Stanley, Annfield Plain, Pontop and Tanfield


Stanley is the principal former mining town of North West Durham and came into being in the nineteenth century from the two colliery settlements of East Stanley and West Stanley which subsequently merged. Collectively Stanley served as a focal town for the numerous collieries and pit villages of the area.

West Stanley memorial
Memorial to the West Stanley Collliery explosion of 1909.

West Stanley was the larger of the two Stanleys and was the home to the West Stanley Colliery which opened in 1832. Also known as the Burns Pit, the West Stanley Colliery was initially owned by James Joicey and later, in the 1860s, by David Burns and then by John Henry Burn in the 1870s.

The darkest moment in West Stanley Colliery’s history came on February 16, 1909 when a fire damp explosion exasperated by coal dust at the mine claimed the lives of 168 men. There were only 30 survivors.

A pit wheel and memorial wall near Stanley’s Chester Road commemorates the names of those who lost their lives in this terrible tragedy. It was unveiled by the former footballer and then Newcastle United manager, Kevin Keegan, whose grandfather, Frank Keegan was one of the thirty survivors who was subsequently involved in the rescue effort. The mine closed in 1936.

Mine disaster memorial Stanley
West Stanley memorial. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Other mines in the Stanley area included the Louisa Pit at South Moor which operated from the 1750s to the 1960s and nearby, the Hedley Colliery which also formed part of the South Moor Group of mines.

The town of West Stanley developed along the now pedestrianised Front Street which forms the main street of the town. The Front Street of West Stanley was linked to the Front Street of East Stanley by the ‘High Street’, although only a little of High Street remains, superseded by modern roads and a roundabout. East Stanley was situated near Beamish Colliery (1763-1966) that was located on the edge of the town and should not of course be confused with the Beamish Colliery at Beamish Museum.

Church of St Andrew, Stanley
Church of St Andrew, Stanley. Photo © David Simpson 2018

The High Street which linked the two Stanleys was overlooked to the north by a group of pit terraces at West Stanley called Joicey Square where modern houses called Joicey Gardens now stand. Just to the north of here is the church of St Andrew, the main church at the centre of Stanley which has a distinct square tower topped by a pinnacle, a kind of small spire. The church dates from the 1870s and was originally the parish church for Beamish.

North of the church we enter the Shield Row area of Stanley that was once a separate settlement. In the 1850s Shield Row was the site of a brewery, shops and three public houses. A West Shield Row Colliery operated nearby to the north towards Tanfield Lea and was worked until 1934. Another settlement absorbed by Stanley was Kip Hill situated in the James Street area.

The name Stanley means either ‘stony clearing’ or ‘stony hill’. The ‘stan’ element of the place-name means ‘stone’ while ‘ley’ normally signifies a clearing, however around the 1230s the earliest spellings ‘Stanley’ and ‘Stalaue’ both occur, the ‘laue’ in the second of these spellings comes from the word ‘law’ meaning a hill which makes the actual meaning of Stanley’s name uncertain.

The stream to the south of Stanley is called the Stanley Burn and forms a wooded dene. To the south of the stream on the road through a place called The Middles towards Edmondsley and Sacriston is the small village of Craghead which was home to Holmside Colliery (1839-1969).

Further downstream in Stanley Wood the Stanley Burn becomes the curiously named Twizel Burn just beyond Craghead. Twizel means ‘forked’ – probably from the various branches of the stream and this stream is ultimately a tributary of the Cong Burn which enters the River Wear at Chester-le-Street.

The Middles between Stanley and Craghead takes its name from a ‘Middles’ Farm and a neighbouring woodland called ‘Middle’s Wood’ situated further up the valley of the Stanley Burn.

The land around the Stanley Burn formed the heart of the original Stanley in the historic times of the pre-mining era. This land was focused on Stanley Hall which once stood on a hill top near the West Stanley Colliery in what is now the Burns Close area. In the 1850s the hall belonged to Charles Townley who received the royalties from coal mining around Stanley.

Earlier owners of Stanley included the Tempests and the Lumleys and in medieval times Stanley belonged to the De Birtleys and the De Kilkennys whose family members included an Irish clerk who rented the land from the Priors of Durham.

South Moor and Quaking Houses

South Moor forms the south eastern part of Stanley on the road towards Burnhope and Lanchester and was once another separate place absorbed by Stanley’s growth. South Moor Colliery operated near here from 1818 and its pits included the Quaking House Pit. The little village of Quaking Houses is just to the south.

