Old Images of Wallsend

Categorised as Tyne & Wear
Old photo of Wallsend High Street c1890
Wallsend High Street c.1890

Glimpse history through old images of Wallsend, in North East England.


In the 2nd century A.D., the Romans built a fort called Segedunum on what had been farmlands. It formed the end of Hadrian’s Wall, which ran across the country from Carlisle to modern-day Wallsend, hence the name.

For some reason, by the 5th century the fort was abandoned. That was quite unusual, as other groups moved into the forts when the Romans left Britain.

Centuries later, Wallsend became known for its coal mines, and then for its famous shipyard.

This video, created by the Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums, shows how the landscape changed over time. A fuller version is shown in Wallsend’s museum at Segedunum.

How did the Roman site of Segedunum, Wallsend, transform the landscape? – FutureLearn on YouTube

1835 Wallsend Pit Disaster

On 18th June 1835, Wallsend’s Colliery disaster led to the death of 102 men and boys. They were laid to rest in a mass grave, and its location is now unknown.

Here a live talk introduces the history of the colliery, and explains what happened at the time of the explostion. It’s illustrated with a range of old pictures and photos.

Wallsend 1835 pit disaster – Julie’s wallsend history on YouTube

Swan Hunters Shipyard

The Swan Hunters Shipyard launched some of the early 20th century’s greatest ships, and closure on completion of the Largs Bay in 2007 ended an industry for which the Tyne had once been famous.

Wallsend’s cranes, floating dock, and other shipbuilding equipment, was dismantled and transported to Bharati Shipyards in India.

This video showcases old photos of Wallsend’s shipbuilding past, with eye-catching images of huge ships towering over the terraced streets.


Historic Book

Extract from “All the Year Round · A Weekly Journal · Volume 9.”

Published 1873

It is of no use to advise the public
” When you ask for Wallsend conls see
that you get them . ” The truth is that ,
literally speaking , there are no Wallsend
coals , and therefore it is an impossibility to
get them . A search for those collieries ,
the produce of which figures at the head
of every coal – merchant’s price list , results
in the discovery of a large scattered ci
devant pit village , or rather series of pit
villages , about midway between Newcastle
on – Tyne and North Shields . This village
of Wallsend , deriving its name from being
located at the termination of the great
Roman wall which stretched from the
Tyne to the Solway Firth , stands on a
broad level table – land above the steep
northern bank of the Tyne . It is sur
rounded with mouldy and weed – grown pit
heaps of coal dross and waste , the relics of
a time when coal – winning was an active
industry at Wallsend . You ask for the
collieries , and a venerable man , in whom
the memories of the past are not wholly
dead , undertakes to be your cicerone among
the gaunt crumbling skeletons of disused
engine – houses and mouldering timbers .
This silent and solitary rain was the once

famons Russell’s Wallsend Main , that the
Old Wallsend pit ; this other , hoarier and
more dilapidated than its fellows , was the
New Wallsend Colliery . For the last twenty
years at least the Wallsend collieries have
not yielded an ounce of coal . As we pick
our way among the field patches and over
the crumbling relies of waggon – ways , it is
a strange feeling to realise that far below
in the bowels of the earth there ramify the
multifarious workings of a lapsed industry .
The pits and workings are full of water ,
” drowned , ” in mining parlance ; and the
coal – hewers of Wallsend have either emi
grated , or are engaged in some of the new
industries that have sprung into lusty
vitality on the banks of the Tyne .

Before steam power was used , and while
as yet there was no thought of a sale for
any other kind of coal than household
coal , were the palmy days of Wallsend ,
and the colliery system of which it was
the grand centre . From Blaydon on the
Tyne , west of Newcastle , to Cullercoats , on
the eastern coast of Northumberland , there .
extends a section of the famous Ninety
Fathom Dyke . This barrier divides the
steam coal from the household coal , the
latter lying in the comparatively small
triangle , shorn off by the Ninety Fathom
Dyke from the rest of the county . This
triangle – the Wallsend area , as it may be
called – was the birthplace and nursery of
Northumbrian coal mining , and its sole
output was household coal . The mines
belonged to the great territorial mag
nates , the ” grand allies , ” as they were
called – Lords Ravensworth , Strathmore ,
and Wharncliffe , the Russells of Brance
peth , Matthew Bell , the Brandlings , and
others . It is recorded that coal was first
won in Wallsend Colliery in 1781 , but
there were workings in the district very
long before that date ; for when the adja
cent . Heaton Colliery was inundated in
1815 , the covered up mouths of old for
gotten shafts , on which tall trees were
growing , fell in from the withdrawal of
the support of the water below . The chief
collieries of the system , besides the Wails
end pits themselves , were Percy Main ,
Heaton , Killingworth , Howdon , Walker ,
Westmoor , Gosforth , Bigg’s Main , & c . The
” grand allies ” were the despots of the
northern coal trade in those days ; But
there was no want of geniality in their
despotism , and there would be a keen
competition now for cards to such a ball
as was held at Gosforth when coal was .
first won there in 1829. The ball – room
-a spacious , lofty , and brilliantly lit apart

