Blyth and Bedlington

The River Blyth

The town and port of Blyth takes its name from the river upon which it stands. Blyth means ‘merry’ or ‘gentle’ and this river rises near Kirkheaton about 27 miles to the west of the town. Near Belsay Hall the river is joined from the south by the Belsay Burn and then passes close to the village of Ogle and then continues through the grounds of Kirkley Hall. From there a couple of miles east it is joined from the south east by the River Pont which gives its name to the village and town of Ponteland to the south.

Mouth of the Blyth.
Mouth of the River Blyth. Photo © David Simpson 2018

The River Blyth then passes through much wooded scenery with Blagdon Hall to its south and the village of Stannington to its north. East of here, the picturesque wooded valley as far as Plessey Woods is called Stannington Vale. From Plessey Woods where the river begins to meander it passes Hartford Hall and then runs through Humford Country Park near Bedlington before skirting the outskirts of Bedlington itself. Finally it passes beneath the A189 to enter the town and port of Blyth where it meets the sea.

The town and port of Blyth

In medieval times the original village of Blyth was called Blyth Snook. A ‘snook’ is a kind of peninsula and although a glance at a map today would lead the observer to assume that the ‘snook’ referred to is the long spit of land on the north side of the river, the name in fact referred to a peninsula on the south side of the river which no longer exists today. The snook was formed by a creek called the Blyth Gut that once joined the River Blyth on its south side but this was filled in during the latter half of the 19th century. The course of the gut more or less ran along what is now Blyth’s Union Street.

East of this creek was the little settlement of Blyth Snook with the river and sea estuary forming the eastern side of the snook. So, early Blyth was an almost isolated spot concentrated in the present quayside area. The town centre of today and the nearby market place came later and are to the west of Union Street where the Blyth Gut once flowed.

St Cuthbert’s church, Blyth. Photo © David Simpson 2018

There was an ancient camp of some kind at Blyth, perhaps Roman, with the Blyth parish church of St Cuthbert in Wellington Street standing on the approximate site of its south east corner.  The church itself dates from the 1880s and was built on the site of a chapel of ease erected by the Ridley family of Blagdon in 1751. Before that time Blyth was part of the parish of Earsdon near Whitley Bay.

A plaque on the wall of the neighbouring church hall commemorates one of Blyth’s notable figures, the local blacksmith and strong arm, William Carr (1756-1825) who was known as the ‘Blyth Samson’. He was 6 feet 4 inches at the age of 30 and weighed 24 stones. There were many stories concerning feats of strength and endurance that were associated with him. He once carried a 10 cwt anchor from a ship to his father’s blacksmith’s shop (one cwt is 112 pounds in Britain). He is also known to have leapt over a five bar gate with an eight stone woman in his arms.

An early mention of industry at the ‘Snook of Blythmuth’ or ‘Blyth-Mouth’ came in 1208 and refers to the agreement of a partition of Blyth and neighbouring Newsham between Gilbert Delaval and Adam De Newsham in which Delaval reserved the salt pans and fishery. In medieval times salt making also took place just over the river in the Cambois area.

Until the 1830s the Bishops of Durham held jurisdiction over both sides of the River Blyth between the high and low water marks claiming rights of “anchorage, beaconage, plankage, wharfage” as well as wrights to the wrecks of the sea, by virtue of their ownership of the district of Bedlingtonshire over on the north side of the river. In medieval times the rights of the Prince Bishops there were the same as those of the king in other parts of the realm.

Staiths at Blyth.
Staiths at Blyth. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Coal was being shipped from Blyth as early as the fourteenth century but the early port did not always prosper and often suffered at the hands of Scottish raids (and probably freebooting Northumbrian raiders too). Due to such raiding the place was described as unoccupied by 1383. There was some revival later it seems and Blyth was back in business sometime before 1423 though it still remained a relatively small port.