The Quaking House pit and Quaking Houses village may have been named from from some kind of Quaker meeting house that perhaps stood in the area. According to one theory, a Quaker is said to have resided in a house called The Barracks, though other theories talk of a house built on the unsteady foundations of quicksand or a house undermined by the tunnel of an underground wagonway.

Quaking Houses village was built near the pit and also nearby were Quaking House Cottages and Quaking House Hill. To the north towards New Kyo was the farm of Quaking House itself, marked on the 1865 map. A colliery railway line called the Quaking House branch passed close by.


To the west of Stanley is Oxhill and the settlements of New Kyo, East Kyo and, now part of Annfield Plain, is West Kyo. Craghead and Kyo were amongst places that were once home to a family of miners called Rodham, who were the direct ancestors of the American politician, Hilary Clinton. The peculiar name Kyo comes from ‘Cy-hoe’ which means ‘cow hill’ and the hill itself is in the Shieldrow Lane area between Stanley and Annfield Plain and is called Kyo Law.

West Kyo was the birthplace of the famed mining engineer John Buddle (1773-1843) who made major contributions to mining safety in respect of ventilation, flooding and encouraging the introduction of the Davy Lamp. Buddle succeeded his father as the manager of Wallsend Colliery in 1806.

John Buddle
John Buddle

One of Buddle’s notable achievements was the collaboration with William Chapman in the creation of the Steam Elephant locomotive – of which there is a working replica at Beamish Museum – but Buddle’s importance extended beyond Wallsend.

Buddle was at one time the General Manager to the coal owner the third Marquess of Londondery, assisting him with the development of Seaham Harbour. Later Buddle became chairman of the company that built the Tyne Dock at South Shields. Buddle was also a noted coal owner, his mines including Townley Colliery and West Holywell Colliery near Earsdon.

Also born in West Kyo was John Curr (c1756-1823), who went on to become the manager of the Duke of Norfolk’s collieries in Sheffield. Like Buddle, Curr was noted for a number of developments associated with the improvement of mining and railways in particular improvements to wheeled colliery tubs and the introduction of cast iron rails.

East Kyo is still a farm to the north, near Harperley and Tanfield but the village of West Kyo situated in the area around ‘Ye Olde Earle Grey Inn’ is now along with Catchgate, a part of Annfield Plain.

In historic times Kyo had belonged to the Hospital of Trinity in Gateshead. From 1631 subsequent owners of Kyo included Isabel De Birtley, the Merleys and the Blakistons. The main colliery of the area was South Tanfield Colliery in the New Kyo and Oxhill area. This colliery operated from 1837 to 1915.

The Annfield Plain Co-op at Beamish Museum
The Annfield Plain Co-op at Beamish Museum. Photo John Simpson

Annfield Plain

Annfield Plain came into being as a mining village in the nineteenth century and was named after Annfield House which was built on the summit of Loud Hill around 1710. The ‘plain’ of the village name was the level land below the house.

From the 1870s the principal shop in the growing mining village of Annfield Plain was the Co-operative society store. It was established by the local Annfield Plain Co-operative Society who later opened branches at Lanchester, Medomsley, Dipton, Esh Winning, Sacriston, Durham and Catchgate. The site of the Annfield Plain store is now occupied by a supermarket but the co-op store itself was dismantled in the late 1980s and rebuilt at Beamish Museum where it is the focal point of the museum’s 1913 themed town.

Annfield Plain’s collieries included the South Derwent Colliery and the Busty or Morrison Pit of South Moor Colliery which was situated on the Lanchester Road just south of Annfield Plain. This colliery was operative until 1973.

Annfield Plain is the birthplace of the Sky boxing commentator and former World Cruiserweight boxing champion Glen McCrory who was born here in 1964.

Pontop, East Castle, Stony Heap and Dipton

Three of the nineteenth century collieries in the Annfield Plain and Catchgate areas were called Pontop. South Pontop Colliery which operated from around the 1860s to 1927 was the most southerly, situated in the Greencroft area on the south side of Annfield Plain.

At the heart of Annfield Plain was Pontop Colliery which operated until the 1930s and to the north near Harelaw was East Pontop Colliery which was worked up to 1930. The name Harelaw, formerly a farm that belonged to the Fairlambs was has a name that means ‘grey hill’ from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Hara-Law’.

