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Local Histories - W


The earliest possible evidence of human activity at Walker are records of the Stott’s House Mounds (HER 1392), now destroyed, but tentatively identified as prehistoric burial mounds, or tumuli. George Jobey excavated one of the mounds prior to its destruction in 1964 and, although he recorded no evidence for its function, found probable prehistoric plough marks on the old ground surface beneath the mound. The Roman wall passes through Walkergate on its way from Byker towards its eastern terminus at Wallsend, and several finds have been made of Roman material such as bone, coins and an inscription (HER 1392 and 1397). The medieval village of Walker (HER 1411) was included in the barony of Morpeth in the 12th century, and it is recorded that it had five taxpayers in 1296, seven in 1312, but only two in 1336. The actual settlement seems always to have been small, and according to historic maps had been reduced even further, to a single farm and some cottages by the mid-19th century. The medieval and post-medieval settlement, subsequently known as ‘Old Walker’, abutted the south side of the line of the Roman Wall and the east side of Scrogg Road. A 1745 map shows the triangular "Town Green". Newcastle Corporation bought the manor of Walker in the 18th century, partly to endow the Holy Jesus Hospital, but perhaps more importantly to acquire more of the river shore upon which to dump ballast, thereby assisting the coal trade. As a result of the coal trade, the area became heavily industrialised in the 19th century, and the site of the old village covered with housing. Coal mining on an industrial scale started in Walker at the beginning of the 18th century (certainly by 1713), and during the early part of the following century there were 10 pits in operation (e.g. HER 4181, 4187, 4200 and 4206-7). Staiths (HER 4285) on the riverside were supplied by wagonway (HER 4185, 4203, 4209-13 and 4205-6) with coal from the pits of Walker and beyond. The availability of fuel and clay (a by-product of mining) stimulated the development of brick-working (e.g. HER 4196, 4198, 4205-6 and 4276-7). Other industries included an oil works (HER 2093), ironworks (HER 4199), various chemical works (e.g. HER 4197 and 4202). Shipbuilding became increasingly important in the later 19th century (e.g. HER 4208, 4217-18 and 5023) and survived into the second half of the 20th century, outliving most of the other Walker industries. The industrial development of Walker was accompanied by its urbanisation, including an extensive transport infrastructure (e.g. HER 4183), housing developments and associated public buildings, such a colliery school (HER 4264). The modern history of Walker is marked by war memorials (HER 5205-6), a pillbox (HER 1787) and other military sites (e.g. HER 5503).   


The earliest recorded evidence of human activity at Wallsend is the find of a flat bronze axe (HER 777). The most important archaeological remains surviving there are associated with Hadrian’s Wall and the Roman Fort of Segedunum (HER 196-199). The fort was constructed in about the year 125 A.D. and was in use until the end of the Roman period in the late 4th century. It was excavated in the 1970s and ‘80s when the site was cleared of 19th century housing, and is now on public display as the focal point of a museum and interpretation centre. The fort was probably associated with a civilian settlement, or vicus (HER 806), which it is thought extended westward along the Military Way. Over the years there have been many finds of coins, metalwork, altars, querns, animal bones, Roman pottery and a possible Roman pottery kiln (HER 807) in this area (HER 807-829). Defensive ditches and a possible earth bank formed the western boundary of the vicus some 65 metres from the fort and the Branch Wall from the fort to the Tyne formed the eastern boundary. Excavations at Swan Hunter's Shipyard in 2002 revealed parts of a defensive cordon that probably defined the south side of the vicus. The first documentary references to medieval Wallsend (HER 803) date from 1072 when it formed part of Bishop Walcher’s gift to Durham Priory. There is little information about the size of the medieval settlement, though in 1539 there were 2 cottages and 7 leaseholders, the latter perhaps being early representatives of the township's 7 farms which survived at least as late as 1800. The site of the village is high up on the south side of the Wallsend Burn, the buildings being arranged around a very large green which even today retains its sub-circular shape. By the time of the Tithe Award of 1841 there were still 3 farms on the south side of the green, and 4 large houses on both north and south sides. The Holy Cross Church (HER 105), which now stands as a ruin, was in use from the mid 12th century until the end of the 18th century, and its graveyard continued in use until 1888. There are several references to mills at Wallsend in the 15th and 16th centuries - Wallsend Mill (HER 805) was a medieval windmill which became a water mill in the later 15th century and was in use until the mid 16th century. Cosyns or Carville Hall (HER 4941) was built in 1635 by John Cosyn and incorporated several Roman inscribed stones. It was later renamed Carville Hall by Robert Carville, but was demolished in 1898.

