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George Stephenson

Section 4

George Stephenson was born on the 9th June, 1781 at Street House, Wylam, alongside the Wylam Waggonway.  The Heritage Way passes the cottage. He had no schooling and was illiterate up to the age of 18.  All the knowledge he gained was through practical experience and careful observation of the passing vehicles and the activities at the colliery.  

His parents moved to Newburn and, in 1796, when he was 15, George got his first job as assistant fireman of one of the stationary engines.  Next he progressed to looking after a pumping engine at Water Row in Newburn then, in 1801, he became a brakeman at the Dolly Pit near Black Callerton on a wage of £1 per week.  This was more than his father had ever earned. Again, the Heritage Way goes past Black Callerton Farm and a blue plaque on the wall commemorates George’s connection.

While working at the Dolly Pit, George met Betty Hindmarsh of Black Callerton Farm and courted her secretly.  However, Betty’s father, the farmer at Black Callerton, refused to consider George as a prospective husband for his daughter as he was too lowly and too poor.  

In 1802, George married Frances Henderson in Newburn and moved to a cottage at Willington Quay where their son Robert was born in 1803.  George is said to have made shoes and mended clocks to supplement his income. Another promotion in 1804 brought the family to West Moor Colliery, where again he was brakesman, now with full responsibility for the safety of the pitmen and the prosperous functioning of the colliery.  They lived in a cottage about one mile south of Burradon. It can still be visited and is known as Dial Cottage because, above the door, there is a fine sundial made by George and his son Robert.

On a personal level, the time in West Moor was not a happy period.  Another child was born and was named Frances after her mother but she only survived for a few weeks.  George’s wife also died in 1805. George now spent some years in Scotland leaving Robert to be cared for by neighbours and, eventually, by his sister, Eleanor.

By contrast, his professional life was continuing to develop.  His reputation as a skilled repairer of steam engines grew and he was put in charge of all machinery operating in the pits managed by the Grand Alliance.  In addition, while at West Moor, he invented the Safety Lamp – known as the ‘Geordie Lamp’- that would burn underground without causing the explosions that cost so many pitmen’s lives.  He also built his first locomotive, ‘Blucher’. This was able to draw 8 loaded waggons of 30 tons weight at 5mph. However, Blucher was not very reliable so George set to work on an improved version which entered service in 1815.  By 1825, George had designed and built 16 locomotives and 39 stationary engines.

George was now a financially secure man so, in 1820, he married his first love, Betty Hindmarsh.  This time, her father had no objections.

George’s continued success led to him being appointed as the engineer of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, the world’s first public passenger railway which opened in 1825.  The company which was set up to manufacture locomotives and survey the line was Robert Stephenson and Co.. Robert was, of course, George’s son now a young man in his early 20s.  Robert had benefited from a good education. Throughout his life, George was aware of how his own lack of formal education had been a hindrance in any transactions beyond those of the skilled but lowly engineer.  Robert’s education granted him access to the notice and respect of influential people.

Successes continued with George’s locomotive ‘Rocket’ winning the Rainhill Trials in 1829 and, in 1830, the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway which used a controversial route surveyed by George and built using his exceptional engineering skills to overcome difficult obstacles in the terrain.

George now moved to Alton Grange in Leicestershire to work on the Leicester and Swannington Railway.  He stayed here until 1838 before moving to Tapton House in Derbyshire for the busiest ten years of his life.  He was in constant demand by railway promoters from all over the country.

In 1845, Betty died.  Three years later, George married for the third time.  His wife was Ellen Gregory who had been his housekeeper.  Six months after his marriage, on the 12th August, 1848, George died from pleurisy.  He died at Tapton House, Chesterfield aged 67.

J. Taylor

The Battle of Newburn

Section 4

The Battle of Newburn took place on 28th August, 1640.  A well-equipped army of 20,000 Scottish Covenanters defeated the English Army which, although far greater in number, were ill-trained, unpaid and badly equipped.  

The Scottish Covenanters were angered by Charles 1 and his Archbishop who had attempted to impose a new Book of Prayer.  The Scots disliked the style of this new book and feared that it was a stealthy way of re-introducing Catholicism. They wished to retain the pure, simple style of the existing Protestant Book of Prayer.  

To assert their right to the Book of Prayer of their choosing, they marched into England, covering the ground quickly, with the aim of capturing Newcastle.  The city of Newcastle, however, was surrounded by strong defensive walls. The only weak point was the south side of the town alongside the river Tyne.

