In the 1820s, Hetton, now an outlying part of the City of Sunderland, became the most famous colliery town in County Durham and played an important part in the mining history of the North East. It was the place where coal mining in East Durham (which then included Sunderland) began. It was also home to the famed Hetton Railway, the first railway that was purpose-built for steam locomotives. It was a major stepping stone in the career of George Stephenson.
Hetton coal was of a particularly high standard, similar to that found at Wallsend. Such was its reputation that the Hetton ‘brand’ was repeated in the names of several collieries and mining villages associated with the Hetton Colliery Company.
It began with Hetton Lyons Colliery in 1822 but others followed. The Hettons included Hetton Downs Colliery (also called Eppleton Colliery) and North Hetton Colliery at Moorsley just south west of Hetton. There were even collieries well outside the Hetton area further to the south that adopted the name. So, we had West Hetton Colliery at Coxhoe; East Hetton Colliery at Kelloe and South Hetton Colliery at a place still called South Hetton today.
Hetton-le-Hole and Hetton-le-Hill
Originally, of course, there was no mining and in medieval times there were only two neighbouring places called Hetton that were tiny farming settlements forming one manor. One of these places was Hetton-le-Hill situated on a hill with Hetton-le-Hole situated below the hill to the north. The two Hettons were originally called ‘Heppedon’ and were of comparable size. In both the name ‘Heppedon’ was corrupted to ‘Hetton’.
Hetton-le-Hole is located in Houghton Vale (the ‘hollow’ or hole of the name) with the streams of the Rough Dene Burn and Hetton Burn flowing through the area. Further downstream they become the Moors Burn and eventually flow into the River Wear near Lumley Castle. Some parts of the vale or hollow at Hetton were noted for boggy marshlands recalled in Bog Row on the west side of Hetton centre and still found in boggy land to the north of the town.
Spellings of place-names were often inconsistent in times past and evolved over time but the fact that Hetton was originally ‘don’ (Heppe-don) rather than a ‘ton’ is significant because ‘don’ is a word for a hill.
Since the name ‘Hetton’ derives from a hill then Hetton-le-Hill was likely the original Hetton. ‘Heppedon’ means ‘hill where wild roses grow’. However, long before the development of mining here, Hetton-le-Hole, rather than Hetton-le-Hill had become the principal village, probably because of its more sheltered location.
The ‘le-Hill’ and ‘le-Hole’ suffixes were added to the two places in medieval times (as was the ‘le-Spring’ suffix at nearby Houghton). It was possibly due to the influence of the French speaking Prince Bishops. It helped distinguish places with similar names for administrative purposes.
The tiny village of Hetton-le-Hill still exists south of Hetton-le-Hole. It is situated between Easington Lane and Pittington not that far from the outskirts of Durham City. It is still little more than a farm-hamlet with a small collection of neighbouring houses and cottages built from magnesian limestone. This same creamy-yellow coloured limestone is extensively quarried around Hetton and features in some of the older buildings in the town.
Hetton-le-Hole’s ‘s low lying ‘hollow’ situation can be appreciated by the descent from Moorsley Bank to its south or from the descent from Downs Pit Lane to the east where there are extensive limestone quarries near the former site of Eppleton Colliery.
To the north, beyond the Rough Dene Burn, Houghton-le-Spring is of course situated on a hill. The hills that surround Hettonle-Hole on three sides form part of eastern Durham’s magnesian limestone escarpment.
The hills of Hetton and its surrounds were known to ancient man. A peculiar vestige of this is the name of the colliery terrace called Fairy Street in the Hetton Downs area near the north end of Hetton.
The street-name recalls an ancient tumulus, long since lost, that was known locally as ‘Fairies Cradle’ because of its supposed habitation by fairies. It was described as a small oblong hollow on the summit of an artificial grassy tumulus created by stones that had been gathered together.
Before Hetton’s colliery terraces were built, when this was farmland, ploughs always avoided the Fairies Cradle for superstitious or sacred reasons. The tumulus no doubt had some link to the enigmatic Copt Hill ancient barrow site known as the ‘Seven Sisters’ which is less than a mile to the north towards Houghton.
Other than the anonymous people of prehistoric times, the first known owners of Hetton (Heppedon) included the Hepdon family in medieval times who took their name from the place. Other later medieval owners included Finchale Priory near Durham and later the Laytons, Musgraves and Tylliols.
From the 1600s the prominent name in Hetton was the James family who included William James, a Bishop of Durham from 1606 to 1617. The James family sold Hetton in 1686 to John Spearman of Thornley, the Under-Sheriff of Durham.
