Beamish, Urpeth, Ouston and Pelton

Beamish Museum

Beamish is best known for being the home of the Living Museum of the North. It was the brainchild of a Yorkshireman, Frank Atkinson, formerly the Director of the Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle, who began collecting artefacts related to the social and industrial history of North East England. His collections resulted in the foundation of a museum at Beamish Hall in 1970 that eventually developed into Beamish Open Air Museum.

Beamish Museum
Beamish Museum © David Simpson

The project to build such a museum was first conceived by Atkinson in 1958 and in the early days some artefacts were stored in the huts of the former Brancepeth Army camp near Durham City.

From 1970 the North of England Open Air Museum at Beamish was financed by a joint committee of local authorities from across the North East region and continues to be so today. Features preserved at the museum come from across the entire region from Teesside to Northumberland.

Beamish Museum
Beamish Museum © David Simpson

From 1970 to 1972 displays were confined to the hall but the open-air aspects of the museum became increasingly accessible after that time and the museum now covers an area of more than 300 acres.

Beamish Hall is no longer part of the museum and has been a hotel since the year 2000. Many of the buildings, features, artefacts and costumed staff of the museum recreate life in the North East of England as it was around 1913 with an additional area of the site at Pockerley focusing on 1820 and a new area currently under development will focus on the 1950s.

Buildings at Beamish include the Home Farm of about 1800. This farm stood on the site long before the museum and was originally the stables associated with Beamish Hall.

The museum town has been constructed from the re-erection of dismantled buildings brought from across the region including a terraced street – Ravensworth Terrace from Bensham in Gateshead, a masonic hall from Sunderland, a co-operative store from Annfield Plain and a public house called the Sun Inn from Bishop Auckland. Other buildings in the town include a print works and stationers, dentistry and a brewery with stables and real horses.

The Town, Beamish Museum
The Town, Beamish Museum © John Simpson

The museum’s railway station called Beamish Station is in truth Rowley Station brought here from the tiny settlement of Rowley near Consett and dates from 1867. Other features at the museum include a bandstand from Saltwell Park in Gateshead, a railway signal box from Carr House East near Consett and a goods shed from Alnwick.

In the coal mine area of the museum is the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel of 1854 that actually came from the real Beamish village (Pit Hill) that lies just outside the museum grounds while the museum school came from the nearby village of East Stanley.

Beamish Museum
Beamish Museum © David Simpson

The museum’s row of pit cottages come from a street in Hetton-le-Hole. This was Francis Street and in their original setting were back to back with with another colliery row in which lived a coal mining ancestor of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge.

However, the nearby drift mine at the museum called Mahogany drift was here long before the museum opened. The Mahogany Drift was one of many mines that existed in the Beamish area. The colliery buildings in the museum are also from the locality. The winding gear and colliery building are from the Beamish Number 2 pit and dominate the colliery area of the museum.

Farming old style at Beamish Museum
Farming old style at Beamish Museum © John Simpson

The eastern part of the museum at Pockerley has an 1825 theme that includes a recreated colliery wagonway called the ‘Pockerley Wagonway’. Here, a working replica of John Buddle and William Chapman’s 1815 Steam Elephant locomotive (the original built for Wallsend Colliery) may sometimes be seen in operation as may the replica of William Hedley’s 1814 Puffing Billy locomotive, a replica of an original that worked at Wylam Colliery.

The nearby farm called Pockerley Manor also has an 1825 theme, but this farm was here long before the museum opened. It is a part-medieval stone house and replaced an earlier fortified manor house of Norman origin that stood here.

Pockerley has an intriguing Old English name that derives from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Pocca’, its name means ‘clearing of the hobgoblin’. This part of the museum is also home to the medieval church of St Helen that was moved here piece by piece from Eston near Middlesbrough and rebuilt on the site. All the individual parts of the museum are linked together by electric tramcars or an open top bus.

