A Short History of Gateshead - CHAPTER EIGHT


© Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council, 1998


Water Supply

The street names of medieval Gateshead, Pipewellgate and Oakwellgate show how the town was first supplied with water, although the exact locations of these early wells are not known. Wells and springs proved adequate until the seventeenth century when the formerly abundant supplies were interrupted by the sinking of many coal mines around Gateshead, and the authorities began to take an interest in water supply. The parish employed two pant-masters from 1632 whose duty it was to maintain the existing wells in a clean and serviceable state.

To make up the deficiency in the supply, water was brought from springs on Gateshead Fell and Heworth 'in lead Pipe downe to a pant (well) to be built for the use of the Towne'. At this time, Newcastle also needed more water and this was supplied from Gateshead. The land on the south of the Tyne is higher than on the north, an important factor in the gravity distribution system, which was the only method then available. In 1699

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William Yarnold obtained an act of Parliament to supply Newcastle with water from Heworth Fell. Water from here was carried partly in an open trench and partly in wooden pipes to two ponds near the junction of High Street and Sunderland Road. From here, the supply was taken round the east of Holy Trinity to Oakwellgate, over the Tyne Bridge in lead pipes and up into Newcastle. A part of this pipe was found by council workmen at Sunderland Road in May 1973 It was of wood, probably elm, three feet long, weighed approximately three stones, and the internal diameter was five inches. Although more than 260 years old, it was still in good condition, and some water was still flowing through it. The pipe is now in the Shipley Art Gallery. In 1721, only 22 houses had a direct supply of water, and although the number increased throughout the century, the majority of people had to carry all their water from the wells. As the population grew, and more water was needed, reservoirs were built at Carr Hill and the end of Mulgrave Terrace in 1819 and 1844 while additional supplies were taken from the Tyne in 1835. In 1845, the Whittle Dene Water Company was formed; and in 1854 it was superseded by the Newcastle and Gateshead Water Company; the same company supplying Gateshead today. In 1845 only eight streets in Gateshead were supplied with water. This quickly increased to 51 by 1849 and about 13,000

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of the population (out of 24,000) had access to a supply of fresh water in that year.

In 1833 a ten million gallon reservoir was built at Carr Hill and the following year, the supply from Whittle Dene was piped over the Redheugh Bridge. Water mains were laid through most of Gateshead and Low Fell, but the higher areas at Sheriff Hill and Wrekenton still had to rely on wells and springs for some years to come.


Like the other early public services, the policing of Gateshead was the responsibility of the parish. Four constables were appointed each Easter, but as they were unpaid, it is reasonable to assume that they did not provide an efficient service. These constables were backed by the stocks, whipping post and the Tollbooth in High Street which served as a prison during the eighteenth century. A County Court was held on Saturdays in the Goat Inn, Bottle Bank. It was said that in this pub, a man (or woman) could get drunk, commit a crime, be arrested, tried and sentenced, all without leaving the building.

The number of crimes increased towards the end of the eighteenth century and in an effort to combat this trend, societies for the prosecution of felons sprang up. Three societies were formed in Gateshead, in 1774, 1789 and 1794; these societies paid rewards and prosecuted criminals in court. The

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members were property owners, shopkeepers, and generally those who had something of value which would attract the attention of the criminal classes. From the 1830s, the police force and courts improved and the societies declined in importance but after amalgamating in 1862, they survived in Gateshead until 1873

The Street Act of 1814 had improved the policing of the town, watchmen were appointed to patrol at night from October to March and apprehend 'all suspicious persons'. In 1827 there were five watchmen and a Captain who received 10/6 per week each. The Tollbooth was superseded by a lock-up, first in Church Walk and then in Bridge Street, though both buildings were in poor condition. Apparently a prisoner escaped from the latter in December 1843 by knocking down a wall! A new prison was opened in West Street, opposite the Town Hall, in 1848 and survived as offices until 1972·

Crime increased but so did the size of the police force. After Gateshead acquired a town council, in 1835, six constables were appointed in 1836. They worked only on Saturdays and Sundays, but the watchmen were still employed to supplement 'the force'.

The main crimes dealt with were drunkenness and assault; although a report by the Superintendent of Police in 1850 painted a black picture of the disreputable boarding houses. In these houses 'the young

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vagrant comes into contact with the old and experienced thief, and where are discussed the plans and ramifications of the day'. Crimes increased throughout the century and it was common to lay the blame on immigrants, Scottish and especially the Irish. There was some truth in this allegation, but one must remember that they lived in the lodging houses which the police report criticised so much.

The size of the force increased to 18 in 1848, but there was a high turnover of men and shortage of constables. They worked a 77 hour 7 day week for 17/-, so it is hardly surprising that they left the force in great numbers.

The first two detectives were appointed in 1861 and by 1862 there were 33 constables at work in Gateshead. As the suburbs grew, police stations were opened in Askew Road and at Sheriff Hill while the main station was generally housed in the same building as the Town Hall, on the site of Gateshead West Station, Mirk Lane, and finally Swinburne Street. During the first decades of the twentieth century, the main crime was drunkenness, with violent drunkenness common in the Teams area. The police tended not to interfere with battling pitmen and labourers wielding the buckle end of belts. After the peak year of 1926, when there were 766 charges of drunkenness, this problem decreased fairly rapidly and was replaced by offences involving motor vehicles.

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In 1968, Gateshead Police Force, 214 strong, was amalgamated with Durham County Police on 1st October, despite protests, which were not entirely sentimental.


Gas supplies to Gateshead began in 1821 from a gasworks in Pipewellgate, built in 1819. At first, the gas was used only for lighting streets and houses, gas fires, refrigerators and cookers were luxuries of the future. In 1838, Gateshead Gas Company was taken over by the Newcastle upon Tyne and Gateshead Union Gas Light Company, who paid £5,000 for the Pipewellgate gas works, and so began a series of disputes about the prices charged north and south of the river. Gateshead paid ten pence per lamp per week (there were 250 compared with 6,752 today), but Newcastle only paid eight pence. When the mains were extended, Gateshead Council had to pay for the new lampposts and fittings whereas these were supplied free of charge in Newcastle. This favourable treatment of Newcastle was probably due to the fact that Newcastle Corporation had the power to establish its own gasworks. Although this never came about, the threat was frequently used to keep the company in line.

In 1876 the gasworks at Redheugh were opened on a 25-acre site at a cost of £100,000 and with additions, are still partially in use. The street

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lamps were lit by gas until 1948 when the gradual changeover to electricity began. One usually thinks of natural gas as a modern development. However, as early as 1840 there was a plan to supply Gateshead and Newcastle with natural gas from Wallsend Colliery, using the gas burnt off at the pit-head. The 'Spontaneous Gas Company' was formed but was short-lived and conventional means of supply were followed. Gas supplies were nationalised in 1948.


The provision of electrical power and lighting for Gateshead was discussed by Council in 1896 but negotiations with the Durham Electrical Power Distribution Company were delayed for four years and the scheme was approved by the Board of Trade in 1899. The company undertook to lay power-lines along main roads within two years, but were challenged by the Tyneside Electric Power Company. Eventually, the Council voted to support the Durham Company as the sole supplier for Gateshead and a power station was built at South Shore Road. This company supplied Gateshead until it was taken over by the Newcastle upon Tyne Electric Supply Company in June 1932. Electricity Services were nationalised in 1947.

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