Locomotive Age 1800-1828

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.

👈 18th Century  | Timeline1828-1839 👉

Locomotion Number One
Replica of Locomotion Number One at Shildon’s railway museum  © David Simpson

1800 – Sunderland shipwrights ‘make’ ships

In this year a Sunderland shipwright was recorded as making a small ship in his own time on the village green at Bishopwearmouth before towing it to Southwick a mile away. According to the historian William Fordyce, writing much later in 1857, it was noted that during this earlier age of timber-built sailing ships, Sunderland shipbuilders could either build or make a ship, (make of course, likely being ‘mack’ in the local dialect). Fordyce, who gives more than one example of such an enterprise, notes that the idea of these skilled men making potentially lower quality ships at a cheaper price in their own time as an alternative to building them in an official capacity, (presumably to a higher standard), came to be a derisory comment in reference to Sunderland shipwrights.

The River Wear at Sunderland
The River Wear at Sunderland © David Simpson

1800 – Gateshead Fell a home to muggers

Gateshead Fell is described as a wild uninhabited heath studded with “miserable huts” and cottages occupied by muggers, cloggers and tinkers. The danger of crime and pickpocketing on this important but bleak upland part of the London turnpike road was accentuated by the presence of a gang of criminals called the Gateshead Fell-Bishop Auckland gang of which prominent members seem to include a family called Clark.

1801 – United Kingdom : Union with Ireland

The Act of Union which unified Great Britain and Ireland came into effect on January 1. The Irish Parliament had voted in favour of the union in March last year before it was passed by the parliament of Westminster in July that year. Although Ireland was under the same monarch as England, Scotland and Wales it was not included in the Act of Union of 1707 which united England and Wales with Scotland to form Great Britain. Recent rebellions in Ireland during the 1790s have prompted the new union which creates the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

1801 – Middlesbrough population : 25

Middlesbrough, a farmstead of four houses, has a population of only 25 people. 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.

1802 – Pilgrim gate demolished

The medieval Pilgrim gate on Newcastle’s Pilgrim Street is demolished, as it is restrictive to the movement of traffic. It was an important part of the town walls on provided access to Newcastle on the main north-south route.

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

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

1804 – Cleveland Tontine

A coaching inn opens near Osmotherley in Cleveland on a turnpike road that will be used by the Sunderland to London mail coach (now the A19). It will become a popular place of rest for travellers. A tontine was a loan paid in annuities.

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.

Dec 10, 1805 – Shields lights redundant

An extraordinary high tide at North Shields which wrecked wooden breakwaters and sank several boats has caused a permanent alteration to sand bars and the navigational course of the mouth of the Tyne. It renders the pair of old lights that guide ships there useless. A new pair of lights will need to be constructed to correctly guide the ships.

Oct 6, 1805 – Hebburn pit disaster

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.

Admiral Collingwood

Nov 29, 1805 – Oxclose pit disaster

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.

1806 – Buddle at Wallsend colliery

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.

John Buddle


Dec 1806 – River cuts off church

On Christmas Day, the hill on which the old church of Alnmouth stands is permanently cut off from Alnmouth by a change in the course of the river.

Site of the old church, Alnmouth
Looking towards the site  of the old church on the , Alnmouth  © David Simpson

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.

1807 – Cale Cross removed

The market cross known as the Cale Cross (from the sale of cabbages) is removed from the street called Side in Newcastle. It is relocated to Blagdon Hall in Northumberland.

Cale Cross in the grounds of Blagdon
The Cale Cross is now in the grounds of Blagdon Hall in Northumberland © 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 college is built.

Ushaw © David Simpson

1808 – Beacon 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 a wild open space. The act allows for the development of roads, drains, wells and quarrying. Basic housing or hovels on the fell will be demolished.

1810 – Stockton-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.

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

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, at Mandale near Thornaby reduces this journey time. The short channel or canal that is cut through the 220 yard neck of a two-and-a-half mile long meander leaves the old meander stranded as a marshy man-made oxbow lake on the south side of the River Tees.