Pontop is the name of the hill to the west of Annfield Plain which is also called Pontop Fell and Pontop Pike. The hill is known as the home to the prominent transmitter mast built by the BBC in 1953 that first brought TV signals to the region. Its construction was pushed forward at the time so that TV viewers in the region could watch the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Pontop Pike
Pontop Pike pictured from the village of Pont © David Simpson 2022

Pontop has a very ancient name as the ‘Pont’ part of the name goes back to Celtic times and derives from the Primitive Welsh ‘pant’ meaning hollow or valley. The ‘op’ part of the name comes from a later Anglo-Saxon word ‘hop’ or ‘hope’ which also means ‘small valley’. The valley itself is that of the Pont Burn – the extensively wooded dene that stretches north towards Hamsterley Mill, Hamsterley village and Hamsterley Park none of which, incidentally, should be confused with the Hamsterley that lies between Weardale and Teesdale much further to the south.

The Pont Burn rises to the west of Pontop Hall and Pontop Pike near Leadgate. There on the B6306 we find Leadgate itself and a village simply known as Pont. The B6306 is an arrow-straight road that follows the course of the Roman Dere Street, though here it is locally known as ‘Watling Street’.

Pont © David Simpson 2022

South of Pontop is the site of East Castle Colliery and nearby the farming hamlet of Stony Heap in an area once noted for quarrying. East Castle is named from the Bantling Castle lime kilns, a little to the west, compared to a castle because of the castellated tops of the kilns. The lime produced here helped to make improvements to the soil of the local farmland. There were once small collieries at both East Castle and Bantling Castle.

Shalllow coal mining in the Pontop area goes back to the 1600s and 1700s. There were a number of wooden wagonways in the area linking mines in the area to the Tyne around Whickham. Wooden wagonways reached as far as Pontop Pike by the 1700s. Generally, mining in this period in such remote hilly areas was a small concern employing relatively small numbers of people and it was the bigger, deeper collieries that came in the nineteenth century with new railways and locomotive power that brought rapid growth in population to the area.

The opening of the Stanhope and Tyne Railway in 1834 which passes through the Annfield Plain area just to the south (now a cycle path) was a major factor in this population growth. The railway linked the limestone mines of Weardale to the Tyne at South Shields and was later connected to the iron works at Consett.

The main colliery on the fellside of Pontop Pike and Pontop Fell was South Medomsley Colliery which operated from 1861 to 1980. Its earliest owners were Muschamp, Bainbridge & Co. Nearby, the settlements of Dipton to the west was the local mining village.

Dipton derives its name from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Deope Denu’ meaning ‘deep dene’ or valley. Dipton Colliery which also went by the delightful name of Delight Colliery operated from 1855 to 1940 and was initially owned by John Bowes and Partners.

Pontop Hall
Pontop Hall. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Pontop Hall

The manor of Pontop belonged to the Gourleys in 1361, passed to the Claxtons in 1409 and subsequent owners included the Bulmers who sold it in 1600. Later owners of Pontop included the Salvins of Croxdale and Swinburnes of Capheaton in Northumberland.

The heart of Pontop manor was Pontop Hall which is just to the north of Dipton and dates in part to the early 1600s with later extensions of around 1700. Through its connections to families like the Salvins and Swinburnes Pontop had a strong association with Roman Catholicism and a hidden Catholic chapel that was concealed in the roof of Pontop Hall during the era of Catholic persecution.

In the 1790s at the time of the French Revolution, English priests who were training at Douai in Flanders fled to Pontop Hall, before moving on to Crookhall near Consett and finally moved on to the newly founded college at Ushaw near Durham which succeeded the college of Douai in its training of Catholic priests.

Much of area north of Dipton is called Collierley and once belonged to the Bowes family who owned the land here from the time of Queen Elizabeth I. Earlier owners included the Rhodes family before 1474 and the Guildford family in the fourteenth century. Collierley includes Collierley Farm near the wooded valley of the Dipton Burn. The name Collierley is first recorded in 1284 as Colyrley and means ‘charcoal burner clearing’.


Tanfield, Tanfield Lea and Tantobie lie to the east of Dipton, to the north of Stanley and to the west of Beamish. The name Tanfield was historically Tamefield under which name it is recorded in 1175 and means the open fields where the River Team rises.

St Margaret's church. Tanfield
St Margaret’s church. Tanfield. Photo © David Simpson 2018

The Kyo Burn, Houghwell Burn and Causey Burn all form the upper part of the River Team, although the river here at first becomes a stream called the Beamish Burn near Beamish and changes its name near Urpeth. Team seems to have been once widely used as a name for these streams in earlier times.

