Eighteenth-Century County Durham

Eighteenth-Century County Durham

Durham was not a non-juring county and saw no response to the 1715 rising, despite the Jacobite sympathy of Durham City and the history of eminent non-juring personalities – George Smith of Burn Hall, non­juring ‘bishop of Durham’; Denis Granville, Dean of Durham; and John Cock, vicar of St Oswald’s in the city. In 1695 Celia Fiennes noted, after a fleeting visit: ‘There are many papists in the town, popishly affected, and daily increase . . . ‘ Indeed, as if to confirm this, in 1780, the year of the Gordon riots, Major Floyd remarked on the’. . . prodigious numbers of Catholics in . . . [Durham City] . . . This place . . . prodigious over­run with clergy, who in all countries take up a great deal more room than they ought, and eat out all the industrious and useful . . . ‘. But in 1715  no local contingent was raised and the county only provided a temporary resting-place at Whitesmocks for the body of Lord Derwentwater. In the ’45 rebellion the County Militia was called out but took no part although soldiers were regularly billeted in or near Durham City. In late January 1 746 on his way to Culloden to confront the Pretender, the Duke of Cumberland passed through Durham where the mayor and corporation received him ceremoniously, while the County M.P., George Bowes, presented him with a horse.

The earliest sections of the county’s own regiment were formed in 1 758 when the second battalion of the 23rd Foot was made into a distinct corps, named the 68th Regiment, with John Lambton as first Colonel, and in 1 759 when, under the Act of 1757, the Durham Regiment of Militia was raised with the Earl of Darlington, of the Vane family, as Colonel. The Militia was intended for home defence, and was organised on a county basis with local gentry as officers and ordinary soldiers picked by ballot. (The 68th Foot, after operations on the French coast, embarked on long tours of duty in the West Indies until 1806, and were awarded their motto ‘Faithful’ for their action against the Carribs in 1764. The conversion in 1808 from Foot to Light Infantry saw the 68th training as skirmishers at the call of the bugle. Wellington described the battalion in the Pyrenees as ‘the most gallant, the finest thing, he had ever witnessed’. The Durham Light Infantry was formed in 1881 and in 1968 the county regiment was merged into the new Light Infantry. The Colours of the First Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, were laid up on 12 December 1968.)

In industrial terms, the 18th century was one of increasing advance. The Church was not aloof from the progress. For example, Bishop William Talbot, Lord Crewe’s eventual successor and a kinsman of the earls of Shrewsbury, came into the diocese in July 1 722 and immediately set about promoting a bill in the House of Lords ‘to enable . . . bishops . . . to make leases of their mines, not having been accustomably letten . . ., This would cover tin, lead, iron, coal and any other ores. The purpose of the bill was the aggrandisement of the bishop’s wealth and showed a canny appreciation of the potential value of coal royalties. Previously ancient copyholders and leaseholders of bishopric or chapter land had not been subject to any claim by the lessor to the minerals lying under the surface of the leased lands. Sir John Eden, who was a county member of Parliament, supported the lessees whose wealth was threatened and fought the bill on their behalf in London, leaving it so mangled that it was abandoned. The bishop found himself heartily disliked for his attempt at sharp practice.

When Matthias Dunn was appointed Inspector of Mines for the three northern counties of England on the recommendation of a House of Lords Committee in 1849, in his report he commented upon the situation of the industry in the 18th century. He reminded his audience of the primitive nature of the wooden wagon-ways by which coal had been transported before the advent of cast-iron rails in 1767. Underground water from pits had been mainly raised, bucket by bucket, using horses at ‘gins’. Although other systems had been tried, such as the late 17th-century chain pumps run by water wheels at Lumley Colliery, it was the steam engine which supplanted actual horse-power. Thomas Newcomen’s steam engine was patented in 1710  and Dunn described it as ‘an open-topped cylinder, the vacuum being created underneath the piston by injecting cold water into the cylinder, and realizing an effective pressure of from 4 to 5 lb per square inch on the piston’. In the first instance the pumps used were bored from solid wood and the diameter was thus not more than about ten inches. Until metal machine-castings revolutionised mining, coal which was deeper than 60 fathoms was inaccessible. So it was that the ‘Grand Allies’, the mining families of Ravensworth, Strathmore and Wortley, on the advice of their agents, put out such areas on long leases. They were thus left with shallow seams when the deeper Wearside seams could be exploited by better machinery.

Dunn remarks that women were employed not only in cleaning coals and barrowing them into the keels from the staiths (for which they were paid Id to lid. per ton), but they were also occasionally employed underground. He also relates that a hundred years or more before his time of writing (1849),  the winters were ‘much longer and more severe than at present’, and that for six or eight weeks at Christmas industry ceased, and plans to store coal had to be made well in advance.

