Mining Expansion and Industrial Growth

Mining Expansion and Industrial Growth

In the later 17th century the Newcastle Hostmen lose their control of Tyneside coal production, though not the coal traffic on the river. The disruptions of the Civil War led to non-Hostmen acquiring coal interests and an increasing willingness by non-coalowning Hostmen to act as agents for their coal. The Hostmen became differentiated into a large group of ‘fitters’ who ran the keel traffic and marketed for the coal-owners, and a small number who now regarded themselves primarily as coalowners. The Liddells, for example, were royalist Hostmen and became Durham-based coalowners like the Bowes and Wortleys, and took little part in Newcastle guilds or politics. A few, though, like the Blackefls, retained their Newcastle base. The leading coalowners periodically formed cartels to manage output, notably the ‘Grand Allies’ of Liddell, Bowes and Wortley in 1726, and the ‘Vend’ after 1771.

These changes were also related to the exhaustion and drainage problems of old pits. Elswick pit was flooded in 1680. A 1689 petition claimed that ‘the coal-pits nearest the water are almost quite exhausted and decayed’. New pits started up away from the river, mainly in north-west Durham, where coal from shallow seams was transported along wooden wagonways to the Tyne. These new wagonways were costly to build and also meant paying landowners for expensive ‘wayleaves’. Coalowners even tried to block their rivals by buying negative wayleaves, and in the 1720s Newcastle coalowner Richard Ridley persuaded Newcastle corporation to refuse a wayleave from Heaton colliery to William Cotesworth the Gateshead coalowner.

Coalmining Expansion Northumberland
Coalmining Expansion Northumberland

The invention of Newcomen’s steam or ‘atmospheric’ engine in 1710 eased the drainage problem. By the 1720s north Tyneside pits were re-opening and expanding, with wagonways to the river. Collieries were opened at Byker, jesmond, Heaton, Wylam, and further north at Holywell Main, and later along the south edge of the 90-fathom dyke or fault north-east of Newcastle, such as Longbenton pit in 1735. By 1767 Longbenton had the largest output on north Tyneside, followed by Throckley and Holywell Main, west of Newcastle. On the coast, a wagonway had been constructed from Plessey pits to Blyth before 1710, and its route can still be traced. In 1722 Matthew White and Richard Ridley acquired these estates and developed Blyth as a coal and small commercial port. At Seaton Sluice the Delavals expanded their coal operations, especially after 1750, and 1761-4 excavated a new harbour entrance through solid rock to give better facilities In 1777 177 ships left the harbour with coal.

The introduction of gunpowder to sink deeper shafts, and cast-iron cylinders (in place of brass) for larger pumping engines, allowed the mining of the deep, rich coal-seams in the Wallsend basin. Walker pit was sunk in 1758, drained by three engines, and reached coal at 600 feet. Willington pit followed in 1775, Wallsend in the 1780s, after several explosions, Bigge’s Main in 1784, and Percy Main in 1796-9. By 1800 the main output was coming from these Wallsend pits, which were convenient for shipping coal direct from coal­staithes into the colliers through ‘spouts’, and later coal-drops which lessened breakage. This direct loading gradually diminished employment in the keel trade. Further Walisend basin pits were developed after 1800; one north of Bigge’s Main was the Craster pit, for the Craster family owned land in Longbenton. However, in 1802 the Grand Allies sank Killingworth pit, and opened up a new mining area north of the 90-fathom dyke, where the steep dip of the beds had prevented earlier working, and after 1820 many miners moved to this area, with further pits at Burradon and Backworth.

Explosive gases in the deep pits caused heavy loss of life, and lighting was a problem. Even the feeble light of phosphorescent fish was used, and at Walisend a mirror reflected light into one gaseous shaft. The Davy and Stephenson safety lamps after 1815 should have helped, but just led to working still deeper seams and dangerous shafts: more output, but no more safety.

The wooden wagonways were gradually converted to iron rails; the first stretch on Tyneside was from Walker to the staithes in 1797. Steam-locomotives were also introduced. The Cornish mining engineer, Trevithick, visited Newcastle in 1804 with details of his locomotive, and Christhopher Blackett ordered one, but never took delivery of it, possibly because his 5-mile wagonway from Wylam to Scotswood was still wooden until 1808. When Blackett contacted Trevithick again in 1809, he was no longer interested. However, in 1813 Blackett’s manager, William Hedley, designed a similar engine (the Puffing Billy), which ran for many years. On the Kenton wagonway, a design by Blenkinsop was tried, based on a rack-and-pinion system rather than Trevithick’s smooth wheels. At Killingworth the Grand Allies asked George Stephenson to design a locomotive. Stephenson’s designs led to a number of engines on Tyneside wagonways by the early 1820s, but the big breakthrough came with the public demonstration of the Stockton and Darlington railway in 1825.

