A Short History of Gateshead - CHAPTER SIX


© Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council, 1998


Coal Mining

Tyneside is always associated with industry, especially coal that has been mined here for hundreds of years. Coal mining arrived in Gateshead rather later than in the rest of County Durham; the first recorded mention being in 1344, although coal was probably mined before this. As explained in earlier chapters, medieval Gateshead was the property of the bishops of Durham and was linked with another ecclesiastical manor, Whickham, in leases for coal mining. The pits were relatively shallow and all the work was done by hand, but as time went on, more and more coal was produced until the mid-sixteenth century when Gateshead and Whickham contained the most productive coalfields in the world. 400,000 tons were shipped from the Tyne in 1625 as compared with 35,000 tons in 1565. Only one Gateshead family appears to have made a fortune in this trade, the appropriately named Cole family. As well as leasing and working their own mines,

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they were money lenders and many of the Newcastle coal owners were in debt to them.

As could be expected, Gateshead at this time was scarred by coal mines and although no traces can be seen on the surface today, the town rests on a maze of galleries and shafts which occasionally make their presence known by sudden subsidence.

Towards the end of the seventeenth century, the easily won coal seams were largely worked out and the industry moved further from the river in search of fresh reserves at Tanfield and Stella. However, small groups of men continued to work the outcrops which larger concerns would have found uneconomic. The number of these smaller pits grew, and in 1720 there were 156 on the Shipcote Estate alone!

Coal was mined near to water transportation facilities as land transport was confined to the horse on very poor or non-existent roads. Packhorses were used to carry the coal to the staiths and later horses or oxen pulled large heavy wagons known as wains down to the river. The scale of the industry can be gauged by the fact that in Whickham 700 of these wains were in daily use. Wagonways, used from the mid-seventeenth century, were really a means of giving the horse-drawn wain a smoother passage. Wagonways in Gateshead included the Ravensworth, which ran down the west of the Team Valley to Dunston; Gateshead Fell from the Fell to Redheugh, but later to the

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South Shore, crossing the Old Durham Road, just north of King James's Hospital; and from Sheriff Hill to the Engine pit at Low Fell. After the invention and improvement of the steam pumping engine, deeper seams could be worked as the water (if present), could be drawn off. In 1765 such an engine cost £1,000. Park Colliery and Tyne Main Colliery at Friars' Goose had these engines, the latter had the most powerful on the Tyne, producing about 180 horsepower and capable of pumping 1,444,800 gallons of water per day, ten times the capacity of Shipcote Baths. Part of the remains of the engine house can still be seen today in East Gateshead Riverside Park.

Coal mining continued at a few larger pits within the town, at Redheugh, Oakwellgate and near the junction of High Street and Sunderland Road. The last colliery to close was at Redheugh between Lower Cuthbert Street and Morrison Street off Askew Road. Sunk in 1872, it produced 120,000 tons of coal per annum in the 189os and gave employment to about 420 men and boys but became unproductive and closed in 1927


Another very old industry was quarrying which left many workings scattered throughout Gateshead, especially the Fell, although there were several near the town itself, at Barns Close, Wylam Street, behind Pleasant Row (High Street) and

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on Bensham Bank opposite Bloomfield Terrace. These were used for the extensive house-building programmes of the nineteenth century but were themselves later filled in and built over.

In the eighteenth century the trade was largely concerned with grindstones, many of which were exported. The quarrymen themselves were a constant source of trouble to their landlord, the lord of the manor. Frequently they did not pay their rent and dumped rubbish and spoil at random and generally 'they followed their work without taking notice of anybody'. One lord of the manor was advised thus: 'If you do not make a publicke example of some of those fellowes they'll ride on your shoulders as long as you live'.

As time went on the grindstone trade decreased and the emphasis was placed on the quarrying of building stone, especially during the rebuilding of central Newcastle in the 1890s. The number of men employed in this trade was never large, only 75 in Gateshead and the Fell in 1839, one of the boom periods for this trade.


From medieval times Gateshead had been a centre for milling corn. Windmills were mentioned as early as 1189 in the Boldon Book while water mills were built in the fourteenth century. From the relatively large number of mills, Gateshead seems to have been a centre for this kind of industry:

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in 1709 there were eleven of both kinds at work. Towards the end of the eighteenth century some surviving mills were converted to the new form of power, steam, although this method had its drawbacks, as mills were notorious fire risks.