Hetton Hall and Hetton House
The original manorial residence of Hetton was at Hetton-le-Hill but there seems to have been a new manor house at Hetton-le-Hole by the time of the Spearmans. It was situated in its own parkland alongside the Hetton Burn on the west side of Hetton.
In 1837 the hall was described as an “excellent deserted manor house”. Around 1844 after the famed Ryton-born colliery engineer Nicholas Wood (1795-1865), became a partner in the Hetton Coal Company and the Hetton Colliery manager he made Hetton Hall his home. Old photographs of the hall show a building of nineteenth century appearance so Wood may have rebuilt the hall. Sadly, by 1902 it was unoccupied and falling into disrepair. It was demolished in 1923.
The hall stood where we now find the football pitch of Eppleton FC. Nearby Park View and Park Place just off Front Street are named from being situated at the southern edge of the former Hetton Hall parkland. The demolished Hetton Hall should not be confused with the associated Hetton House in Park View. This building seems to date from the early eighteenth century, despite a plaque on the wall that says it is early nineteenth century.
The plaque informs that the house was used as a rectory for a chapel of ease built in Hetton as an adjunct of the parish church of St Michael and All Angels in Houghton-le-Spring.
The historic manor of Hetton has two interesting but in terms of social status, quite different, historic links to the present Royal family. The first begins in the eighteenth century (1746) when Hetton was sold by the Spearmans to Jean Lyon, Dowager Countess of Strathmore. The dowager Countess was wife of the late 8th Earl of Strathmore. She was called Jean Nicholson (or ‘Nicholsen’) before her marriage. She was born in the Hetton area with West Rainton given as her registered birthplace in 1713.
Jean’s eldest son, John Lyon, later became the 9th earl and was born at West Rainton in 1737. Later, John married Elizabeth Bowes, a member of the coal-owning family of Gibside and established the Lyon-Bowes family dynasty (later ‘Bowes-Lyon’). He was Great-Great-Great Grandfather of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, mother of the late Queen Elizabeth II.
The dowager Countess gave Hetton to her younger son, Thomas Lyon (brother of the 9th earl) born at Hetton in 1741. Thomas passed Hetton to a son, John Lyon (died 1829) who was determined to find coal in the neighbourhood and was a key figure in Hetton’s industrial history.
Hetton’s other Royal family connection (which can also be seen by clicking on the family tree image above) relates to the ancestry of Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, whose forebears were miners at Hetton.
John Harrison, a miner born at Byker near Newcastle around 1835 lived at the time of his death, in 1889, at Lyons Street (also called Lyon Street) in Hetton. The street was named from John Lyon on whose land Lyons Colliery was built. The Street has long since been demolished but by a strange quirk of conservational coincidence we can get a good impression of what it looked like. The back yard of Lyons Street terrace was back-to-back with the similar Francis Street, the 1860s colliery pit row dismantled at Hetton but preserved and rebuilt in the 1900s pit village at Beamish Museum.
The Lyon from whom Lyons Street was named was the wealthy grandson of the 8th Earl of Strathmore, ancestor of the late Queen Elizabeth II. Harrison, the humble coal miner, was the great-great-great grandfather of Kate Middleton, the present Duchess of Cambridge. His family lived in Hetton for several decades.
Coal had been mined in County Durham for hundreds of years but there had long been a debate over whether there was suitable coal or indeed any coal at all beneath the magnesian limestone hills that dominate the eastern part of the county inland from Hartlepool to South Shields.
Most geologists were convinced there was not. Even if coal was found there it was going to be much deeper than coal found in other parts of the county and there was no guarantee that it would be of good quality. This meant there would be considerable cost and expense in the search for coal in East Durham with a high financial risk attached.
Eastern areas of Durham around Easington, Seaham and Horden remained largely untouched by industrial activity except along the rivers of the ports like Sunderland where coal could be shipped from more westerly locations such as Fatfield, Pelton or Rainton allowing riverside industries to develop in Sunderland.
Much of the eastern part of County Durham remained predominantly agricultural with small farms, hamlets and farming villages. However, coal was a big money-making venture and there were a number of business people and wealthy individuals willing to take financial risks and invest in the search for coal in the hope of making very big profits.
In the late 1700s and early 1800s several attempts to find coal had failed. From around 1796 John Lyon of ‘Hetton House’ bored for coal and although his attempts were set back in 1810 by problems with severe flooding he persisted with the challenge. His continued efforts were to no avail and he was virtually bankrupted.
