Saturday, 30 June 2018

Early Coal Mines

Adapted from the Northumberland County History: Earsdon and Horton.


The district surrounding Blyth possesses coal measures overlaid by boulder clay, and is a repetition of the northern portion of Tynemouthshire, to the south of this region.

Its surface is level and wind-swept, but, scenically uninteresting as it is, it forms a land well adapted for mining operations and the construction of the railways necessary for that industry. Underground, the coal seams, dipping seawards from their outcrops in the western portion of the district, are found on its eastern edge at comparatively moderate depths and are free from any serious faults or mining difficulties. Practically the whole of the seams of the North of England coalfield are met with.

Passing northwards from the Tyne, the character of the seams changes greatly, the house and gas coals of the Tyne area being replaced by the well known steam coal which forms the staple trade of the Blyth district.

To this difference in the nature of the coals the long interval separating the development of the Tyne and Blyth coalfields was due, domestic requirements affording the Tyne a widespread market many years before the introduction of steam power gave the northern district its long delayed opportunity for expansion.

The earliest record of mines in Cowpen is contained in the Tynemouth Chartulary, according to which the mines of Cowpen were held from the priory of Tynemouth by Robert, son of Alan of Cowpen, in the year 1315. [A great deal of the land at Cowpen had been granted to the various local religious organisations.] Salt pans in Cowpen were granted at the close of the twelfth century to the monks of Brinkburn. Tynemouth priory had salt pans in the same place in 1323;  and coal was, no doubt, worked in conjunction with them from upper seams lying at shallow depths near the river Blyth, on the north side of which, namely, in Bedlingtonshire, the abbey of Newminster also possessed salt pans and coal mines which they leased up to the time of the dissolution.

In 1535, the prior and convent of Tynemouth leased to Nicholas Mitford and John Preston [small landholders at Cowpen] one coal pit  with 2 picks [2 labourers]  to be wrought at the said pit in the fields of Bebside and Cowpen for seven years, and in 1538 to Richard Benson of Durham two salt pans, with the garners and housing thereto appertaining, situate on the river of Blyth in the lordship of Cowpen for forty-one years, together with half a coal pit  in the fields of Cowpen and Bebside, so long as the mine lasted, for the use of two salt pans, with wayleave and stayleave over the fields of Cowpen and Bebside.


After the dissolution of the monastery in 1539, the salt pans and coal pits were leased by the Crown to various individuals. In 1554 Thomas Bates took a lease of two salt pans and two coal pits which was renewed in 1574.  Another lease was granted in 1555 to John Preston of one coal mine with two  picks which was renewed in 1573 to Thomas Preston, his son. The lease included a covenant to serve the queen with horse and armour when required.


About this time the Percy family held property in Cowpen, formerly in possession of the Harbottles, and, in 1551, Dame Eleanor Percy leased three salt pans on the south side of the river at Cambois-ford, with coal mines for them, to Thomas Harbottle of Horton. These were subsequently leased by the Crown in 1576, after the attainder of the seventh earl of Northumberland, to Ralph Harbottle with wayleave and wood from the queen's woods for timbering the pits.


The produce of the mines seems at this period to have been almost wholly consumed in the manufacture of salt, for which the river gave an outlet to the various markets down the east coast, at Yarmouth, where it was used for herring curing, and in the Humber and elsewhere. Hartley was also a large salt-producing village at the time, shipping part of its output at Blyth. The works at Hartley were the property of Sir Robert Delaval, who, in 1576, extended his operations and became the tenant of the pans and mines at Blyth [in the vicinity of today's Commissioners Quay] formerly the property of Newminster abbey. These had been leased by the Crown after the dissolution to Richard Tyrrel of London in 1546, passing from his hands into those of Sir Thomas Grey in 1547 before they were assigned to Delaval.

[Saltworks are mentioned as early as 1201 and are located along the river for a distance opposite the mouth of the Sleekburn and Hodgson Road estate. Salt pans were used to boil and evaporate sea water leaving a deposit of salt. They were like a giant wok made of iron, although the earliest ones may have been made from lead. A structure was in place to hold the pan and contain the coal fire underneath and a shed to offer shelter. A building called a garner was used to store the salt prior to shipping. In 1736 a further six pans were constructed at Blyth by the Ridley family, having purchased them from the recently defunct Cullercoats works. Six cottages were constructed for workers so presumably a small labour force was involved in salt making. Wallace in "The History of Blyth" talking of salt manufacture in the 18th century writes "The labour in making salt was chiefly done by females. They pumped the water, wheeled the coals in barrows and shovelled the coals in firing the pans. Their wages were very small which the eked out by teasing oakem and pilfering small quantities of salt on which the duty that was levied made it of considerable value. In 1807 salt was selling for £34.10s,  £30 of which was duty. Saltworks were leased for a great deal more than a coal pit in the 16th century and previous to this time."]