The railway allowed further mining expansion north of the 90-fathom dyke. North of Backworth the household High Main coal deteriorates and the Low Main coal suitable for steam-production dominates. The demand for steam-coal in industry and transport was growing and formed the basis for future coal-mining expansion. Export duties on coal were reduced in 1831, and eventually abolished, and the Northumberland coalfield became a major exporter: exports from Newcastle rose from 157,000 tons in 1828 to 476,000 tons in 1837. The railways also threatened the Tyneside coalowners, how­ever, by bringing competition from areas like South Durham, and the rights of way given by the railway Acts destroyed lucrative wayleave rents. Coal cartel members opposed new lines like the South Durham Railway in 1836, when each contributed one per cent. of royalties and wayleave rents to the fighting fund. The Duke of Northumber­land’s £180 18s. 4d. (X180.92p) meant he was getting £18,000 a year in such rents. In the mid-1840s though, they gave up this battle, and the cartel collapsed.

Coal was not the only mining industry in Northumberland. The lead mines of the north Pennines, on the moors where Northumber­land, Durham and Cumberland met, had been worked in the medieval period, and in the late 17th century there was a revival of mining activity on a larger scale. During the 18th century output from Alston Moor and Allendale increased with improved techniques of smelting and mining, driving long tunnels or adits into the hills. The main mining groups in these areas were the London Lead Company (who leased the ex-Radcliffe lands from the Greenwich Hospital Commis­sioners) and the Blackett-Beaumont family, who had acquired Allehdale from the Fenwicks in 1689. In good periods leadmining was very profitable, and around 1820 the Blackett-Beaumonts were making as much as £60,000 a year.

Transporting the lead ore from these remote mines was difficult. The ore was pulverised and washed on site, then carried on pack­horses to the lead smelters. These were built on the lower land below the moors, and when the London Lead Co. built a smelter in 1706 they made careful calculations of the best location, finding it was 7s. (35p) a fother of lead cheaper to smelt at Whitfield than at Ryton-on­Tyne, where coal would be cheaper. In the Northumbrian foothills smelting mills were built at Allen (1692), Whitfield (1706), Dukesfield (pre-1725), and Langley (1767).

Industrial growth in this period from 1700  to 1 840 took several forms. As in many other parts of England there was investment (especially after 1750) in rural industries often using water-power: the paper mills at Haughton on the North Tyne in 1788, and Fourstones on the South Tyne, the woollen mills at Mitford, Newtown (Rothbury) and elsewhere, the cotton mill at Netherwitton, and the iron foundries at Bedlington and at Acklington Park on the Coquet. These mills and foundries reflected the growing market in Northum­berland and especially in Tyneside.

More distinctive and important was the industrial growth on Tyne­side related to the coal trade. The long-established glass industry, using local coals and sands brought as ballast by colliers, expanded, especially at the end of the century. In 1772  there were 16 Tyneside glassworks, by 1812 there were thirty. These produced a wide variety of glassware, from glass bottles and cheap soda glass to the delicate enamelled glassware of the Beilbys. On North Tyneside the main centres were at Ouseburn, Closegate in Newcastle, and at Lemington, opened in 1780, where a glass cone survives. At Seaton Sluice the Delavals began a glassworks in the 1760s, and in 1776 they shipped 840,000 bottles from their harbour. A group of inter-connected industries sprang up around glassmaking. Glass required soda and potash, and in 1797 William and John Losh leased the brine from Walker pit and were soon using the new Le Blanc process to make alkali. Other firms came in, and by 1850 alkali was second to coal in shipments from the Tyne, much of it going to the textile districts. There was also soap and paint making, and all the new chemical production created pollution problems on Tyneside.

The second growth sector was the iron industry, making products for the coal industry and coal shipping. Until 1800 the iron foundries made nails, anchors, chains and cylinders for pumping engines. Bedlington ironworks was famous for its nails. With demand for iron rails and steam-locomotives the industry expanded, and after 1800 more foundries were set up along the Tyne, replacing water-driven hammers with the new Watt steam-engines. Losh, Wilson, and Bell started their Walker ironworks in 1807. Cast-iron rails were brittle and cracked under locomotives, and in the 1820s Bedlington acquired a new reputation for malleable iron rails, using the rolling-mill installed in 1809. The first Tyne steamboat was the Perseverance, which began a Newcastle to North Shields service in 1814, and the need for both steamboat and locomotive engines stimulated the beginnings of an engineering industry. Stephenson set up a works, and in 1817  Robert Hawthorn formed his engine works at Forth Banks, Newcastle, and in 1822 installed steam-power to drive his machines. Until the 1830s most of the pig iron was imported, or scrap iron used, though Bedlington had tried smelting rather unsuccessfully in the 18th century and there was smelting at Lemington-on-Tyne after 1795. In the 1830s and 1840s blast-furnaces were built to use coal and local ore at Ridsdale in Redesdale (1839), and Hareshaw, near Bellingham (1841), and on the Tyne at Wylam (1836), and using imported ore, at the Walker works in 1842. Despite the growth of the Tyneside iron and chemical-related industries after 1800, in 1840 most of the factories were still small, and Tyneside was not an industrialised region like the textile districts of Lancashire and Yorkshire with their large factory employment.