Anderson who was at the time a rising merchant and leading politician in Newcastle. He purchased the lands in Burradon from his uncle, George Orde whose ancestors had held Burradon land for centuries. Anderson wanted a rural base which brought status and prestige. Unfortunately, these were lawless time in the Border counties, reiving and conflict with Scotland being ever present, and anyone who had the means to do so built a defensible home. The tower was later used as the farm offices and was attached to the farmstead. It was not abandoned to become ruinous until 1859.

Primitive Methodist Chapel

This building has been a dwelling house for well over a century now but it started life in the 1860s as a Primitive Methodist church. The Methodist movement had been popular with mineworkers of the district since the early 19th century, but disagreements had meant a split in the movement. The Weslyan Methodists had already built a church near where the Halfway House now stands in 1830. The Primitive Methodists sold this chapel beside the school to the Co-op Society in 1883 and it functioned as a store with drapery department until 1897. The PMs built a larger church further North on Burradon Road which was only demolished in the 1980s. The United Methodists also built a church in 1908 behind Fryer’s Terrace which has since been demolished no longer being needed after the closure of the colliery.

Church of the Good Shepherd

The Church of England did not manage to get a church established in Burradon until 1894. This was a chapel-of-ease to the parochial church at Killingworth. The first marraige was not performed here until 1979. The Methodist movement was the favoured religion of most mineworkers. The C of E was often considered to be the Tory party at prayer by miners. But not all working-class villagers were non-conformist and a stained glass window in the church commemorates Joseph Swan who was a stationary engine operator at Hill Head. It is said he lived in very humble circumstances.

Wagonway Interpretation Board

This gives information on the rail line that was used to haul coals from Seaton Burn Collieries to the Tyne. A wagonway was first laid down here in the 1820s. The wagons were pulled via a rope from a stationary engine at Hill Head. A tunnel ran under the road in the days before locomotives did the hauling. It is possible the tunnel still exists.

Ridge and Furrow

The fields Malt Pool Close and New Intake near the farmstead show evidence of ridge and furrow, like waves in the ground. This is the result of medieval ploughing. A large ploughshare drawn by an ox leaves would turn a large amount of soil leaving these earthworks in the ground. When the land was subsequently enclosed in the c17th century the traces remained undisturbed.

Co-op Building

A typical colliery village Co-op department store familiar throughout the area. Built in 1897, although the Co-operative Society had had a presence in the community since 1872. This building allowed an expansion and consolidation of services, as well as grocery provision, into one building, over the two storeys, such as butchery, cobblers and a dance hall. The second storey was destroyed by fire in the 1970s.

Burradon Road Stone Buildings

There are late 19th century shop buildings in stone which have continued in use ensuring their survival, although Weetslade Terrace shop became non-viable a couple of years ago and was converted into a dwelling. These various premises have been used as a butcher’s, post offices, a base for an undertaker and general dealers at various stages. The shop which is now a hairdressers was run by the long-standing and prominent Bolton family. Alexander Bolton was first listed at this shop in 1871 but probably built the premises in 1863. He was highly regarded and a well-known lay preacher for over half a century. His son, Joseph, took over the running of the shop and was still being listed on trade directories in 1938.

Pit Wheel Memorial

The plaque commemorates Burradon Colliery workers and the return of the winding wheel in 2001.

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Friday, 2 September 2016

Plessey Wagonway

It is a well-known fact that Plessey Road, stretching all the way from Blyth town centre to Newsham (2.4 miles) was laid down along the course of an old wagonway. It causes an odd appearance to what should be a gridiron layout to the streets of the town. The course of the road continues westward through Newsham fields as a modern-day footpath. There are also some earthworks remaining at Boghouses which was originally part of a wagonway bridge across the Horton Burn.

The wagonway started at Plessey Checks, a distance of five-and-a-half miles from Blyth. It has obviously had a great influence on the layout of the landscape, even up to the present day, but no obvious trace of any former industrial activity in this area would indicate why such an expensive undertaking as the construction of a wagonway was ever needed. Today it is a barren, rural area with a large roundabout at its centre. Plessey had once been a thriving coal mining area with a village of miners' cottages at its heart. What could I find out about the Plessey pits?

Earthworks at Boghouses crossing the Horton Burn

The subject had been studied by Janet Bleay for the book Plessey: The Story of a Northumbrian Woodland (1981). There is an outcrop of a very rich coal seam on the south bank of the River Blyth at Plessey. A geological fault throws this seam down 30-60 ft on the north bank where the Plessey Woods Country Park is now situated, so the early mining activity was concentrated on the south bank where the coal was more easily accessible.