The general system of leasing by the Crown appears to have consisted roughly in the allotment to each lessee of two salt pans with a coal pit, the coal lease being one of so many picks or men's work without any boundaries being set out. The lessees had the right to sink pits where they chose, with liberty of  wayleave and stayleave, the area worked by each pit being regulated by an old custom agreed upon by the farmers of the queen's coal mines, to the effect that every farmer's pitmark should be distant from one another twenty fathom sideways on each side of the pit to be sunk. These limits would include nearly one-and-a-half acres as the ground to be worked by each pit, though whether they were adhered to seems to be questionable, judging from an old plan of very little later date, from which it would appear that the shafts were irregularly placed and at smaller distances apart than those above mentioned.'


Towards the end of the sixteenth century the working of the Crown mines seems to have been almost altogether discontinued and the lessees ceased to pay rent, by reason, as it was alleged, of the 'decay of the coal mines.'


In 1595, however, a new departure was made, and in that year the Crown leased to Peter Delaval, a London merchant, already embarked in the coal trade at Preston, and Ambrose Dudley, the whole of its coal mines in the fields of Cowpen and Bebside, with nine salt pans. Opposition was made to Delaval and his partners, John Heighlord and Robert Waldo of London (the assigns of Dudley), by John Preston, a freeholder and owner of three salt pans in Cowpen, who asserted that he was the holder of a lease of two picks under the Crown, but failed to substantiate his claim in an action which he brought in 1596.


Delaval and his partners commenced to develop their property vigorously. They expended capital in sinking fresh pits and in erecting new salt pans and repairing the old ones. The pits at this period were
situated on land known as Cowpen East Field, then used as common land [each farmer being allotted strips in an open field on a periodic basis] and lately laid down from tillage under the system at that time in vogue. It may reasonably be assumed that the ground in question lay to the east of the present village of Cowpen adjoining the river, on the neighbouring banks of which it appears that four of the salt pans were placed, the remainder being probably nearer the sea.


The seam worked must have been that known locally as the  Moorland seam, which lies at a depth of about eight fathoms (48 feet) below the surface near Cowpen village, the cover increasing to about twenty fathoms in the vicinity of the Cowpen North pit. This is confirmed by the statement made in the record of the survey of the king's mines in 1621, to the effect that the pits formerly worked were eight or nine fathoms deep, the seam about seven quarters of bad quality being an open salt-pan coal. This seam produced a coarse class of coal, fitted only for salt making, and unsuited for the coasting trade in coal which was then chiefly situated on the Tyne. In 1609 the shipments of coal from Blyth amounted to only 855 tons, and it is evident that the trade of the port was then entirely dependent on the manufacture of salt, to which coal mining was subsidiary. [Tynemouth Priory was mining coal by the 14th century  on their land of Tynemouth, Preston, Chirton, Monkseaton and Earsdon where the Bensham seam outcrops. This was chiefly for landsale and salt pans which were established at Cullercoats, Hartley and Tynemouth. It was reported that a pit could be sunk to a depth of five fathoms (30 feet) in twelve days at a cost of £2.00.]


The Crown lessees encountered further opposition in their undertaking in 1599, owing to an attempt made by certain freeholders to work the coal underlying the strips, or riggs, of ground which had been held by them when the land had been in tillage. An action was consequently brought by Delaval and his partners against John Preston, Richard Preston and Cuthbert Watson, who had commenced working coal under 'riggs,' formerly occupied by themselves and other freeholders, carrying away the
produce of their pits over the Crown lands to salt pans owned by John Preston, and working the coal, as it was alleged, unskillfully and in such a way as to cause danger of water entering the mines of the queen's farmers (miners) and of the roof falling and destroying the mines. The freeholders alleged that the Crown had no right to work under their riggs except by composition with them. There is, however, no record to be found of the result of the controversy, though it seems probable that, with the exception of the Widdringtons, who had allowed the coal under their riggs to be worked by the Prestons, and whose rights were based on an alleged composition with the monastery of Tynemouth (subsequently safeguarded in the division of the lands of Cowpen in 1619), the freeholders failed to make good their claim.


Delaval was unfortunate in his ventures and failed before 1602. His partners did not continue to carry on the concern and assigned the lease to Thomas Harbottle of Horton-Stickley, who in turn appears to have handed it on to a company of capitalists from the Midlands, consisting of Sir John Ashburnham of Nottingham, Huntington Beaumont of Bilborough, near the same town, his brother-in-law Sir Henry Barkeley of Wymondham, Matthew Saunders of Shankton in Leicestershire, and Richard Paramore.


The Midland lessees seem to have been as unsuccessful as the Londoners, and were soon forced to rearrange affairs and to fall back again on London for further supplies. These were afforded by Edward Rotheram, alderman, Robert Bower and Robert Angell, merchants, of London, who were to receive 2,000 chalders of coal and the benefit of two salt pans yearly, Saunders and Paramore guaranteeing the expenditure of £2000 on the works in return for a third share of the Ashburnham, Barkeley and Beaumont interest. No better results followed the efforts of Saunders and Paramore, as, after spending 'great sums' on the salt pans and pits, they were compelled to cease operations and desert the works two years later. Their pits were situated both in Cowpen and Bebside and were connected with the river by means of wooden wagonways, apparently the earliest recorded instance of this means of conveyance, which did not come into general use in the district until considerably later on in the century. [No obvious traces of these pits now remain. But the 19th century OS mapping shows an old coal pit adjoining the river near the railway bridge.]

