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Coal and Industry 1600AD TO 1800AD

Coal dominated the region's industry in the 17th and 18th Centuries and the world's first railways emerged using horse-drawn wagons to carry coal from the local mines to Newcastle. Industries like iron, glass and salt making also grew under the influence of coal production.


Seventeenth Century mining was concentrated around Tyneside and the Washington area of Wearside. It spread to the Hetton area after 1800 but was not significant in South West Durham until after 1825. Seven thousand pitmen worked in the region in 1787, growing to 10,000 by 1810. Coal mines were opening at places like Newbottle (1774), Lumley (1776) Washington F Pit (1777) and Penshaw (1791)


Keelmen ferried coal on keel boats to collier ships on the Tyne. They formed a distinct community in the Sandgate area of Newcastle and demonstrated against poor wages in the 1650s and 1670s. In the late 18th Century, coal staithes enabled coal to be loaded directly from rail wagons onto ships. This threatened the keelmens' livelihood and the Newcastle and Sunderland keelmen often resorted to vandalising the staithes. Ultimately, though, the staithes brought an end to their trade.


Seventeenth Century colliery railways called 'Newcastle Roads' enabled mines to be opened further away from the Tyne and Wear. These were the world's first railways and were operated by horse drawn wagons called chaldrons filled with coal. The first recorded railway, the Whickham Grand Lease Way of 1620, ran from Whickham to Dunston via Lobley Hill, but there may have been others in the area. A railway existed near Blyth from at least 1693 and a railway supplied coal staithes on the Wear near Washington . In North West Durham, the Tanfield railway of 1725 claims to be the oldest existing railway in the world and the associated Causey Arch of 1727 is the world's oldest surviving railway bridge.


From 1580 deeper mines around Tyneside used horse-driven engines or gin-gans to pump out water. Standing Fire Engines of the type developed by Newcommen in 1712 appeared in the region around 1715 at Byker, Washington Fell and Oxclose Collieries. Scotsman James Watt made improvements to this kind of engine in 1769. In 1753 Michael Menzies of Chartershaugh Colliery on Wearside invented a machine for raising coal called the Menzie.


As mines got deeper, safety became a problem. In 1662 a petition about mine safety was signed by 2,000 pitmen and handed to Parliament, as colliery gas was claiming victims. Later mine deaths included 69 at Fatfield (1708), 80 at Bensham (1743), 39 at Fatfield (1767), 23 at Chartershaugh (1773), and 30 at Picktree in 1794. Pit ponies used underground from 1750 were also victims. Roof safety was another problem and pillars supporting roofs were first recorded in the region at Chartershaugh Colliery in 1738.


In 1547 Newcastle's population was 10,000 and powerful merchants called The Hostmen controlled the mines and coal export. By 1615, 200 ships carried coal to London and another 200 supplied other parts of the country. Newcastle had a virtual monopoly on exporting coal with considerable control over rival ports like Sunderland. By the 18th Century control of the northern coal trade had fallen into the hands of a cartel of wealthy coal-owning families called the Grand Allies who were the Russells of Brancepeth, Brandlings of Gosforth, Liddells of Ravensworth (near Gateshead) and the Bowes family who were the Earls of Strathmore. William Russell, a Sunderland banker who bought Brancepeth castle in 1796, was the country's wealthiest commoner.


Sunderland, described in 1559 as a little-used port, was a late developer in exporting coal and was second to Newcastle. By 1609 Sunderland exported 14,700 tons of coal a year and the Newcastle merchants felt threatened enough to petition the king and order a levy. By the mid 1600s, Sunderland was a major rival to Newcastle. North of the Tyne, Seaton Delaval was developed as a port by the Delaval family from 1628 and nearby Blyth was a port of the 1600s which developed further in 1722.


The ports of the Tees and Whitby to the south lay outside the coalfield but were able to benefit from the trade. Whitby was the home to much shipping and a certain James Cook (later Captain Cook) worked on Whitby colliers shipping coal from the Tyne and Wear to London in 1746. Stockton shipped coal from at least 1622 and by 1795 had easily eclipsed Hartlepool and Yarm as a port. The flat Tees vale prompted suggestions that a coal canal might benefit the trade and canals were surveyed by Robert Whitworth in 1767 and Ralph Todd in 1796. Neither was built and by 1810 the idea of building a railway was suggested instead. It was an idea that led to the Stockton and Darlington Railway of 1825.


Ambrose Crowley opened a nail-making works at Sunderland in 1682, moving to Winlaton in 1691 and William Hawks established an ironworks at Gateshead in 1647 for ship anchors and chains. Simple ironworks existed near Stockton High Street from 1765 and the region's first blast furnace was at Lemington on Tyne in 1797. A more unusual metal industry came to Shotley Bridge in 1687 when Lutheran swordmakers from Solingen in Germany sought refuge from persecution.


Salt was made at Sunderland from at least 1511 and a mine opened at nearby Offerton in 1589 to supply coal for heating brine. South Shields was the region's most important salt town, where the industry caused terrible pollution. North and South Shields had around 200 salt pans in 1767 consuming 1,000 tons of coal a year, creating horrendous fumes. In 1798 John Losh leased a supply of brine from Walker colliery which led to the development of the Tyneside chemical industry - Losh Brothers would eventually manufacture half the soda in England. Robert Mansel opened a Tyneside glassworks at Byker (1619) and at Ouseburn (1623). The Sunderland Company of Glassmakers set up at Southwick in 1698 and a glassworks was established by Thomas Delaval at Hartley near Blyth in 1763.


Despite the influence of coal, most parts of the north were dominated by agricultural industries such as farming and the wool-making industry of Leeds and Halifax. Further north, a West Yorkshire family called the Peases developed Darlington's wool combing trade from 1706 and opened a mill here in 1752. New methods in the making of flax were invented at Darlington by John Kendrew, who also developed a machine for making spectacle lenses at his mill. At Barnard Castle, 18th Century mills made shoelaces and rope.

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