The Covenanters, therefore, planned to cross the river at Newburn, march towards Newcastle and attack from the south.  Newburn was the chosen crossing place as the river at this point was much wider than it is now so the water level was shallow and easily fordable on foot.

The Scottish Army set up camp on the high ground behind Newburn.  They pitched their tents in such a way that they covered as wide an area as possible and they lit fires with the coal that they found all around them.  To the English Army on the other bank of the river, they would appear to be far greater in number than they really were. On the night before the battle, it is said that they held a great feast to which all the local people were invited.  This was to confirm that the Scottish Covenanter Army was not at war with the English people but only with the King and his followers.

When battle took place on the morning of 28th August, the Covenanters were strong and decisive.  They had laid their strategic plans well and were prepared.  They still had a hard fight on their hands and, at one point, the English drove them back across the river.  In the end, however, the Covenanters defeated the English who retreated and scattered in confusion.

The victorious Covenanters marched on to Newcastle and two days later, took command of the town.

J. Taylor

Historic Houses along the Heritage Way.

Seaton Delaval Hall  Section 2

The Delavals are first mentioned in 1100 when Hubert de Laval built a church in the ancient manor of Hartley. The family remained fairly low key for the next 500 + years, and were noted mainly for building the sluice gates at the harbour from which Seaton Sluice gets its name. The present grade I listed country house, was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh in 1718 for Admiral George Delaval. In 1754 his great nephew Sir Francis Delaval was elected as M.P. for Andover by buying the votes. At his election address he fired a cannon containing 500 guineas into the crowd. The family were known as the “Gay Delavals” because of the tricks they played on their unexpecting guests. In 1822 a great fire destroyed much of the building making it uninhabitable. John Dobson was called in to make the house safe. Much later it was used to house prisoners of war during the Second World War. No family members lived in the house over the next 100 years. In 1952 Lord Hasting returned to live there. After his death the National Trust took over in 2009.


Close House   Section 4

It is recorded that in the 14th century a monastic house stood on this site. In 1626 a later house owned by the Read family was sold to Robert Bewicke, a former sheriff and later mayor of Newcastle upon Tyne. This house was demolished by Calverley Bewicke and a mansion was built in 1779. Kings College, later Newcastle University, acquired it in 1960. In 2004 it was sold to its present owner Graham Wylie who ran it first as a hotel then as is private residence.

Bradley Hall   Section 5

In 1497 Bradley Hall is described as a manor. The present hall was built circa 1750 for a Newcastle Merchant called John Simpson. Sometime before 1787, in the grounds of the hall a Bronze Age barrow was opened up and found to contain ashes and human remains though later accounts said a skeleton. Simpson’s granddaughter married Lord Ravensworth who commissioned John Dobson in 1813 to extensively alter the house. In 1894 the mining engineer John Bell Simpson took over the estate. The walled garden became a commercial nursery in the mid-20th century and the hall and outbuildings are now a mixture of private houses and apartments.

Gibside  Section 5

The Blakiston family acquired the estate from the Marley family by marriage.  This occurred in the early to mid-16th century. Sir William Blakiston replaced the old house with the mansion between 1603 -1620. It then came into the possession of the Bowes family due to a fortuitous marriage. The ownership of Gibside with its rich coal seams gave the Bowes family a great deal of influence in the north. Mary Eleanor Bowes married John Lyon in 1767 under the condition that he agreed to take the Bowes surname. This practice continued wherever there was an absence of a male heir. Improvements made between 1760 – 1812 included the building of the Banqueting Hall and Column of Liberty. In the 1920s death duties meant the family leaving Gibside. The roof was removed in 1958. In 1974 the chapel was given to the National Trust by the 16th Earl of Strathmore. The trust acquired more of the estate in both 1993 and 1993. The Landmark Trust took possession of the Banqueting Hall in 1998. The rest is in private ownership.

Beamish Hall  Section 6

The hall can trace its roots back to the Norman Conquest. It was occupied by the Charron family for 5 generations then passed eventually in the hands of Thomas Wray. He sold it on to the Evenrigg family. William Blackett acquired it in 1683 for his brother-in-law Timothy Davison. Davison had 17 children one of whom married into the Eden family who in turn married a Shafto .Each family added to and altered the hall to suit their needs and make the house what we see today. With the introduction of death duties after the Second World War the family had to give up the hall in lieu of payment. For the first time in its history the house passed out of private ownership. It became regional headquarters of the Coal Board, a school, then briefly part of Beamish museum. It then became a hotel run by the Craggs family.