After Paramore and Saunders retired, their plant, both at Bebside and Cowpen, was appropriated by others. Edward Delaval of Bebside, made free with the rails set upon the land and ground of Bebside for five hundred paces on the wagonway on both sides of the way, while a similar length of way in Cowpen, together with the keels and other utensils and implements, was taken possession of by John White, Alexander Osborne and others, who entered upon the mines as farmers of the Ashburnham and Beaumont interest and occupied them for a further period of three years, when they finally ceased to be worked.


The history of the declining days of the local coal and salt industry at this period has been given in some detail as an instance of the readiness with which capital from London and the south was then generally secured in connection with north-country mines. Mining then no doubt, as it has done ever since, offered the prospect of large returns to the investor, on whom, in his ignorance of the uncertain and risky nature of the business, the much talked of successes of the few made a far deeper impression than the fate of less fortunate speculators.


William Gray, in his Chorographia published in 1649, reflects on the uncertainty of coal mining in the district and sums up his observations with the remark that colliery owning constitutes  a great charge, the profit uncertain. Neither did the south-country investor escape his attention, for he continues : "Some south gentlemen hath, upon great hope of benefit, come into this country to hazard their monies in coale-pits. Master Beaumont, a gentleman of great ingenuity and rare parts, adventured into our mines with his twenty thousand pounds; who brought with him many rare engines, not known then in these parts; as the art to bore with iron rods to try the deepness and thickness of the coal; rare engines to draw water out of the pits; waggons with one horse to carry down coals from the pits to the staithes to the river, etc. Within A few years he consumed all his money and rode home upon his light horse."


It is curious that, beyond the reference in the above well-known passage, no mention has hitherto been discovered of the doings of Beaumont in the district. That his appearance must have taken place early in the seventeenth century, or sooner, seems to be proved by the fact that the art of boring was known here as early as 1615. At that date it does not appear to have been very generally practised, mention being made in a letter written in that year by the earl of Northumberland's agent at Tynemouth of the difficulty he experienced in obtaining a borer, the only available one being in the employ of his competitors at Newcastle. The same document contains a note in the earl's handwriting with reference to boring, to the effect that "they try in Sussex for iron-mine much in the same fashion." It is evident therefore that the date at which Huntington Beaumont became one of the lessees at Cowpen corresponds with that of the probable introduction of boring into the north, and his identity with the celebrated individual of the same name seems to be further accentuated by the fact that wooden wagonways (the 'waggons with one horse to carry down coals from the pits to the staithes) were established at Cowpen and Bebside at a date which is evidently much in advance of their general introduction, a mention of wagonways in 1660 having hitherto been considered as the first distinct allusion to their use in the district.

That Huntington Beaumont was identical with Gray's unfortunate Beamont there seems to be no reason to doubt. The tradition that he gave his name to the Beaumont seam  may point to the probability of his having had mining interests elsewhere than at Cowpen, which may have accounted for a part of his supposed losses; but, on the other hand.

Gray, writing at a considerably later date, was evidently uncertain of the total, as in his corrected proofs he largely reduced the figure he had originally stated. In any case Beaumont appears to have exercised personal supervision at Cowpen, for he lived at Bebside hall, of which he is described in 1615 as having been lately the tenant with Dorothy Delaval and Edward Delaval. It was probably from that house that he set off on his 'light horse' for his home at Bilborough, a mining village near Nottingham, where he died at the age of 62 in 1623. He was a younger son of Nicholas Beaumont or Beamont, the owner of the Cole-Orton estate in Leicestershire, and, in his day, the largest coalowner in that county, as well as proprietor of an estate at Bedworth in Warwickshire on which coal was also worked. Huntington Beaumont must therefore have been brought up amongst surroundings which influenced his genius for mining. It is thought that, as his 'rare engines' practically all originated from Germany, he may have visited that country in his early days, but of this there is no record to be obtained. ( Beaumont also held a lease of coal in Bedlington in partnership with Sir Percival Willoughby, William Angell, Robert Angell, and Robert Bower. The two last named persons were likewise partners with Beaumont in the Cowpen mines.)



In the survey of the king's coal mines, made in 1621, it is mentioned with regard to Cowpen that  there are no coal pits wrought there, but notwithstanding this the Crown continued to let the coal, a lease of the mines, with four salt pans, being taken by David Errington in 1636 for twenty-one years. Errington did not make any use of his lease, and in the particulars taken by order of the Commonwealth commissioners for the sale of Crown lands in 1649, it is stated that the colliery and salt pans had been found to be a mere waste and unoccupied by Errington, who had paid no rent. The property was sold in 1650, though at the Restoration the sale was treated as invalid and the Crown resumed possession. In 1681 a lease was granted to William Urwyn for thirty-one years, a second in 1697 to Edward Hindmarsh of Little Benton for fifteen years, and a third in 1737 to Robert Douglas. A small yearly rent was reserved by these leases with the addition of one-tenth of the profits. No rent, however, was paid and no mining operations were ever undertaken.