As may be deduced, most of the mills were to be found on Windmill Hills although there were others in Hillgate, High Street, Jackson Street, Bensham and Carr Hill. During the nineteenth century, the windmills fell into disuse or were used for other purposes such as storehouses, tenement dwellings and, in one case, a summer cottage! The last working mill in the town stood at the corner of Jackson Street and West Street and worked until the 1890s. The Old Mill Inn and later the Co-operative Store were built on the site. The last mill on Windmill Hills was demolished in July 1927 but a mill at Carr Hill survived as a derelict shell until 1964.


The pottery industry is a very old trade, older than coal mining (and was carried out on a world wide basis; people needed utensils and plates, no matter what period of history they lived in). The early pottery industry in Gateshead is still the subject of research, but as early as the fourteenth century clay was brought from Heworth in large quantities to be worked in kilns in the town. One such kiln was uncovered, although greatly damaged, on the

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site of the Ritz cinema during the construction of the Gateshead Highway.

There then appears to have been a decline in this industry and potteries were not worked again in Gateshead until the eighteenth century. There were small potteries at the South Shore and later at Bensham, Pipewellgate and Low Teams, but the main centres were at Carr Hill and Sheriff Hill. John Warburton, probably a native of Staffordshire, opened a pottery at Newcastle and in 1740 moved the manufacturing side of the business to Carr Hill. He is said to have been the first to introduce white earthenware into the district. Warburton died in 1795 and the business was carried on by his son and then his widow, until 1817 when the white ware was discontinued. From 1817 the pottery had a variety of owners, the last being Thomas Patterson of Sheriff Hill pottery, until it closed in 1893. The building was demolished in 1932· The Old Brown Jug public house serves as a reminder of the trade once practised nearby.

Paul Jackson established the Sheriff Hill pottery in 1771 at the corner of Pottersway and Old Durham Road. Members of the Jackson family were partners in the business until 1837 when Thomas Patterson took over. By 1839 there were 50 employees, many of whom lived in a row of cottages adjoining the Old Cannon Inn. This pottery closed in 1909 and the buildings were

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demolished in the 1920s to make way for council houses.


The earliest instance of metal manufacture in Gateshead was 1528 when attempts were made to smelt Weardale lead and extract silver on the instruction of Thomas Wolsey, then Bishop of Durham. The experiment was a failure and the furnace far from efficient, molten metal leaked out 'at every side'. The next venture was more successful. In 1721, William Cotesworth, lord of the manor, leased an iron and brass foundry at Pipewellgate to Isaac Cookson. This business prospered and lasted until the early 1850s when the foundry closed and the premises were used to refine antimony.

The famous ironmaster, Sir Ambrose Crowley, established factories in old water mills at High and Low Teams in 1755 as extensions to his premises at Swalwell and Winlaton. Nails, locks, spades and general iron products were made there but the workforce was relatively small when compared with the more famous premises on the Derwent. The firm declined at the end of the eighteenth century but the Gateshead factories were in use until 1860. Low Team forge was afterwards used as a paper mill while High Team forge was incorporated in the farm buildings of the Teams estate.

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The best known heavy engineering firm of old Gateshead was, of course, Hawks, Crawshay & Sons. The firm was started in 1748 by William Hawks; at New Greenwich, at the South Shore. Hawks had been a foreman blacksmith at Crowley's works and he named his first factory after Crowley's old premises at Greenwich on the Thames. William Hawks II took control of the firm in 1775 and expanded his premises and trade, foundries were bought and steam introduced. By 1801 the firm produced several kinds of ordnance, anchors, chains, bolts, spades and many other metal products. Government contracts were taken over from the declining firm of Crowley and the stage was set for a successful period of trade, helped by the Napoleonic wars and therefore a constant demand for weapons. The new premises were known as New Deptford and New Woolwich, built to the west of the older works. (Hawks' had warehouses on the Thames at these places.) By the end of the eighteenth century this by now prosperous concern had its own ships to transport its goods.