In Norman times Tanfield belonged to the De La Leia family who in the 1100s included Gilbert De La Leia whose estate was centred on Witton Gilbert (to which he probably gave his name) and stretched as far north as Beamish and Tanfield. Tanfield Lea is sometimes said to recall Gilbert’s name but the ‘Lea’ may simply be a ‘ley’ or clearing near Tanfield. Later owners of Tanfield and its surrounds were often the lords of the manor of Beamish.

Bartram Monboucher held the manor in the 1380s and another of that name held the manor of Taumfield and Cawse (Tanfield and Causey) in the 1390s when it belonged to Alice Conyers. It later came into the hands of the Earls of Northumberland and was confiscated from one of the earls following his involvement in the Rising of the North in 1569 – a plot to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I. Tanfield was divided and sold by its new owner, a Henry Jackman whose land was sold to the Shaftoes and Harbottles.

The church at Tanfield village is dedicated to St Margaret of Antioch and is thought to have thriteenth century foundations built on a possible Anglo-Saxon church site. The church was rebuilt in 1749 and the nave dates from this time. The castellated tower was added in 1854 and paid for by John Eden of Beamish Park.

Tanfield Hall.
Tanfield Hall. Photo © David Simpson 2018

The main historic feature of the village is however the five bay, three storey Tanfield Hall, a private house at the western end of the village which dates from the 1600s. This was the manor house of the district on a site dating back to the 1300s and was historically associated with the Shafto and Percy families. It has an eighteenth century façade and impressive iron gates to the front.

Tanfield Lea

Tanfield Lea to the west of Tanfield is mentioned as far back as 1286 as Tamfeldley and then later as Taunfledleigh in the 1380s. To the west is Harperley which probably means ‘clearing of the harper’, though this was possibly from someone’s surname rather than from some kind of Celtic-inspired musician as there is an identical place-name in Weardale which is explained in this way.

Coal mines in the Tanfield area included Tanfield Lea Colliery which was opened and owned by the Marquis of Bute in 1829. By the 1850s the colliery belonged to James Joicey and operated until 1962. East Tanfield Colliery which was opened by James Joicey in 1844 was situated between Tanfield Lea and Tanfield village and was worked until 1965.


Tantobie, on Tanfield Moor to the east of Tanfield Lea was home to Tanfield Moor Colliery. This colliery was opened as far back as 1768 by the Earl of Kerry and later owned by James Joicey. It was worked until 1948.

Tantobie which also occurs with the spelling Tantoby in the nineteenth century has a name that is a bit of a mystery as there are no early forms to trace its origins. Interestingly, the ending ‘by’ or ‘bie’ in place-names usually indicates a place of Viking-Danish origin. However, such Viking names are very rare in northern County Durham.

Entering Tantobie on the main road from the east and the official County Durham road sign reads ‘Tantobie (Sleepy valley)’.

Sleepy Valley is the curious name given to the estate at the eastern end of the village which explains why the signs on the approach to Tantobie from the north or south simply say ‘Tantobie’.

Approach Tantobie from the west and the signs say ‘White-le-Head’ which was the name of a once separate village that now forms the western part of Tantobie. On old maps this is called Whiteley Head. It was once the site of the Tanfield Moor Colliery ‘Willy Pit’. Some people may be surprised to find that such a small place as Tantobie can have three different local identities.

Curiously there is also a place called Tanfield Leith – a farm just east of Tantobie and this may derive from the Norse word ‘lith’ meaning a slope. There is also a farm called Wester Leith which looks doubly Norse – ‘Wester’ meaning western is a common element in Norse place-names but of course is may not be Norse at all. There is also a stream called the Farleith Burn nearby.

Tommy Armstrong : The Pitman Poet

The Tanfield area was the home to Tommy Armstrong (1848-1920), who was known as the ‘Pitman’s Poet’ or ‘The Bard of the Northern Coalfield’. His songs, written in the Northumbrian style reflect life in the Durham coalfield in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Tommy Armstrong
Tommy Armstrong

The songs were primarily written to keep Tommy in beer money and support his family but sometimes served to raise much needed funds at times of tragedy. Tommy was born at Shotley Bridge where his father and mother had moved from Haswell and he suffered from rickets which gave him bow legs, a disability that could prove a problem in the pit and one reason why song writing proved a necessary driving force for his survival.

When he was little Tommy’s family moved to the Stanley area where Tommy would reside for the rest of his days. Young Tommy worked in the mines at South Pontop and East Tanfield and later resided at Tantobie.