The decay of the coal mines in the Blyth neighbourhood seems to have been general during the remainder of the seventeenth century. There is, however, some evidence of shipments having been made during this period, but the trade can only have been a very limited one, although it was of sufficient importance to procure the inclusion of Blyth, along with Newcastle and Sunderland, in an ordinance passed in 1643 prohibiting the export of coal from those ports during the Civil War.


As there is no further trace of coal having been mined at Cowpen until 1710, when Stephen Mitford appears to have been engaged in working on Mr. Sidney's [the main landholder of the western part of Cowpen] estate, it seems probable that the source from which these supplies were obtained were the small collieries which had already been established some five miles or more to the west of  Blyth in the neighbourhood of Plessey. These pits lay near to the outcrop of the lower seams, from which coal of a better quality than that hitherto found at Cowpen could be won at little depth, but, through the absence of proper means of transport, could not be carried readily to the seaboard.


Towards the close of the centurv attention seems to have been turned to these inland collieries and to Blyth as an outlet for their produce. From 1688 to 1692 was a highly speculative period in the city of London when, amongst many other joint stock companies, a 'Blyth Coal Company' was formed.

About this date the Plessey and Newsham estates were purchased by Ralph Brandling of Felling and Nathaniel Wyresdale of London, who, there is reason to believe, were acting as agents for a London company interested in securing Blyth as a convenient place for shipping the Plessey coal. Their scheme must, however, have fallen through, as not long afterwards the whole undertaking was made over to Colonel Thomas Radcliffe, who, in 1699, leased Plessey colliery to George Errington of Gray's Inn.


In 1709 Errington secured from Sir John Delaval a right of wayleave through his Horton estate for the purpose of leading coals to the river of Blyth or Blythe's Nook along the well known Plessey Wagonway, which had been constructed before his tenancy commenced, and was the means of establishing Blvth in a firm position as a coal-shipping port. The wagonwav was of the then usual wooden type, and is described in 1716 as extending over a distance of about five and a half miles, terminating in a 'large trunck or gallery to lay coals at the water side and to load ships from,' near which a quay and two salt pans had been established. The life of the wagonway was a long one, for it continued to be used as an outlet for the Plessey collieries until they were finally laid in upwards of 100 years after its formation.

Errington, in 1709, parted with his interest in the undertaking to William Bowman, a London merchant, who, with his partners, carried it on, though with such poor results that, by 1713, the control had virtually passed out of their hands into those of Lord Widdrington, already the owner of collieries at Stella and Winlaton. Operations at this time were on a very modest scale, the three small pits at work affording sufficient coal for the two salt-pans at Blyth and four others on the opposite side of the river, as well as 'ship coals' for the export trade; and, no doubt, the wagonway, with the new quay and 'trunck,' which had been built in 1715, was capable of dealing with larger quantities than the 300 tons of salt and 8,000 tons of coal which constituted the sea-borne trade of that year.


With the attainder of Lord Widdrington and Colonel Radcliffe's heirs in consequence of their share in the rising of 1715, the Plessey and Newsham estates passed to the Crown, and, in 1722, they were purchased by Richard Ridley and Company of Newcastle, who took over the working of the collieries themselves, and appear to have carried on their business with great spirit, the leadings from Plessey to Blyth amounting to about 58,000 tons in 1723.


Collieries had also been established at West Hartford about this date. The coal under this estate was purchased in 1689 by Robert Wright of Sedgefield and John Spearman of Hetton, in the county of Durham,' who in 1719 took a way leave lease over Horton from Admiral George Delaval, in which it was stipulated that they should  set apart and dowel out some convenient place on the south side of the river Blyth within the liberties of Newsham, wherein they have an estate for building staiths and wharves for the said West Hartford collieries, to be used by Admiral Delaval for the purpose of building a wharf.


Although no trace of Wright and Spearman's wagonway remains, there seems to be no reason to doubt that one was constructed and used by them for shipping coal from West Hartford, part of their plant having been bought by the Ridleys, who by 1728 had absorbed the West Hartford undertaking.


In 1730 Richard and Nicholas Ridley were carrying on an extensive business at Blyth as general merchants and colliery owners. They held command of the whole of the trade from the Plessey and Hartford collieries and had already extended the quay between the keel and boat docks, which had been built in 1715.

In 1734 the quantity of coal brought to Blyth from Plessey fell little short of 80,000 tons; of this about 2,700 tons were sent 'overseas,' the remainder being shipped coastwise, with the exception of that utilized in the manufacture of salt. The Ridleys had at this time fourteen salt pans at work, six of which had been transferred from Cullercoats in 1726, and their annual output of salt had reached 1,000 tons.'