In the 1500s Blyth Snook belonged to the Cramlington family with a record of a Thomas Cramlington of Newsham bequeathing the ‘town’ of Blyth Snook to his son who was called Lamwell Cramlington.

Lamwell was subsequently succeeded by Lancelot Cramlington whose sister Phyllis Ogle occupied the manor house at nearby Newsham to the south. Blyth was purely a fishing settlement in the 1500s but this fishing industry was almost extinct by 1601. It saw a slight revival in the 1620s but it was not as important for fishing as Hartley to the south or Newbiggin to the north.

A customs house was in operation at Blyth some time before 1673  so there must have been trade of some significance. By the early 1700s Blyth Snook came to be referred to as ‘South Blyth’ to distinguish it from the tiny ‘North Blyth’ or ‘Blyth Pans’ near Cambois across the other side of the river. Blyth was still referred to as South Blyth well into the nineteenth century.

It was in the late 1600s that Blyth’s fortunes as a town really began to prosper and were increasingly linked with coal. Coal mines had been opened around Plessey as early as 1663 but it was not until around 1709 that the Plessey wagonway, a wooden railroad, was built. It linked coal mines at Plessey and nearby Hartford – both in the Blyth valley – to the port of Blyth using horse-drawn chaldrons that transported the coal to that port. The course of this old wagonway can still be traced in places.

From the 1700s under the influence of the White Ridley family of Blagdon the business of the port of Blyth really started to take off. In 1722 the Ridley estate took over the Plessey and Hartford pits, built staiths at Blyth, enlarged the quays and re-started the salt industry. Furthermore, a famous iron works was established in the Bedington and Bebside areas by William Thomlinson to the west of Blyth in 1736.

Blyth High Light.
Blyth High Light. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Under White Ridley’s influence harbour improvements were made at Blyth and in the 1760s a lighthouse was built in 1788 – the Blyth ‘High light’, which can still be seen today. There was a rapid increase in shipping and a rope making industry developed.

Today, an alleyway road that runs between Rosmanund Place northward to the south end of Forster Street follows the course of an old rope walk along which fibres were once stretched and twisted to make rope. Even shipbuilding was established at Blyth in the 1780s and 1790s with early shipbuilders being Edmund Hanney and Mark Watson.

By the 1780s the town of Blyth had also begun to expand west of the Blyth Gut (Union Street) with one of the earlier streets in this area being Keelmens Row on the west side of what is now Regent Street. Industry would also expand westwards with the construction of Cowpen Quay and in 1794 the opening of Cowpen Colliery nearby.

The actual place called Cowpen (first mentioned in the 1170s) was later absorbed by Blyth. It was slightly along the river to the west of these developments. The name comes from ‘coopen’ meaning “place at the coops”. Coops were baskets used for catching fish that were placed in tidal creeks.

Blyth beach and harbour.
Blyth beach looking towards the Blyth harbour. Photo © David Simpson 2018

In around 1813 the Plessey coal mines were closed and the Cowpen Colliery became the main focus for mining and supplying coal to the port of Blyth. A dry dock for the repair of ships opened in 1811 and in the 1820s a visiting historian proclaimed that this dry dock was “the greatest boast of the place” and “one of the best formed docks in the kingdom.” At around that time Blyth was the home to 1,805 people and 443 houses.

Harbour improvements were made in the 1850s following the Blyth and Harbour Dock Act of 1854 with Matthew White Ridley as the chairman of the company responsible for the improvements. However, the harbour still didn’t meet expected standards and was too shallow. With the setting up of the Blyth Port Commissioners in the 1880s a pier was built and extensive dredging carried out that proved a tremendous boost to Blyth’s shipping trade.

At around that time Blyth was described as “a considerable village and seaport” with “a safe and commodious harbour” and it was estimated that the coal shipped here from the collieries of Cowpen, Newsham, North Seaton, and Cambois exceeded 200,000 tons yearly.

