The little River Team begins in north-west Durham as a collection of streams in and around Tanfield – a name which originally meant Team Field from being the source of the river. Much of the upper part of the Team Valley is called Beamish Burn and partly flows through the grounds of Beamish Museum. Team is an ancient name, meaning ‘dark river’ with the same root as the name of the Thames. For centuries it has meandered through pretty countryside.
In the mid nineteenth century there were few big industries along the Team and no major settlements along the river, except at Dunston where it entered the Tyne. Even there – where the mouth of the Team is called ‘The Gut’ – Dunston was a small industrial village with a colliery, a ropery and to the west, a little chemical works.
In the area now occupied by the Team Valley Trading Estate the River Team snaked in a series of twists through a broad valley. Here it was joined from the west by a stream called the Trench and by another called Black Burn from Beggar Bank near Lobley Hill.
Little rural footbridges crossed the Team in what is now the trading estate and in the northern part of what is now the trading estate there were even little waterfalls. Today the river runs underground in the southern part of the trading estate, but can be seen on the eastern side of Queensway North where it runs in an artificially straightened course.
Kibblesworth and Hedley Fell
From Beamish where it is called the Beamish Burn to Urpeth where it is the Urpeth Burn, the wooded valley of the Team more or less follows the border between County Durham and Gateshead.
Kibblesworth, within the open countryside of Gateshead Borough (though historically, like Gateshead in County Durham) is situated a little to the north of Ouston in County Durham. The name of Kibblesworth derives from ‘Cybbel’s Worth’ meaning the enclosure belonging to someone called Cybbel.
Approaching Kibblesworth from the west there are great views of Gateshead and Newcastle upon Tyne on the hill tops in the distance. Several landmarks can be picked out in Newcastle including St. James’ Park, Newcastle Civic Centre and Hadrian’s Tower. With the help of a telephoto lens or binoculars you can also pick out Grey’s monument.
The River Team changes direction to the south of Kibblesworth. After heading north east from Beamish it heads in a north westerly direction towards the Team Valley Trading Estate.
Kibblesworth was a rural farming community until a colliery operated by the Bowes family opened here in 1842 and was joined by another colliery called Bewicke Main just to the north in 1862. Bewicke Main was operated by Hunt, Perkins & Co. The Perkins family developed the nearby ironworks at Birtley and are recalled in the name of Perkinsville to the south of Ouston.
There is a substantial area of sparsely populated countryside stretching three miles east to west from Lamesley and Kibblesworth to Tanfield and north-south from Sunniside and Marley Hill to Beamish, Ouston and Urpeth. It encompasses fields, farms, fells and woodland and was once home to collieries such as Marley Hill and Bewicke Main, but there are no towns or villages.
The area includes the historic Causey Arch railway bridge to the west and Blackburn Fell near Sunniside to the north west. Hedley Hall Woods form a popular walking area within this land, just to the north of the Beamish Museum grounds and the accompanying Beamish Burn. In the far north east of this countryside bordering Tyneside near Lobley Hill and the Team Valley Trading Estate are traces of Ravensworth Park and Ravensworth Castle.
In ancient times Hedley Fell and Blackburn Fell are said to have been the home to a mischievous little creature called the Hedley Kow which had the capacity to shape-shift into many forms including a very shapely beautiful young maiden.
The maiden would often awaken the young men as they slept in their beds and entice them to remote locations before turning into a cow, running off laughing and leaving them abandoned. The legend and antics of the Hedley Kow are also sometimes associated with the village of Hedley near Ebchester in the Derwent Valley.
The little village of Lamesley to the north of Kibblesworth is one of Gateshead’s smallest communities. It is situated in lovely rural surroundings despite its proximity to a major roundabout just to the north on the A1 at the south end of the Team Valley Trading Estate. If you take a look at the middle of the roundabout – safely from a satellite view – you will see the A1 crosses straight through the middle of it from east to west while the River Team passes through from north to south.
The name Lamesley means Lambi’s clearing from an Anglo-Saxon personal name, though it was sometimes historically known as Lumsley. It is a tiny place with some pleasing stone houses, with the most prominent building being the striking church of St Andrew, a Georgian church of 1759 with nineteenth century Gothic modifications and standing on the site of a medieval chapel of 1286. The tower was added to the church in 1821 by Lord Ravensworth and includes a protruding octagonal stair turret which gives this church its distinct appearance.
Lamesley and Old Ravensworth to the west are shrunken medieval villages. The popular Ravensworth Arms Hotel at Lamesley is just across the other side of the River Team to the west of St Andrew’s church on the site of a house called Clubdon Hall that was historically connected with the Clavering family of Newcastle.