Washington Old Hall  Sections 7 and 8

A wooden hall on this site is mentioned in a charter of 973. William of Washington built the first stone building in 1193. The house was extensively altered in the mid-13th century. Edward 1st visited in 1304. The ownership passed from the Washington to Mallory family through marriage.  In 1613 the Bishop of Durham acquired it for his son Francis James who rebuilt the hall. By the late 19th century it had fallen into a state of disrepair. Because of the George Washington connection however the future of the house was saved with funding from wealthy American donors. The National Trust took over in 1956.

Blue House  Section 8

Blue House Villa was built in 1802. Probably for the manager of the local coal mine. In 1853 James Croudace a Viewer (Colliery Manager) lived there.

B. Dixon

Section 8 (E) old ships moored at North Hylton

The big old one is a barge - Wear Hopper No 36 built in 1931 by John Crown and Sons' shipyard. She was one of several dumb hoppers used for dumping silt dredged from the river out at sea. 

No 36 was beached at North Hylton for use as a pontoon about 1990. There is a story that suggests she was going to be converted into a floating museum ...

Ship Nostalgia

Sunderland Ships

from John Emslie

Heritage Notes, section 9 (F, Claxheugh Rock)

From the small car park look down the river towards the new Wear Crossing. On the south bank of the river you can see the wreck of the Steam Tug Cretehawser.

The Cretehawser, and her sister ships the Cretecable and Creterope, were built on the Wear in 1919. Due to the scarcity of iron and the need to replace the ships lost during the war alternative building materials were sought and this lead to the commissioning of a number of concrete ships and the establishment (by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd.) of the Wear Concrete Building Company. Although concrete ships were meant to be easier and cheaper to make, this was not the case; casting a ship in concrete was skilled work, and the price was significantly more than an equivalent iron ship.

The career of her sister ships was short. In 1920 the ran aground in Wheathall Bay near Whitburn and was lost and the Creterope was decommissioned and broken up in 1924. The Cretehawser, on the other hand, had a successful career which didn't end until 1935 when she was scrapped. The resulting hulk was intended to be used as an emergency makeshift breakwater in the Wear, but in 1942 it was damaged in an air raid and towed to its current resting place rather than risk the wreck sinking in the docks.

Sunderland Echo story
Durham at War
All about concrete ships

from John Emslie


The Tyne and Wear Heritage Way passes right through the heart of waggonway country.  Waggonways were used to bring coal from the numerous collieries and pits down to the River Tyne ready to be transported down river in keel boats.   Many sections of the Heritage Way pass through areas where coal-mining has been an important industry and the route frequently uses the old waggonways which are now converted to routes for cyclists, horse riders and walkers.

Before waggonways, transporting heavy coal had been done by using pack animals.  Carts were unsuitable because they would have caused deep ruts in the roads which would have rapidly become unusable.  It took 24 horses and one man to transport the same load that a single waggon of coal could carry.

A waggonway used a set of rails so that waggons, pulled by a horse, could travel along without sinking into the ground.  By using a waggonway, only one horse was needed to move 10 ½ tons of coal over 24 miles in one day. The rule that one waggon should be pulled by one horse, with one man in attendance was strictly kept.

The earliest rails were always made of wood.  By 1716, there is the first evidence of cast iron strips being put over the wood to prevent excessive wear.  By the end of the 18th century, cast iron rails were widely used.

The earliest waggonway dates back to 1645 and went from a pit at Whickham to the river at Dunston.  The Heritage Way crosses the Stella and Crawcrook waggonway (Section 5) which was in existence in 1663.  The route later passes along the route of the Buck’s Nook Waggonway (Section 5) This waggonway had a controversial history.  It was closed in 1726 when the Grand Alliance was set up. This powerful group effectively put an end to smaller and less profitable pits.  Also in Section 5, the Heritage Way uses part of the Garesfield Waggonway, which began as a wooden waggonway from Garesfield Colliery. It followed the River Derwent to Derwent Haugh but the steep incline at High Thornley was a problem so that section was later bypassed by a line to Winlaton Mill.

The Tanfield Waggonway (Section 6) opened in 1724-25.  It carried waggons over Causey Arch but a fire at Tanfield Colliery led to the closure of the pit and the waggonway became disused. The waggonway was later relaid as a railway and reopened in November, 1839.  Most of the other waggonways used by the Heritage Way date from the 19th century.

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