During World War One Blyth was noted, despite its small size, for its shipbuilding, when the port had the distinction in 1914 of building the world’s first aircraft carrier. This was the Ark Royal, a ship designed to accommodate the biplanes of that age. It served during the Gallipoli campaign in 1915 when the on board planes carried out reconnaissance missions.

A Blyth-built ship of note from the sailing ship era of earlier times that really must be mentioned was The Williams in which on February 19, 1819, its Blyth-born Captain William Smith (1790-1847) made the first ever sighting of land in Antarctica – New South Shetland. The discovery was made while sailing south to avoid a storm near Cape Horn on a merchant trading journey. He later returned to Antarctica to charter the continent but was never credited for his discovery.

A project is currently underway in Blyth called Blyth Tall Ship, to recreate this expedition using a local crew on the anniversary of the expedition in 2020. One of the first stages has been the restoration of a similar ship to The Williams, a Danish-built Baltic trader ship of 1914 that will be used in the expedition. It has been restored at around the same spot in Blyth at which The Williams was built. Young local engineering and technology talent is being employed in this development.  One of the project’s aims is “to provide hope for an entire community emerging from difficult times”.

Blyth Tall Ship
Blyth Tall Ship. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Blyth has certainly seen a change in fortunes over the last half a century or so. The port was shipping around 6 million tonnes of coal per year in the early 1960s but the later part of the decade proved to be a particularly difficult era for Blyth.

Blyth’s last shipyard, owned by the Blyth Shipbuilding Company, closed in 1966 and the closure of railways and mines serving the Blyth area had a huge impact on the port.

A number of local collieries closed in and around the Blyth area during that  decade: North Seaton Colliery in 1961, Bebside’s Horton Grange Colliery in 1962, the Isabella Pit and Mill Pits (of the former Cowpen Colliery) closed respectively in 1966 and 1968 and that year also saw the closure of Cambois Colliery. Blyth’s last remaining pit, Bates Colliery, closed in 1986.

For the actual port of Blyth, there have been challenges too. Constant changes in the market and industrial demands meant that Blyth has had to continuously adapt and evolve. In more recent times the port has focused on the paper import trade and more lately container handling and plywood as well as serving as a base for the offshore oil and gas industry.

In 1958 the first part of Blyth Power Station (Station A) was built across the river at Cambois followed by a second adjacent power station, (power station B) in 1962 and for a time the power station complex with its four chimneys was a major landmark in the town.

Spirit of the Staithes, Blyth.
Spirit of the Staithes, Blyth. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Although Blyth Power station closed in 2002 and its distinctive chimneys demolished, the town has since come to be closely associated with renewable energy. The Blyth Harbour Wind Farm and Blyth Offshore Wind Farm respectively opened in 1992 and 2000 and the headquarters of the National Renewable Energy Centre was established at Blyth in 2002.

Like many places that suffered economic decline Blyth has seen some interesting regeneration projects. At Blyth these have included the creation of the Keel Row Shopping Centre in 1991 and the redevelopment of the Market Place in 2009. The second of these developments saw the installation of a public art sculpture called Hyperscope by Simon Watkinson – inspired by a child’s toy periscope looking to the future but also with echoes of the pit shafts and the underground work of the miners.

Blyth’s town park, given to the town by Viscount Ridley back in 1904 underwent regeneration in 2005 and a major clean up of Blyth’s quayside culminated in the installation of the ‘Spirit of the Staithes’ public art work created by Simon Packard and inspired by the coal exporting history of Blyth. It was opened by Princess Anne in 2003. The original famous Blyth coal staiths that featured in the final scene of the 1971 film Get Carter over on the other side of the river at Cambois was partly destroyed in a fire in the 1980s.

The entrance to river mouth and harbour of Blyth is to the south east along the quayside and is marked by two piers. Nearby is a small marina used by the Royal Northumberland Yacht Club. Near here, the beautiful Blyth beach commences forming a nature reserve stretching south to the mouth of the Seaton Burn at Seaton Sluice. This is one of two beaches near Blyth. To the north of the River Blyth, a second beach stretches two miles along the Cambois shoreline to the mouth of the River Wansbeck near North Seaton in Ashington.