It is claimed that Lewis Carroll wrote part of Alice in Wonderland here, since it is known that the writer based his Alice character on Alice Liddell, a member of the Liddell family of Ravensworth Castle which was situated in the parkland to the north.
From a more recent literary age, Kate Fawcett, the mother of novelist Catherine Cookson (1906-1998) worked as a barmaid at the hotel and used to attend dances at Ravensworth. Kate fell pregnant and gave birth to the future writer who until the age of seven was brought up under the illusion that Kate was her older half-sister.
Ravensworth Castle stood to the west of the River Team and to the north of Lamesley in countryside to the west of what is now the Team Valley Trading Estate. It was home to the Liddells, Lords of Ravensworth and was built in 1820 on the site of a fourteenth century castle. Anciently called Ravenshelm, it was once the stronghold of someone called Hraefn.
According to legend, Eardwulf a Saxon Bishop of Chester-le-Street rose from the dead at Ravenshelm in the year 1080 and predicted the murder of Walcher, Bishop of Durham at Gateshead in that year. In the 1100s Ravensworth belonged to Richard Fitzmarmaduke, a nephew of Bishop Ranulf Flambard of Durham but it passed later to the Lumleys, Boyntons and Gascoignes who sold it to the Liddells in 1607.
In 1835, Lady Ravensworth of Ravensworth Castle built an almshouse for the poor at nearby Lamesley, on a site now occupied by the roundabout at the south end of the Team Valley Trading Estate. This lady is possibly recalled in the name of nearby Lady Park, part of the Ravensworth grounds. In the 1920s the Liddells moved to Eslington Park in Northumberland (a name recalled in Gateshead’s Eslington) and the castle became a girls’ school.
Sadly, in 1932 Lord Ravensworth decided to demolish his spectacularly picturesque castle claiming it was undermined by colliery workings. Demolition was completed in 1953, but the ruins of the original medieval towers and a nineteenth century stable block remain.
Old Ravensworth, a mile to the south of the castle is situated just over a mile west of Lamesley and is a shrunken medieval village. It is home to Lamesley Farm.
Chowdene and Allerdene
Allerdene, one of the more southerly parts of Gateshead lies east of the Team Valley Trading Estate near a prominent supermarket and is named from a small valley that either belonged to an Anglo-Saxon called Alfhere or was the valley of alder trees.
Chowdene, between Allerdene and Low Fell is also named from a small, wooded dene on the east side of the Team Valley. It is now overlooked by a junior school. In medieval times it was Choldene, explained as a combination of Anglo-Saxon words meaning throat-like valley, though it has also been explained as chough-dene meaning Jackdaw valley.
Chowdene was a little mining village in 1743 when Methodist preacher John Wesley remarked: “…resolved to preach there as soon as possible for these are sinners and need of repentance.”
Part of the land in the Team Valley north of Chow Dene was called Darn Crook meaning hidden or remote nook of land. It was remote from Chester-le-Street to which it paid its agricultural taxes or tithes. Pronounced Darren Crook this led to the mispronunciation Derwent Crook, still remembered in the Trading Estate’s Derwent Avenue and at Derwent Crook Avenue over the railway in Low Fell. Darn Crook was incidentally also the name of a street in the Gallowgate area of Newcastle.
Team Valley Trading Estate
The construction of the Team Valley Trading Estate, (TVTE) was a government response to the economic depression in the North East during the 1930s. A company was set up called North East Trading Estate intending to create an estate for new businesses.
Jarrow Slake, Saltmeadows-East Gateshead, Wallsend and Newburn were the four sites considered but when a Colonel Appleyard was made chairman of the company he successfully argued in favour of the Team Valley which occupied a central location for many parts of the region.
Work commenced in 1936 and the first factory opened in 1937. The estate was officially opened by George VI and his Queen (formerly Elizabeth Bowes Lyon) on February 22, 1939. As a member of the Bowes family, the Queen of course, had very strong connections with the area.
North of the Team Valley Trading Estate is Lobley Hill Road which links Lobley Hill to Bensham across the River Team to the east. Lob means slope or ‘throw’ and ‘ley’ means clearing in a wood.
There are few early records for the town of Dunston which lies at the mouth of the River Team where it enters the Tyne to the west of Gateshead. Dunston was historically part of the parish of Whickham making it difficult to trace its own individual early history.
The best guess is that it was the farm or estate of someone called Dunn and started life as a small fishing community. However, back in AD 875 it is known the Vikings (the Danes) overwintered at the mouth of the Team after they had entered the river estuary and destroyed Tynemouth Priory. Once the winter was over they raided the North East and Scotland and ransacked Hexham Abbey.
