29. A lost village

While trawling the web for material for my website I stumbled upon a reference to ‘The lost village of Havelock Place’.  This intriguing reference has rattled round the inside of my head for some time and it has taken until now for me to do something about it. A few years ago I walked the footpath between Backworth and Seghill taking a few photographs on the way, but little remains of the site of the ‘village’.

It must be said that villages have come and gone all over the world, but coal mining has spawned a good many of these in this part of the country as mines will always be ‘worked out’ sooner or later, but in the meantime workers must be housed while the coal is there, and the village abandoned when it is gone.

The particular coalmine in question was Backworth C-Pit. Backworth in Northumberland was particularly rich in coal seams with several ‘pits’ sunk to reach the richest seams. Some were connected, but others were on opposite sides of a major fault, (90 fathom fault), and so the coal seams were not connected and so separate shafts needed to be sunk.

C-Pit was sunk in 1856 and lasted until 1895. The village of Havelock Place was also known as ‘C-Pit Row’ or just ‘C-Pit’. There were two rows of houses, set at an angle alongside a waggonway which carried the coal down to ships on the river Tyne at Whitehill Point, near Howdon. The West side was Waggonway Row or ‘The Long Row’ and the other was Fisher Row or ‘The Short Row’. The largest house at the top of the village housed the colliery Manager. This later became a school, before reverting to a house.

Each house seems to have had a garden and an outside ash closet (toilet or ‘nettie’) with an attached outside water tap. At some time there was a shop in the middle of Fisher Row and a house was used as a Methodist Chapel until a purpose-built chapel was raised at the South corner, along with a ‘Good Templars’ Hall’ (temperance hall).

One of the by-products of most pits was clay and. C-Pit produced ‘blue-clay’, which was particularly good for making bricks. In 1877 Henry Foster & Co. built a brick works on the opposite side of the waggonway and although the pit closed in 1895, the Hotspur Brickworks continued until 1967.

No doubt residents of the village worked in the brickworks after the pit closed, but the village itself was demolished in 1938, leaving very little beyond two footpaths and rows of trees where houses once stood.

fisher-short-row

Footpath and trees where Fisher Row once stood. Nothing remains of Waggonway Row except the changes in direction of the footpath.

There are more coalmine sketches here

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2. Coaly Tyne

Until The Clean Air Act 1956 all homes and factories had been heated solely by coal fires (although on the approach of the act, smokeless fuel, gas fires and oil-fired or gas central heating took over)

This meant that the only form of heating (and cooking) was an open hearth in all rooms, including bedrooms.

Obviously coal fires produce ash which fell through a slotted grate to be removed and disposed of. This dusty ash was messy to deal with so the whole process, with the re-laying and re-lighting was a dirty, tedious, daily business. It was possible to keep a fire alight overnight by using finely crushed coal known as dross with a sprinkling of water to make it burn slowly through lack of air.

The coal itself had to be delivered and stored. In my time coal merchants delivered sacks of coal by motor lorry; although I have seen horse-drawn wagons as late as the 1960s. Sometimes an enterprising seller would ‘hawk’ his coal around the streets shouting “COAL” to all who could hear. My grandfather claimed he had a parrot who imitated this cry so well they people rushed to their doors to find an empty street. The ‘coal- man’ unloaded 1 hundredweight (cwt) hessian sacks on his shoulders/back and tipped them into the coal-house/bunker/cellar. (1cwt = 50kg)

Miners and ex-miners were entitled to free coal which was dumped outside their homes by a lorry. This huge pile had to be moved by bucket and shovel and helpful neighbours got their share.

The smoke and sulphurous gases were particularly nasty. Town buildings were all blackened by it; fog turned into smog further damaging the buildings and the lungs of all who breathed it in.

Coal mines once dotted the landscape all over Northumberland and Durham, but by the end of the 20th century they were almost all gone. Deep mining is dangerous and expensive and the deeper the mines went, the more prone to flooding they became and since many went below the sea this is not really surprising.

Open-cast or surface mining still exists in quite large quantities in this area, but it does not produce enough to feed the appetites of the coal-powered power stations, so from being once the supplier to the world, the Tyne now imports coal from all over the world.