Friday, 18 November 2016

Thomas Knight Hospital

While wandering in Horton, Blyth Churchyard a little while ago I came across this grand monument to Thomas Knight.

In memory of Thomas Knight who was born at Buckland Kent Dec 25th 1806. And died at Crofton Blyth March 28th 1878. Margaret wife of the above died April 15th 1879 aged 71 years. They rest from their labours and their works do follow them. Members of the Thomas Knight Endownment Fund 1879
Of course, I am familiar with the Thomas Knight Care Home which stands on Beaconsfield Street behind the library. I was also aware that the care home stands on the site of the now demolished Thomas Knight Memorial hospital. So who was Thomas Knight and why was a hospital founded in his honour?

1887 Morpeth Herald

"OFFICIAL OPENING OF THE KNIGHT MEMORIAL HOSPITAL AT BLYTH: An event which has occupied the attention of the public of Blyth for some years now was brought to a successful termination on Wednesday afternoon in the presence of numerous company of ladies and gentlemen. The weather was most adverse for the occasion and added its disagreeableness by a continuous rain. By the way of information we beg to remind our readers that the hospital has been erected in memory of the late Mr Thomas Knight, a shipowner, who for many years resided at Crofton, Blyth. The desceased gentleman rose from the ranks and in time became one of the leading and wealthiest shipowners of the port. During many years he was a most generous contributor to all charitable movements initiated in that district, and after his death and that of his wife it was found that a large amount of money had been left for the founding of a hospital such as the growing importance of the Blyth and district required. The hospital is a substantial building, situated at the rear of the new mechanic's institute, and has been fitted up in a manner calculated  to serve the purpose to which it has been devoted. At one 'o' clock the Hon Lady Ridley, Sir Matthew White Ridley, Dr G Ward, Revs Greenwell and Maddison (vicars) and the Rev P Pearce, and a number of ladies and gentlemen assembled in the Blyth Local Board Room, Mechanic's Institute and a procession was formed to the main entrance of the hospital which was gaily decorated with bunting etc. There was a large company present, principally out of curiosity..."

The Newcastle Daily Chronicle of Wednesday, 28 December, 1887 reported: "At the door of the new building Dr. Gilbert Ward (who has taken immense interest in the undertaking) will present the key to Lady Ridley and ask her to open the hospital. After Lady Ridley has declared it open a portion of scripture will be read by the Rev. Peter Peace and prayers will be offered by the Rev. W. Greenwell, Vicar of Horton. An inspection of the interior will follow and there will be a luncheon in the Lecture Hall of the Mechanics Institute. Up to the present the hospital requirements of Blyth have been met by a small cottage hospital close to Blyth links."

Thomas Knight's widow had left an endowment of £6000 [about £712,000 in 2016]. However, it was felt that this was best used as revenue funding for the hospital (the interest earned on this endowment was still being used by the hospital into the 1980s). The capital costs of building the structure were raised by public subscription, although there must have been some discussion around Lady Ridley herself  providing the funding. The land on which to build the hospital was donated by Lord Ridley after discussions with Dr Ward. But there was some praise on the day as having a public subscription being the proper course to have taken, presumably as the public had made a stake holding in the building, with the ladies of various churches in the district having raised £251 at a bazaar, they would value it more. The vast cost of the building estimated at £2500 [roughly £297,000 today] was met by coal owners, the Duke of Northumberland and Lord Hastings due to the depressed state of trade in Blyth at the time.

"Thomas Knight had started life as a seaman in 1818. By thrift and hard work he saved enough money to buy his own keel to work for the Sleekburn Coal Company. He then bought a schooner of good sailing qualities and invested in other ships, retiring as steam ships began to supersede sailing vessels." (James Scott, Tyne and Tweed, 1983)

The hospital was described in the 1914 Kelly's Trade Directory for Northumberland: "...the building is of white brick with stone dressings, and comprises on the upper floor two wards, each containing four beds; on the ground floor is a large committee room, a waiting room, dispensary, two consulting rooms and a kitchen and offices. During 1913 there were 82 in-patients and 620 out-patients. In 1896 a marble bust of Dr. Gilbert Ward was placed in the entrance hall, the doctor having died in 1894."

Dr Gilbert Ward was mentioned in the newspaper extracts as the official in charge of the proceedings. It is the history and legacy of Dr Gilbert Ward which is a large factor in the provision of health services in Blyth.

Dr Gilbert Ward
The Royal College of Surgeons have this short biography of Dr Ward on their website: "[General Surgeon] Born at Newcastle [1805] and served his apprenticeship under Dr Trotter, of North Shields. He practised throughout life at Blyth. For fifty-five years he held the position of Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths in Blyth; for over fifty years every entry was made by his own hand. He was also Medical Officer of the Tynemouth Union; Medical Referee to the Star, Church of England, and Crown Assurance Societies; Surgeon to the Coastguard and to the Royal Naval Volunteers; Public Vaccinator and Certifying Factory Surgeon. He died at Blyth on May 17th, 1894."