1810 – 10,000 pitmen

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

1810 – Smith’s First Dock

Thomas Smith (as William Smith & Co) acquires a shipyard on the riverside at St Peter’s near Byker in 1810 where his business will prove a success. The company will later come to be associated with North Shields.

1810 – Durham Prison

Durham prison is built at Elvet in Durham city. It replaces an earlier prison in the city’s Great North Gate. Bishop Barrington pledged £2,000 towards the construction of the new building which will house prisoners from 1819.

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.

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

1811 – Coal exists in eastern Durham

The eastern part of County Durham, where the geology is dominated by a deep layer of magnesian limestone remains untouched by coal mining and there has long been speculation about whether there is any coal there. A test sinking at Haswell near Easington to the east of Durham by a Dr William Smith proves its existence deep below the layer of magnesian limestone. Doubts will remain about the quality and thickness of the coal and the cost of mining at such depths. This will deter speculative developments until the successful opening of Hetton Colliery in the 1820s. At this time eastern Durham villages like Easington and other settlements close to the coast are quiet rural backwaters untouched by the coal mining activity that has been present in parts of central and northern Durham for centuries.

1812 – Moot Hall

Newcastle’s Moot Hall is built by William Stokoe for Northumberland Council near Newcastle castle. It was built as a court house but also served as a site for Northumberland county council meetings up until 1910. (It will be superseded as a crown court by the new crown court on the quayside in 1990-91).

Moot Hall, Newcastle
Moot Hall, Newcastle © David Simpson

1812 – Staiths at Sunderland

John Neasham who owns coal mines in the Newbottle area, builds coal staiths at Galley Gill on the Wear at Sunderland. Staiths enable the direct loading of coal into ships and cut out the need for keelmen.

1812 – Quayside Exchange

The Quayside Exchange opens in the port area of Sunderland. It is designed by father and son architects, John and William Stokoe.

Quayside Exchange Sunderland
Quayside Exchange from High Street East in Sunderland © David Simpson

May 25, 1812 – Felling 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.

Felling Memorial Heworth
Plaque and one side of 1812 Felling memorial, Heworth churchyard © David Simpson

Oct 10, 1812 – Herrington pit disaster

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

Dec 24, 1812 – Felling explosion 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.

Sep 28, 1813 – Pit disaster at Fatfield

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

1814 – Stephenson’s first locomotive

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

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

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.

Fawcett Street, Sunderland
Fawcett Street, Sunderland © David Simpson

1815 – Safety lamps 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 to the development.

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

1815 – Poet’s wedding

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

Seaham Hall ©

1815 – French help on 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.

Houghton Cut
Approach to Houghton Cut © David Simpson

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 – Pit disaster at Heaton

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 – Pit disaster at Newbottle

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

Oct 18, 1816 – Sunderland corn riot

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

1816 – History of Durham

The first volume of Robert Surtees’ History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham (4 volumes 1816-1823) is published.

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”.

Old Hartlepool
Old Hartlepool © David Simpson

1816 – Killingworth Billy

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

1816 – Hangings move

Public executions (hangings) which had previously taken place at Dryburn on the north side of Durham city (where they have taken place for centuries) are transferred to the new court house at Elvet. Hangings continue to be held in public until 1868.

Dec 1816  – Russian grand duke in NE

Nicholas, the Grand Duke of Russia (the future Russian Emperor, Nicholas I) visited the region. Arriving at Sunderland he inspected the pier and the iron bridge across the Wear. He then headed to Newcastle and onward to Wallsend where he was shown around the Wallsend Colliery by John Buddle. The duke, who was on a fact finding mission could not be persuaded to enter the Wallsend pit, comparing its entrance to the “mouth of hell”.

1817 – Bottles and Glass

Sunderland is home to seven bottle works and three glassworks.

June 30, 1817 – Pit disaster at Harraton

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

Dec 18, 1817 – Pit disaster at Rainton

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

1818 – Laing Yard moves

The Laing shipyard at Monkwermouth relocates across the River Wear to Deptford.

