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Local Histories - B

Benton and Longbenton

Apart from a single flint flake (HER 1410) there is little recorded evidence for early human activity at, or in the immediate vicinity of Benton or Long Benton, although this is likely to be the result of lack of fieldwork carried out in the area, rather than the absence of potential. The earliest reference to Benton village is in a document recording John of Little Benton, dated c.1161. Four taxpayers were listed in 1296 and 1312, and three in 1336. A map of 1654 shows an east-west, two-row village street, but by 1745 only two houses are shown; and in 1769 only one. The location of the village is uncertain, but may be around the present Little Benton farm, where there are earthworks on the north side, or on the east side of Coach lane. The village of Long Benton (HER 786) was a member of the Barony of Morpeth, which dates from the early 12th century, and when the barony was divided after 1266 so was Benton, one half ending up with the Brandlings of Gosforth, the other with the Stotes of Jesmond. It appears to have been a large village in the Middle Ages, with 14 taxpayers in 1296, and 18 in 1312. It was an exceptionally long, two-row, settlement, stretching from Four Lane Ends on the west side to the modern Tynedale Terrace on the east, and even in the 19th century included several farms. Though a number of 18th and 19th century stone houses survive, the north row has been broken by large pubs and car parks, and the village as a whole has been heavily developed. It is thought that a mill (HER 1413), possibly a watermill, was present in Long Benton in the 13th century but its date and location are unknown. The Church of St. Bartholomew (HER 785) also has medieval origins, although it has been significantly altered and rebuilt since being described as ruinous in 1663. The medieval nave was demolished and rebuilt in 1790-91, and subsequently there were restorations in 1842, 1855 and 1873-5. Although farming persisted on the fringes of the urban area (HER 1594), the area became heavily involved in the coal trade from at least the mid-18th century. Billy Pit (HER 4179), Benton Colliery (HER 4030) and Meadow Pit (HER 5103), the latter sunk around 1850, are some of the 19th century workings recorded (see also HER 1115-6, 1118, 2165 and 2193). Wagonways (e.g. HER 1132, 1141 and 1155) provided transport from the pits to Walker Staith on the Tyne. Other industrial sites include sand pits and quarries (HER 1094, 1099, 1100 1122 and 1124), smithies (HER 1084-5 and 1093) and a mill (HER 2166). During and following the industrial period, the area became largely residential. Later monuments of cultural heritage significance date mainly from the two world wars of the 20th century and include pillboxes and an aircraft hanger (HER 5372, 5433-6, 5673 and 5783-5).  


The earliest recorded evidence of human activity at Benwell is a Neolithic stone axe (HER 1376) found in 1853 at the Roman fort. The most important early archaeological remains surviving at Benwell are associated with the Roman Wall and Fort (HER 5262-5266). Attached to or associated with the fort are the site of a bath house (HER 5263) circa 274 metres south-west of the fort, and the temple of Antenociticus (HER 5265) along with associated burials circa 90 metres east. There may have been another temple in the vicinity of Condercum House, where a column shaft and 3 pieces of sculpture were found. A Roman civilian settlement, or vicus lay to the south and south-west of the fort. The precise extent of the vicus is not known, but excavations in the 1930s showed that it appears to have been a very large settlement, with buildings including a mansio (HER 5264), gathered around the road leading south from the fort. Following the abandonment of the Roman Wall and fort, Anglo-Saxon settlement is attested by finds of brooches (HER 1498). The earliest reference to the modern name, Benwell, or Bynnewalle, was circa 1050, when it was a member of the barony of Bolbec. In the mid-15th century Robert Rodes gave the manor to Tynemouth Priory, and at the Dissolution it passed to the Crown. It was originally a two-row village, the rows being separated by a wide street or green running west from the manor house. The original streets are represented by Benwell Village, Benwell Lane, Ferguson's Lane and Fox and Hounds Lane, but there are no buildings earlier than the 19th century. Benwell remained a small, rural settlement in the post-medieval period, but was briefly important when a civil war camp was established there and used during the siege of Newcastle in 1644 (HER 1369). It began to grow following a surge in coal-mining from the early 18th century, which in turn stimulated the development of the industrial age. It is likely that coal had been exploited in the area for many centuries, probably since at least the Roman period, but the first documented coal-mining in the area dates from between the 14th and 16th centuries (HER 1355) and in the 19th century larger collieries such as the Delaval Colliery were opened (HER 4071). Along with industry came the spread of housing, much of it terraced housing for the workers, but with a smattering of stately residences for industrialists, such as Benwell House (HER 1862), Benwell Hall (HER 1863), Pendower Hall (HER 5329), Condercum House (HER 6351) and Benwell Park (HER 1878). The new urban infrastructure included transport systems and waterworks (HER 4069 and 4077), public buildings such as St James’ church (HER 6311), the Royal Victoria blind asylum (HER 6361) and Edward VII fountain (HER 5210), as well as recreational facilities.  