Ward first came to Blyth during the cholera epidemic of 1832 which Wallace in his 1869 "History of Blyth" mentions: "In the autumn of 1832 cholera morbus reached Blyth, it's first victim being Peggy Lamb, a widow living in Church Street. A day or two later Andrew Steel, a roper, died and before the epidemic subsided eighty of Blyth's then population of 3000 had succumbed to the mysterious scourge." Cholera re-visited  Blyth on a further two occasions during the next twenty years. Ward, who also had responsibilities as the French Vice-consul had  difficulties isolating infectious patients, especially those that arrived at the port from various ships with diseases such as typhus. Lord Ridley heard of these difficulties and provided a cottage, rent free, to Dr Ward to be used as a hospital. The cottage was at the junction of what is now Ridley Avenue and Park View. As well as isolating infectious patients it also provided other hospital services. These services were transferred to the new Thomas Knight Hospital when it came into existence.

Dr Ward had a practice in Bridge Street, Blyth in a now demolished house on what is now the site of a modern bus depot. His son, Henry, joined him in this practice from 1864 until his untimely death in 1891. Marine Medical Group, which operates a practice in Blyth, can trace their roots to Dr Gilbert Ward's surgery. The same site on Bridge Street was used by Dr Newstead, followed by Dr Urquart, until 1956. There was then a succession of Doctors operating from Waterloo Road and then Stanley Street before ending up at the present site in the community hospital where the bust to Dr Gilbert Ward now occupies the main entrance. He had become well connected with the well-to-do in the town and hosted a member of the Royal family on one occasion. Scott (1983) writes: "On the day of Dr. Gilbert Ward's funeral police were out to control the crowds, many shops and places of business closed, blinds were drawn at the Hospital, the Mechanics Institute and the banks. Among the wreaths was one from the French Government." A window in St Cuthbert's Church, Blyth, entitled "The Four Works of Mercy" was also placed as a memorial to Dr Ward.

In 1893 an act of Parliament was passed (The Isolation Hospitals Act) which enabled local authorities to build hospitals for isolating patients with infectious diseases. Stiff penalties had been introduced by act of Parliament in 1866 for anyone carrying infectious diseases who endangered the public. A hospital was built for this purpose beside the river in Cowpen. Kelly's Directory (1913) describes it: "The Infectious Diseases Hospital, erected by the Blyth Port Sanitary Authority, at a cost of £3000, and opened in Aug. 1893, stands on the west bank of the river Blyth, near Old Factory Point, opposite Cowpen Cemetery, and is a corrugated iron building on a brick foundation; it comprises east, west and middle wards and a residential part containing six rooms; provision is made for 20 beds."

The cottage hospital was not needed after this date and Ridley Park was developed soon after near to this site.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Blyth Under Attack from the Might of the Dutch Navy

It was a calm and pleasant morning as the day dawned on 12th August 1635. Blyth was a tiny and largely insignificant hamlet of a few fishermen's cottages and salt pans at the mouth of a yet undeveloped river and harbour. England was a country at relative peace with the rest of the world. By the end of the day though, Blyth would be under fire from the might of a Dutch warship. Troops would be running amok in the neighbouring countryside leaving the inhabitants in a state of terror.

Dutch Man-o-War

The Dutch were the major military might in the area during the 17th century. in 1568 the Low Countries were part of the Spanish Empire, but rebelled against foreign rule in this year at the start of what became known as the Eighty Years War. England was also at war with Spain. It allowed the Dutch to gain control over the important port of Antwerp. They traded with countries in the East and exploited their own natural resources. There was also a huge influx of Protestant, skilled migrant workers all leading to an economic "miracle" in what was to be known as the "Dutch Golden Age".

Dutch fishing boats, known as busses, sailed the coast of Britain and the Low Countries. They were particularly active at that time of year as it was the herring season. Wallace in his "History of Blyth" (1869) explains:

"The Dutch were carrying themselves at this time with great insolence in conducting the herring fishery on our coast. They sent their ships-of-war with their fishing smacks or busses, and by the fire of their guns drove the English and Scots from their fishing grounds on their own coast. For a time the Dutch had paid a certain sum yearly to king James, for the privilege of taking herrings off the coast, but they had now not only ceased to make these payments..."