Until the second half of the nineteenth century there was a 30 acre island called The King’s Meadows in the Tyne at Dunston with its own pub called The Countess of Coventry. At low tide it was possible to wade across to the island from Dunston.
The island was considered part of Northumberland rather than Durham. It was removed when the Tyne was dredged sometime before 1890. Perhaps this island was utilised by the Vikings during their winter encampment all those centuries ago.
For much of the nineteenth century Dunston was primarily noted for its community of keelmen who were involved in transporting coal in boats to ships on the Tyne. It was one of a handful of places associated with communities of keelmen. The most famous was Sandgate in Newcastle but others included Biddick near Fatfield on the River Wear.
The impressive Dunston Staiths are situated within the Tyne alongside the Tyne river bank just to the east of the River Team. The staiths are said to be the largest wooden structure in Europe although this claim took a dent in November 2003 when fire destroyed part of the structure. Construction of the staiths was begun by the North Eastern Railway Company in 1890 and the staiths opened for operation in 1893.
The purpose of the staiths was to load coal from north Durham collieries into ships, from railway wagons. The staiths protrude into the Tyne at a length of 1709 feet running parallel to the river bank and forming a large tidal basin in which ships once moored. Several railway lines ran along the top of the coal staiths from the river bank and rose at a gradient of 1 in 96 from the western end to the eastern end of the staiths. This enabled locomotives to shunt coal wagons to an appropriate height for loading ships anchored alongside the staiths.
Coal wagons fitted with trapdoors were shunted along the staiths and lined up with hoppers in the staiths floor. Gangs of men called Teemers would then release these trapdoors and teem the coal into the hoppers. This was not an easy task as often the coal would jam or freeze in the wagon or hopper so that men would have to jump in to free the coal and run the risk of falling through. Sometimes accidents of this nature would happen and the men could sustain serious injuries.
The hoppers in the staiths were linked to coal chutes called spouts and the teemers had the task of adjusting these spouts according to the height of the ships they were loading. The spouts were adjusted by means of a hand windlass and can still be seen on the staiths along with conveyor belts added at a later date, which were used on occasions when the ships were too high for the spouts to reach. Once coal or coke had been loaded from the shute into the holds of the ships, gangs of men called Trimmers were set to work to level out the coal in the ships for stability.
At the peak of its career in the 1920s Dunston Staiths was shipping an average of 140,000 tons of coal per week on vessels bound for both London and the continent but by the 1970s this figure had fallen to 3,000.
The staiths ceased operating in the 1970s and their future was uncertain, finally closing in 1980. They briefly found a role as a feature of the National Garden Festival in 1990 when they were an integral part of the festival site.
Wooden structures are naturally prone to fire damage and sadly the fire of 2003 isolated the terminus of the staiths from the rest of the structure. Despite this disaster, Dunston Staiths remains one of the most important relics of Tyneside’s coal industry, protected as a listed building and Scheduled Ancient Monument, a remarkable legacy of the busy days of what had once been known as ‘the Coaly Tyne’.
Dunston had long been a focal point for the Tyne coal trade. The Whickham Grand Lease Way, a horse drawn colliery railway or waggonway of 1620 ran from Whickham via Lobley Hill to Dunston on Tyne. It was one of the earliest recorded railways, though other railways almost certainly existed on Tyneside before this time.
From a slightly later period, the Tanfield Railway dates from 1725 and now claims to be the oldest existing railway in the world. Though only part remains it was originally eight miles long and also terminated at Dunston.
Teams, St Omer’s Haugh, Redheugh
Teams is the name of the area east of the River Team opposite Dunston but also an alternative name for the river. In the nineteenth century this area was part of Low Team and noted for a ropeworks. To the south beyond Lobley Hill Road was High Team, now the northern part of Team Valley Trading Estate in the vicinity of Lobley Hill Road.
The land on the bank of the Tyne alongside Dunston Coal Staiths is called St Omer’s Haugh. On the east side of the Team, it formed the riverside section of the National Garden Festival in 1990. Historically it belonged to the medieval hospital of St Mary in Newcastle who presumably named this land in honour of Omer, Bishop of Therouanne who died in AD 670.
Redheugh along the Tyne east of St Omer’s Haugh is best known from the neighbouring bridge. A heugh is usually a spur-shaped hill or promontory so Redheugh could mean ‘red hill spur’ or ‘reedy hill’.
Alternatively its name may be a reference to flat riverside land, in which case it should be a ‘haugh’ rather than a ‘heugh’. Redheugh Bridge was opened by Diana, the Princess of Wales in May 1983 and is the third bridge of that name succeeding earlier bridges of 1871 and 1901.