A Short History of Gateshead - CHAPTER NINE
© Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council, 1998
Gateshead Fell was a wild, largely uninhabited area, which for many hundreds of years formed part of the common land of Gateshead, under the control of the lord of the manor, the borough-holders and the freemen. There were pits and quarries scattered over the 631 acres that constituted Gateshead Fell in 1822, the year the Fell was enclosed. The people who lived there, tinkers, gypsies, pitmen and quarrymen, mostly occupied turf huts and on enclosure ninety of these were demolished, usually against the wishes of the owners.
The old Fell is quite unlike the town we are used to today. In February 1745, John Wesley, the famous Methodist leader, was travelling north to Tyneside when he lost his way in a snowstorm on the Fell. He later commented: 'Many a rough journey have I had before, but one like this I never had.' In 1770 Robert Hazlitt robbed a coach and postman near Beacon Lough. He was caught, tried and hanged at Durham and his body hung in
chains on a gibbet at the scene of the crime to deter other would-be highwaymen. Sixteen years later, a Francis Russell, one of the Gateshead-Fell gang' was whipped in Newcastle for his crimes.
However, after enclosure in 1822, civilisation came to the Fell. Drains and wells were laid and the area became a select residential suburb a striking contrast to a century before when in 1719 the cottages of the Fell paid an average rent of 9p per year, each. Large mansions, such as Heathfield, were built along Durham Road. The owner of Heathfield, a wealthy chemical manufacturer, was said to have kept bears in his garden
The social centre of this growing village was the New Cannon where concerts, dinners and meetings of all kinds were held. The owner Robert Clements, had been the proprietor of the Old Cannon on Sheriff's Highway but realised that the opening of the new turnpike would ruin his trade and so he built his new inn on the corner of Durham Road and what was then Buck, now Beaconsfield, Road. The 1880s were a decade of expansion with many more houses spreading out from Low Fell to Sheriff Hill, the Team Valley and Gateshead itself. Gateshead was expanding southwards in the Shipcote area but the rural views lasted until the Second World War. By this time, the residents were proud to live in Low Fell as opposed to Bensham or Teams and frequently omitted 'Gateshead' from their
addresses even though they lived outside the ancient boundaries of the Fell. Surprisingly, this attitude is still found today, but Low Fell has changed into a bustling suburb with many shops and very heavy traffic, a contrast to the peaceful days when children could play marbles on Durham Road in perfect safety.
Wrekenton, or Wreckington, was named by the Rev John Hodgson after the Roman road called the Wrekendyke which passed to the south of the village. As part of Gateshead Fell, the area was desolate and in 1822 Wrekenton consisted of a row of cottages, built in 1815-16, a large house and a public house. The area was inhabited by tinkers, pitmen and quarrymen. After the Fell was enclosed and divided in 1822, real growth began. A hiring of farmhands and other servants was held in March 1822, and subsequently every April and November. It was the only such gathering for several miles and was usually accompanied by sideshows, sports, roundabouts, clog-dancing and, of course, drinking.
Wrekenton grew rapidly during the years 1825-35 but the provision of public services did not keep pace with other developments. The roads were very poor, lawlessness was rife and standards of public health deteriorated badly. After several explosions at local mines the pitmen refused to
return to work with Davy lamps and were laid off. Many left and were replaced by tinkers and tramps, 'until the village became headquarters for all vagrants in the district, men, women children, with donkeys, pigs and dogs, all crowded in the same room, demoralisation, filth and crime abounded'. As a result of this, the slums Wrekenton were attacked by epidemics of typhus and cholera. These tramps and vagrants were blamed because of their insanitary habits and houses and about thirty families were driven out by the villagers.
Wrekenton remained virtually unchanged for many years. In fact, the slums and old houses were not demolished until 1938-40 when much of old village disappeared; Wrekenton Row and courts and lanes behind the Ship Inn. Today the village character is no more as hundreds of council owned dwellings surround the Old Durham Road.
Surprisingly, Carr Hill was once a small village, isolated from Gateshead and Felling. There were several industries here, windmills, brick, pottery and glass works accompanied by the inevitable public houses and, from 1856, a Methodist Chapel. By the turn of the century, the working-class houses had expanded to Carr Hill and a large council estate was built from 1921,so that the only
remaining traces are a stone terrace on Carr Hill Road and the cottages at the end of Elgin Road. The width of Carr Hill Road as it passes the site of the village suggests that there was once a village green.
"A Short History of Gateshead". © Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council, 1998