With fourteen children to support, Tommy’s ability to write good folk songs would certainly prove invaluable. He had them printed and sold around the local public houses at a penny a time. Armstrong’s best known pieces include ‘Wor Nanny’s a Maizor’, ‘The Trimdon Grange Disaster’, ‘The Oakey Strike Evictions’, ‘The Durham Strike’, ‘Stanla Markit’, ‘The Cat Pie’, ‘Sheeld Raw Flud’ and ‘Dorham Gaol’.

The ‘Oakey’s Strike’ recalls evictions in Stanley that were a reminder of a particularly nasty aspect of life in the Durham coalfield in the last century:

“It was in November
en aw nivor will forget
Th’ polisses en th’ candymen
at Oakey’s hooses met
Johnny the Bellmin he was there,
squintin’ roond aboot
En he plaic’d three men it ivery door
te’ torn the miners oot
And what would a dee
if aw had the power mesel’
Aw would hang the twenty candymen
and Johnny thit carries the bell”

Despite poor and dangerous working conditions, low pay and long hours, the coal owners of the last century would not hesitate to resort to such measures as eviction to deal with miners’ strikes.

Photo © David Simpson 2018
Tommy Armstrong’s grave in Tanfield churchyard. Photo © David Simpson 2018

The ‘candymen’ employed by the coal owners to evict the miners were disreputable characters of the lowest order, brought in from the dock sides of the large towns in the region. Described as “low, mean ragged fellows”, the “yelling, shouting, and tinpanning together with the pitiful cries of children had no effect on these inhuman beings employed to do this work”.

Tanfield Railway and Causey Arch

Tanfield Railway and Causey arch are extraordinary gems in the industrial history of North East England. Located to the east of Tanfield near the valley of the Causey Burn, the present Tanfield Railway extends from the Tanfield area of County Durham into the borough of Gateshead near Marley Hill and Sunniside to the south of Whickham but historically extended much further all the way up to the Tyne.

The Tanfield Railway near Causey Arch
The Tanfield Railway near Causey Arch. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Today the railway is a visitor attraction worked by popular steam locomotives which is a great part of the attraction but the site is also of great historical significance.

The Tanfield Railway’s history goes back to the 1720s when it was developed as a wooden colliery railroad by the powerful partnership of North East coal owners called the Grand Allies who included the Bowes family of Gibside and Liddells of Ravensworth. Today the steam locomotives still follow much of the original route making it the world’s oldest railway still in operation.

Chaldron wagon at Causey arch.
Chaldron wagon at Causey arch. Photo © David Simpson 2018

The railway, which was operated in early days by horse-drawn wagons called chaldrons linked the mines in this area of North Durham to staithes on the River Tyne in the Dunston area of Gateshead (or possibly Redheugh). In the later 1700s the wagonway was adjoined by another wooden railroad called the Beamish Wagownay.

Tanfield’s wooden horse–drawn railway was converted to an iron rail way in 1837, initially utilising gravity inclines, horses and stationary hauling engines. The railway closed in 1964 with the closure of the East Tanfield Railway but was revived as a working visitor attraction from 1973 with a regular service from 1975. The main entrance to the railway is at Andrew’s House Station near Marley Hill with additional stations at Sunniside, Causey Arch and East Tanfield.

Causey Arch
Causey Arch. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Causey Arch

Though not crossed by the present railway the nearby Causey Arch which once carried part of the course of the Tanfield Wagonway is an especially important industrial feature of the region as the oldest surviving railway bridge in the world.

Historically known as the Tanfield Arch the bridge was built from 1725 to 1726 by Ralph Wood on behalf of the Grand Allies and is a single 103 feet span stone bridge across the deep wooded gorge of the Causey Burn. In its heyday it was once crossed by 900 horse drawn wagons a day in both directions with one wagon crossing every twenty seconds.

Causey Arch
Causey Arch. Photo © David Simpson 2018

The dene of the Causey Burn itself is an attractive setting in itself which adds to the magic of this place where a railway existed 100 years before the Stockton and Darlington Railway opened.

A sad footnote to the history of the arch is that Ralph Wood, the common stonemason who built it, was so terrified that his bridge would collapse that he committed suicide. Yet his bridge still stands, secure to this day.

 Beamish | Pelton, Ouston, Urpeth and High Handenhold


Lanchester and the Browney valley

Shotley Bridge, Ebchester and Hamsterley | Consett

Team Valley | Whickham and Gibside


North East England History and Culture