ment – was eleven hundred feet below
ground , the naked face of the coal seam
forming a portion of its panelling .
company , which numbered three hundred ,
of whom half were ladies , began to
” arrive and descend ” at half – past nine in
the morning , and dancing lasted till after
three in the afternoon . The viewers and
managers of Wallsend were the Buddles ,
father and son , both men of great ad
ministrative ability , and the latter so skilful
and ‘ originative as a mining engineer as
to have merited the title of the George
Stephenson of colliery work . From 1811
the viewer and manager of Killingworth
was Nicholas Wood , the friend and ally of
Stephenson , and in later life the greatest
authority in the kingdom on every branch
of practical and scientific mine engineer
ing , and the first president of the North of
England Institute of Mining Engineers .

The subjects of the ” grand allies , ” ruled
over vicariously by the Buddles and
Nicholas Wood , were a race of many
virtues and many faults , for some of which
latter they could hardly be reckoned re
sponsible . They were for the most part
absolutely uneducated , for there was little
time for schooling when boys went into
the pit before they were six years old .
They drank very hard , fought not a little ,
and thought nothing , when their blood was
up , of breaking out into open insurrection
against their lords and masters the ” grand
allies , ” and smashing or burning the be
longings of an obnoxious pit . In the early
days the pitman bound himself for a year
at a spell , and since he was a scarce com
modity he got an annual bounty in name
of ” binding money . ” In 1804 this bounty
was as high as twenty guineas per man ;
in 1809 it had fallen to five guineas , and
ere long it disappeared altogether , the pit
men preferring to agitate against the
system of yearly bindings , for which fort
nightly engagements have for some time
been substituted . Before 1826 , when the
laws against illegal combinations were
modified , strikes were dangerous things ,
dealt with as they were by the strong hand
of the military operating at the bidding of
the masters . But the pitmen were stub
born fellows , and made a good fight
for what they thought their rights , spite
of the terror of the ” sodgers . ” In 1809
there was a general uprising on the ques
tion of the bindings . The recalcitrant
pitmen were hunted down by owners ,
magistrates , and military , and every jail
in the district was so crammed with them
that three hundred had to be cooped in the

stables and stable – yard of the Bishop of
Durham . Even in this strait they would
not yield , and the grand principle of arbi
tration thus early was vindicated , a soldier
and a clergyman acting as mediators . The
local annals are full of records of strikes ,
mass meetings , riots , and destruction of
property on the part of the pitmen , and
the pages are sprinkled with their blood .
The blood indeed was not all on one side ;
for so late as 1832 a magistrate was killed
by the pitmen , for which crime one of the
perpetrators was gibbeted on the ground .
where now stands the Tyne Dock .

Coal – miners in those days literally took
their lives in their hands when they went
down into the pit . In the collieries of the
Wallsend system , there constantly loomed .
the double danger of fire and water . The
seams of the household coal were excep
tionally fiery and generative of explosive .
gases ; and no man knew but that his
next blast might let in an inundation .

The explosion record is especially ghastly .
In 1803 , thirteen miners were killed at
Wallsend ; in 1806 , ten ; and in 1809 ,
twelve ; at Killingworth , in 1814 , twenty
four ; at Percy Main , in 1818 , four ; and
in 1821 , fifty – two at Wallsend ; in 1835 ,
one hundred and one , and the year after ,
eleven in that most deadly colliery . Not
even the tragic story of the Hartley catas
trophe is more pitiful than the record of
the terrible inundation of Heaton Colliery
in May , 1815. As if a subterranean lake
had burst into the workings , the water in
a twinkling rose in the shafts to a height
of nineteen fathoms , and soon increased to
thirty – three , spite of all the pumping power
that could be brought to bear . There were
in the pit at the time of the influx seventy
five persons : forty – one men , and thirty – four
boys : not one of whom escaped from the
living grave . It was indeed not till January
of the following year that the first body
was recovered ; and not until the end of
February could be formed the long piteous
procession to the trenches dug in the
corner of Wallsend churchyard . On the
gauze of a safety – lamp gripped in the hand
of a dead lad , they found these words rudely
written : ” Love your mother , Johnnie ; we
prayed while we had time . ” That dreary
Wallsend churchyard , with its dingy green
grave mounds , as I saw them the other
day , half hidden by grimy snow , how it
teems with terrible associations to the
That ridge student of colliery history !
tells of the dead in the explosion of 1821 ;
around this once stood a very sorrowful
company of widows and orphans , when on

that summer forenoon of 1836 , the five
score victims of the explosion of the 18th
of June , having been taken dead from
under the earth , were put under it again
in the consecrated ground . Those were
times when ” a coroner’s inquest at the
collieries was a judicial mockery , ” and when
the stereotyped direction to the jury was
” that this was one of those lamentable ac
cidents which were so common to coal pits ,
and which no human foresight could
prevent . “