Current Open-cast mining operations at Shotton and Plessey (looking east)

Mining had taken place here since medieval times, mostly by the monks of Newminster, near Morpeth, who had been granted rights of mining in the area. The operation was primitive and small scale in these early days. Drift mines were dug along the seam where it outcropped or a bell pit was sunk vertically. The bell pit was so named because it resembled the shape of a bell when seen in cross section. A small shaft was sunk down to the seam and then coal was dug out as far as was possible to go until the roof was likely to cave in or the air became too foul with suffocating gases. Coal and men were hauled up to the surface by means of a windlass with a large wicker basket attached to the rope.

When the bell pit had reached its limit you then dug another a few yards further along.

Bell Pit

Technological development meant that as time went by pits could become deeper and the coal dug further away from the shaft into the seam. The developments were: propping up the roof of the mined seam; ventilating the pit by means of lighting a furnace which used rising hot air to create a draught, air shafts were also sunk; and using engines to pump water from the workings, although in the 17th and probably even in to the late 18th centuries this would have been a horse engine in an arrangement known as a cuddy's wheel or horse gin.

Horse Gin at Beamish Museum (This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International3.0 Unported2.5 Generic2.0 Genericand 1.0 Generic license.)

Even by 1813 when the pits ceased operation and the wagonway was ripped up the workings were not extensive. Thirteen pits were in operation in this year working by the rib and stall method. But still the extent of the workings were only tens of yards from the shaft bottom. Steam engines were by this time in common use to pump water and haul men and coal up the shaft. Deep mining had been started at Cowpen in 1794 and with the pits at Plessey being almost exhausted the owners agreed to close.

Charles Brandling was the proprietor of the mines in 1663. He was a landowner from Gosforth, near Newcastle, with extensive estates. Presumably not much coal could have been shipped via Blyth in those days? Roads were just cart tracks that became muddy during the winter season. Carts carrying coals would have soon become stuck axle deep. Long journeys were impracticable.

In 1692 the Blyth Coal Company was formed, although we know little of the organisation. Between that date and 1709 the Plessey Wagonway was laid down to allow coal wagons to run on rails. According to the Blyth News' "Story of Blyth" (1957) "The wagonway was made of a double line of beech rails laid on oak sleepers. The wagons had wooden wheels into which nails were driven to prevent wear and tear. Each wagon was pulled by one horse and driven by one man. Three journeys, or gaits, was a day's work. The first quay on this side of the river was constructed at the end of the way. There the coal was unloaded from the wagons and later loaded from barrows into the ships. This practice was continued till the building of a staith some years later." WR Sullivan in "Blyth in the Eighteenth Century" (1971) states: "As early as 1772-73 there are references to loading there from some kind of 'spout'. In 1784 we have a detailed account of expenditure on a 'staith'.

Blyth soon became established as a coal exporting port.

The Ridley family purchased the Plessey Colliery in 1722 and the following year bought the estate of Blyth. They were entrepreneurial and poured much investment into the development of the town and their business interests. In the first year they sent 58,000 tons of coal along the wagonway to Blyth. Although there was a significant domestic sale of coal most of it was sent via sea routes from Blyth.

Wagonways, however, were expensive undertakings and a major investment. In 1783 the upkeep of the Plessey Wagonway reached £1140 (roughly £230,000 in today's money) £843 the following year and £830 in 1786. Wayleave was also expensive and Lord Delaval demanded £300 per annum for the wagonway to go over his lands at Horton. Even after a series of not very friendly negotiations Ridley was not able to get this amount reduced and he proposed another, alternative, route "missing out this awkward gentleman's land altogether". The alternative route was never carried out.

Eneas MacKenzie writing in 1825 gave a statistical account of the parish of Stannington:

"For the great decrease in the population of the parish as compared with the last census of 1811, I can very satisfactorily account. About eight years ago a very extensive colliery in the South Division and townsip of Plessey was (what is technically called) laid in - that is discontinued to be worked or carried on; from which circumstances about 300 pitmen removed to the chapelry of Cowpen, where a fresh pit, or colliery, was opened, and where they continue to dwell."

The old housing was quickly removed although the old Three Horse Shoes pub and smithy buildings remained in place at Plessey Checks for quite a few decades after closure serving the Plessey New Houses to the south of the site.

Article gives useful info on NE wagonways...

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Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Blyth Shipyard Closure 1966

The workmen of Blyth Shipyard were on annual leave on the 3rd August 1966 when the editor of the Blyth News was invited to go along to the yard to be briefed on a news item. With all the 1400 workforce away on their holidays what he was actually told was momentous. The shipyard was to close.

Of the 245,000 shares in the Blyth Dock and Shipbuilding Company 242,000 were owned by Moller Trust Ltd of Hong Kong. And the formal redundancy notices the men received soon after, while on annual leave, were postmarked Hong Kong.