1818 – Miners battle with 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’.

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

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. Smith will later return to Antarctica to charter the coast.

Jul 19, 1819 – Pit disaster at Sheriff Hill

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

1819 – Hetton Coal Company

The Hetton Coal Company is established. It is the first major public company in County Durham.

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.

Feb 1820  – Yarm 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.

Yarm Pubs
High Street pubs in Yarm ©  David Simpson

1820 – Eden sells Preston Hall

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

Preston Hall near Eaglescliffe
Preston Hall near Eaglescliffe © David Simpson

1820 – History of Northumberland

The first volume of the Reverend John Hodgson’s History of Northumberland is published.

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.

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

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’s Royal assent

The Stockton and Darlington Railway gains Royal assent.

Oct 23, 1821 – Pit disaster at Wallsend

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

1822 – Morpeth court house

The imposing court house is built by John Dobson at Morpeth.

Morpeth Courthouse.
John Dobson’s Morpeth Courthouse © David Simpson

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 – Smiths’ North Shields quay

The shipyard company, William Smith & Co of St Peter’s near Byker set upon expansion with the opening of a ballast quay further down the river at Limekiln Shore, North Shields.

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.

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.

Seaton Delaval Hall
Seaton Delaval Hall © David Simpson

Nov 18, 1822 – Hetton Railway

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.

Nineteenth century view of Hetton Colliery in County Durham

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.

1823 – Stephenson’s Works

George Stephenson’s son, Robert, establishes an engineering works in Newcastle. It is here that Locomotion No 1 that serves the Stockton & Darlington Railway of 1825 will be built as will the famous Rocket, winner of the Rainhill Trials in 1829.

Plaque commemorating the famous locomotive works Newcastle
Plaque in Newcastle commemorating the famous locomotive works © David Simpson

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.

1823 – Prison demolished

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

Newgate, Newcastle
Newgate, Newcastle

Nov 3, 1823 – Pit disaster at Rainton

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

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.

1825 – Lying-in-Hospital

The lying-in hospital opens in Newcastle. Operating as a charity, it was for impoverished pregnant women, but only for those who were married. The building was designed by John Dobson.

Former Lying-in Hospital, Newcastle
Former Lying-in Hospital © David Simpson

1825 – Lit and Phil

The new home of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne founded in 1793 is opened in Westgate Road. The new building is designed by architect, John Green.

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

1825 – Mine union

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

Thomas Hepburn

1825 – Bedlington Terrier

The Bedlington Terrier breed of dog comes into being. It has been developed by a Mr Ainsley of Bedlington, beginning around 1816 through crossbreeding with dogs from Rothbury and Longhorsley.

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.

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.

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

Jan 17, 1826 – Pit disaster at Jarrow

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

May 30, 1826 – Towneley Main disaster

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

1826 – Castle Eden Brewery

The Castle Eden Brewery is founded by John Nimmo in County Durham.

Former Castle Eden brewery
Former Castle Eden Brewery © David Simpson

1826 – Bulman Village, Gosforth

Job James Bulman develops Bulman village near Gosforth to the north of Newcastle to provide him with extra voters to support him in an election. It will later form the heart of what becomes Gosforth town centre.

1826 – Austin and Son

Austin and Son establish a shipbuilding business in Sunderland.

1826 – Bowes Railway

The Bowes Colliery Railway is built near Gateshead.

1827 – Newcastle prison

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

Carliol Square, Newcastle
Carliol Square, Newcastle © David Simpson

1827 – Stockton man’s friction match

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

John Walker : Man of the Match.

1827 – Tyneside glass

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

1827 – Spring-heeled Jack?

Henry Beresford, third Marquess of Waterford inherits Ford Castle in Northumberland. He is sometimes identified as the mysterious, black-caped, devil-like, ‘Spring-heeled Jack who terrorised London.

👈 18th Century1828-1839 👉

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