River Blyth near Bedlington.
River Blyth near Bedlington. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Bedlingtonshire

Bedlington has an Anglo-Saxon name which is thought to be a derivative of the name Bede, though probably not the Venerable Bede. For centuries, beginning in the late Saxon era Bedlington formed part of Durham. The land stretching from the River Blyth northwards to the River Wansbeck was historically called Bedlingtonshire and until 1844 formed part of the County Palatine of Durham. For many centuries this area was part of the territory of the Prince Bishops of Durham.

Bedlington was not alone in this unusual status. To the north were larger districts called Norhamshire (on the Tweed) and Islandshire. The second of these included Lindisfarne with the neighbouring coastal areas opposite the island also belonging to Durham. Collectively the three outlying exclaves of Durham called  Bedlingtonshire, Norhamshire and Islandshire were known as ‘North Durham’. In North Yorkshire a district called Craykshire was also part of Durham and Allertonshire near Northallerton and Howdenshire near Hull had a similar status though these last two were not directly part of the Palatinate.

Bedlingtonshire
Old farmhouse, near Bedlington. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Bedlington was the capital of Bedlingtonshire which had been created because of an association with St Cuthbert. It had been purchased by Bishop Cutheard, who was the second of the Bishops of Lindisfarne to be based at Chester-le-Street where the guardians of St Cuthbert’s coffin had been granted land following their escape from the Viking raids.

Cutheard was bishop at Chester-le-Street from 900AD to around 915 AD. Later, from 995 AD the bishops were based at Durham but Bedlingtonshire continued to be one of their territories. When Durham was invaded by William the Conqueror in the years after the Norman Conquest, the monks carrying St Cuthbert’s remains rested at Bedlington for the night before heading north to seek shelter at Lindisfarne.

The district of Bedlingtonshire covered approximately 30 square miles and stretched from the sea at Cambois westward. It included all the land between the Blyth and Wansbeck rivers almost as far west as Hepscott near Morpeth.

Bedlington from the churchyard.
Bedlington from St Cuthbert’s churchyard. Photo © David Simpson 2018

In 1183, the Boldon Book, which was Durham’s equivalent of the Domesday Book included entries for Bedlington, Cambois, Choppington, Nedderton, East Sleekburn and West Sleekburn which were all part of Bedlingtonshire.

From about the reign of Richard II farmers in Bedlingtonshire had to donate ‘a thrave of corn’ to the hospital of St Giles in Durham for the relief of pilgrims, though this was later changed to a payment of 9 shillings which was paid fifteen days after the feast of St Michael.

Salt making was important in Bedlingtonshire and from around the 1630s coal mining was becoming a significant industry in the area with iron making a significant contribution from the 1700s. It was not until the nineteenth century that railways and coal mining brought about the significant urban development of many of the places in the Bedlingtonshire area that are familiar today.

Cambois
Cambois on the old Bedlingtonshire coast.Photo © David Simpson 2018

The least urbanised areas of Bedlingtonshire are those around Nedderton and towards Hepscott near the western end of the old shire. Nedderton which also occurs in old records as Netherton and Nedirton featured in the Boldon Book of 1183 and still retains a rural appearance despite some modern housing. Netherton Colliery was situated about a mile to the north east of here near Bedlington and operated from 1828 to 1974.  To the south of Nedderton are the beautiful woodlands of Plessey Woods Country Park stretching southward to the banks of the River Blyth.

North of Nedderton near the outskirts of Morpeth is Hepscott which was historically near the western border of Bedlingtonshire but lay just outside its jurisdiction. It is situated on the Hepscott Burn, an upper part of the Willow Burn which becomes the Sleekburn.

