Local information in times gone by

Wesley Place Blaydon

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Introduction Blaydon Winlaton Stella Barlow High Spen Rowland Gill Chopwell Blackhall Mill Return to front page


BLAYDON has long been known on Tyneside and throughout the world for its "Races" and for its industries. In was over a hundred years ago, in 1861, that the Blaydon Local Board was formed to run affairs in the then rapidly gowing community and in 1894 came great distinction for in that year the Blaydon Urban District Council was set up.

The urban district, however, extends far beyond Blaydon and the Tyne for its fourteen and a half square miles constitute the largest administrative district, apart from Newcastle, on the whole of Tyneside. included within this area, which extends inland from the Tyne along the lovely River Derwent for some ten miles, are the mining communities of Chopwell and High Spen as well as the villages of Rowlands Gill, Blackhall Mill. Barlow and Stella and the largest built-up area, the industrial towns of Blaydon and Winlaton.

Despite its industrial accent, the urban district has many acres of open countryside mostly at 500 feet or more above sea level and numerous farms and similar holdings. Between High Spen and Chopwell are large Forestry Commission woods and these and other afforested areas extend down the hillside to the Derwent river where they form an area of sylvan beauty. Though old buildings are not the rule, such estates as those of Stella and Axwell are of no little historical interest.

Modern amenities, shops, schools churches abound and modern housing estates are located in several areas. Sporting and social activities are numerous.

Lastly, it would not be right to finish this note with- out mention of Blaydon's song Blaydon Races or the anthem of Tyneside as it is known. It was written by Geordie Ridley, a Tyneside music hall singer. in 1862. two years before his death. Most of the places mentioned in the song have, of course, long since gone including the racecourse which is now part of the site of Stella South Power Station.

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The town of Blaydon is essentially an industrial area and is not more than two centuries old. Indeed in the 1760's there was little here but a few farms and a cottage or two. In the latter part of the same century a smelting works was set up and from that time the industrial growth of the area (referred to later in this book) was assured.

Modern Blaydon stands hard by the Tyne with the main Gateshead to Hexham road meeting. in the town centre, that from Newcastle. Between this main road and the river is the railway and, beyond it, in a bend of the Tyne is the industrial district of Blaydon Haughs. The main part of the town lies south of the railway and here, around Wesley Place, Tyne Street and Shibdon Roadare the shopping districts, the town's enter tainments and several places of worship.

Proposals have been formulated for the revitalisation of the town of Blaydon by bringing up to present day standards the main roads which go through the town. namely, the A.695 and the A.6081. The existing shop ping centre is to be replaced by a completely new town centre incorporating modern shops and business premi ses which will prove an attraction, not only for the residents of the town, but also for the residents of a wide surrounding area.

St. Cuthbert's, the parish church, dates from 1845 and thus its construction corresponds with the towns greatest period of growth. The handsome tower with its peal of bells, its clock and its tall pinnacles, was added some years later. The Roman Catholic church of St. Joseph is more modern dating only from 1905 (though the Roman Catholic's had another church previous to this one). The church is externally plain but has a well proportioned interior with, above the altar, a rose window. The reredos behind the altar is of delicately carved marble and in the panels are paintings of biblical scenes.

In the nearby Blaydon cemetery is the grave and a statue of one of the greatest reformers in Blaydon's annals. He was Tommy Ramsey who was one of the founders of the Durham Miners' Association. He died in 1873. His statue shows him with a roll of handbills and the rattle which he used to call miners to his meetings. The inscription below pays tribute to his long and self sacrificing labours for the lot of the miners.

A pleasant feature of Blaydon are the Shibdon Pleasure Grounds which spread over an eminence behind the town looking out towards the Tyne Valley. Here are flower beds and smooth lawns whilst bowling greens, tennis courts and children's play area are provided.

To the east, and forming the urban district boundary, is the Derwent, a river which joins the Tyne at Derwenthaugh, a low lying area with coal staiths and jetties on the riverside. A mile inland and not far from Blaydon is Axwell Park, once the home of the Clavering family. Sir Thomas Clavering, the 7th baronet, built Axwell Hall, a mansion designed by James Payne. The Claver ings were Stuart supporters in the Civil War but at the Jacobite Rebellions of 1715 and 1745 they upheld the House of Hanover. In fact, the family kept watch on their neighbour Lord Widdrington at Stella Hall and informed the Government of his preparations for the rebellions. The last (10th) baronet died in 1893 and Axwell Hall is now in use as an approved school. Much of the park has been developed for residential purposes, and the Axwell Park Estate, as it is known, is one of the most pleasant residential areas on Tyneside. However the reed-edged lake and much woodland survives of the fringe on the River Derwent.