In 1819 a colliery company was formed called The Hetton Coal Company and was the first major public company in County Durham. Its eleven shareholders included a Captain Archibald Cochrane but the main man was a former banker, of previously dubious dealings, called Arthur Mowbray. Three of the shareholders were relatives of Mowbray.
After the company reached an agreement with John Lyon to lease his land for mining, the operations of sinking for coal began in December 1820. Finally, on September 3rd, 1822 coal was successfully reached. Moreover, it was high quality coal and there was lots of it. By November it was being shipped to four coal drops at Sunderland via the Hetton Colliery Railway.
Named the Lyons Colliery from the landowner, John Lyon, the opening of the new mine was one of the major events in the history of North East coalmining. Many more mines would follow in this eastern part of the Durham coalfield as would many new colliery railways.
The Hetton Coal Company became a major player in the coal mining of Durham, competing with the powerful coal-owning figures of Lord Londonderry and John Lambton, the Earl of Durham but without the aristocratic connections these coal owners had.
Hetton Colliery Railway
The Hetton Colliery Company seems to have been very confident of finding coal. In 1819 before the coal was even found they set in motion the development of the Hetton Colliery Railway and employed the then barely known engineer, George Stephenson, who also laid out the colliery, to design it.
This eight mile long railway was the first in the world to be intentionally built for steam locomotives, rather than an existing wagonway used by horse-drawn chaldron wagons. It was also, at the time, the longest railway in the world and really set in motion Stephenson’s rise to fame that began at Killingworth Colliery near Newcastle.
At Hetton, Stephenson used steam locomotives but the steep climb over Warden Law Hill to the west of Houghton-le-Spring was going to be a challenge at 636 feet above sea level. This had to be crossed to link the railway to the Wear so stationary engines were utilised on this section of the line to haul and lower the railway wagons.
George Stephenson’s son, Robert, assisted his father at Hetton, but it was another Robert Stephenson, George’s brother, and also an engineer, who undertook the building work for the colliery and railway. This Robert Stephenson resided in Lyons Cottages near the edge of Hetton to the south. The cottages can still be seen near the present Hetton Lyons Industrial Estate and Robert Stephenson’s residence here is commemorated by a plaque.
Hetton railway opened on November 18, 1822 and was operated by three locomotives along with five fixed engines and five self-acting inclines. Four of the locomotives were given names. One was simply called Hetton and another three – Tallyho, Star and Dart were named from local racehorses.
An engine of the same kind of design as these early locomotives that was once thought to be Hetton survives. Now at the Locomotion museum in Shildon, (previously kept at Beamish) it is thought to date from 1849 to 1852 and worked on the Hetton Colliery Railway, where it operated for around sixty years.
This locomotive was called Lyon and is remarkable in that it was still being used at the beginning of the twentieth century despite its early primitive design. Who built the engine is not certain. Nicholas Wood and George Stephenson have been suggested, though Stephenson died in 1848.
The favoured creator now seems to be an engineer by the name of Young though another view is that it was built (perhaps as a replica of an earlier engine) by Sir Lindsay Wood (1834-1920). Young may have been working on Wood’s behalf. Wood was the son of the aforementioned Hetton-based locomotive engineer and colliery manager, Nicholas Wood (1795-1865).
Incidentally, a house once lived in by Nicholas Wood at the time of the sinking of the Lyons Pit can still be seen just off the east side of Hetton’s Front Street. Starting out as an engineer, Nicholas Wood later became a partner in the Hetton Coal Company as well as becoming the Hetton Colliery manager. He would move from this relatively humble abode into the much grander house of Hetton Hall over on the west side of the town.
A huge seated statue of Nicholas Wood, almost like a king on a throne has pride of place inside the impressive Neville Hall in Newcastle upon Tyne which was built for the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers. It is an indication of the towering status of this key figure in the region’s industrial history, who lived at Hetton, his final resting place.
Growth of Hetton
When Hetton Lyon’s Colliery opened in the 1820s around 1,500 men were employed at the new colliery which would bring about the rapid growth of Hetton from an obscure agricultural settlement into a busy mining town. Initially, more than 200 houses were built for the workers of the newly opened mine.
Most of these were pit cottages much smaller and more basic than the houses you see in Hetton today. As we have noted, one row of pit cottages from Hetton called Francis Street has been rebuilt at Beamish Museum where it forms the famous pit row of the museum’s colliery village. This particular row dates from the 1860s.
As the town grew the miners were joined by a whole host of tradesmen, publicans and people providing services that any small town required. The population growth at Hetton was as follows: 1801 : 253; 1811 : 322; 1821 : 994; 1851: 5,751 and this clearly shows the impact the opening of the mine had.
