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Local Histories - R

Rowlands Gill

There is no recorded evidence for early human activity at, or in the immediate vicinity of Rowlands Gill earlier than the late Iron Age site of Linzford Wood enclosure, visible as a crop mark on aerial photographs as a sub-rectangular or D-shaped enclosure with a surrounding ditch and possible internal hut circle. However, the paucity of known prehistoric remains in the area is likely to be a factor of lack of fieldwork opportunity rather than the absence of potential. Rowlands Gill is also poorly represented in the county Heritage Environment Record as a location of medieval settlement, largely because it was at the time in a sparsely populated rural area. There is evidence for coal working at an early date, but the first major workings are recorded from around 1800 (HER 3374) and others did not develop until later in the century (HER 3578 and 3577), following the arrival of the railways (e.g. HER 1019). An important related industry in the vicinity was coking, carried out at the Whinfield Coker Ovens, part of the Marquess of Bute's Victoria Garesfield Colliery. At its height there were 193 ovens in use on the site, producing 68,000 tons of coke each year. Before their closure in 1958 they were the last working beehive ovens in the county. To commemorate this, five complete ovens and two partial ovens were preserved by the National Coal Board and, in 1973, these remains were designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument. They have since been restored. The bricks from which the ovens were built were made on site and at nearby Lily (later Lilley) Colliery, while the coal used in the ovens came from the Victoria seam at the Victoria Garesfield Colliery and the Brockwell seam at the Watergate Colliery. From the early 20th century the waste heat from the ovens was used to raise steam for generating electricity, which in turn was used by a cuprous oxide plant, established in 1915. The quarrying of sand, gravel and stone was also carried out in the area in the 19th century (HER 3580 and 3581), but more important than these was brickmaking, which depended on coal for fuel. The Lilley Brickworks (HER 5140) was a major concern locally from the 1880s and at its peak in 1955 produced 150,000 bricks per week for local collieries. Rowlands Gill grew as a nucleated settlement in the industrial period in response to the demand for workers’ housing and the associated requirement for public buildings and an infrastructure of roads and services (e.g. HER 1019, 3536 and 3583). However, these developments were relatively modest in scale, enhancing rather than overshadowing the rural character of the village and contributing to the eventual designation of the village as a Conservation Area. Following the closure of the Lilley Brickworks in 1976, Rowlands Gill has served mainly as a residential settlement for Tyneside, although farming and related activities have remained important locally.    


The earliest recorded evidence of human activity at Ryhope is a group of Mesolithic flints (HER 227) found at Ryhope Dene in the 1930s. Finds from later periods include a Neolithic arrowhead and flints (HER 228) and Roman pottery and coins (HER 229 and 267). The first documentary references to Ryhope date from around 930 A.D. when King Athelstan gave "South Wearmouth" and its appendages, which included "duas Reofhoppas", to the see of Durham. Ryhope is also mentioned in the late 12th century Boldon Buke. In Hatfield's late 13th century survey, Ryhope is listed with two free tenants, 18 messuages each with 30 acres held by tenants; 3 cottages each with 12 acres, together with other lands and holdings. Ryhope was a 3-row village around a triangular green, and its basic shape survives, although there has been much development. It is recorded that limestone quarries, a smithy and windmill were in use during the medieval period in Ryhope, suggesting a farm-based economy. Suspected medieval burials were found in Ryhope Dene in 1987 (HER 5225) and in Ryhope Cave (HER 160) in the 1860s. Ryhope was not heavily industrialised during the 18th-20th centuries - by 1840 there were still five farms of 91-143 acres each, and 21 of 17-64 acres - but it did benefit from the improved communications that developed as a result of the coal trade, notably when Ryhope Station (HER 2957) opened in 1854 as part of the Londonderry, Seaham and Sunderland Railway. Ryhope served its industrial neighbour, Sunderland as the site of a Pumping Station (HER 4964) which operated between 1868-1967 as part of the Sunderland and South Shields Water Company. The engines remain in perfect condition, but the Pumping Station is now a museum.


The earliest recorded evidence of human activity at or near Ryton is a large collection of prehistoric artefacts including Mesolithic and Neolithic flints (HER 529, 537, 540, 543-5, etc.), Neolithic polished stone axes (HER 548, 562 and 576), jet disks (HER 567, 570 and 580), cup-marked stones (HER 568-9 and 584-5) and other material, found in the 1940s and 1950s during fieldwalking at Bar Moor and Clara Vale. Finds and structures from later periods include a Bronze Age socketed axe and spearhead (HER 4607 and 512), a cist burial (HER 611), an Iron Age wooden wheel and log boat found in the River Tyne near Clara Vale (HER 508-9), a late Iron Age beehive quern (HER 589) and Roman coins (HER 622). The first documentary references to Ryton medieval village (HER 629) date from 1183 in the Boldon Buke, where there is specific reference to a mill. Hatfield's Survey records some 36 messuages, plus a water mill and a communal forge. This was one of the largest and most important of the bishop of Durham's villages, and the centre of a parish. The layout of the medieval and later village, a regular 2-row plan with a green, is still apparent, with the east-west long axis widening into a triangle at the west end, giving access to the rectory, church and motte north-west. The village core is now largely 18th and 19th century, however. In addition to mills (HER 625 and 630), other sites associated with medieval Ryton include an aqueduct (HER 592) and leper hospital, both known only from documents, and a possible motte and bailey castle (HER 141) which is protected as a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

It is also possible that there was a market cross on Ryton village green before the erection of one in 1795, and a pinfold also survives as a reminder of the rural origins of the village, although its date of construction is unknown. Ryton Church is thought to date to the 16th century but was heavily restored in the 19th century (HER 628). A number of 17th century grand residences were built at Ryton (HER 1807 and 1812) before a period of modest industrial development in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Coal was probably worked from an early date, but mining and coal transport became much more important in the 19th century (HER 3307-8, 3314-5, 3319 and 1905). Also linked to the coal trade and heavy industry was the opening of the Newcastle to Carlisle Railway in the mid-19th century. Other industries included quarrying (HER 3309-10 and 3312) and brick-making (HER 3298 and 3311). Ryton has at various times been touched by war and conflict: there are suspected Civil War earthworks near the village (HER 624 – these are now thought more likely to be the remains of a 17th century wagonway, however); more recently it was the site of a Second World War searchlight battery (HER 5530) and anti-aircraft pits (HER 1904) still survive at Ryton Willows.