Hepscott is an Anglo-Saxon name and is thought to come from Hebbi’s Cott probably meaning the animal shelter belonging to someone called Hebbi. In the thirteenth century the manor of Hepscott belonged to Sir Hugh Gubion (or Gubeon) who was a Sheriff of Northumberland in the 1290s.

Bedlington

For centuries the area known as Bedlingtonshire was administered separately from the rest of Northumberland and had its own justices, sheriffs and coroner who were based at Bedlington itself. Some of these privileges were removed by Henry VIII but Bedlingtonshire remained part of Durham save for a short interlude during the time of the Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell.

Market Cross, Bedlington
Market Cross, Bedlington Photo © David Simpson 2018

A bishop’s court and bishop’s hall, a millpond and a mill are features described at Bedlington in the Boldon Book of 1183. A church dedicated to St Cuthbert existed at Bedlington from around 1089 on the probable site of an earlier Saxon church but nothing remains of either. A Saxon cross shaft was however found in 1818 along with some grave covers.

In 1242 the church was appropriated by Nicholas Farnham, the Bishop of Durham to the priory of Durham to raise revenue for the rebuilding of parts of the Durham Cathedral priory. In the eighteenth century the church at Bedlington was replaced by a new one but today the present church of St Cuthbert in Bedlington’s Church Lane is entirely of the nineteenth century.

Bedlington church.
Bedlington church. Photo © David Simpson 2018

One curious story about Bedlington church concerns a somnambulist (a sleep walker) called Cuthbert Watson who on February 14, 1669 climbed a buttress of the church in the middle of the night. A passerby who spotted him called out his name which woke him up and he instantly fell to his death.

A stone slab within the church wall near the west window is inscribed with the words ‘WATSONS WAKE 1669’ and commemorates his unfortunate fall. Somewhere in the churchyard there is, or was, supposedly a monument to a man who clearly wanted to be remembered with a touch of humour and little fuss. It was apparently inscribed:

“Poems and epitaphs are but stuff.

Here lies Robert Barras, that’s enough”.

Although Bedlington’s history in recent centuries was dominated by mining and iron working you can still get a sense of the old village of Bedlington along the main street. There are some older houses in the area between the church and war memorial notably the old market cross obelisk which was erected on its present site in 1782. Sadly, Bedlington’s Old hall and part of an attached medieval pele tower which stood near the Kings Arms (‘Grapes’) pub was demolished in the late 1950s.

During the nineteenth century Bedlington expanded as a mining village. The Bedlington Colliery itself was established in 1838 and operated until 1961. Its mines included the Doctor Pit located near the old part of Bedlington Village to the west along with the A Pit near Bedlington Station and the Bomarsund Pit which worked to the north from 1905 to 1965.

Attlee Park, Bedlington.
Attlee Park, Bedlington.Photo © David Simpson 2018

The River Blyth which borders the southern outskirts of Bedlington plays host to the Bedlington Country Park with its pleasant neighbouring woodland. Part of the park is called Attlee Park where a field was for many years the venue for the Northumberland Miners’ Picnic, the big annual event and outing in the calendar of the Northumberland miners, which features brass bands and pit banners. It is now held at Woodhorn. The park is named after the Labour party leader Clement Attlee who was the Prime Minister from 1945 to 1951.

Bedlington Iron Works

For many years Bedlington was noted for its iron works which were famed throughout the land. They were situated near the River Blyth in the wooded Blyth Dene just to the south east of the village near the stone bridge called Furnace Bridge and were also found on the south (Bebside) side of the river near Blyth.

The works were established in 1736 by a Cumberland man called William Thomlinson who built dams on the river for the mills that powered the works. However, Thomlinson died in 1737. His company continued to operate the works but they were put up for sale and bought at auction by Mailings of Sunderland in 1757.

After some years the works were subsequently bought, in 1782, by William Hawks of Gateshead along with his brother-in-law, Thomas Longridge. The firm was sold to Gordon and Bidulph of London in 1809 but Michael Longridge, a nephew of Thomas became the manager and under his direction the works became an exceptionally successful enterprise.