Beamish Hall

Beamish has a name that goes back to Norman times when it was given its French name ‘Beau Mes’ meaning ‘beautiful mansion’. The original Beamish was probably located where Beamish Hall stands today. The landscape around is certainly of great beauty.

There were still French connections in 1268 when one Guiscard De Charron became the Lord of Beamish. De Charron also inherited Tanfield after a man called Philip De La Ley gave him the land when De Charron married Isabel of Tanfield. The De La Ley’s were descended from Gilbert De La Ley after whom the Durham village of Witton Gilbert is named. The De La Leys are also remembered in the name of the village of Tanfield Lea.

Beamish Hall
Beamish Hall © David Simpson

Other owners in early times included the Monbouchers, Harbotels and Percys. In 1572 the manor and park of Beamish were granted to a Sir Henry Gate who in turn granted them in 1593 to a Henry Jackman of London. In the 1700s it belonged to Morton Davison (1721-1774) and then Sir John Eden of Windlestone, Morton’s grandson. Eden took the name Davison but was succeeded by a John Methold who, confusingly, took the name Eden.

At the end of the nineteenth century Beamish Hall was still owned by the Edens who remained until 1904 then it passed to the Shaftoes in whose hands it remained until 1949. In 1953 the hall became the regional headquarters for the National Coal Board for ten years and then home of an adult training centre run by Durham County Council. From 1970 it was part of Beamish Museum, housing the initial collections of the museum but in 2000 it became a hotel.

There must have been a prominent house at Beamish from relatively early times, but the core of present day Beamish Hall dates from around 1620 with the main part of the house dating from 1737. There was further remodelling of the building in 1813 and extensions to the entranceway were made in 1901.

County Durham countryside near Beamish
County Durham countryside near Beamish © David Simpson

Mining at Beamish

It was Morton Davison of Beamish Hall who opened the first known colliery at Beamish in 1763. It was unusual because although it was only about 8 miles south-west from Newcastle and situated amongst coal mines that generally shipped coals to the Tyne, the coals from Beamish colliery were sent, “by means of fixed engines, inclined planes, and horses” to Fatfield on the River Wear, a distance of about 6 miles.

For many years a powerful coal owning cartel called the “Grand Allies” gained the mining rights here after Beamish was acquired from the Davison family in the 1700s. By the 1830s the colliery belonged to Sir Robert Eden.

Two early wooden wagonways served Beamish collieries. One was Beamish wagonway, linked to coal staithes at Chatershaugh and Fatfield on the River Wear. This railroad developed by Sir John Eden of Beamish Hall partly followed the course of what is now the A693 in the Pelton and Handenhold areas. A branch of the Tanfield wagonway also operated in this area.

This line headed north west from Beamish and then north to the River Tyne at Dunston. Steam locomotives now work part of this line as a tourist attraction called the Tanfield Railway but of course the original wooden wagonway has long since gone.

A separate branch of the Tanfield wagonway further to the north and crossed a stream by means of the Causey Arch railway bridge of 1727, the oldest existing railway bridge in the world. This was an earlier stretch of line than that which was linked to Beamish. Here however we have strayed beyond the bounds of Beamish. We should of course note that it was horses and not steam locomotives that operated the early wooden wagonways of the 1700s.

Railway walk and cycle path near Beamish
Railway walk and cycle path near Beamish © David Simpson

Other mines opened at Beamish in the later eighteenth and through into the twentieth century included Edge Pit of 1763, the 2nd pit of 1784, the 5th and 6th pit of 1784, the Water Pit of 1832 and Air Pit of 1849. There were other small pits in the area including the Beamish Ice Pit, Beamish Centre Pit and Beamish Dike Pit all in the region of No Place and all marked on the 1860s Ordnance Survey map.

