The Locomotive Age

The Locomotive Age in the North East 1800-1828

Early colliery railways of the 1700s were using horse-drawn wagons to haul coal to the Tyne and Wear. Later, stationary engines hauled coal along inclined railways, but locomotives, effectively steam engines on wheels, were the next stage of development. Locomotives were developed at collieries like Wylam, Killingworth and Hetton by George Stephenson and William Hedley and these developments eventually led to the creation of The Stockton and Darlington Railway of 1825.

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Locomotion Number One
Replica of Locomotion Number One replica at Shildon’s railway museum. Photo © David Simpson 2018

1801 – Twenty five people live in Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough, a farmstead of four houses, has a population of only 25. Stockton’s population is 3,700, Hartlepool 993, Darlington 4,700 and Yarm 1,300. Middlesbrough will grow as a result of railway developments.

1801 – Eldon is Lord Chancellor

Newcastle man, John Scott, Lord Eldon becomes Lord Chancellor. Eldon Square in Newcastle recalls his name.

Pilgrim Gate Newcastle
A 19th century illustration of The Pilgrim Gate, Newcastle upon Tyne

1802 – Pilgrim gate demolished

The medieval Pilgrim gate on Newcastle’s Pilgrim Street is demolished, being restrictive to the movement of traffic.

1803 – Stephenson’s son born

Future engineer, Robert Stephenson is born in a cottage close to the River Tyne at Willington Quay. His father, George Stephenson is a young engineer who is responsible for the maintenance of a ballast-tipping engine.

George Stephenson

1805 – Trevithick and Stephenson

Last year, Cornish engineer Richard Trevithick invented a locomotive for use on rails. It follows his development of a road locomotive in 1801. Meanwhile George Stephenson becomes an employee at Killingworth Colliery.

Oct 6 1805 – Colliery disaster at Hebburn

Thirty-five lives are lost in a colliery explosion at Hebburn.

Oct 21 1805 – Battle of Trafalgar

Britain defeats the French and Spanish in a huge naval battle in the Atlantic off Cape Trafalgar. Second in command to Nelson at the battle was the Newcastle-born Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, who takes command after Nelson is shot in the shoulder and falls into a coma and dies. Many North East seamen serve in the ships at the battle.

Nov 29 1805 – Colliery disaster at Oxclose

Thirty-eight lives are lost in a mine explosion at Oxclose Colliery near Washington.

1806 – Elizabeth Barrett

The poet Elizabeth Barrett (later Elizabeth Barrett Browning) is born at Coxhoe Hall near Durham.

1806 – Fenham Barracks

The Fenham military barracks open. They will give their name to Newcastle’s Barrack Road.

John Buddle

1806 – Buddle Wallsend colliery manager

County Durham-born John Buddle, the former manager at Benwell Colliery succeeds his father as manager at Wallsend Colliery. He gains a reputation as a skilled self-taught engineer and builder of locomotives.

1807 – Alkali works on Tyneside

Losh, Wilson and Bell establish an alkali works after Losh had acquired Walker Pit. Coal is used in the heating of brine to make salt used in the manufacture of alkali.

Cale Cross in the grounds of Blagdon
The Cale Cross is now in the grounds of Blagdon Hall in Northumberland. Photo © David Simpson 2018

1807 – Cale Cross removed

An historic market cross known as the Cale Cross (from the sale of cabbages) is removed from the street called Side in Newcastle.

Ushaw College.
Ushaw College. Photo © David Simpson

1808 – Ushaw College opens

Ushaw College is established near Durham for training of Catholic priests. Its roots go back to Elizabethan times and the university town of Douai near Lille in France where English priests were educated during the Tudor suppression of Catholicism. Catholic mass was legalised in 1791 and at about that time revolution took hold in France. Priests returned to England with the northern contingents setting up for periods at Tudhoe, Pontop Hall and Crook Hall near Leadgate before settling at Ushaw where the grand Gothic college is built.

1808 – Beacon blows down at Beacon Lough

A prominent beacon at Beacon Lough on the fells of Gateshead has been blown down.

1809 – Gateshead Fell to be divided

An act of parliament is obtained for dividing Gateshead Fell, which forms something of wild open space.

Above: Old postcard showing Stockton High Street Town Hall and parish church

1810 – Stockton and Darlington railway idea

In a meeting at Stockton Town Hall, Leonard Raisbeck, Recorder of Stockton, suggests a railway as an alternative to a canal for moving south Durham coal to Stockton.