Initially the works were particularly noted for their nail-making and an old song proclaimed:

“Hartley Pans for sailors, Bedlington for Nailers”

The works soon branched out into anchors, hoops and chains for the local maritime and shipbuilding trade. The engineer, George Stephenson of nearby Killingworth was a regular visitor and in 1814 many parts such as boiler plates, axles and wheels were built at the works for Stephenson’s earliest locomotives including Blucher. Longridge was also notable for having an interest in the welfare of his workers, building a school and establishing a sickness fund.

In 1819 John Birkenshaw, the agent at the Bedlington works invented malleable iron rails, which was a most revolutionary moment in the entire history of railways as it meant that quality railway lines could now be mass produced. The first railway line of this kind was built in that year and linked the Bedlington works to a coal mine at Choppington two miles away.

The new system of making railways was patented in 1820 and orders followed from the Stephensons. In 1823 Longridge went into partnership with the Stephensons and Edward Pease of Darlington in establishing the Forth Street locomotive works in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Bedlington
Bedlington. Photo © David Simpson 2018

By 1836 Longridge opened his own locomotive works at Bedlington. His first locomotive was called Michael Longridge and was built for the Stanhope and Tyne Railway. A statement of confidence and ambition it was also an excellent marketing strategy as no one could be in any doubt about who had built this locomotive.

The Bedlington works would eventually cease making locomotives in 1852 but during the short period in which it operated it produced locomotives across Europe and Asia including the first ever locomotive in Italy, called the Bayard which was built at Bedlington in 1839 and also in that year the first locomotive to operate a passenger service in Holland called  De Azend.

These aren’t the only ‘claims to fame’ for the Bedlington iron Works that were made during this era. Another interesting and unexpected fact is that, in 1840, the first ever recorded use of the Penny Black postage stamp was on a letter sent to the works.

Facing fierce competition and a fall in orders the iron works closed at Bedlington in 1855 but was reopened again in 1861 by Capper, Mounsey and Dixon in what proved to be tragic circumstances. A visiting party to the works in January of that year included Mrs Mouncey, the wife of the proprietor along with several children. During the visit Mrs Mouncey’s shawl came to be trapped in a huge circular saw and her life was taken in barely imaginable circumstances. The firm ceased trading in 1865 and although the works were briefly taken over by the Bedlington Coal Company it closed for all time in 1867.

Bedlington was the birthplace of Sir Daniel Gooch (1816-1889), a noted railway engineer who went on to make his name outside the region. He was the son of Bedlington iron founder, John Gooch and Anna Longridge. The family moved to South Wales while Gooch was still a boy. As an engineer Gooch would later return to the region for a short time, working for Robert Stephenson in Newcastle and while here met his future wife, who was the daughter of a Sunderland shipowner. Gooch later went on to work for Isambard Kingdom Brunel and he would become the first Superintendent of the Great Western Railway as well as a pioneer of transatlantic telegraph cables.

The Bedlington Terrier

Bedlington is of course noted for giving its name to that famous breed of dog, the Bedlington Terrier which was perhaps originally bred by the miners of the area to hunt vermin in the mines. The name Bedlington Terrier came into use around 1825.

Bedlington Terrier
Bedlington Terrier

Originally the breed seems to have been called the Rothbury Terrier from another Northumberland town but it was at Bedlington that it first came into being.

The breeding was begun in 1816-1818 by Joseph Ainsley at Bedlington after he purchased and crossed a dog belonging to a Mr Coxon of Rothbury with a dog belonging to a Mr Dixon of Longhorsley. An Edward Coates, also of Bedlington, continued the development of the breed in the 1820s with further crossings and it was from his experimentation that we get the current Bedlington Terrier.

Bedlington Terriers are closely related to Otterhounds and whippets and are a small dog with a distinct shaggy coat taht gives them a distinctly lamb-like appearance. ‘Rothbury’s Lamb’ was once an alternative name for the breed.