Shipyards in 1950s
The loss of heavy industry at that time, which also included some of the town’s coal mines, has often been cited as the start of a demise in Blyth’s fortunes. But were the closures inevitable or was this the product of a foreign management indifferent to the plight of the town?

Eddie Milne was the town’s MP from 1960 to 1974. He spoke on the subject at a House of Commons debate on the 20th Oct 1966 with the Labour Secretary of State for the Board of Trade, Roy Mason:

“The first Ark Royal was built at Blyth, but it is with the present that we are mainly concerned tonight. In the first week in August of this year, the yard was on annual holiday and the editor of the local paper, the Blyth News, on 3rd August, was telephoned and asked to go along to the yard for what was described as an item of news. A receiver had moved in that morning and taken over the running of the yard. Needless to say the town was stunned. Workers on holiday received the news from newspaper reports, and many returned from their holidays to receive the news in envelopes marked Hong Kong.
There is not the time to describe the feeling of desolation that is experienced at a time like this. As anybody in the House will appreciate, it is a matter of great sadness to watch a great industry die. The method of announcing the closure was criminal. No other word could fit the act. Men who had given a lifetime of service to the Blyth Company, in good times and bad, were entitled to treatment better than this.”

Milne accepted that the shipyard was “on a razor’s edge for years” financially. A fleet of ships had recently had their value written down by half and Lloyds Bank had recently loaned the company £539,000. But he asked that the interests of this company be examined by the Board of Trade. The creditors to the Blyth Dock and Shipbuilding Company, he said, were actually companies owned by Moller Ltd. A stormy creditors meeting in September had been chaired by Mr Tucker who had several financial interests in Moller companies. He had savagely criticized the management and workforce despite having only visited the yard on one occasion.

Milne also spoke of the quality of innovative work the yard was producing, diversifying into industrialised house building, factory structures and bridges. The Government had been stressing the further need for shipping to be built. There were mechanisms available to support the industry, for example the new Local Employment Act. He was stating that he thought the Secretary of State should intervene.

Roy Mason replied:

“I assure hon. Members, and my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth in particular, that the Government are not indifferent to the situation created by the closure of the shipyard in Blyth. We appreciate the worry and distress this closure has brought to those employed in the yard and to their families and the importance of ensuring that there should be alternative employment for those put out of work by the closure.
However, I cannot accept the simple proposition that the shipyard should be kept open at all costs. The company appears to have failed because, like many other firms in the industry, it had to take orders at fixed prices at a time when costs, including the cost of labour, were rising. Ships constructed have proved to be unprofitable and the yard had for some time been operating at a loss.
The experience of this yard is not unique in the industry. It was this and similar problems which led us to set up the Geddes Committee.
But things are not as black as this might suggest. The great shipbuilding concentration on the Tyne is not too far away, and skilled shipbuilding labour is scarce there. Alternative employment should be available on the Tyne for many of the Blyth shipbuilding workers. Indeed, of the 470 employees of the Blyth shipyard who have so far been declared redundant, over 80 per cent. have already found alternative employment, and many of them on the Tyne.”

The site is today known as Wimbourne Quay. Shipbuilding had begun on this site in 1811 and various firms owned the yard down the decades. It became the Blyth Shipbuilding and Dock Company Ltd on 2nd March 1883. By 1900 it had taken over the Blyth Dry Dock Company and was able to carry out work on the largest of shipping, including the Ark Royal in 1914. In 1947 the yard was purchased by Mollers (Hong Kong) Ltd. It had four berths and five dry docks.

An eyewitness to the final days of the yard has written about his experiences on bedlington.co.uk website. It is quite a humorous and personal piece. It is worth reading in full. He goes under the handle of Eggy1948. He started the shipyard at age 16 and finished in May 1966 at the same age. He wasn’t hopeful for the yard’s future. There was obviously a feeling among the men that all was not well. He writes:

“No wonder the Japanese could build ships cheaper than us. They did not have to paint the whole town whatever colour the latest ship was being done in. Almost every house in Blyth had a door/shed the same colour as the latest ship… The Japanese blacksmiths did not have to make wrought iron gates for the foreman’s driveways or basketball hoops and fittings for every gable end in Blyth… All charged to the cost of the ship.”

Professor Norman McCord reflected on the findings of the 1992 Royal Commission in the book the “Northern Counties from AD 1000” when he wrote:

“At the beginning of the twentieth century, British shipyards had built 55 per cent of the world’s new tonnage; in 1960 the figure was only 15 per cent and continued to drop. Northern yards did not even hold their share of the shrunken British total, despite some success stories… Shipbuilding expansion overseas would in any event have posed problems for British yards; the catastrophic scale of decline reflected failures by both management and labour.”

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