BACKWORTH MINERS WELFARE
Backworth Hall dates back to the late 18th century and was the home of Ralph William Grey, a wealthy landowner and gentleman. The Grey family originated from Newcastle and after a number of land purchases, they put together a considerable estate covering present day Backworth, Shiremoor, Earsdon, Monkseaton, Holywell and Longbenton.
THE MINING YEARS
The Duke of Northumberland owned the mineral properties of Backworth and the surrounding area. Coal had been mined in that part of Northumberland since early times and during the early 1700’s the area around Backworth was extensively mined. There was no mining in Backworth itself because of the 90-fathom fault, that threw the seams down some 120 fathoms at this point. If it was known that coal was there at this time however it was not mined as it could be recovered much easier and cheaper elsewhere in the region.
By 1765 a wooden waggonway had been built by Gibson, Bell and Brown to serve the royalties of Flatworth, Shiremoor and Murton to the south of the Backworth royalty. This wagonway ran from Whitehill point on the Tyne via High Flatworth to Murton Row on the northern edge of the Flatworth royalty. At Murton Row the line divided, the western branch running a short distance to serve pits in the Shiremoor royalty south of the allotment.
In the early 19th century, coal mining steadily became big business in this region and following a dispute over the rights to work coal in the Backworth area, the Duke of Northumberland purchased the whole of the Grey Estate.
The eastern branch ran a short distance to serve pits in the Murton Royalty around Shiremoor House. By 1810 this branch had been extended further north to pits in the Murton Royalty around the village of New York. This system survived until the early years of the 19th century with the positions of the feeding branches changing as pits were worked out and new ones sunk.
By 1810 these royalties were leased by a group of partners: – Maude, Lamb, Taylor, Plumer and Buddle. The latter, John Buddle, was probably the most notable mining engineer of his day and the developments, that followed, were largely due to him. At this time the old colliery was virtually worked out but Buddle had his sights on what lay beyond the 90-fathom dike. In the short term the partners began a sinking east of Allotment farm, which was to become the Algernon pit. Coal drawing began in June 1810.
At the same time conversion and upgrading of the old wagonway began with Buddle writing to the Butterley Iron Works in Derbyshire on the 17th May 1810 asking them to quote for cast iron rails, ‘”the same as those supplied to Benwell Colliery”. These were to be 3ft long weighing 29lbs with 7lb pedestals. Two days later replying to the Butterly Company’s offer of £12 per ton and pedestals at £14 Buddle wrote that part of the wagonway was to replace a wooden one now in use and asked if it would it be agreeable to extend the order from 300 to 600 yds. This last addition would be to extend the line to the new sinking. This pit did not last very long and closed in April 1814.
To the casual observer it would seem a great deal of expenditure to lay a cast iron wagonway and sink a new pit at an old colliery especially one which would only be open for four years, but the partners had long term plans. In 1812 they had negotiated with the Duke of Northumberland the lease of the nearby Backworth royalty, where boring had been done to prove the extent of the coal measures north of the 90 fathom fault. The first sinking at this royalty was the ‘A’ pit, where ground was broken in August 1813. Coal production commenced in September 1818. The new wagonway was extended to reach the new venture.
The first shipment of coal left Whitehill point on board the ‘Nailer’ on the 10th September of the same year. The extension of the 1810 cast iron railway was along one of the Shiremoor pit branches serving the Hope Pit. It left the Hope branch at the site of the later Allotment engine and ran north, northwest to reach the ‘A’ Pit. In 1821 sinking of the ‘B’ Pit commenced about 800 yds to the north of the ‘A’ Pit and in December of that year the first stationary haulage or ‘standing’ engine was built at the Allotment to draw wagons up the slight incline from the colliery, thereby eliminating the use of horses on that part of the line where the gradient was against the load. During 1823 another engine was brought into use at Murton Row and the remaining section to the staithes was converted to rope haulage soon afterwards.
Another engine was installed at Percy Main sometime between 1824 and 1827. In 1823 the Cramlington wagonway was built from pits to the north of the Backworth royalty to a staith at Whitehill point. This line ran parallel to the Backworth line but a little to the east for much of its route, joining the Backworth line at Murton Row for the final section to the river. In 1826 Seghill Colliery began sending their coals down the Cramlington line and the increase in traffic must have placed a great strain on the Backworth railway as the partners had been developing their colliery further. In 1823 the Duke Pit was sunk at Earsdon Square followed soon after by the Duchess Pit nearby. This venture was owned by the Earsdon Coal Company, a partnership comprising Tayler, Lamb, Plumer and Clark, the first three being Backworth partners also. The line which served these pits branched near the Bell engine running east for about a mile to Earsdon Village, crossing the Cramlington Company’s line by an over bridge.