The earliest recorded evidence of human activity at Birtley is a collection of early prehistoric flint artefacts including knives, scrapers and cores (HER 650-653) found in 1932-33 at Birtley Brickworks. Various bronze-age artefacts, including a perforated stone hammer found with a bronze axe in 1931 (HER 654-5), and a bronze spearhead (HER 656) were also found in brickyards around the same date. The first documentary reference to the village of Birtley (HER 670) are in the Boldon Buke of 1183, "Birtley and Tribley render 20s, and attend the great chase with 2 greyhounds". The Birtleys held the manor of Birtley for several generations, but by the time of Hatfield's Survey the vill was held by Lord Nevill, and Gilbert Eglyne, who had married a Birtley heiress. It was not, at that time, an important centre and was listed under Kibblesworth. The village lay close to and parallel with the east side of the old Great North Road, and is thought to have had an irregular two-row plan with a green. During the 15th century a deer park (HER 4621) owned by the Bishop of Durham existed on what is now a golf course. The site of Birtley Old Hall, shown on early Ordnance Survey maps, lies in the centre of the village and may have formed the nucleus f the medieval settlement. Long Acre Farm (HER 1672) which dates from the 18th or early 19th century, shows adaptations to accommodate changing agricultural technology. Other farms well-established by the 19th century include Birtley Springs Farm, named after a salt spring on the site. Birtley in the industrial age included coal pits such as South Birtley Colliery, Wash House pit (HER 3916) and the Vale pit in Mount Moor Colliery (HER 3896), as well as related wagonways such as the Pelaw Main Wagonway (HER 4122), an iron works and various brickyards (HER 3919 and 3921). Brickmaking has continued to the present day. The development of Birtley as a settlement for workers during the industrial age also led to the construction of public buildings such as schools and chapels. Later structures of cultural heritage value include a 2-storey pill box (HER 5374) constructed for use in the Second World War. 


The earliest recorded evidence of human activity at Blaydon is a Neolithic polished stone axe (HER 598) found in the early 20th century. Finds and structures from later prehistoric periods include a bronze spearhead and log-boat, both recovered from the River Tyne in the 19th century (HER 596-7). A number of bronze age cists are recorded from Summerhill (HER 611, 614-5 and 618), and several others from Bewes Hill (HER 601-604). Little is recorded of medieval Blaydon, which appears to have been based upon the modern farm sites of High and Low Shibdon (HER 6123 and 6126). The Blaydon Burn Belts Corn Mill (HER 1641), part of a row of 5 or 6 water corn mills stretching from Brockwell Wood to the River Tyne (see also HER 1679 and 3421-3), is known to have been present by the early 17th century, suggesting a healthy population at that time. It is likely that, as well as farming, many industrial activities such as mining and quarrying had begun in the medieval and post-medieval periods, well before the industrial period of the 18th to 20th centuries when Blaydon became an important industrial centre. The stimulus for industry at Blaydon and Blaydon burn, as elsewhere in the region, was the growth in coal mining and the coal trade, particularly from the early 18th century, when the Hazard and Speculation pits (HER 6022) were established at Low Shibdon (HER 3457), linked to the Tyne by wagonways (e.g. HER 3459). The 18th century Blaydon Main Colliery was reopened in the mid-19th century (HER 3439) and worked until 1921. Other pits and associated features included Blaydon Burn Colliery (HER 3520), Freehold pit (HER 3429) and the Blaydonburn wagonway (HER 3424). Industries supported by the coal trade included chemical works (HER 3449), bottle works (HER 3448 and 3451), sanitary pipe works (HER 3452), lampblack works (HER 3453), an ironworks (HER 6030), a smithy (HER 1640) and brickworks - Cowen’s Upper and Lower Brickworks (HER 1646 and 3434 were established in 1730 and were associated with a variety of features including a clay drift mine (HER 1650) and coal/clay drops (HER 1647). The Lower works remains in operation. Blaydon Burn Coke Ovens (HER 1026), also of 19th century origin, were replaced in the 1930s by Priestman Ottovale Coke and Tar Works (HER 1651) which was the first in the world to produce petrol from coal, known as Blaydon Benzole. In addition to the workers’ housing developments associated with industrialisation, a number of grand residences were constructed for industrialists in the area, such as Blaydon Burn House (HER 1657), home of Joseph Cowen, owner of the brickworks. Ironically, the remains of Old Dockendale Hall, an earlier grand residence (or perhaps a superior farmhouse) of 17th century or earlier construction, was destroyed when the coke and tar works was built at Blaydon burn.   


The earliest recorded evidence of human activity at Burradon is the isolated find of part of a Neolithic stone axe (HER 307). Finds and structures from later periods include an Iron age/Romano-British beehive quernstone (HER 5441) for grinding corn, found at Burradon Farm in 1997, and late prehistoric or Romano-British enclosures (HER 305, 306, 308 and 309).

