Wallsend, Tyneside: History in Old Images

Old photo of Wallsend High Street c1890

Enjoy a glimpse of history through old images of Wallsend, in North Tyneside, North East England, UK.

Old Photos of Wallsend


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 coals 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 cidevant 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 surrounded 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 emigrated , 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 magnates , the ” grand allies , ” as they were called – Lords Ravensworth , Strathmore , and Wharncliffe , the Russells of Brancepeth , 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 adjacent Heaton Colliery was inundated in 1815 , the covered up mouths of old forgotten 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 apartment – was eleven hundred feet below ground , the naked face of the coal seam forming a portion of its panelling .
The 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 administrative 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 engineering , 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 responsible . 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 belongings of an obnoxious pit . In the early
days the pitman bound himself for a year at a spell , and since he was a scarce commodity 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 pitmen 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 stubborn 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 question 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 arbitration 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 exceptionally 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 catastrophe 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 student of colliery history !

The ridge 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 accidents 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 despondency , 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 Primitive Methodism .

Secularly , the sense of danger and the tongh athletic Northumbrian 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 Manchester 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 Stephenson , 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 mental 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 wastefully , as was the manner in the early days , and there were evidences that the upper and more easily worked scams were approaching exhaustion . The water gained
so rapidly that the pumps in use could not make head against it . There was no stupendous 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 between 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 .

Killingworth and Gosforth , on the outer fringes of the system , and on a higher level , also continue to be worked without great inconvenience 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 household coals leaving the Tyne .

Mining engineers know that there is still much fine coal in the old upper workings 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 pumping the water out of these mines , with a view to subsequent working . The unfruitful royalties were acquired from the representatives of the ” grand allies , ” and pumping operations commenced . A special pumping shaft was constructed and powerful pumps put down , which have been working continuously for over five years , throwing out in the day many thousand tons of water , which forms a steady stream like a mountain 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 persistent 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 mercantile generic appellation for all household 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 coals like the Hettons and others , now wrought in the Durham household coal field .

The Post Office Directory of Durham and Northumberland

by Kelly and Company

Published in 1879

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