Deeper mining came to the area in the 1820s and 1830s that resulted in a significant increase in the production of coal. This caused an expansion of housing in the Beamish area. The Beamish 2nd pit opened as a new mine in 1824 and close by, near No Place, East Stanley Colliery (Beamish Colliery East Stanley Pit) opened in 1833.

Miners' lamps at Beamish Museum
Miners’ lamps at Beamish Museum © David Simpson

By the 1850s the mine interests were in the hands of the ever-expanding coal owning business of the Joicey family and continued to be so throughout the rest of the century. In the 1920s they came under the ownership of Lambton, Hetton and Joicey Collieries Ltd but mining activity ceased at Beamish in 1966.

Before the time of the Joiceys, the local mines at Beamish had been linked to staithes on the River Wear at Chatershaugh and Fatfield near Washington via the Beamish wagonway that dated back to the 1780s.

From the Washington riverside coal was carried down the river by keelboats to waiting Sunderland ships. Like many mine owners of the time, the Joiceys were always looking for ways to reduce costs and improve the speed and efficiency of the coal exporting process. Their answer was to link the old Beamish wagonway to the Stanhope and Tyne railway at Ouston enabling coal to be taken to Pelaw Main Staithes on the River Tyne near Bill Quay. Here improved staithe developments allowed coal to be loaded directly on to waiting ships.

Shepherd and Shepherdess Beamishvillage.
Shepherd and Shepherdess Beamish village © John Simpson

Beamish Village

Despite the early development of collieries in the Beamish area, the pit village south east of Beamish Hall saw most growth in the second half of the nineteenth century.

The 1860s map shows there were at that time only a few houses and buildings in the area. One notable building that is still there today is The Shepherd and Shepherdess Inn. The painted lead figures of a shepherd and shepherdess outside this pub are said to have been smuggled into the country as works of art at a time when most lead was being claimed for the Napoleonic War effort. The pub is a familiar place to visitors at neighbouring Beamish Museum as it stands quite close to the museum entrance.

Figures, Shepherd and Shepherdess Beamish village.
Figures, Shepherd and Shepherdess Beamish village © John Simpson

In the 1830s and 1850s the mining settlement of Pit Hill, which became Beamish village was described as a hamlet of “two farmsteads and two public houses”. The place was occupied by the viewer, agent, overmen and mechanics of adjacent pits.

Close to the Shepherd and Shepherdess are almshouses called Methold Houses built for the relief of the poor in 1863. The almshouses were built by John Eden (formerly John Methold) of Beamish Hall for the relief of eleven poor people with money donated by the donor for their upkeep.

Almshouses, Beamish
Almshouses, Beamish © John Simpson

In 1894 a trade directory seems to show that Pit Hill was still the preferred name for Beamish village, but that year a railway station opened in the village called Beamish Station and this will have encouraged the adoption of the name. The station was operational until 1953 and closed to goods in 1960. It has now gone and should not be confused with the railway station at Beamish Museum that has a quite different history. The new branch line on which the station was built served the Consett iron works and linked it to both Tyneside and Teesside.

JCB cows near Beamish
JCB cows near Beamish © David Simpson

Following closure the line was uprooted and now serves as part of a long distance footpath and cycle path that runs east to west through the Beamish area. On the section of the path near Beamish are rather intriguing sculptures of cows made from old JCB parts.

Known as the Beamish Shorthorns they were designed by an artist called Sally Matthews. There are many unusual sculptures of this kind at various points along the cycleway that stretches from Sunderland to the coast of Cumbria, though it should be noted that the Stanhope and Tyne Railway never stretched that far.

No Place and Beamish Mary

A short wagonway once linked the Beamish Wagonway to East Stanley Colliery, also known as ‘Beamish Colliery East Stanley Pit’ and close to here was built a small street of four cottages called No Place that was already in existence by the mid nineteenth century though how the place got its name is a matter of dispute.

No Place
No Place like No Place. Photo © John Simpson

One view is that the houses stood on a boundary between parishes and that neither parish would accept responsibility for them. This could be true as No Place was historically situated on the boundary of the old parish of Chester-le-Street.