The Spanish still held Dunkirk and it was from here that privateers operated. A privateer was a private person or ship that engaged in maritime warfare under a commission of war. The commission, also known as a letter of marque, empowered the person to carry on all forms of hostility permissible at sea by the usages of war, including attacking foreign vessels during wartime and taking them as prizes. It was basically licensed piracy. The Spanish privateers were making prey of the Dutch fishing vessels.

It was the sails of a Spanish privateer emerging over the horizon and heading for Blyth that had the fishermen out in their cobles on that calm morning turn and row in all haste for the port. The privateer after some deliberation skillfully entered the harbour and docked on the North side of the river, the flag of Spain flew from the mast and three canons pointed menacingly from the deck towards the inhabitants of Blyth. The "Blyth News and Ashington Post's, Story of Blyth" (1957) states:

"The villagers had seen enough. A youth was sent running to Newsham to tell the squire, Robert Cramlington, of the sensation."

Dutch Buss Fishing Vessel

Typical Privateer

Robert Cramlington was of lesser gentry status who resided at Newsham Mansion which was on the site of the soon to be demolished North Farm on South Newsham Road. He was the landholder for all of the Newsham and Blyth Nook area. It is from the testimony of Robert Cramlington and two of his principal tenants, James Sutton, and George Fultherp, before the Justice of the Peace, Lord Delaval, from nearby Seaton Delaval Hall, that we learn so much of the incident.

Cramlington with his two aides took a small fishing boat and crossed to the privateer. He was taken to the Captain who showed him their letters of marque from the king of Spain. He explained they had come into this neutral harbour to escape and seek refuge from a Dutch man-of-war ship that was pursuing them. Their mission had been to destroy as many of the Dutch fishing fleet as possible. In this they were successful having burnt and sunk eighty vessels. The expectation was that the Dutch would not attack them in the port of a sovereign and neutral country.

How wrong they could be. Even as they were talking the sound of canon firing from the approaching Dutch ship could be heard. The Captain, probably to the astonishment of Cramlington, brought ten Dutch prisoners, captured from fishing vessels, from the hold of his ship. "Perhaps if we set them free", said the Captain, "the warship will leave and we can escape."

It seems Cramlington was also eager to escape the canon fire, which was getting ever closer. He rowed back to the hamlet of Blyth. The canon balls never did quite reach their target or the cottages of Blyth, but it did not stop the inhabitants being in great fear and taking shelter. The Dutch fishermen were set free and, after being given passage across the river, ran along the links summoning the Dutch ship to come to their rescue. A rowing boat was sent from the Dutch ship. It collected the men and returned to the vessel.

Was that the end of the incident? Could the residents of Blyth breathe a sigh of relief? Heck no! That was only the beginnings of their troubles.

"...The long boat was quickly manned with armed men. Thirty were counted by the anxious watchers on shore. The boat then entered the harbour to attack the Dunkirk privateer. But a volley of musket shots from the Dunkirkers sent the attackers hastily back to the shelter of the warship only to return in greater force. This time fifty men armed with muskets, halberds and swords were landed on the beach at the mouth of the river. They formed up in three ranks and marched up to Blyth Nook, whose terror-stricken inhabitants cowered out of sight in cottages.

"They began to fire on the privateer, which was laid at the north side of the harbour; but finding that the firing of small arms was producing little effect, they took possession of some Blyth fishing boats laying at hand, and in these proceeded to cross the river. The Dunkirkers perceiving this deserted their ship, and fled along the links. The Dutch seized the ship; but not content with this achievement, about thirty of them were sent after their flying enemies. After pursuing them for two miles, sounding a trumpet and alarming all the country side, they overtook and robbed divers of them. Ten of the privateer's men ran forward till they obtained shelter in Bedlington; a part of their pursuers still followed, but Mr. Carnaby [High Sheriff of Northumberland] was able to muster a force sufficient to apprehend and put them in prison. In the mean time the Dutch ship went to sea, taking with them the captured privateer. They continued at anchor awaiting the return of the men who had pursued the fugitives; but after learning what had befallen them at Bedlington, the captain wrote a letter to Mr. Carnaby demanding the restoration of the men." (Wallace)

Carnaby corresponded with the Bishop of Durham, who held the lands of Bedlington and its hinterland as a franchise, and sought his advice. It is also from this correspondence of the 16th August that we learn something of the incident. Carnaby had promised the Captain a reply by the evening of the 17th August.

He urged the Bishop to act in some haste as it was known there were ninety armed men on board the Dutch war ship. The whole district was in fear that the Dutch would try to take the prisoners back by force.

And that is the end of the story. It wasn't recorded what action was taken. Maybe Hollywood could provide the dramatic end in a new Johnny Depp film?

The English had supported the Dutch in their rebellion against Spanish rule, but there was a growing resentment of the rapidly expanding Dutch trade and influence. By 1652 the two countries were at war.

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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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