Towards the close of the seventeenth century Bebside had again become a field for mining speculators, for in 1692 Thomas Ogle of Bedlington leased his land and collieries there to Sir Richard Neile of Plessey and John Pye of London, who covenanted not to cease working them for more than six months, 'unless hindered for want of wind to their mills and engines, or superfluity of water and styth, or a general obstruction of the coal trade.' The position of these pits is doubtful, but probably they were not far from the river, which was used by the lessees as a means of conveying the produce of the upper and poorer seams to Blyth. In 1702, Ogle sold Bebside to John Johnson, a Newcastle hostman, who presumably continued to work the mines, as, by his will made in 1727, he left his colliery at Bebside to his son-in-law, Matthew White of Blagdon, and his daughter, Mary Johnson, as tenants in common. Although mention is made of these mines at later dates, nothing is known of their subsequent working, and it may be surmised that, through lack of adequate means of transport and proper shipping facilities, they failed to make headway and so were discontinued.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

1317 Middleton Rebellion

Ruins of Mitford Castle

The Middletons of the much visited tourist attraction Belsay Hall and Castle fame were descended from Richard Middleton who was Chancellor to Henry III. His grandson Sir Gilbert Middleton took part in a rebellion against Edward II in 1317. This took place around the castles of Mitford and Horton, near Blyth. Middleton was eventually captured and executed, but not before he had caused havoc in what was one of the most notorious episodes in Northumberland's history. This is the story from the Northumberland County History:

"Gilbert de Middleton II was born on August 1st, 1279, and consequently attained the age of twenty-one in 1300. He was initiated into a soldiers life in August of that year, when he served in the kings army in Scotland as squire to his old guardian, Sir William de Felton. [Felton is on the A1 just North of Morpeth.] Nothing further is heard of him for thirteen years. He was then, in 1313, one of the captains of the garrison of Berwick-upon-Tweed, from which position he rose to be a warden of the marches, and was entrusted with the custody of Mitford castle by Aymar de Valence. [Earl of Pembroke, who had purchased the estate from the Crown. Mitford Castle is now very ruinous and difficult to access, but it was one of the first to be  built by the Normans in Northumberland and probably the first guarding the crossings of the River Wansbeck. Middleton was appointed Captain of the Castle.]

[The Wars of Scottish Independence between England and Scotland began in 1296 and initially the English were successful under the command of Edward I, having won victories at the Battle of Dunbar (1296) and at the Capture of Berwick (1296). The removal of John Balliol from the Scottish throne also contributed to the English success. The Scots had been victorious in defeating the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. This was countered, however, by Edward I's victory at the Battle of Falkirk (1298).[10] By 1304 Scotland had been conquered, but in 1306 Robert the Bruce seized the Scottish throne and the war was reopened. Edward II of England came to the throne in 1307 but was incapable of providing the determined leadership that had been shown by his father, Edward I, and the English position soon became more difficult. Stirling Castle was one of the most important castles that was held by the English as it commanded the route north into the Scottish Highlands. It was besieged in 1314 by Robert the Bruce's younger brother, Edward Bruce, and an agreement was made that if the castle was not relieved by mid-summer then it would be surrendered to the Scots. The defeat of the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in that year opened up the north of England to Scottish raids.]

The years that followed were the most disastrous that ever befell the northern border. Continual Scottish invasions forced the men of Tynedale and Redesdale from their allegiance to England.  Scarce a soul, in the words of a monkish chronicler, dared to live in Northumberland, unless it was near to some castle or walled town. For fifteen years the county remained desolate, without human life,  abandoned to beasts of prey. Adam de Swinburne, sheriff of Northumberland in 1317, ventured to inform his sovereign as to the state of the marches, and did not choose his words too carefully, but spoke to the point. Edward II laid him under arrest. So at least ran the tale told by Sir Thomas Gray of Wark.

Swinburne was a relation to Gilbert de Middleton on his mothers side, [Sir Arthur Middleton's detailed account 1918 of the rebellion disputes this relationship however] and the news of his arrest decided Middleton to break his fealty and to head revolt. He pledged himself to win Northumberland for the Scots. Perhaps he meditated reviving in his own person that semi-independent earldom of which memories still lingered. The Middletons and Swinburnes
accepted him as their leader; the Mauduits of Eshot, and many other of the smaller gentry of the county, discredited officials, condemned felons and Scottish adventurers, flocked to his standard. News of an act of rare audacity suddenly startled the kingdom, and came as the first intimation that insurrection had broken out.