Another theory is that the name was once ‘nigh place’ or ‘near place’, but near to what? In 1983 signs were erected renaming the hamlet Co-operative Villas but the angry No Placers protested and it soon regained the old name on the signpost, though Co-operative Villas still remains on signposts as well.

In truth Co-operative Villas was a separate place that appeared later in the nineteenth century and it consisted of a long terrace just to the north of No Place. By the 1920s three further terraces were added to Co-operative Villas and by the 1950s No Place was demolished but Co-operative Villas lived on. However locals often referred to Co-operative Villas as No Place and the No Place name survives.

Just to the east of No Place and Co-operative Villas were Beamish Colliery’s Mary Pit (opened 1883) and Beamish Ann Colliery. The name of the Beamish Mary Pit is still remembered in the Beamish Mary Inn, a well-known public house at No Place that dates from 1897. The pub has only been known by this name since 1987 and was previously called the Red Robin.

Beamish Burn : Upper Team Valley

As well as mining other industrial activity associated with the Beamish area in past times included paper making at nearby Urpeth, a flint mill and a number of iron forges. These industries were all clustered around the Beamish Burn or Urpeth Burn as it also appears to have been known to the south of Beamish.

Beamish Burn is in fact the upper stretch of the River Team but starts life as the Causey Burn and Bobgins Burn to the north near Tanfield. The name Tanfield incidentally takes its name from a corruption of ‘Team Field’ – the field where the River Team rises.

Forges in the Beamish area included one at Urpeth along with Low Forge (also called Hustings Forge), Middle Forge, and High Forge. There was housing associated with this industry nearby, including a street called Hammer Square. All of these sites were on the southern or eastern banks of the burn where it forms a prominent meander that loops around Ousbrough Wood at the foot of Ousbrough Hill.

In 1841 around 76 people are known to have worked amongst the woods here when it was a great hive of activity. It seems to have been so since the late 1700s and by 1803 a plan was even formulated that considered linking the Beamish Burn to the River Tyne by means of a canal.

During the Napoleonic Wars High Forge was said to be casting what was described as the “finest muzzle-loading canon in England”. The forge industry lasted until 1877 when a milldam was swept away in a flood and the forges were dismantled.

Water was an important element in the forging process and the waters of the Urpeth/Beamish Burn provided the source. A watercourse called a leat – a kind of millrace was built alongside the burn to supply water to High Forge.

Tiny Tim, Beamish
Tiny Tim, Beamish © John Simpson

Low Forge, the most southerly of the three forges was probably the oldest and was situated on a tiny stream that joins the Urpeth Burn on its south side in the woods just north of Beamish village.

Forges in this area were operated for many decades by the Gateshead firm of Hawks and Co. Incidentally William Hawks, the founder of the firm had also operated a forge on the Lumley Park Burn near Lumley Castle from 1780 to 1830.

The goods made at the Beamish forge included shovels, hammers and files all needed in the local mining industry. The wages were relatively good for the time – much better than those of neighbouring coal miners. It is perhaps appropriate that a huge steam hammer from an iron forge greets the visitor at the entrance way to Beamish Open Air Museum.

The hammer known as ‘Tiny Tim’ makes a fantastic gateway to the museum and includes a plaque explaining its history: “Tiny Tim Drop Forge steam hammer built 1883 for the Darlington Forge Company, later moved to John Baker and Co. Rotherham. Donated by English Steel Corporation 1966 total weight 90 tons overall. height 35 feet”


Pelton, Ouston, Urpeth and High Handenhold are villages and hamlets between Beamish and Chester-le-Street. Kibblesworth Common and the wooded valley of the River Team separate Urpeth and Ouston in the Chester-le-Street area from Kibblesworth village in Gateshead Borough to the north.