But the very imminence of danger in
those mines of the Wallsend system that
begot in some men mere reckless despon
dency , kindled in others an exceptional
acuteness of sagacions wariness , and a fervid
religious sense . The Established Church had
little hold of the collier ground , which was
a very kindly soil for Wesleyanism and Pri
mitive Methodism . Secularly , the sense of
danger and the tongh athletic Northum
brian intellect combined to produce men
who have made their mark on the country’s
history . George Stephenson , as he wrought
his break in Killingworth Colliery , was
planning the locomotive , and constructing
his ” Geordie ; ” and from Killingworth he
went forth to be the author of our railway
system . Before the Fairbairns went to Man
chester and Leeds to found the vast works
that are now world – famous , they were
engineers at Percy Main . The Hawthorns
of Newcastle , whose engine works are
among the largest in the country , came
” to bank ” from out the Wallsend Colliery ,
and Story , the engineer , under Stephen
son , of the York and Darlington Railway ,
worked as a miner in Wellington Colliery .
The list might be lengthened indefinitely ,
for Stephenson , knowing his men , was
prone to make drafts on the clear heads
and sagacious brains he wotted of among
the people he had toiled with in his early
days . The pitmen of the now dormant
Wallsend colliery system have imparted
their distinguishing characteristics to the
whole mass of their younger brethren , the
pitmen of Northumberland generally . The
race is the same in physique and in men
tal characteristics – harsh – featured , manly
eyed , and stalwart ; energetic , stickling for
independence , and genial under the rugged
upper crust .

As the workings of the Wallsend system
ramified widely and more widely , the water
enemy became more and more aggressive .
The workings had been conducted waste
fully , as was the manner in the early days ,
and there were evidences that the upper
and more easily worked scams were ap

proaching exhaustion . The water gained
so rapidly that the pumps in use could not
make head against it . There was no stu
pendous catastrophe as the grand finale .
What seemed the inevitable was timeously
recognised , and from mine after mine horses
and plant were brought to bank , the pumps
were knocked off , and the water left to
work its imperious will . The gradual
abandonment occurred in the decade be
tween 1835 to 1845 , Wellington and Heaton
being the last two mines to maintain a
resistance . One of the mines , indeed , and
that , too , on as low a level as any , the
Walker Colliery , worsted the water , and
is working to this day . Its engineer ,
a man of prudence and foresight , saw the
impending doom , and took in time his
mensures to avert it . In the Walker
pit the water is ” tubbed off ; ” in other
words , the shaft is continued through
what may be called the water stratum by
an iron tubing or skin , and at present the
lower seams , quite below the inundated
stratum , are being successfully worked with I
hardly any inconvenience from water . Kil
lingworth and Gosforth , on the outer fringes
of the system , and on a higher level , also
continue to be worked without great in
convenience from that subterranean lake
which has inundated the mines of the
system on the lower level . But Wallsend
Main , old and new , is drowned , so are
Percy Main , Howdon , Bigg’s Main , and
Heaton , all of high repute in the first half
of the century as yielding the best house
hold coals leaving the Tyne .

Mining engineers know that there is
still much fine coal in the old upper work
ings of the flooded mines , and that below
these , in the lower seams , there lies a vast
quantity of somewhat inferior , but still
readily merchantable coal . There are still
fortunes at the bottom of the Wallsend pits ,
if only they could be reached and cleared
of water . Modern enterprise has essayed
the task . In 1867 , the Tyne Coal Company
was formed , having for its object the pump
ing the water out of these mines , with a
view to subsequent working . The unfruitful
royalties were acquired from the representa
tives of the ” grand allies , ” and pumping
operations commenced . A special pumping
shaft was constructed and powerful pumps
put down , which have been working con
tinuously for over five years , throwing out
in the day many thousand tons of water ,
which forms a steady stream like a monn
tain burn . Immense cost has been incurred ,
and some impression has been made on the
subterranean water . Hebburn Colliery , on

the south side of the Tyne , but connected
subterraneously with the northern system ,
has been pumped out , and is now at work ;
the northern collieries still remain drowned .
Let us hope that some day or other the per
sistent energy which is at work upon them
will be crowned with success , and that
the engineman at the big pump on the
knoll over against Percy Main will have it
to shout , ” She sucks ! “
Meanwhile , the consumer need not adopt
so strong a measure as to give his coal
merchant in charge for obtaining money
under false pretences , because he sells
what he designates ” Wallsend coals . ” The
name has come to be adopted as a mer
cantile generic appellation for all house
hold coals of a certain quality , no matter
where won , just as Hartley is the name
for all northern steam coal , although the
broken cross beam still hangs over the
disused shaft of Hartley pit proper . It
may be said , indeed , that in all these
grand desiderata of household coal , high
bituminous properties , specific gravity ,
and heavy brown ash , the Wallsends , in
compare their palmiest days , could not
successfully with conls like the Hettons and
others , now wrought in the Durham house
hold coal field .

More about Tyne & Wear

By Debbie Death

Debbie has enjoyed books, films, and documentaries about history for more than 30 years. On days off from work her favourite trips with friends and family are to museums, historic houses, and archaeological sites, or just walking around interesting streets admiring the old buildings.