Edward II had lately forced the convent of Durham to accept as bishop his wife's relation, the courtly Lewis de Beaumont.  He was of good birth, a St. Albans historian observed, but by no means well-read, and as is the case with so many Frenchmen, he was lame in both feet. If the Pope had seen him, he would never have made him bishop. Beaumont timed his first visit to his new see to coincide with the journey northwards of two Roman cardinals, Gauselin and Luca di San Flisco, who had been sent to England with legatine powers for the negotiation of a peace between Edward II and Robert Bruce. The presence of two papal legates was intended to enhance the splendour of the new bishops enthronement, which had been fixed for Sunday, September 4th, that being the great Durham festival commemorative of the Translation of St. Cuthbert. On Tuesday, August 31st, the bishop, with his brother, Henry de Beaumont, constable of Norham castle, and the two cardinals and all their train, reached Darlington, where they spent the night. There they received a message from Geoffrey de Burdon, prior of Durham, bidding them be on their guard against ambush; but the bishop and his brother made light of the possibility of attack, saying that the king of Scots dare not, and this was a trick on the part of the prior to interpose obstacles to the coming consecration. So early next morning, on Wednesday, September 1st, they set out along the road to Durham. They had reached a point near Rushyford, between Woodham and Ferryhill, and in half an hour Beaumont might expect to get his first view of the towers of his cathedral. Suddenly an armed band broke from a neighbouring wood, headed by Middleton and Walter de Selby [The township of Seghill had passed into the Selby family "by marriage or otherwise" sometime between 1221 and 1242. He received a knighthood in 1278. In 1304 Selby had married a Delaval and received the estate of Biddlestone in North Northumberland. It remains the family seat to this day. When the rising eventually failed Selby's lands were seized by the Crown and given to Monboucher of Horton, whos castle he had held by force for several weeks but were restored to Selby on Monboucher's death]. Their business was with the bishop and not with the cardinals, but some resistance was offered, and the whole company found themselves at the mercy of these freebooters. Bags and boxes were rifled. No personal violence was offered to the cardinals; they were allowed to continue their journey to Durham on foot, leaving horses and baggage in the hands of their captors; but Lewis de Beaumont and his brother Henry were carried off to Mitford castle and there held to ransom. The Translation of St. Cuthbert drew nearer, arrived, and passed; and the bishop-elect was still a prisoner; and the Italian cardinals poured their wrath over the loss of their property upon the prior of Durham.

All present thought of continuing the embassy into Scotland was abandoned;  the cardinals gloomily waited at Durham for the arrival of Thomas, earl of Lancaster, who was to escort them back to York, and in the interval pronounced their sentence of excommunication upon the robbers. With admirable effrontery, Middleton chose this occasion to come to Durham in order to have speech with Lancaster, entered the cathedral at the head
of his men, and there demanded absolution from the cardinals, whereby he further enraged them against the monks for suffering this indignity to be put upon them. Service was proceeding, and the monks kept their
eyes fixed religiously on the ground, and failed to see the intruders whom they dared not eject.

Edward II was then at Nottingham. He at once hurried to York, where, on September 8th, he held a council and issued orders for a general muster of forces, to be held on the 19th at that place and at Northallerton. Two days later he sent the Pope a full account of the outrage, informing him of the measures taken for the punishment of the malefactors. Prompt action was needed to restore popular confidence in the strength of the government, and on the 20th it was thought wise to issue a public proclamation to the effect that such action was being taken.

Prior Burdon was left with the ungrateful task of collecting so much of the cardinals property as could be recovered. He indeed found seven shillings in the dusty recesses of a little purse, and carefully forwarded them to York, but nothing else had been left that was of sufficient value to cover the cost of carriage.

Few as yet knew the name of the daring robber. He was generally rumoured to be John de Eure, formerly escheator [A sort of civil servant enquiring into the property of deceased subjects of the Crown] of the northern counties, and, on September 30th, William de Ridell, sheriff of Northumberland,
and Richard de Emeldon, mayor of Newcastle, were instructed to arrest and imprison Eure and his accomplices upon suspicion. But the name of Middleton soon became renowned. Riding at the head of his troops with banner displayed, burning and pillaging, he forced the unlucky people who came in his way to join his standard, or carried them off to Mitford castle, where he held them up for ransom. Others followed his example; Walter de Selby at Horton, and John Quoynt with his companions at Aydon hall, occupied positions from which they  ravaged the surrounding country; while John de Cleseby raised insurrection in Richmondshire, and Annandale in the west and
Cleveland in the south felt the ravages of Middleton and the bandits or shavaldores who owned his leadership.

By the payment of large sums in blackmail the county palatine of Durham obtained a costly peace, and a ransom suitable to his dignity released Bishop Beaumont from Mitford castle. Middleton neither lacked money nor supporters. Thomas, earl of Lancaster, who might have crushed the rebellion, preferred to connive at it, and commenced a private war in the West Riding against Earl Warrenne. The Scots threatened Berwick and Wark. Middleton attempted to gain Tynemouth. Bamburgh was in the custody of William de Felton, who had been guardian to Middleton and had trained him to arms.

Yet the loyalty of the Feltons remained undoubted. One of the kings first acts on the outbreak of rebellion had been to put John de Felton in charge of the young Henry de Percys castle of Alnwick. It was a serious blow to the royalist interest when, in the latter part of November, John de Middleton, brother of the rebel leader, succeeded in capturing Felton, and released him only upon his engaging to surrender Alnwick upon a certain date.

Before the day came, a bold stratagem had entirely changed the position of affairs. Middletons foster brother, the younger William de Felton, with Thomas de Heton, Robert de Horncliff and others, opened negotiations for ransoming the prisoners in Mitford castle. Part of the money had been paid, and in the third week of December Felton and his friends came to make their final reckoning. Middleton awaited them in the castle; his men had gone forth on a foray. The young men told him that they had secreted their money in the village and asked leave to go out and fetch it. Then, on reaching the castle gates, they turned on the warders, slew them, and gave admittance to a party of soldiers who were waiting outside. Middleton and his brother were surprised and overpowered, loaded with chains, and carried off to Newcastle, where the town rabble greeted them according to their kind.