High Urpeth pictured from the C2C Cycleway with Tyneside in the distance
High Urpeth pictured from the C2C Cycleway with Tyneside in the distance © David Simpson

Urpeth, near Beamish has an Anglo-Saxon name meaning ‘path of the Urus’. Urus was an old name for the auroch, a kind of bison or wild ox that used to roam wild in these parts many centuries ago. Intriguingly there is still a bit of a connection with wild beasts today as it has been claimed that a mysterious beast, a wild cat of some kind, roams the moors of the neighbourhood. It is known as the beast of the Urpeth mist.

Urpeth is mentioned in Boldon Buke, Durham’s equivalent of the Domesday Book in 1183 where Urpeth is expected to provide a ‘tun’ of wine for the Bishop of Durham “at any place in the land between the Tyne and Tees where he might request it”.

High Urpeth
High Urpeth © David Simpson

In later medieval times a local family called Urpeth took their name from the place and other later owners included the Greys, Hedworths and Lambtons. In 1640 a mayor of Newcastle called Robert Bewicke owned Urpeth. Residents of High Urpeth in more recent age have included former England and Newcastle United football manager, the late Sir Bobby Robson.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth century there were paper mills and corn mills on the River Team here close to where it becomes the Beamish Burn. An Urpeth Main Colliery opened sometime before 1807 with an associated wooden wagonway and an incline that linked Urpeth to coal staithes on the River Wear near Washington. The colliery was distinct from the later Urpeth Colliery that operated from 1835 to 1937. Urpeth Colliery was situated at Low Urpeth near Ouston which is now, like Ouston a housing estate.

Urpeth Hall
Urpeth Hall © David Simpson

The buildings of Urpeth Farm at High Urpeth near Beamish include Urpeth Hall, dating to the eighteenth century but considerably altered around 1890. It was once the home of the Joicey coal owning family who later lived at Tanfield House.

Urpeth Hall was also the home for a time to a nineteenth century MP called Calverley Bewicke. During World War Two it housed two American sky fighters and then Italian prisoners of war. In recent times the hall has been divided into separate residences.

High Urpeth
High Urpeth © David Simpson


Ouston to the north of Chester-le-Street and west of Birtley was originally called Ulkilstan and still known by that name as late as 1244. It was the settlement of Ulfkil. The word ‘stan’ in the name means ‘stone’ and is thought to refer to a boundary stone of some kind. Ulfkil is a Viking personal name, making Ouston a rare Viking place-name in northern County Durham.

In 1284 Nicholas Farnham, the Bishop of Durham gave Ouston to the Hospital of St Edmund in Gateshead, which was a religious foundation, but after Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in the 1500s the hospital’s lands were sold off and Ouston passed to the Anderson family and then to the Hedworths.

View from the C2C cycleway looking towards Gateshead and right towards Urpeth (Low Urpeth) and Ouston
View from the C2C cycleway looking out across the countryside towards Gateshead, left, and right towards Urpeth (Low Urpeth) and Ouston © David Simpson

Ouston subsequently came into the hands of the Jolliffes and the Milbankes and in 1865 belonged to the executors of the will of the late Lady Byron (formerly Ann Isabella Milbanke) who was the wife of the poet Lord Byron. Miss Milbanke’s family held land at Croft and at Seaham where the couple were married.

A colliery operated at Ouston from at least as early as 1807 and was linked to a wooden railroad called the Beamish Wagonway to the south which transported coal to staithes on the Wear at Fatfield. This first pit was located near to what is now Drum Industrial Estate.

The Beamish Wagonway ran through this area from 1780 linking collieries to Fatfield and Chatershaugh on the Wear. It was joined by William Jolliffe’s Way, another wagonway linked to a colliery at Waldridge.

From around 1810 the newly built Ouston and Pelaw Waggonway (later called the Pelaw Main Railway) linked mines at Ouston and Urpeth to the Wear by another route and an offshoot of 1811 reached the Tyne with the assistance of various inclines and stationary steam engines and terminated at Pelaw Main Staithes near Bill Quay and Hebburn.