1810 – Tees short cut

It takes as long for ships to travel from the Tees estuary to London as it does from the estuary to Stockton. The Tees Cut, a short canal, reduces this journey time.

1810 – 10,000 pitmen

Around 10,000 miners work in the North East of England by this time.

1810 – Smith’s shipyard

Thomas Smith establishes the William Smith & Co shipyard on the riverside at St Peter’s near Byker

Guiding Lights North Shields
Guiding Lights, North Shields: Clockwise from top left: Old High Ligh, Old Low Light, New Low Light, New High Light. Photo © David Simpson 2018

1810 – New Lights at North Shields

The lights in the two new towers that guide ships into the Tyne at North Shields, to avoid hazardous hidden rocks, were used for the first time this year. They replace earlier low and high lights dating back to 1727 which were made redundant by a recent change in the course of the river.

Quayside Exchange Sunderland
Quayside Exchange from High Street East : Photo © David Simpson

1812 – Quayside Exchange

The Quayside Exchange opens in the port area of Sunderland. It is designed by John Stokoe.

Felling Memorial Heworth
Plaque and one side of 1812 Felling memorial at Heworth churchyard : Photo © David Simpson

May 25 1812 – Felling Colliery disaster : 92 dead

In a terrible tragedy, 92 men and boys lose their lives in a colliery explosion at Felling near Gateshead. In its aftermath, concerted efforts begin to improve mine safety and develop a safety lamp. The efforts are headed by Dr Clanny of the Sunderland Society and the Reverend John Hodgson of Heworth at whose church the men and boys are buried.

Sep 28 1813 – Colliery disaster at Fatfield

Thirty-two lives are lost in a mine explosion at Fatfield Hall Pit near Washington.

Oct 10 – 1812 Colliery disaster at Herrington

Twenty-four lives are lost in a mine explosion at Herrington near Sunderland.

Dec 24 1812 – Colliery explosion at Felling again

Twenty-two lives are lost in a colliery explosion on Christmas Eve at Felling. Nine men, thirteen boys and twelve horse are killed. Only last year, 92 lives were lost in a similar explosion here.

1813 – Puffing Billy

The Puffing Billy and Wylam Dilly locomotives are developed by William Hedley at Wylam colliery.

Dial Cottage, the one time home of George Stephenson
Dial Cottage, the one time home of George Stephenson. Photo © David Simpson 2018

1814 – Stephenson’s first locomotive

George Stephenson builds his first locomotive, Blucher, at Killingworth Colliery.

1814 – Tsar Nicholas of Russia visits Wallsend

Nicholas I, the Russian tsar visits the colliery at Wallsend on a fact finding mission for inspection but refuses to enter the pit entrance comparing it the “mouth of hell”

1814 – Fawcett Street

A new street in Sunderland is built on land previously belonging to a Christopher Fawcett. The opening of the Wearmouth Bridge in 1796 has stimulated development in the area.

Miners’ safety lamps showing the inventions of Humphry Davy and George Stephenson

1815 – Safety lamp invented

A miners’ safety lamp is invented by Sir Humphry Davy and George Stephenson. It should reduce the number of colliery gas explosions. Much experimentation and research has been invested in devising a safety lamp, particularly since the Felling Colliery explosion of 1812. Stephenson acknowledges the work of the Sunderland-based Irish physician, Dr William Clanny for his contribution the the development.

Seaham Hall. Photo © 2018

1815 – Poet’s wedding

The poet Lord Byron marries at Seaham Hall. His bride is Ann Isabella Milbanke.

Houghton Cut
Approach to Houghton Cut : Photo © David Simpson

1815 – French help to make Houghton Cut

French prisoners captured during the Napoleonic Wars are employed in blasting and cutting into the hill side at Houghton-le-Spring for the creation of Houghton Cut.

March 20, 1815 – Keelmen riot

Keelmen at Sunderland riot and pull down a small railway bridge leading to a coal staith on the Wear.

May 3 1815 – Colliery disaster at Heaton Main

Seventy-five lives are lost in a mine disaster at Heaton Main Colliery near Newcastle after an inrush of water caused the colliery to flood.