So rural was this neighbourhood before the colliery that a study of the heads of household in the census of 1851 shows that less than 4% were born in Hetton parish.
Around 53% of the heads of household at Hetton were born in County Durham with about half of these originating from the nearest mining areas like Fatfield and Rainton. The other half were mostly from those parts of the old County Durham that lay to the east of Gateshead particularly Jarrow and Hebburn.
Around 28% came from Northumberland but again were mostly from areas near the Tyne like Benton, Long Benton, Wallsend and Newcastle. In addition there were a handful of miners from former lead mining areas like Swaledale in Yorkshire and Alston in Cumberland.
Today Hetton-le-Hole is sometimes described as a village which probably reflects the community feel of the place but it is in reality a small town. Considering that it really only started to grow from the 1820s it will come as no surprise to discover that there are no really early buildings but sadly some some of the buildings associated with the mining town in the nineteenth century, notably its two churches, have gone.
All that remains of All Saints church in the north or Hetton Downs area of Hetton is the old rectory in Church Road while St Nicholas church, the main church in the town itself was demolished following a fire in 2006. There are however some prominent surviving Methodist chapels in Hetton.
Other buildings of note include the Victorian Hetton Social Club in Station Road, built as a Conservative Club and nearby a Masonic Hall. From a later era, an old cinema building to the north in Richard Street once housed the Pavilion Cinema.
There is a stone-built former infants school of 1873 on the Front Row that now houses a library and day-care nursery. In Bog Row towards the south west of the town is a former girls school of 1894 that seems set for demolition and nearby a quaint blacksmiths building of the eighteenth century.
The main thoroughfare at Hetton is Houghton Road (the A182) that skirts the western edge of the older part of the town with Hetton Cemetery and the dene of the Hetton Burn to its west. In the town centre the A182 forms Front Street, a typical main street for a colliery town. To the south this becomes Station Road recalling Hetton’s long-gone railway station.
A touching feature of the Front Street that recalls Hetton’s mining history is Ray Lonsdale’s Corten steel sculpture depicting an adult miner and a pit boy miner entitled Da Said “Men Don’t Cry”.
The sculpture is dedicated to local miners and was built with money raised by the families of many local miners, with the names of those particular miners added to the base of the sculpture.
Bob Paisley memorial
Although the parkland of Hetton Hall, recalled in the name of Park View has gone, there is a small park called ‘Hetton Mini Park’ on the north side of Park View in which we find a memorial to the Liverpool Football Club manager and former footballer, Bob Paisley (1919-1996), who was born and raised in Hetton-le-Hole.
The soft-spoken, though shrewd and witty Paisley, played two seasons for Bishop Auckland FC where he was approached to sign for Liverpool and to which he agreed, keeping his promise despite a change of heart from Sunderland who now wanted to sign him.
His desire to play football was temporarily suspended by the outbreak of War where he fought alongside Merseyside comrades forging a stronger connection to the City of Liverpool, though he never forgot his Hetton roots.
His playing career for Liverpool restarted after the war and he made 253 appearances. He became Liverpool’s assistant manager in 1959 and manager of the club from 1974 to 1983, his incredible achievements summarised by the memorial at Hetton.
Hetton Lyons Park
Hetton Mini Park is not the only park in Hetton. Over on the eastern side of the town is the much larger Hetton Lyons Country Park with its lovely lake backed by extensive woodland forming a beautiful and unexpected feature of Hetton’s landscape.
Hetton Lyons Country Park lies between the sites of the Hetton Lyons Colliery to its south where there is now an industrial estate and Eppleton Colliery to its north which is now a quarry site.
At the heart of the park is a beautiful lake where once there was just boggy land and industrial spoils associated with mining. In 1986 the reclamation of the site began and it officially opened as a country park in 1990.
Hetton Lyons Colliery (1822-1950) was the first colliery to develop in the immediate vicinity of Hetton-le-Hole but as we have seen others soon followed. Right up close to Hetton Lyons to the north was Eppleton Colliery (1833-1986) a site which is now a focus for limestone quarrying on the eastern edge of Hetton-le-Hole.
At the colliery pit wheel erected in Hetton Lyons Park, a memorial plaque commemorates the Eppleton Colliery disaster in which nine people died in July 1951. It was a relatively small disaster compared to many of those experienced across the County of Durham during the nineteenth century but the pain was felt no less within the local community.