Cambois

The villages and little towns of the Bedlingtonshire area between the Blyth and Wansbeck developed as mining or industrial settlements in the nineteenth century, though several of these places have earlier roots.

Cambois
Cambois is a Celtic name. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Cambois is situated along the coast opposite the town and port of Blyth with which it is strongly associated and is fact pronounced ‘Cammus’.

Cambois is an ancient Celtic name that means ‘bay’ and is related to the Irish word ‘camus’ actually meaning ‘bay’ that has a counterpart in the name of Cemaes Bay in Anglesey, North Wales.

In 1183, the Boldon Book, Durham’s version of the Domesday Book assessed the revenue to be returned by ‘Camboiis’ as 4 marks, 2 shillings and 8 pence and the people of the village were expected to carry loads and other services similar to those expected of West Sleekburn.

The book also records that the fishery of Cambois was leased out to an Adam of Cambois for 3 shillings a year. In the 1300s a family called Cambhouse perhaps descended from this Adam took their name from Cambois and lived in this place. However, Cambois was never a place of any significant size like Blyth. In the 1820s it was described as the home to 16 dwellings.

Cambois beach looking south towards Blyth
Cambois beach looking south towards Blyth. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Cambois, along with nearby North Blyth was once noted for its huge salt making pans in medieval times. Here were once salt pans stretching from the mouth of the nearby Sleekburn to the mouth of the Blyth. In existence before 1138, they were worked by the monks of Newminster Abbey (near Morpeth) who paid rent to the Bishop of Durham for operating them here.

Salt was exported to the ports of London, Hull and Yarmouth from here and there was a fishery too. There was a granary on the north bank of the Blyth belonging to Newminster showing that corn was exported from here.

Cambois beach and Wansbeck river.
Cambois beach and the mouth of the River Wansbeck. Photo © David Simpson 2018

The beautiful Cambois Beach stretches from the mouth of the River Blyth north to the mouth of the River Wansbeck with the old village of Cambois near the northern end where there a handful of houses including Cambois Farm which is now a bar and restaurant. To the north near the mouth of the Wansbeck is the Cambois Boat Club and a place with the exotic name of Boca Chica. On sunny days the beautiful beach almost lives up to the expectations you might have from such a name.

The Sleekburn

Sleekburn is the name of the creek that joins the River Blyth from the north west between Cambois and Bedlington. In old records such as the Boldon Book its name is given as ‘Sleckburn’ and this means ‘muddy stream’ having the same meaning as the slake or ‘slack’ at Jarrow. Two villages or farming and fishing communities developed alongside this creek called East Sleekburn (or Little Sleekburn) and West Sleekburn (or Great Sleekburn) and both places were recorded in the Boldon Book of 1183.

East Sleekburn is a little village with a rural feel about, with some modern houses and farms. Further along the burn to the west is the original West Sleekburn. It is situated close to Sleekburn Water Trout Fishery lake near Bomarsund. It should not be confused with the present West Sleekburn, a former colliery village further to the north near the Wansbeck.

Then there is further confusion because the eastern parts of Bedlington called Bedlington Station also seem to have been known for a time as Sleekburn. This area of Bedlington was home to a railway station from 1850 to 1964.

West Sleekburn and Stakeford

West Sleekburn Colliery (1859-1962) was situated about a mile to the north of the old West Sleekburn where West Sleekburn Industrial Estate is now located. The present day village of West Sleekburn which adopted its name from the colliery is actually situated near the River Wansbeck rather than the Sleek Burn.

To the west is Stakeford, also on the Wansbeck and named from the staked ford – a ford marked out by stakes across the Weansbeck. The ford was just downstream from the present A196 road bridge that links Stakeford to Ashington.