Jun 2 1815 – Colliery disaster at Newbottle

Fifty-seven lives are lost in a mine explosion at Newbottle near Houghton-le-Spring.

Oct 18, 1816 – Corn riot at Sunderland

Corn riots occur at Sunderland. There were also riots here in 1807.

Sea wall, Old Hartlepool
Sea wall, Old Hartlepool. Photo © David Simpson 2018

1816 – Hartlepool in decline

Sharp’s History of Hartlepool (Old Hartlepool) describes the little fishing community as “a place that had seen better days now facing a continuing decline”.

1816 – Killingworth Billy

A locomotive or Billy called Killingworth Billy is built at West Moor Killingworth under the supervision of George Stephenson.

June 30 1817 – Colliery disaster at Harraton

Thirty-eight lives are lost in a mine explosion at the Row Pit, Harraton Colliery near Washington.

Dec 18 1817 – Colliery disaster at Rainton

Twenty-seven lives are lost in a mine explosion at Rainton Plain Pit near Durham.

Bonny Moorhen, Stanhope
The Bonny Moor Hen pub at Stanhope. Photo © David Simpson 2018

1818 – Miners battle with the bishop

A riot breaks out between lead miners and the Bishop of Durham’s men over Weardale gaming rights. It comes to be known as ‘The Battle of Stanhope’ and  inspires a ballad called ‘The Bonny Moor Hen’.

Feb 19 1819 – Blyth ship sights Antarctica

A Blyth ship, under the leadership of Blyth-born captain William Smith makes the first-known sighting of Antarctica. He would later return to Antarctica to charter the coast.

Jul 19 1819 – Colliery disaster at Sheriff Hill

Thirty-five lives are lost in a mine explosion at Sheriff Hill Colliery near Gateshead.

1819 – Malleable iron railways

John Birkenshaw, an agent at Bedlington Iron Works invents malleable iron rails, a major moment in the history of railways, allowing railway lines to be mass produced.

Yarm Pubs
High Street pubs in Yarm Photo ©  David Simpson

Feb 1820  – Meeting favours railway

In 1818, George Overton surveyed the possible route of a horse tramway through south Durham to the Tees. The idea develops into the Stockton and Darlington Railway. A meeting held in a public house at Yarm decides in favour of a railway.

Preston Hall near Eaglescliffe
Preston Hall near Eaglescliffe © David Simpson 2021

1820 – Eden sells Preston Hall

The Eden family of Windlestone Hall, County Durham, sells Preston-on-Tees to David Burton Fowler of Yarm.

Statue of 6th Marquess of Londonderry at Seaham, a descendant of the founder of Seaham Harbour. Photo © 2018 David Simpson

1820 – Plans for Seaham port

Engineer William Chapman prepares a plan for developing a port (Seaham harbour) on the Durham coast for Lord Londonderry. The following year Londonderry buys the Seaham Estate.

1820 – Wrekenton

A Mr Warburton establishes a new village to the west of Gateshead which he calls Wrekenton. The name is suggested by local Reverend and historian John Hodgson inspired by the nearby Roman road called the Wrekendyke (or Leam Lane).

June 29 1820 – KING GEORGE IV

George IV succeeds as king following the death of his father, King George III who has reigned for almost sixty years.

1821 – Railway gets Royal assent

The Stockton and Darlington Railway gains Royal assent.

23 Oct 1821 – Colliery disaster at Wallsend

Fifty-two lives are lost in a colliery explosion at Wallsend.

19th century view of Hetton Colliery in County Durham

1822 – Hetton Railway complete

George Stephenson’s Hetton Colliery railway is complete – it is the largest in the world and is worked by locomotives. It will serve as a model for the future Stockton and Darlington Railway. Hetton Staithes are built on the River Wear for loading coal into ships. Deep mining begins in eastern Durham beneath the magnesian limestone with the opening of Hetton Colliery. The colliery and railway signal a new age of mining in the region.

May 23, 1822 – First section of S&D

George Stephenson is appointed the engineer for the Stockton and Darlington Railway project. The first section of rail is laid near St John’s Well at Stockton by Thomas Meynell of Yarm.

1822 – Carbonate of Soda works

The Cookson family establish a Carbonate of Soda Alkali works in the Templetown area of South Shields. The factory will also make sulphate of copper, iodine and bleaching powder.