View of the countryside between High Urpeth and Ouston © David Simpson
View of the countryside between High Urpeth and Ouston © David Simpson

Pelaw Main on the Tyne was named from the Pelaw near Chester-le-Street. There were also staithes on the Tyne called Urpeth or Irpeth Staithes where ‘a coal drop’ was introduced to the region for the first time. Further pits opened at Ouston during the nineteenth century to make up Ouston Colliery and the colliery operated until 1959.

Today Ouston is a housing estate between Chester-le-Street and Gateshead. Ouston’s Front Street becomes the Front Street of Perkinsville to the south. Perkinsville is named from the Perkins family who owned collieries in the district such as Bewicke Main near Kibblesworth and the iron works at Birtley.

Perkinsville © David Simpson


Pelton to the south of Ouston traces its origins to Saxon times though the meaning of the name is disputed. It could mean ‘village with a palisade’ or ‘village near the shovel-shaped hill’. It apparently refers to a shovel of triangular shape – if any of the local hills can be described as resembling such a shape.

Holy Trinity church, Pelton
Holy Trinity church, Pelton © John Simpson

Pelton village is situated on Pelton Lane which forms part of the front street. Called ‘Pelton Lonnin’ in times past, it links Pelton to the centre of Chester-le-Street. Historically Pelton Lane was commemorated in a North Country folk song called ‘Pelton Lonnin’. The words which were traditionally sung to children of the Pelton district were as follows with most of the lines repeated several times:

The swine come Jingling down Pelton Lonnin
There’s five black swine and never an odd ‘un
Three i’ the dyke and two in the lonnin
There’s five black swine and never an odd ‘un

Back in 1320 Pelton had belonged to the Burdon family and passed to the Redhughs, Whelpingtons and the Nevilles whose lands were forfeited in 1569. Collieries at Pelton Fell brought a growth in population in the nineteenth century but there was already a substantial mining population in the area in the eighteenth century.

In the late 1600s Pelton was divided into several freeholds. Proprietors included Lambton, the Earl of Durham and a Charles Joliffe. By the late nineteenth century principal owners of land, mostly through coal mining interests were were the Joliffes; Calverley Bewickes; Lambtons and Fenwicks.

The Fenwicks of Pelton House laid the foundation of Pelton’s church of Holy Trinity in 1841. The establishment of this Anglican church came before that of any Non-Conformist Wesleyan or Methodist chapels which was unusual in a burgeoning Durham mining community where such chapels were often the first religious institutions to appear. It was perhaps all the more surprising given that Pelton was a place that had been visited by John Wesley.

John Wesley
John Wesley

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism preached in the village of Pelton in 1743 and 1780. In 1743 he remarked:

“As I was preaching at Pelton, one of the old colliers, not much accustomed to things of this kind, in the middle of the sermon, began shouting ‘amain’, for mere satisfaction and joy of heart. But their usual token of approbation (which somewhat surprised me at first) was clapping me on the back.”

Thomas Hepburn

Pelton’s most famous son was Thomas Hepburn, a miners’ leader born here in 1796. As a young boy he lost his father in a mine accident at Pelton but by the age of eight Hepburn was working in a coalmine at Fatfield on the banks of the Wear, later working at mines at Jarrow and Hetton. He founded the Northern Union of Pitmen in 1831, an alliance of the Northumberland and Durham pitmen known to the miners as Hepburn’s Union.

In that year miners came out on strike and a gathering of 20,000 miners assembled at Black Fell near Washington to protest against low pay, long hours and the bond system by which they were contracted to coal masters with severe restrictions. Here the Marquess of Londonderry, one of the most powerful coal owners, met them. He agreed to hold a meeting with their delegates providing that the men dispersed. However, although a subsequent meeting took place nothing was achieved.