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To the west of Blaydon and continuing the built-up area along the bank of the Tyne is Stella. a community astride the road and railway to Hexham. An ancient place, Stella derives it name from Stell, a family title and "ley" which refers to the low ground by the river. Since Stella Hall was demolished the district's chief feature is the Roman Catholic church.

This church, dedicated to St. Mary and Thomas Aquinas was built in 1831 to the designs of J. Green, one of a group of local architects who designed many churches in the colliery towns of Durham. The struc- ture is in the Early English manner with a chancel and presbytery adjoining the church. The presbytery has gables and castellated angle turrets. In the church is a quantity of excellent stained glass, the work of Pugin, the noted architect, in 1849.

Stella Hall was a large building, essentially Elizabethan in character, but with an 18th century south front. The older portions showed mullioned windows and other Elizabethan architectural features whilst the 18th century windows and south front were the work of the architect James Paine, designer of Axwell Hall on the other side of the urban district. The Hall, Drawing Room and library were of Paine's design but older was the former Roman Catholic Chapel.

Stella Hall has had a long history that goes back as far as 1143 when there was a Nunnery on this site. The religious aspect of the building ceased at the dissolution and later the present house was built by the Tempests, a Newcastle family of merchants. They occupied Stella Hall for 150 years and then in 1700 it passed into the ownership (by marriage) of the fourth Lord Widdring- ton, a noted Jacobite. Widdrington, on October 6th. 1715, invited his friends and tenants to breakfast at the hall and, after toasting the Stuarts, they all set off to join the Earl of Derwentwater and his rebels. The uprising failed and Widdrington was sentenced to death though he was later reprieved and his estate and house restored to him.

In later years Garibaldi and Kossuth were among the famous people who were entertained at Stella Hall which in more modern times became the home of Joseph Cowen, M.P., owner of the Newcastle Daily Chronicle. He was a lifelong radical and a great reformer and he died, after a life devoted to struggles against tyranny, in 1899. The last member of this family, Jane Cowen, died in 1948 and this house was demolished in 1953.

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Winlaton stands at a height of over 450 feet above the Tyne directly behind Blaydon. The northern part of the village (the old English "Winelac" and a coal mining centre from the 14th century onwards) is linked with Blaydon itself by well designed modern housing estates whose hillside roads look across the broad Tyne vale to Newburn and other settlements on the Northumberland side of the river. To the south, the village looks over the beautiful Derwent valley.

Winlaton possesses a parish church, completed in 1828, a Congregational church that is but a year younger, and a Wesleyan Chapel of 1868. The parish church had during the 100 years from 1820 to 1920 only two Rectors. Rev. Wardle and Canon Jones. The church- yard has been taken over by the District Council and laid out as a public open space. Around the built-up area is a pleasant land given over to farming whilst, down by the Derwent. at Winlaton Mill (the village takes its name from Crowley's mill works) are thick woods. Indeed, this stretch of the river is very lovely despite the fact that a main road and two railway lines (for freight and coal only) run through it. The river flows in great loops and the low pastures of the valley floor are flanked by the lovely woods that climb the hilly river banks. These sylvan acres are found. not only on the Winlaton side, but also across on the east bank where Super Dene Wood stretches up to Hunter's Hill, a peak of over 500 feet. This wood is part of the two mile long Gibside estate, one of the largest in Northern England. Through the trees one can catch a glimpse of the 17th century mansion, now forlorn and neglected, and of the 140 feet high Done Pillar which took seven years to build (1750-57) and is surmounted by a symbolic 12 foot statue, carved on the spot by a Doncaster mason.