In 1839, Hawks' employed approximately 800 men and boys. Skilled tradesmen earned 22 shillings per week while labourers were paid 2 shillings per day. An investigation was made into the working conditions of children in the works in 1842; the following example illustrates the hard life these children led. One twelve-year-old boy had already worked at Hawks' factory for 3

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years. His hours were 6.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. (summer; one and a half hours for meals), and 6.00 a.m. to 500 p.m. (winter; 45 minutes for meals). On Saturdays work ended at 400 p.m. This particular boy was paid 4/- per week for carrying iron to furnaces and his ambition was to be apprenticed as a chain-maker at a wage of 6/- per week. The only holidays were 2 days at Christmas and 2 half days at Easter and Whitsuntide. As at Crowley's, the employees of Hawks had certain benefits; schools for workers and their children, houses provided by the firm and a code of rules with fines for swearing, betting and drinking. Despite the hard work, very low wages and long hours (all were typical of the period),'Haaks' men' were apparently contented workers.

The firm began to design and build many different products ranging from paddle steamers to dredgers and from bridges to lighthouses. Everyone has heard of the High Level Bridge, built by Hawks' 1846-49; but they also constructed iron bridges as far afield as Constantinople and India. However impressive these achievements may sound they were the cause of the closure of the company, coupled with the incompetence of George Crawshay, a partner in the firm. Specialist manufacturers expanded and were more successful than a firm such as Hawks which tried to make everything; the Armstrong works at Elswick were divided into specialist departments while William Galloway, the

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nail manufacturer, became a force to be reckoned with in that branch of the iron trade.

Hawks, Crawshay and Sons (the firm had many changes of name and this was the last) closed suddenly in September 1889, but every creditor was paid in full and today this name remains a proud reminder of Gateshead's industrial past.

John Abbot & Co. was the only other Gateshead engineering firm to approach the size of Hawks and met a similar fate. From a small firm which had existed for some years, Abbot's grew in the 1820s and 1830s until in 1841, 640 men and boys were employed in factories to the east of Oakwellgate known as Park Works. The output diversified considerably until they produced everything from tin-tacks to railway engines, but the decline was as fast as the growth and the firm went into liquidation in 1909.

William Galloway was a nail manufacturer with premises at the end of Sunderland Road, established in the late 1850s. His firm only employed about 25 to 50 people by 1900, many of them women, but, nevertheless, it took business from the giants of Hawks and Abbot. One interesting aspect of this business is the fact that it held an agency for French and American steam cars. Galloway's moved to Blaydon in 1952 and was taken over by the industrial giant G.K.N. in 1965

Today many do not realise that Gateshead was a

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railway town with workshops employing 3,300 men in 1909, but the first engine was seen in Gateshead more than one hundred years before this. John Winfield, who had a foundry in Pipewellgate, became an agent for Richard Trevethick's railway engine and by May 1805 a prototype was built in the town. It was never used outside, its only movements were on a short track within the foundry. Thomas Waters of Gateshead acquired the agency and built another engine in 1813. These were small-scale operations, but the next locomotive builder, Coulthard and Co. of Oakwellgate, was a bigger concern, actually building engines for use by railway companies during the years 1839~65·The premises were taken over by Black, Hawthorn and Co., an even bigger firm who manufactured engines for ships and steam trams as well as railways. In 1889 there were about 1,000 employees but the business went into liquidation in 1896.

The cause of the decline of Coulthard's and Black, Hawthorn's was the steady expansion of the Greenesfield workshops by the North Eastern Railway Company, the greatest employer of labour in Gateshead in 1900, which built and repaired railway locomotives. Unfortunately, the site at Greenesfield was rather small and the N.E.R. decided to transfer the engine building part of the works to Darlington in 1909 and in 1932 the rest of the works were closed. Both these dates

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represented heavy blows to the economy of Gateshead, many were made redundant, less money was spent in the town and more had to be spent on unemployment relief. Railway workers moved to Darlington, causing a sharp drop in population. Greenesfield shops did re-open during the war but closed once again in 1959.

The only large engineering firm to survive the trade depressions of the 1880s and 1930s was Clarke, Chapman. This firm was started on the South Shore in the early 1860s by William Clarke; an engineer who had worked for Armstrong at Elswick. New premises were taken on St James Road in 1874. In the same year, Captain William Chapman, a new partner, joined the firm, followed three years later by C. A. Parsons. The manufacture of winches was the mainstay of the firm at first but Parsons experimented with turbines developing electricity and the firm also helped develop the carbon filament light bulb with J. W. Swan. Parsons left the firm in 1889. This now world famous firm concentrated on the production of marine auxiliary equipment until recent years when work on power stations led into nuclear engineering. Following a recent merger with John Thompson Ltd., the group is now one of the largest in the United Kingdom.