The industrial development of Wallsend, as elsewhere on Tyneside, was based on coal mining and the coal trade. There were numerous pits in the vicinity from the late 18th century (e.g. HER 1125-7, 1129, 1136, 1139 and 2089 - Wallsend Colliery. Wagonways (e.g. HER 1128, 1135-6, 1139 and 2089) moved coal to staithes and drops (HER 2091-2, 2094 and 2100) on the river from these pits and numerous others further afield. The importance of the Tyne as a transport nexus led to the development of industry close to the riverside, while the medieval centre survived and developed as a quiet residential area. Shipbuilding became arguably the most important industry at Wallsend (HER 2202, 2210 and 5021), but brick and tile works (HER 2095), iron works (HER 2098), a cement works (HER 2206), lime works and roperies (e.g. HER 2086) were amongst other industries that flourished there. In the early 20th century, the opening of the Neptune Bank Power Station (HER 5106) and the Carville Power Station plants (HER 1912) continued the tradition of coal-powered industry at Wallsend. The 19th and early 20th centuries saw the development of housing for the huge number of industrial workers, and gradually an infrastructure of services also developed, including transport systems, churches and chapels, a library and schools (HER 5293 and 5474-7). A number of grand residences for industrialists, such as Mount Pleasant House (HER 1876) and the modernised Carville Hall (above) were also built in the vicinity. Modern sites of local cultural heritage importance include Second World War pillboxes (HER 1830, 5336 and 5340-2).   


Prehistoric finds from Washington include a flint dagger and microlith (HER 329 and 330) of probably Mesolithic origin, and Neolithic polished stone axes (HER 342, 345 and 355). It has been suggested that the unusual round churchyard associated with Washington church may have originated as a late prehistoric enclosure, but supporting evidence is lacking. A hoard of 60 4th century coins (HER 341) is the only substantial evidence for the Roman period, when the area was probably farmed but does not appear to have supported major military or civilian centres of population. The first documentary references to Washington village (HER 352) date from 1183 in the Boldon Book, although the name itself suggests Anglo-Saxon origins as the place ‘where Wassa’s people live’. In the 14th century William off Washington, knight, held the manor and vill, in the 15th century the owners were the Blaykeston family, and in the 18th century, the Brack family. There is no evidence for the size of the village in the medieval period, but it is likely that by the 12th century the churchand Hall sat within a moat which defined the limits of the village. Early maps seem to show two scattered rows of buildings separated by a wide street of green, with the church occupying a central position. The Few upstanding monuments survive from the medieval period other than parts of the church and the Old Hall (HER 353-4), both of which retain 12th century masonry, but a tower is also shown on early maps west of the church. Mining is recorded at Washington from at least as early as 1702, but did not develop on an industrial scale until the mid-18th century when wagonways (e.g. HER 2616, 2624 and 3815) facilitated the transport of coal, notably the Washington Wagonway from 1764. Coal workings represent the most numerous class of sites in the Washington area (e.g. HER 2611-2, 2615, 2617, 2621, 2623, 3003 and 3029-30), and, although many have been covered by housing or otherwise removed, underground workings remain. Other industrial developments included brickworks (HER 1720, 2618 and 3064), nailer’s shops (HER 2619), a blast furnace (HER 3175), chemical works (HER 3056) and iron works (HER 3050) - Washington Iron Works at Usworth were established by 1858 and linked by rail to the nearby coke ovens (HER 3052). By the end of 19th century the works had expanded but the coke ovens had closed, the site being used for the construction of the Chemical Works school. Shipbuilding was also practiced on the river Wear (HER 3059), to which the collieries were linked by wagonway. Industrial development led to the spread of workers’ housing (e.g. HER 2620) around the main colliery sites, along with churches and chapels, schools and other pubic buildings. Some grand residences for industrialists were also erected outside the main centres of population, notably Dame Margaret’s Hall (HER 5667), built in the 19th century for the industrialist Issac Bell. Modern sites of local cultural heritage importance include Second World War pillboxes (HER 5348, 5388 and 5392-6) and an Observation Post (HER 5385). After last colliery closed in 1968, Washington was redeveloped as a New Town.