The introduction of the steam engine saw the opening up of collieries at North and South Biddick, Penshaw, Rainton, Washington, Urpeth, Leefield and Pelton Fell. Whilst these collieries were developed inland, other industries continued to grow along the Tyne. Thus the glass industry, now more associated with Wearside and Sunderland, de­veloped initially at South Shields. A Dean and Chapter lease to John Dagnia of November 1 737 refers to two glass-houses on the south bank of the river Tyne. At the same time Isaac Cookson, his son John, and Thomas Jeffreys of London entered into partnership to produce crown and plate glass on the quayside at South Shields. In Sunderland by 1 772 there were three green-bottle houses and one flint-glass house on the quayside.

The shipbuilding industry at Sunderland grew with the need for keels as the coal industry prospered. By the end of the 18th century there were about 20 shipbuilding yards there. John Bailey in his 1807 House of Commons report notes that 19 ships were built at Sunderland in 1790, with an average tonnage of 144 tons, of which the largest was 312,  and that in 1 791 six were built, average tonnage 202 tons, the largest being 356 tons.

Desire for improvements in communications and transport came with increased sophistication of industry. There was more than one proposal to build a canal into the south-west part of the coalfield, from the West Auckland area to the lower Tees. But it was the vision of a river Wear navigable from Durham to the sea which held the imagination of many throughout the century. That vision was a chimera.

In 1 705 a petition and bill to make the river Wear navigable was sponsored by the Durham city guilds of Mercers, Grocers, Haberdashers, Ironmongers and Salters. The Wear Improvement Bill was passed in 1717  after an initial defeat by the Newcastle upon Tyne lobby in 1706, and despite the bishop’s half-hearted attempt to protect his interests. The River Wear Commissioners were established, with, at first, objectors among the appointments – but they did not attend meetings. It was found that a vast number of rocks would need to be removed from the river between Durham and Chester-le-Street for a truly navigable route to become reality. A fine statue of Neptune was erected in Durham market-place in 1729, perhaps to symbolise the proposed union of Durham and the sea, but despite further proposals in 1 754 and 1 796 the . • . vision faded as it came face to face with the reality of steam traction. In her visit to Durham in 1695 Celia Fiennes had rightly commented that ‘The river [Wear] runs almost round the town and returns againe, that casts the citty into a tryangular; its not navigeable nor possible to be
made so because its so full of rocks and vast stones, makes it difficult for any such attempt …’.

The agricultural pattern of the county had changed by the end of the St Thomas’s church, 17th century from a great mass of smallholdings to a smaller number Stanhope with a customary area of about a hundred acres which provided a greater potential for prosperity. Enclosure of arable land proceeded during the century though ‘common’ rights of grazing were often maintained. Bailey, in his General View of the Agriculture of Durham, records 26 areas mainly of pasture enclosed in the county between 1 756 and 1800 either by Act of Parliament or by agreement. Enclosure awards or agreements in the 17th century had numbered at least fifty, beginning with part of Sherburn in 1634. Wolsingham was enclosed in two parcels in 1 765 and
1769, and Weardale stinted moors and pasture (25,000 acres) in 1799.

In respect of the lead industry Bailey records that by 1809 there were 86 mines working in the county mainly in Weardale and Teesdale. The mines were often leased to the London Lead Company which paid rents and royalties. Thus it was that the parish of Stanhope in Weardale, the largest in the county, was also the richest. To be appointed Rector of Stanhope (and with that to a canonry of Durham Cathedral) was, financially, highly prized. The incumbent of the parish was entitled to every 10th bin of lead-ore raised from the parish lead-mines. So the income from that source in the 18th century could run to between £2,000 and £3,000 per annum. Lead production in Weardale between 1 730 and 1800 grew sixfold.

Stanhope’s most famous incumbent was the saintly Joseph Butler (Rector 1725-40) who held that office together with the bishopric of Bristol which was then worth only £400 per annum. Butler was elected bishop of Durham in 1 750 but survived less than two years in the post. He had, however, written Analogy of Religion (1736),  seeking ‘the way of Truth’, and a classic of Anglican theology. Butler, in his primary charge to his diocese in 175 1, remarks that ‘it is impossible for me . . . to forbear lamenting with you the general decay of religion in this nation’. His ill-health may have made him pessimistic, but he may also have been despondent to observe how the enthusiasm of the frequent visits of the evangelistic John Wesley (d. 1 791) from the 1740s onwards had captured the imagination of the county. Wesley’s first sermon in County Durham had been at Sunderland in 1743 and the vigour and fortitude of the Wesleyan societies grew while missionary work in the county flourished. The county took Methodism to its heart. Today, the ‘Big Meeting’ of the county’s Methodists takes place in the county’s spiritual home, Durham Cathedral.