In 1828 another branch was built from the Bell engine running northeast to West Holywell Colliery crossing the Cramlington line by means of a tunnel. It is likely that the Bell engine worked traffic on both these branches. West Holywell was again a separate concern, though some of the Backworth partners; Taylor, Lamb, Clark and Plumer were involved. Also in 1828 sinking started at East Holywell pit owned by Taylor, Lamb and Clark under the title the East Holywell Coal Company. An extension of the line from the Duke and Duchess pits, a distance of less than a mile reached this. There were further developments in 1838 when the Earsdon Coal Company sank the Church Pit, which was given a rail outlet by building a short branch to join the East Holywell line. This ran almost north and formed one side of a ‘Y’ junction with the other being the line to East Holywell.
Also at this time a long extension of the main line was built running north from the ‘B’ Pit a distance of 3 miles to reach the West Cramlington Pit. It is likely that this pit was also a separate venture as it was soon given its own staith west of Hayhole point reached by a short branch off the main line at Percy Main. The increase in traffic down the Backworth line caused severe congestion south of Murton Row, where traffic joined from Cramlington and Seghill. The situation became intolerable for these owners as Backworth traffic would have priority and so in 1839 the Seghill owners began constructions of their own line running parallel to the Cramlington line but turning south at Percy Main to reach their own staiths at Howden.
This line was completed in 1840. The Cramlington owners also wanting to improve their position also built a new line in 1839 to eliminate their dependency on the Backworth line. This took the form of a by-pass branching off the old route at Murton Row before the junction with the Backworth line and after crossing the Seaton Burn Wagonway ran on an independent route to new staiths at Howden, where it met with the line from Seghill. The Seghill line was later to become the Blyth and Tyne Railway and ultimately would become part of the North Eastern Railway. This construction work also affected the Backworth system further north.
The building of the Seghill line effectively doubled the width of railway which the West Holywell and East Holywell branches had to cross. At the former the length of the tunnel was increased by 42 ft by building a cut and cover underpass with stone walls and steel girders for a roof. The original tunnel had been a brick arch. 1843 saw the first closures on the system when the Duke and Duchess pits were closed in April of that year followed shortly after in June 1846 with the closure of the Church Pit the branches serving these concerns were then lifted.
A further half mile was added to the main line however, when a link was put in with the newly opened York, Newcastle and Berwick Railway. This ran west from the West Cramlington Colliery and provided the company with another outlet for their coal. The West Holywell Company sank a new pit at Low Steads in 1853 and built a new line to serve it branching north near their earlier West Holywell Pit and running parallel to and on the east side of the by now renamed Blyth and Tyne Railway. This venture was very short-lived closing in 1858.
Fresh attempts to look for coal at their earlier pit proved futile and the West Holywell operation closed down in 1861. The royalty was then taken over by the Backworth Company and worked from underground by adjacent collieries. In 1856 the Backworth ‘C’ Pit was sunk north of the ‘B’ Pit and alongside the wagonway to West Cramlington. This was intended to replace the ‘A’ Pit for coal drawing, which was then relegated to a pumping shaft.
Over the years, the Hall began to fall into disrepair and in 1934; the committee of Backworth Colliery Miners Welfare Scheme purchased the building and surrounding 85 acres for £8500. A further £4000 was spent on restoration of buildings, additions and alterations and the provision and layout of the recreational facilities including the golf course, cost an additional £4415.
Backworth Hall was the welfare and recreational centre for the whole of the Backworth coal-mining district, which had over 3000 employees. The miners used to pay sixpence out of their wages to the Social Fund to keep the place going.
Over recent years substantial investment has been made to the Hall and grounds and the golf course is now starting to play at its prime.
Although the pits have closed and the mining industry all but finished in our region, Backworth Hall still presides over a successful blend of cricketers, bowlers, archers, croquet and not least golfers, all of whom have reason to be grateful to Ralph William Grey.
Administered by dedicated Trustees
Non profit making charity
All funds are used to maintain the Hall and grounds for the benefit of the local community