Seaton Delaval Hall
Seaton Delaval Hall. Photo © David Simpson 2018

1822 – Fire at Seaton Delaval Hall

A major fire causes devastating damage to Seaton Delaval Hall. The hall by Sir John Vanbrugh had already suffered a serious fire in 1752.

Feb  2, 1823 – Snow stops mail

Snow blocks roads and covers the surrounding countryside, preventing mail from reaching or leaving Durham or Newcastle for a week. Mail reaches Darlington but north-bound coaches find it impossible to proceed beyond Rushyford.

Plaque commemorating the famous locomotive works Newcastle
Plaque in Newcastle commemorating the famous locomotive works : Photo © 2015 David Simpson

1823 – Stephenson’s Works

George Stephenson’s son, Robert, establishes an engineering works in Newcastle.

1823 – New coal port for Hartlepool

Plans are discussed to bring wagonways to Hartlepool from local collieries in south east Durham to develop Hartlepool as a coal port. It is little more than a fishing community.

Newgate, Newcastle
Newgate, Newcastle

1823 – Prison demolished

Demolition begins on Newcastle’s Newgate prison which occupies part of a medieval gateway into the town.

Nov 3 1823 – Colliery disaster at Rainton

Fifty-five lives are lost in a mine explosion at the Plain Pit, Rainton near Durham.

Richard Grainger

1824 – Blackett Street beginnings

Developer Richard Grainger demolishes part of the northern course of Newcastle’s medieval town wall and clears a lane that runs alongside it for the creation of Blackett Street. In 1825 Grainger then begins the creation of a new square called Eldon Square.

Lit and Phil, Newcastle
Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne, Newcastle. © David Simpson 2021

1825 – Lit and Phil

The Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne founded in 1793 is opened in Westgate Road.

Thomas Hepburn

1825 – Mine union

Thomas Hepburn forms The Colliers of the United Association of Durham and Northumberland. This miners’ union sometimes simply known as Hepburn’s Union.

Aug 3 1825 – Sunderland seamen riot

A riot breaks out among seamen in Sunderland in a dispute with coal owners. The Newcastle Militia open fire, killing four men.

Painting of the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825,
Painting of the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825 by John Dobbin, showing the Skerne Bridge

Sep 27, 1825 – Railway history made

The opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, the world’s first public railway. A crowd of 40,000 sees the procession of waggons hauled by the famous Locomotion Number One from Shildon to Stockton via Darlington. Over 300 passengers travel on the train increasing to 600 as the journey progresses. Most are in Chaldron waggons fitted with seats, but local dignitaries travel in a specially made carriage called The Experiment. The railway is the most significant event in the history of Teesside and will bring increasing industrial growth to the area and spur on the birth of Middlesbrough.

Jan 17 1826 – Colliery disaster at Jarrow

Thirty-four lives are lost in a mine explosion at Jarrow.

May 30 1826 – Colliery disaster at Towneley Main

Thirty-eight lives are lost in a mine explosion at Towneley Main (Stargate) Colliery near Newcastle.

1826 – Bulman Village

Bulman village is built north of Newcastle on land given by Job James Bulman. The heart of the village is now Gosforth High Street.

1826 – Austin and Son

Austin and Son establish a shipbuilding business in Sunderland.

1826 – Bowes Railway

The Bowes Colliery Railway is built near Gateshead.

Carliol Square, Newcastle
Carliol Square, Newcastle © David Simpson 2021

1827 – Newcastle prison

A new prison opens in Newcastle’s Carliol Square. It supersedes an earlier prison in Newcastle’s Newgate.

John Walker : Man of the Match.

1827 – Stockton man invents friction match

John Walker of Stockton invents the friction match. On April 17, the first ever friction matches go on sale in Stockton.

1827 – Tyneside glass

About two fifths of all English glass is made in the Tyneside area.

1828 – Port Clarence Railway go-ahead

The Clarence Railway gets permission to build a railway linking Port Clarence to Stockton and from there to Shildon and collieries further north. Port Clarence and the Clarence Railway are named after the Duke of Clarence who later becomes King William IV.

1829 – Rocket wins trial

George Stephenson’s Rocket is victorious at the Rainhill locomotive trials. A locomotive called Sans Pareil built by Timothy Hackworth, the Shildon-based Stockton and Darlington Railway engineer, is also entered for the trial but unfortunately breaks down. Hackworth will later become a successful locomotive builder in his own right.

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