Eppleton Colliery, also known as Hetton Downs Colliery, from its location, actually takes its name from Great Eppleton, a farm along Downs Pit Lane just to the west. Eppleton is a name going back to Anglo-Saxon times and was originally called Aepplingdene which means the ‘dene (or valley) where apples grew’.
In the 1390s Eppleton passed to the Herons of Ford Castle in Northumberland but one William Heron, Captain of Berwick upon Tweed, Governor of Norham on Tweed and Warden of the Eastern Marches sold it to a tenant called Todd.
There are in fact two Eppletons. To the south of Hetton Lyons industrial estate out towards Murton is another Eppleton, a farmstead settlement called Eppleton Hall which was historically called Little Eppleton.
Eppleton was historically associated with the Shadforth family from at least the 1500s up to the 1690s. A hall at Great Eppleton was demolished in the late nineteenth century. The hall at Little Eppleton, once owned by a Hetton Lyons Colliery Manager is now divided into apartments.
There is in fact a third Eppleton Hall but this is something entirely different and can be found far away in San Francisco, USA. This particular Eppleton Hall is a paddlewheel tugboat built at South Shields in 1914 by Hepple and Company for Lambton and Hetton Collieries Ltd (a company formed from the merger of Lambton Collieries and the Hetton Colliery Company in 1910).
The vessel served on the Wear and Tyne and is one of only two surviving British-built paddle tugs. It was saved from being scrapped by Karl Kortum, the then Director of San Francisco Maritime Museum in 1969 and is preserved at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. The other surviving British-built paddle tug is the John H Amos which was built on the Clyde in 1931 and served on the River Tees.
Easington Lane and Moorsley
The village of Easington Lane is a south eastward extension of Hetton on the road between Pittington and Easington, from which it takes its name. It came into being in the nineteenth century following the development of nearby Elemore Colliery by the Hetton Coal Company. The colliery was started by the Hetton Coal Company in 1827 and operated until 1974.
During the nineteenth century the residents of Easington Lane seem to have developed a penchant for emigration. On Sunday August 21, 1852 nine families left to join others from Easington Lane who had wrote back from the United States and told of great things.
The following Tuesday a further 19 departed. They were all mostly destined for the United States but the following week several families left for Australia. In 1857 the Durham historian Fordyce remarked that there was still a deposition to emigrate from this mining town, but why so many wanted to get away from the place is not clear.
Along the road to the South East, Easington Lane becomes South Hetton, site of South Hetton Colliery from 1833 to 1982. This place remains in County Durham despite Easington Lane and Hetton now being in the City of Sunderland.
Just to the south west of Hetton-le-Hole within Sunderland are the long straggling villages of Low Moorsley and High Moorsley which hug the main road up to the the top of a hill.
At the hill top there are some great views before the road descends down the other side of Moorsley Bank towards Pittington in County Durham. Back in medieval times the Anglo-Saxon name was Morselaw possibly meaning ‘the hill belonging to Morulf’.
A small colliery known as North Hetton Colliery operated at Moorsley from 1826 to 1935. Low Moorsley has the dubious fame of being the birthplace of the Victorian multi-murderer Mary Ann Cotton who was born here (as Mary Ann Robson) in 1832.
She is thought to have murdered at least 21 people and was eventually hanged at Durham in 1873. The hill at Moorsley which merges with nearby Pittington Hill is topped by a weather station.
Elemore Hall (in County Durham) lies east of Littletown near Pittington and west of Haswell and to the south of Easington Lane. In early times Elemore belonged to Finchale Priory and its name means ‘moor of the elms’. In the 1550s it belonged to Bartram Anderson, once a mayor and Sheriff of Newcastle. A house was built during Bartram’s time which was later rebuilt as the red brick Georgian hall we see today.
The original hall was bought from the Andersons by the Halls in 1631 who included Sir Alexander Hall, a Newcastle Alderman. It then passed to a member of the Conyers family and then in the 1700s to the Bakers of Crook Hall near Leadgate. In the early 1750s the Bakers converted Elemore into a large Georgian house.
Through marriages in the 1840s the Bakers adopted the double surname Baker Baker and were later called Conyers Baker Baker by the time they sold the hall to Durham County Council in 1947 for conversion into a special school. The Conyers Baker Baker family now reside at Sedbury Hall near Scotch Corner. The hall is now Elemore Hall School.
Elemore Colliery, which was located nearby until its closure in 1974 was opened by the Hetton Coal Company on land belonging to the Bakers. There were also collieries on the Baker’s land at Delves and Crook Hall near Consett (not to be confused with Crook Hall in Durham City) where nearby collieries included the West Elimore pit which despite its different spelling was named from the Baker family seat of Elemore.