A few days later Gilbert de Middleton was placed on a vessel in the port of Tyne. At first the wind prevented a passage over the bar, and in the interval, Middleton humbled himself in the priory church of Tynemouth, where he sought pardon for the wrongs he had done to St. Oswin and the monks. Then the wind shifted to the north. The ship set sail, but such a storm blew that the mariners put in at Grimsby, whence Middleton was brought on horseback to the Tower of London.

Walter de Selby still held out with a remnant at Horton Castle, in the parish of Blyth; otherwise the rebellion ended with the capture of its leader. On January 6th, 1318, commissions were issued for the arrest of rebels in Northumberland and Yorkshire. Two days later the Northumbrian commissioners were instructed to receive into the kings peace all those who rose in insurrection against him in the county of Northumberland and the neighbouring parts, and to receive all who, through want of victuals or by force or fear, were in insurrection and who wished to come into the kings grace.

No mercy could be shown to the man who had kidnapped a prince bishop and played Robin Hood with the Popes cardinals. It was January 21st when Middleton reached London. On Thursday the 26th he was brought before the king at Westminster to have sentence of death passed upon him. That same day he was dragged at horses tails to his execution; was hanged, drawn, and quartered. His head was set up in the city, and the poor remains of his body were exposed to view in Newcastle, York, Bristol, and Dover. His brother, John de Middleton, was likewise attained and met the same fate of hanging and drawing.

[Sir Arthur Middleton expands on the period after Sir Gilbert de Middleton's execution: "After Sir Gilbert's death some of his adherents, being still under the ban of the cardinals, and thus unable to obtain pardon, defended themselves as best they could. Trokelowe says that those who had not been captured at Mitford Castle fled to Walter de Selby, who lay hid in the peel of Horton, two-and-a-half miles south-west of Blyth. This he had seized from Sir Bertram Monboucher... It was a strong place, for it held out against the King's forces for ten weeks, causing the King's officers great expense; Here Selby defended himself, accompanied by Roger Mauduyt of Eshot, a place eight miles north of Morpeth, who had been an adherent of Sir Gilbert in the rebellion." The king made a proclamation that he was willing to make peace with the remaining rebels and that the would be pardoned. Horton Castle was surrendered but de Selby somehow escaped and allied himself with the Scots. He took control of Mitford Castle with Scots support and it was from here he accepted a ransom payment made to the Scots. He eventually surrendered sometime in May 1318 and was imprisoned in the Tower of London.]

 So, wrote a monastic chronicler,  ended a year that was barren of every crop but misery, when Northumberland, wasted by the Scots and reduced to poverty by its own outlaws, lay between the hammer and the anvil.

Ransoms and plunder had swelled Gilbert de Middletons personal estate to the large sum of £2,615 2s. 4d. Besides a toft and ten acres of land in Caldstrother, worth 5s. 4d., he held the manor of Briardean and the moiety of the village of Hartley.

Steamships at Blyth


A letter sent by Taylor Winship, who was effectively the managing director of Cowpen Colliery, on 24th May 1819, mentions a steam vessel being at work in Blyth harbour. The majority of the coal from Plessey and Cowpen collieries was shipped from the harbour to ports on the East coast of England and the low countries. CE Baldwin in "The History of the Port of Blyth" explains:

"As the coal was carried entirely in sailing vessels it was no unusual occurrence that considerable delay took place in getting them to sea when there was an unfavourable wind, and consequently the Cowpen owners tried the experiment of having a steam vessel for towing the vessels to sea. The experiment was a great success and 1st June 1819 must have been a great day in the history of the river. The following account from the "Blyth Monthly Gleaner" of that date gives a delightful account of the proceedings:
'Since our last there has been the greatest number of ships in Blyth Harbour that was ever known in the recollection of the oldest inhabtant. On the 8th ult there were 67 sail, 64 laden, two in dock and one in ballast. On account of the wind remaining sometime in the South, the laden vessels could not get to sea and several continuing to come in almost daily caused such a grand display on the above day. A dinner was liberally given by the owners of the Cowpen Colliery at Mr Bowes' to all the captains in the harbour, and the afternoon was spent in the most agreeable manner.
The owners of Cowpen Colliery, in endevouring to obviate the the inconvenience of vessels not being able to get out of Blyth in a Southerly wind resolved to make an experiment with a  steam boat belonging to Newcastle to tow ships to sea.
The boat arrived in the harbour between 7 and 8 in the morning of the 18th June 1819.
In the forenoon the Resolution captain T Hogg, coal laden, was towed as far as the outer beacon, to the great satisfaction of a number of spectators. A brig and a sloop both laden were towed to sea in the same style. The steamer then then returned to the quay, when a party of shipowners etc, went on board and spent the afternoon in great conviviality.'
A steam boat was purchased and the first sailing ships to be towed to sea were the 'Brilliant', 'G Bulmer', 'Master' and the 'Richard and Ann', Stephen Bergen, master being afterwards kept constantly in use."