On nineteenth century maps the river splits into two parts here with a large island of mud in between where stakes marked out the continuous course of the ford. The area over on the immediate north side of the ford on the Ashington Bank used to be called Pity Me and was one of several places of that name throughout the North East. Perhaps this one reflected the feelings of travellers crossing the muddy ford.

Bomarsund

The Bomarsund coal mine, which opened in 1905, was located between Stakeford and Bedlington and was part of Bedlington Colliery, but there was already a small row of houses called Bomarsund here before this time. The first houses here called Bomarsund went back to the mid nineteenth century and were likely associated with the earlier ‘Hannah Pit’ mine of Barrington Colliery which was located in this area.

Bomarsund.
Bomarsund. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Bomarsund was named from the Crimean war ‘Battle of Bomarsund’ of 1854 in which a Russian fortress of that name was destroyed by the French and British who invaded it and blew it up.

The fortress was situated on Aland Island, a part of Finland. It was not unusual for farm houses or stand-alone houses or rows to be named after military victories if the houses were being built at around the time of these events. It was probably considered good luck. It is likely that the first row of cottages at Bomarsund near Bedlington was established during or shortly after 1854. The Bomarsund mine closed in 1965.

Guide Post and Sheepwash

To the west of Stakeford is the village of Guide Post which was historically situated on a crossroads (now a roundabout) where  there was once presumably a sign post directing weary travellers. An enquiring visitor in the 1870s could offer no better explanation stating the Guide Place was so called: “…we suppose from once being the site of a large finger post pointing out with its four wooden arms…” At that time it was perhaps known as ‘Choppington Guide Post’.

From Guide Post the road (A1068) north east from the roundabout descends to the River Wansbeck via Sheepwash Bank and then crosses it at Sheepwash Bridge. The name comes from ‘Shipwash’ and it was still generally called ‘Shipwash’ in the nineteenth century. Whether the slight change of name of subsequently came about as the result of humour, confusion, mispronunciation or some peculiarity of the local dialect is not known.

It was called Shipwash from being the western limit to which small vessels – small sailing ships – could once navigate, being at the extent of the tide and site of the ford ‘or wash’ beyond which they were not physically able to continue.

Choppington and Scotland Gate

Choppington has an Anglo-Saxon name meaning ‘the settlement of Ceabba’s People’ and was recorded as Chabinton in the 1180s and still often went by the alternative name ‘Chabynton’ into the nineteenth century. In the Boldon Book Choppington had to carry out similar services for the Bishop of Durham as those expected of Cambois and the Sleekburns.

In the fourteenth century a Robert De Hexham, who was an MP and mayor for Newcastle, held Choppington as the tenant in chief of the Bishop of Durham. Later families holding land at Choppington included the Bertrams of Bothal, the Nevilles, the Lawsons and the Ogles.

Present day Choppington is a former mining settlement that developed in the nineteenth century on two sides of the Willow Burn (the upper part of the Sleekburn) to the north west of Bedlington.

Choppington Colliery was just to its west and operated from 1857 to 1966. Nearby along the road northward to Guide Post just north of Choppington is Scotland Gate, which was presumably simply named from being located on a ‘road to Scotland’ as ‘gate’ was the old northern dialect word for ‘road’ or ‘way’.

Choppington and Scotland Gate were one of a number of scattered places associated with mining in the district but in reality the Choppington recorded in older medieval times was over a mile or so to the north and north west of here where we find Choppington North Farm and South Farm, as well as Choppington West Farm (now an equestrian centre) and Choppington East Farm which is now located on the western edge of Guide Post.

Between present day Choppington and Bedlington to the east were located the mines of Barrington Colliery and Bedlington Colliery.

Barrington Colliery was established in 1821 by Michael Longridge of the Bedlington Iron Works on land leased from Lord Barrington. This Barrington, who owned land in the neighbourhood, was the nephew of Shute Barrington who was the Bishop of Durham at the time. Barrington colliery closed in about 1948 and the Barrington Industrial Estate now occupies the spot.

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