Thomas Hepburn
Thomas Hepburn

In the meantime there were outbreaks of violence at various collieries including Blyth, Bedlington, Jesmond Dene, Hebburn and Waldridge instigated by a minority of lawless troublemakers who travelled from place to place. Hepburn, himself, a deeply religious man, did not condone violence.

In June 1831 the colliery owners made a concession in the establishment of a working day of 12 hours for boys, instead of 18, but the miners’ victory was short-lived. A second strike in 1832 was not so successful, even though it brought out almost all of the miners of Northumberland and Durham in support. The coal owners broke the strike by bringing in ‘blacklegs’ from other parts of the country and the eviction of many miners from their homes began under the supervision of soldiers and policemen.

The union was weakened. Hepburn and other union leaders were subsequently banned from working in the coalfield. Hepburn was reduced to selling tea around the colliery villages, although even this proved difficult as many miners feared reprisals from the coal owners for buying Hepburn’s produce. He was eventually taken on by the colliery at Felling after begging for a job and agreeing not be involved in any further union activity. Nevertheless Hepburn still supported the concept of unions for the rest of his life.

Hepburn was described by the nineteenth century mining historian Richard Fynes as “a man of intelligence, tact, perseverance and honesty of purpose and one who was calculated to do as he did a great amount of good work during the time he laboured amongst the miners”.

Hepburn died on December 9th, 1864 and was buried in the churchyard at Heworth near Gateshead. Another five years would pass before a union would re-emerge with the formation of the Durham Miners Union in 1869. Hepburn may not have seen its formation but one of his favourite sayings was: “to know how to wait is the secret of success”. Black Fell, where the union meeting of 1831 took place stands on the heights between Birtley and Washington New Town on a spot now dominated by the massive motorway junction of the A1(M) and A194(M) motorway.

Pelton Fell and Newfield

Pelton Fell lies south of Pelton in a lofty location with good views, as at neighbouring Waldridge Fell to the south. By 1894 Pelton Fell was described ‘as a populous colliery village’. To the immediate south was Pelton Fell Colliery (1835-1965) and to the west the Newfield Pit (1841-1920s).

King Coal near Pelton
King Coal sculpture near Pelton © David Simpson

Pelton Fell (or simply Pelton) Colliery of 1835 was situated near a wooded valley formed by the Twizel Burn, a tributary of the Cong Burn. A mining disaster here in October 1866 claimed the lives of 24 men and boys. Coal from Pelton was once favoured by the London Gas companies in the capital where it was well-known, giving rise to the name of the Pelton Arms and Pelton Road in the Greenwich area of that city.

Another colliery of the Pelton area was Pelaw Colliery which stood alongside Stella Farm (long gone) in the Stella Gill and South Pelaw area of Chester-le-Street. The name ‘stella’ comes from an old dialect word meaning a ditch and probably refers to a tiny stream that joins the Cong Burn near here.

Beamish and Chester-le-Street C2C

The course of the former Stanhope and Tyne Railway of 1834 through Pelton Fell, Stella Gill and South Pelaw which served local mines is now occupied by part of a long distance cycleway (the C2C coast to coast cycle path) and footpath noted for unusual sculptures that adorn the route.

Near Stella Gill is an appropriately named sculpture called King Coal that was unveiled in 1992 at about the time the last mines were closing in County Durham. This impressive sculpture, designed by an artist called David Kemp features the enormous face of a bearded man who gazes outward in the direction of the distant Penshaw Monument.

King Coal is made from recycled bricks, mining shovels and a colliery fan impeller and we get the overall impression that the remnants of some old colliery building have strangely transformed by their own design into a king who now keeps watch over his lost kingdom. Also by Kemp, in similar style are ‘The Old Transformers’ further to the west along the C2C cycle route between Annfield Plain and Leadgate which are constructed in a similar style.

