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The Winlaton Story

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Part 3.  Early Coal Mining

The most common use of coal in early days was mainly industrial, usually for lime burning or for boiling salt pans. No one held large stocks of coal, so that when a large building, such as a cathedral, a castle or a monastery was being constructed large amounts of coal were needed and these orders would he a windfall at the time to the miners. Consequently, when some large structural alterations were being carried out at Windsor Castle in 1357, 6OO tons of coal were purchased from the Manor of Winlaton to burn off the lime.

The Sheriff of Northumberland, Henry de Strother, purchased the coals on behalf of the king at a cost of £47-19s.-8d. The coals would then be transported by pack horse to Blaydon or Stella, and were then shipped in 33 keels to Newcastle, and there loaded on board colliers to be conveyed to London. There were 170 men involved in this keeling operation, their wages being sixpence each, while one shilling each was charged for the hire of the keels. John Taverner superintended the loading at Newcastle, this taking 54 days and John received 54 shillings for his work. Hugh Hankyn was sent to London to supervise the delivery of the coals to Adam de Hertyngdone, clerk of works at Windsor, for which, Hugh received £5-11s.-Od., while the cost of shipping the coal was £103. Not all of the coals despatched reached London for mention is made of a large amount that was thrown overboard on account of a heavy storm encountered at sea.

Mention is made in the following century of two mines situated in Winlaton called the Fullay pit and the Marley pit, both of which were working in 1425, and production was increasing with a colliery of four shafts producing 20,000 tons of coal per annum by the year 1581.

In 1587, a legal action concerning this colliery brings some interesting facts to light. We find that women were employed underground owing to a shortage of male labour. The colliery consisted of four shafts, one at least being in Lands Wood, with another, or maybe more, in what is now known as the Windy Fields, but was then known as the West Field, or Whinney Close Common. The whole enterprise was owned and worked by a partnership. The daily workings of the colliery was in many cases remarkably like today. There was an engineer, or as he was called a "viewer", whose job was "to see the ground upholden and truly wroughte underground". There was a system of tallies for the delivery of coal, and an "overman" whose job was to see that the correct number of loads came up at every pit, well filled for the profit of the owners, and to arrange for the carriage of the same to the river.

Their ways of keeping industrial peace would cause some comment today, for one, Richard Shotton, who had worked in the pit for fifteen years stated, that labourers had been laid in the stocks for negligence at work, while others were discharged for neglect and other misdemeanours.

Although coal-mining had been in progress for more than three hundred years the first record we have of a fatal accident appears in 1610, in the Ryton Burial

Register, when Thomas Carnaby a "cole workeman of Winlinton" was buried in Ryton churchyard. Then through the years we can follow the tragic toll paid in tribute to the winning of coal from the same source. Taking a few names at random, there was William Foster of Winlaton (1627) "kild in a Cole Pytte"; Thomas Proctor (1628) of "Bladon slaine in a Kolepyt at Bladon syd, and John, son of Thomas Jobson of Winlinton, Slaine in the same kole pyt"; Raiphe Cutter of Winlaton, slaine in a cole pyte" (1632); "two sons of William Thompson of Winlinton, slaine in a Coale pitte" (1633); "a boy in Winlington killed in a Coale-pit" (1673); Thomas Burton of Winlaton, slain in a pit, and so the list goes on.

After the early pits that were situated near to the river banks had been worked out the collieries began to move inland, transport therefore, became a problem, and horse drawn waggons on rails began to be used in the early 17th century. One of these waggonways was laid down in the Derwent Valley from Derwenthaugh to Pontop Pike, and was called The Main Way. Its date of construction is unknown, but a tentative guess would put it about 1680. The section from Winlaton Mill to Derwenthaugh is still in use today, making it the oldest used railway line in the world. It had many offshoots. One of these byways, as they were called, ran from Garesfield Colliery on Barlow Fell and connected on to the Main Way at Lockhaugh cross-roads. Another branch which can still be traced today ran through Lands Wood past Hagg Hill Farm, down the side of the park wall joining the line at the entrance to the farm, and was known as the Hagg Hill Byway. A man named George Potts of Bates Houses was killed by a waggon on this line in 1710, and these accidents continued into living memory while the waggon ways were still in use.

There were many other cases of people meeting an untimely end through falling into disused pit shafts. The early miners did not bother to mark, or to fill the old shafts in. They were left to the ravages of time and the elements to obliterate them, and anyone walking through Lands Wood will see by their remains how long this process endures. There is one case of John Wild of Low Spen, who was killed with his horse through falling down a shaft in 1728.

A very important part of coal mining was to know where to begin the shaft, and this was where the borer came in. A family of borers of the name of Wake long practised that art on Tyneside. One Thomas Wake executed various boreholes in the neighbourhood of Ryton, and of Stella Grand Lease Colliery in 1692-96. Another borer named Andrew Wake made various borings at Winlaton and Blaydon in 1779-89, while still another Wake was found boring at Blaydon in 1840.

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© Copyright 1971, R. Anderson

First published in The Bellman (the Blaydon Urban District Council newsletter) No 18, October 1970.