Chemical Works

Like many of Gateshead's industries, chemical

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manufacture began as an isolated historical incident and the chemical trade is a typical example. At the beginning of the eighteenth century a rather mysterious person known as the 'Jew of Oakwellgate' is reputed to have manufactured compound of cyanogen (a highly poisonous gas). Unfortunately, no trace of his activities can be found today.

The chemical works in Gateshead in the nineteenth century were situated to the east of the town, well away from the centre of population - even in those far off days, the environment was a subject of concern to those who lived near chemical works. The first factory was started in 1827 by Anthony Clapham, who manufactured soaps and soda. His works are best remembered for the very large chimney, which at 263 feet was the largest on Tyneside. Such was the fame of this 'stupendous work of art' that a song was written in commemoration. The firm was taken over in 1858 by the Jarrow Alkali works and again in 1891 by United Alkali.

The best known chemical works are remembered as 'Allhusens', developed in the 1830s by Charles Attwood and bought in 1840 by Christian Allhusen who successfully expanded his business until he occupied 197 acres of the South Shore. 'Allhusens' was incorporated as the Newcastle Chemical Works Company in 1872 and this in turn was taken over by United Alkali in 1891 and

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production concentrated on caustic soda. In 1889, 1200 men were employed here but from this date there was a gradual run down, which accelerated after the First World War, as the chemical trade was transferred to Teesside. By 1926 the premises were re-let as factories and even poultry houses and in the 1930s the great chimneys were demolished. One reminder of the past was the spoil heap estimated at 2 million tons which was still smouldering in 1951 Fortunately, a use was found for the lime as agricultural fertiliser, and the removal of 750,000 tons continued from 1953 until the 1960s. The remaining spoil has been incorporated into East Gateshead Riverside Park.

As could be expected, chemical works were unpleasant places in which to work; the heat was considerable and so the men were frequently thirsty. Boys were sent to local pubs for beer and rum while the landlord of the 'New Gateshead' was regularly disturbed by the night shift workers leaving work who hurled 'Irish confetti' (half-bricks) at the door to waken him. The work was dangerous, and burns were commonplace, although, surprisingly, fatal accidents were not numerous. However, the workers' health was frequently impaired by the heat and corrosive atmosphere. In 1891, the wages for this very unpleasant work varied according to trade, but the highest appears to have been £3 for a 42-hour week by bleach packers.

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Glass and Rope-making

As well as the more general engineering industries, Gateshead was the home of specialised trades such as glass-making and rope-making. By the eighteenth century, there was a bottle works, at the South Shore, which later expanded to include the manufacture of plate glass, before it closed in 1840 after a life of about one hundred years. Pipewellgate was the centre of this trade, the first glassworks being established there in 1760 by Joseph Sowerby, at the west end of this street, followed in 1814 by Joseph Price and his Durham Glass Works (just west of Brett's oil works). Price later had an interest in another glass firm in the same street. Letters from Sowerby show the state of the industry in 1833: there were five glassworks employing about 500 men and £100,000 in capital. Skilled tradesmen worked an average of four days per week for £2 while labourers earned only 18/-. There was a decline in the glassmaking from this time but during the 1850s several smaller firms sprang up and some survived until the turn of the century when only two companies remained, Sowerby's and Davidson's. George Davidson established Teams Glass-Works in 1868. Both manufactured moulded or pressed glass products, to give the impression of cut glass but at a lower price, and ornaments. Their local trade depended on hawkers who spent the night at the works and left in the morning, laden with glassware.

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Sowerby moved to East Street in 1850 and in 1881 became a limited company, changing its name to Sowerby's Ellison Glass Works Ltd. In 1889 a subsidiary company, Gateshead Stained Glass Company, was formed, with the unusual feature that the principal employees were shareholders (an idea often suggested today as a means of curbing industrial strife). An example of the work of this firm can be seen in the 'King James' Hospital Window' in St. Mary's Church. William Wailes, a celebrated stained-glass manufacturer, lived in Gateshead; it was he who had Saltwell Towers constructed. The two firms of Sowerby and Davidson are still in business today; the former has carried on business for two hundred and fourteen years, the oldest in Gateshead.