King Coal at Pelton looking towards Penshaw
King Coal at Pelton looking towards Penshaw © David Simpson

Towards the South Pelaw area of the cycle route close to the edge of Chester-le-Street is a 300 yard long twisting and winding sculpture known locally as the Lambton Worm. It was the work of an artist called Andy Goldsworthy who knew nothing of the worm legend when he constructed the sculpture, but its wriggly serpent-like nature left locals in no doubt about what they believed it should represent.

South Pelaw and High Flatts

Nearby in the area between South Pelaw and Stella Gill is the Flatts comprised of High Flatts where we find the Plough Inn and Low Flatts near Low Flatts Road in between the main line railway and Drum Industrial Estate.

In the 1820s High Flatts at Chester-le-Street was the seat of a branch of a family called the Allans of Blackwell Grange near Darlington. In 1693 Thomas Allan, the grandson of Thomas Allan of Yarm and son of Thomas Allan of Newcastle built a wagonway from nearby Low Flatts to coal staithes on the River Wear – the first colliery railway to be linked to the Wear. A flatt was incidentally a division of common land.

The Flatts near Chester-le-Street
The Flatts near Chester-le-Street © David Simpson

The name Pelaw and South Pelaw may be connected with that of Pelton. Pelaw is the area at the northern end of Chester-le-Street and derives its name ‘pel-heugh’ from the heugh or hill spur around which a palisade was built, presumably in Saxon times.

Early owners of Pelaw took the surname Pelaw from the place and the ‘De Pelawe’ family still held land here in the late 1300s. In 1381 Pelaw was sold to the Elmeden family and later passed from them to the Bulmers.

Tribley and Hett Hills

Along the B6313 road from Pelton Fell to Craghead are a small collection of houses called Tribley and Hett Hills. The word Hett in Hett Hills literally means hat-hill and is site of the Moorings Hotel. In the early twentieth century a small mine called Tribley Pit opened nearby. Tribley dates back to Anglo-Saxon times and means ‘Triba’s clearing’ for much of its history it was linked with Birtley.

Around 1814 an impressive ancient shield dating from the Bronze Age was found at Tribley. Dating from around 1500 BC and thought to have belonged to a high-ranking Celt, it was found buried in the peat moss by an agricultural worker.

The shield was found in one piece but its finder chopped it up into three pieces to give to his friends. Two of the pieces were later donated to the Society of Antiquaries at Newcastle but the third piece has not been found and has been replaced by a piece carved from fibreglass.

High Handenhold

West Pelton emerged as a mining settlement in the nineteenth century and served the Handenhold Pit of West Pelton colliery which dated from 1860. The colliery was owned by Sir James Joicey and Co in the nineteenth century and by the Lambton, Hetton and Joicey Collieries in the twentieth century before passing to the National Coal Board in 1947. It closed in 1968.

High Handenhold
High Handenhold © David Simpson

High Handenhold is situated on the north side of the A693 Stanley to Chester-le-Street road half way between Pelton and Beamish with West Pelton across the road to the south. The name Handenhold comes from Handen ‘Howl’ meaning a hollow and is named from a nearby vale. The meaning of the first part of the name ‘Handen’ is not known but ‘den’ in place-names often refers to a dene or valley, though occasionally refers to a hill. The Handenhold Pit of West Pelton Colliery is now the home of the Roseberry Grange Municipal Golf Course.

Part of the hill occupied by the golf course is called Roseberry Topping though it’s not known if there is any connection with the prominent and much better-known hill called Roseberry Topping in the Cleveland Hills which has interesting Viking links.

The village of Grange Villa once served the Alma Pit (1858-1921) that was one of the two mines of West Pelton Colliery and was linked to the Stanhope and Tyne Railway. Named from the nearby Pelton Grange Farm, Grange Villa consisted of little more than a stone terrace in the nineteenth century which can still be seen.

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North East England History and Culture