In 1842 another experimental steamship was to be found on the river. The steamer 'Bedlington' was commissioned by Netherton Colliery at a cost of £4925 [about £500,000 in 2018] built by TD Marshall and Woodhouse at South Shields. It met the colliery wagonway at staiths near the mouth of the Sleekburn. It was a roll-on, roll-off vessel. No unloading of the coal wagons was necessary, a type of ferry rather than a collier boat. It was 277 tons gross and could travel at up to 7 knots on a coal consumption of eight-hundred weight per hour. The vessel was wrecked in 1846. Bedlington was followed by 'QED' , built by John Coutts of Walker. It had only a small engine and the owners were disappointed with the performance, eventually having the vessel converted to sail.

But higher powered steam vessels would soon become the norm.

Remains of Netherton Colliery Staiths at Mouth of Sleekburn


Thursday, 16 November 2017

Water Works

From the mid 19th century maps of South East Northumberland show small reservoirs dotted around the landscape, often near collieries, to supply this industry and the dependant population with water.




A reservoir still exists at Blyth although it no longer provides the water supply to the residents. It is now used by an angling club. It was from the 1850s, though, part of a water works. Adjoining the reservoir is the foundations of a building with rows of toilet cubicles inside. This probably dates from the 1970s when the site was used as a caravan park. The toilets were built within what were two disused cottages, presumably built  for the Water Works staff.

Suggestions have been made on social media that the reservoir was used to supply locomotives on the Blyth and Tyne line with water. There was a railway line here, but this was not the primary function. The rail line ran right to the engine house and was used to supply fuel and other supplies to the works. The engine was used to pump water from the water table into the reservoir and then pump the water to the users.

Wallace in his History of Blyth how the landowner constructed a water works following an act of Parliament in 1847 (Water Works Clauses Act).

"1854  Oct., extensive works for the purpose of giving the town a pure and plentiful supply of water, undertaken by Sir Matt. W. Ridley, were brought into successful operation, superseding the bringing of water to the town by carts, and the yet more primitive mode of females carrying water on their heads in skeels from the " far pit," — the almost universal practice 50 years ago. Nov., a meeting of rate-payers agreed to light the streets with gas."

Leases on dwellings often specify that water had to be obtained from Ridley's Water Works as part of the agreement.

By the late 19th century the piecemeal system of local government, sanitary authorities - outside of Government control and administered by volunteers -  and utility provision was no longer adequate. District Councils had come into existence by 1894 and sought to improve provision as this article illustrates:


Morpeth Herald 18 May 1895
South Blyth Water Works

"The South Blyth Council is engaged in consideration of one or two large undertakings at the present time. The general  sanitation of the district has been discussed at some length since the Council's formation; the question in regard to the main roads has been taken up; and the Council is advancing in the direction of making a new road to Newsham. These are all big items. But the Council now shows a disposition - as those who read the report at the last monthly meeting would perceive - to engage in a more important undertaking perhaps than any it has tackled, namely the purchase of the Water Works from which the South Blyth district derives its supply. The resolution was passed - that a committee make full inquiries into the matter - does not of course commit the Council to any definite line of policy; indeed it may be said that the motion was nothing but a formal one. Still the probability is that the idea will naturally develop, and the result will be that the South Blyth water supply will be in the hands of the local authority. There will of course be two sides to the question as to the town acquiring control of the water supply; but there can be no doubt that the advantage arising from such a proceeding is an obvious one - if possession can be obtained on fairly easy terms and it can be worked at a reasonable profit.

Blyth Water Works Location

The Local Supply

Unquestionably there is no more important matter for any local authority than the means of supplying the district under its charge with an adequate supply of pure water. It is the essential part of their work, for although a district may go without artificial light for a pretty lengthy period - we have heard of places being in this predicament - it cannot do without water. The full importance of the matter is recognised by the South Blyth, the Cowpen and the Bedlington Urban District councils. The Cowpen councillors have discussed at some length the water question - it has always been a serious one with them - and on Thursday week they had an interview with an engineer in reference to the laying of of the proposed line of pipes from Healey Wood to Bebside. The details of the extensions were considerably elucidated by the interview, and further explanations will given later when the Council and the engineer will meet together at the Water Works. The Bedlington council is evidently not troubled by the apprehension of its water supply running short just at the present time, for negotiations are being made to supply the NER Company with twenty million gallons for their works at North Blyth."


OS 1897

OS 1978

By the time of the 1961 Ordnance Survey mapping the Water Works was no longer in use. The 1978 map shows a camp site.


An interesting case held at Tynemouth Petty Sessions, in the development of water supply, was reported in the Morpeth  Herald 5th April 1884. The local sanitary authority were suing seven pitmen from Burradon Colliery for non-payment of rates.

The pitmen had previously agitated for a water supply to be brought to Burradon instead of relying on the colliery's supply. The reasons for this is not stated. The pitmen were found not to be liable for payment as the Water Works Clauses Act of 1847 stated that occupiers were not the ratepayers. The pitmen were tenants of the Colliery.

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