Many industries on Tyneside needed rope - coal mining and shipbuilding for example--and a rope-making industry started in Gateshead to cater for the demand. As early as 1691 a ropery was set up in Hillgate followed in 1795 by a more famous establishment at the Saltmeadows which in due course became known as David Haggie and Son. David Haggie had three sons-David and Peter, who became well-known in the public life of Gateshead, and Robert, who left to form his own firm at Willington Quay. In 1854 the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Company ordered a rope three miles long, eight inches in circumference and weighing thirteen tons. When

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completed, eighteen horses were unable to move the rope which had to be taken up river to Redheugh to the railway line. Wire rope had been made for some years in a converted sawmill but a fire destroyed these premises in 1873 and a new building was constructed. Another fire in 1884 burnt down the hemp rope works and production concentrated on wire ropes. The firm expanded and in 1900 converted to electrical power. Production rose, especially during the First World War, when women were employed. They were known as 'Haggie's Angels' and were noted for their bad language. In 1926 the firm joined the British Ropes combine.

The other main rope manufacturer was Dixon, Corbitt and R. S. Newall and Co. Ltd. These were originally two separate firms with premises on either side of the river Team, Newall's was on the west bank. Both were established at the Teams in 1840 and worked together for many years before amalgamation in 1887. One of their famous exploits concerned Cleopatra's Needle, Newall's supplied the wire rope and Dixon, Corbitt the steel caisson which were used to tow the obelisk to London from Egypt by sea. Newall's were also famous for the underwater cables which they manufactured and later laid. Examples were the Dover to Calais cable in 1850-51 and, more important, from Suez to Karachi in 1859 The amalgamated concern was taken over by the

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Willington Haggie firm and in 1959 became part of the British Ropes Group.

Clay Tobacco Pipes

An unusual trade, the manufacture of clay tobacco pipes, was carried on in Gateshead. In fact, the town was a centre for clay pipe making, although this industry did not employ many men. Smoking was widespread in England by 1600 and although the first recorded mention of a pipemaker in Gateshead is 1646 in the burial register of St Mary's it is probable that this person, William Sewell, had been in business for some years. The peak of clay pipe production in the area was the nineteenth century when growth in population increased the demand for pipes; there were ten pipe-makers in Gateshead in 1838 but there were also many amateurs, such as publicans, who made pipes.


The Tyne has been a port and shipbuilding centre for many years. There have been shipbuilders at Gateshead in past centuries but none have been large enough to rival the giants of industry nearer the mouth of the river. Ship and boat building in Gateshead was centred on Hillgate and the river-banks to the east of the town. Small ships and keels were the main vessels constructed and by the middle of the nineteenth century the larger

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ships were being built in the Friars' Goose area while boat building was concentrated on Hillgate. Despite the presence of the large firms downstream, a slip-way at Friars' Goose was in use until the mid-1960s. Trawlers were launched here as recently as 1961.

Shipbuilding has been a very minor industry in the town, but there are two examples to show that Gateshead men were to the forefront in the development of steam power and iron boats. In 1814 a steam boat was launched from the South Shore and went into service on the Tyne. A Gateshead glassmaker, Joseph Price, realised that this new form of propulsion was here to stay, bought shares in the ship in 1815 and was convinced that steam tugboats would be profitable to manufacture and sell. Unfortunately, his ideas were not popular and he was almost bankrupt by 1838 but, still certain that this was the power of the future, took out a patent for adopting steam boilers for ships.

A letter in the local paper, The Gateshead Observer in February 1860 stated that: 'The first iron boat built so far as I know, was a rowboat; in the year 1821, at Gateshead.' This was an experiment carried out by an employee of Hawks' with financial backing from Sir R. S. Hawks. The boat, the Vulcan, was completed in 1822 and was 31 feet long. The following year it was defeated in a race with a wooden boat and was being tested

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and re-designed when the builder, James Smith fell overboard and was drowned. The cause of this was said to be the crew who had 'too much beer and too little ballast'. After this setback the iron boat was not developed and was allowed to rust away.

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"A Short History of Gateshead". © Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council, 1998