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A by-road from Winlaton leads through agricultural land to Barlow, a village at 500 feet above sea level and with fine views down into the valley of Barlow Burn, a stream that forms the northern edge of the urban district and that flows into the Tyne near Stella Hall. At one time Christopher Hopper, one of the very first Tyneside followers of John Wesley, had a school at Barlow.
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High Spen

Geographically in the centre of the urban district is High Spen. For centuries coal was mined here. In mediaeval times it was conveyed down to Rowland's Gill and along the Derwent to the Tyne. The colliery is now closed, however, and the Council have recently commenced a scheme whereby the area of the former colliery pit heap will be restored to agriculture and attractive amenity land.

High Spen. a close knit community of old houses and new estates, has a small shopping centre, a plain parish church and, at Hookergate. a well designed modern Grammar School. To the east are the woods of Spen Banks and to the west Chopwell Plantation stretches for several miles.

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Rowlands Gill

From High Spen the road drops down through Highfield to Rowlands Gill, a small township on the River Derwent. It takes its name from the fact that a man named Rowland held land here in the 17th century and that "Gill" is a Norse word for ravine. Modern housing estates have been built here. To the west amid the trees of Chopwell Plantation's eastern tip, is Victoria Garesfield. a village built around its now closed colliery. Within this district, too, is the riverside area of Lintzford.

The river scenery here, as at Winlaton Mill. is picturesque with sylvan woods bordering the water and views to be had across to Gibside House and chapel. The chapel is on the lines of a Greek Temple with portico and parapet it is used only for occasional services. In 1964. the owner of the chapel, the Earl of Strathmore. presented it to the nation and it is now maintained by the Civic Trust
and is open to the public.

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Chopwell. in the western end of the urban district, stands at the 500 feet level and is also a coal mining community but one with a long history. At the Dissolution, the Swinburne family. who were tenants of Chopwell under Newminster Abbey. obtained the right to remain as tenants of the Crown. The family's head. John Swinburne, took part in the great rebellion of 1569 which aimed to restore the Catholic Faith. After defeat he fled to Scotland and then to the Continent where he settled in Madrid.

Chopwell has a sizeable shopping centre along Derwent Street as well as schools and other town amenities. The countryside around is especially attractive; the Woods part of the former estate are still Crown property (the Forestry Commission cares for them) although the rest of the once extensive estate has been split up and sold. The woods include Chopwell Plantation which extends to High Spen and Rowlands Gill and whose several hundred acres reach to the Derwent where the sylvan glades fringe the water. West of Chopwell is Milkwellburn Wood. another area of great beauty and one that extends to the MilkweII Burn, a tributary of the Derwent and the edge of the urban district. Farther north the open hillsides rise to 851 feet. a peak that is close to the lonely roadside inn and cottages at Leadgate.

In a farm near Milkwell Burn lived Joseph Bulman, a 19th century poet who worked as a bank clerk in Newcastle. He summed up the scenery around Chopwell in these pleasing lines.
The eye can wander far from here
Can view the stretching plain,
The pretty hamlets far and near
And fields of waving grain.
Wild Derwent's water, shining bright
Like glittering silver lies;
While Pontop's tree-capped towering height
Seems propping up the skies.;
Frowning at its neighbour still,
The sunny, airy, Ash-tree hill.

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Blackhall Mill

The remaining district is that of Blackhall Mill, south of Chopwell and on the Derwent.

The "Black Hall" itself was the home of the Rutherford family and has witnessed many a family feud. After one such foray. in 1615, the Rutherfords fled and their estate was declared forfeit to the Bishop of Durham. Eleven years later Blackhall was purchased by Anthony Surtees, an ancestor of the Surtees family of Hamsterley Hall, a fine house in wooded grounds across the Derwent beyond Hamsterley Colliery. Accessibility Rail. Blaydon station is on the Newcastle to Carlisle route of the North Eastern Region of British Railways. Diesel trains run to Newcastle on the one hand and to stations to Hexham on the other. Certain trains con- tinue beyond Hexham to stations to l-Ialtwhistle (for Alston) and Carlisle. The journey to Newcastle occu- pies only nine minutes. Bus. In the Blaydon urban area, bus services are pro- vided by the Northern General Transport Co. Ltd.. whose offices are at 117 Queen Street, Gateshead, 8, the United Automobile Services Ltd., of Gallogate, Newcastle upon Tyne, and the Venture Transport Com- pany (Newcastle) Ltd.. of 16-17 Princes Street, Consett, Co. Durham. Timetables may be obtained from these Companies.

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