The first documentary reference to Burradon village (HER 495) comes before 1162. Though the township was quite large, the settlement always seems to have been small – there were three taxpayers in 1312 and it was said to be almost worthless in 1482 because of “barren soil” and Scots raids. In 1570 there were two cottages and six tofts and gardens, and in 1666 three houses paid the hearth tax. Surviving medieval features in and around the village include ridge and furrow cultivation features in the fields to the south of Burradon Farm on Burradon Common Fields (HER 795) and Burradon Tower (HER 312) which is thought to date to the 15th/16th century. The shape of the village in the medieval period is unclear, but by 1793 the township was divided into the East and West Farms, the buildings of the West Farm being on the north side of the east-west 'street', where the present farm buildings are, and the East Farm being of courtyard type incorporating the medieval tower in its north-west corner. Probably in the 19th century the two were amalgamated, the present house, farm buildings and cottages erected (HER 5672), and the east Farm, except for the tower, demolished. 19th century maps also show a quarry at each end of the street, along with Quarry Houses (HER 6073), presumably related. The village largely escaped the effects of industrialisation in the modern period and has remained a discreet, rural settlement . However, Burradon Colliery (HER 1079) operated between 1837-1975 and was served by a wagonway (HER 1080) until the 1940s. The Seaton Burn wagonway also runs adjacent to the village, passing nearby Weetslade colliery and its surviving spoil heap (HER 5445-6). In the 19th and early 20th centuries a mining settlement grew up which eventually included schools and a mission hospital (HER 6074-6).   


The earliest evidence for human activity at Byker is the discovery in 2001 of a native settlement, evidenced by a series of drainage ditches and stakeholes, where the remains of Hadrian’s Wall run along the south side of Shields road. Although the location of Hadrian’s Wall has long been known, definite evidence for its precise location in relation to the road was finally located in February 2001 on the site of a new public square outside the swimming baths on the south side of Shields Road, where a 29 metre stretch of Wall foundations were revealed. Three rows of defensive pits (cippi) were revealed between the Wall and the ditch. These pits would have originally held entanglements of sharpened branches which would have served the same purpose as barbed wire.

Further west, no traces of the expected turret at the east end of the Shields road bridge have ever been found and the course of the wall and ditch from Stephen St, across the Ouse Burn, to the top of Stepney Bank is unclear. A Roman altar (HER 1414) was, however found in 1884 during the construction of Byker Bridge. The village of Byker (HER 1387) is first referred to in 1198 as the sergeanty of Byker. There were four taxpayers in 1296 and five in 1312. It appears to have been a two-row village with a green and lay at the junction of two roads, the present Headlam Street coming from the north, and Allendale Road / Welbeck Road from the south and east. Major redevelopment in the second half of the 20th century has left it barely recognizable, however. The township was twice reduced in size at its west end. In 1299 its land between Pandon Burn and Swirle was transferred to Newcastle, and in 1549 Newcastle acquired all the ground to the Ouse Burn. The medieval period saw the building of two chapels in Byker, St. Lawrence’s and St. Ann’s (HER 220 and 1421), the latter replaced by the present church in 1768. Mills and limekilns are also known to have been present in medieval Byker. In the early 17th century the Ballast Hills Graveyard (HER 1597) opened for non-Anglican burials and remained in use until the mid-19 th century. A manor house (HER 1385), since demolished, was also built in this period or a little earl ier.

Industry became important during the 18th and 19th centuries, with a particular concentration in the lower Ouseburn area. As elsewhere in the North-East, industrial development was based on coal mining which in the Byker area became a major industry at the end of the 18th century (e.g. HER 1591-2, 4188-9 and 4690, etc.). Clay-based industries (e.g. HER 4155 and 4164), notably brick-making (e.g. HER 4156, 4158, 4169 and 4190) and pottery-making (HER 4172 and 4194 are some of the dozens of firms involved) were also very important in the 19th century, with pottery continuing into the mid-20th century at the Maling factory (HER 4344). Glasshouses (HER 1913-1915), chemicals works (e.g. HER 4193), lead works (e.g. HER 4192), bottle works (e.g. HER 4683), roperies (e.g. HER 4163), mills (HER 4165) and an iron foundry (HER 4681) were all present in the industrial period. Shipbuilding was also important on the riverside (e.g. HER 4171 and 4174). The quayside walls and various warehouses, now largely converted to residential and other uses, remain as testament to the former industrial importance of the area, much of which, alongside its social history has recently been recorded by the Ouseburn Heritage Trust. Byker also developed as a residential and recreational centre for workers, associated with roads (e.g. HER 1945), railways and a range of buildings such as schools, churches and residences (e.g. HER 1593), some of which survive and are of local architectural interest. One such structure was the Apollo Cinema (HER 1590) which opened in 1933 as part of the ‘Talkies’ boom, but closed as a cinema in the 1960s but was recently demolished to make way for a supermarket. The Byker Wall replaced much of the earlier terraced housing in the1970s, and is itself now regarded as a site of architectural merit.