Westerhope (including Whorlton and Newbiggin)    

The earliest evidence of human activity at Westerhope is the recorded discovery there of a Neolithic polished stone axe (HER 1253). Other prehistoric finds include a barbed and tanged arrowhead from Chapel Park and a flint arrowhead from the Hill Head Estate (HER 1251 and 1252), both of late Neolithic or early Bronze age origin. Later prehistoric settlement in the area is evidenced by a likely Iron Age enclosure shown on aerial photographs at nearby North Walbottle (HER ref, 1318). Little is known of the settlement history of the area before or during the medieval period, although it is likely that it was farmed - Black Swine Farm is recorded from the 18th century but may have earlier origins, as do Whorlton and Newbiggin which border modern Westerhope to the north. Whorlton was part of the manor of Newburn, and was not separated from Newburn by definite boundaries until a comparatively late date. East Whorlton was said in 1825 to have consisted of one farmhold and four cottages; and West Whorlton or Whorlton House, and the farm, were occupied by Archibald Reed, Esq. A survey of the Lordship of Newburn undertaken for the Duke of Northumberland by J. Thompson in 1767 shows Whorleton (Whorlton Hall), Whorleton Moor House (Low Whorlton) and West Whorleton (Whorlton Grange – HER 1579). There are references in 1228-29 to a law suit concerning Newbiggin, and it is listed in other rmedieval documents with 8 tax-payers as ‘Neubyging' Faudon’ which has been interpreted in the County History as "a settlement on the moor sent out from Fawdon". It was originally a member of the barony of Whalton in the ownership of the Greystoke family, then between the 15th-17th centuries in the hands of the Dacres and Howards, and the Bells of Woolsington from before 1826 to 1922. A map of 1789 appears to show two farms, High Newbiggin at the west end of the complex, and Low Newbiggin, in the Green, and with a pond, at the east end. By 1858 Newbiggin Hall (see below) had appeared beside (High) Newbiggin. The later history of the area continues to be associated with farming rather than industrialisation - the present Whorlton Grange (HER 1933) was built in the mid-19th century as a planned farm. Other farms present in the 19th century include Coley Hill Farm (HER 4956), Fell House Farm (HER 4955) and Hill Head Farm (HER 5082). However, some industrial activities were carried out in the area, including coal mining at North Walbottle colliery (HER 4235) and quarrying at the Whindyke Quarry (HER 4248) in use from the 18th century as a source of whinstone, and served by a trackway, the Whindykes Cartway (HER 1589). Along with the industrialisation of areas to the south of Westerhope came an increased demand for residential developments. A notable survival from the industrial period is James Street (HER 5157), a row of stone-built houses linked to a nearby colliery by a tramway which provided the houses with coal and removed refuse. Grand residences for industrialists were also built in this period, notably Newbiggin Hall (HER 1881), which replaced an earlier house of the Hudson family. In 1828 it was the residence of Henry, son of Matthew Bell MP of Woolsington. Later residents were Lt. Col. Charles James Reed, a brewer (c.1858-87), John Watson Spencer of Spencer's Steelworks in Newburn (from 1887), and from 1909 Gerald France MP. In the late 1950s the Hall was replaced with a public house which, in turn, has been destroyed. Later council estate developments have removed many traces of Westerhope’s agricultural and industrial past. One of the few modern sites of local cultural heritage importance in the area is the site of a Second World War anti-aircraft battery (HER 5498).    


The earliest evidence of human activity at Whickham are the recorded discoveries of a polished axe in Beech Grove (HER 675), and a perforated stone axe-hammer (HER 673), both probably Neolithic in date. A cremation burial in a cist containing a ‘food vessel’ has also been recorded near Washing Well Farm (HER 681), where cropmark features of possible prehistoric (or early indistrial) origin are known from aerial photographs (HER 685-7). Finds from later periods include a possible late prehistoric or Roman quern (HER 674), and a possible Roman coin hoard (HER 1506). The Roman military site at Washingwells farm was identified from aerial photographs in 1971 and an associated, possible Roman road (HER 5096) has since been suggested. The first documentary references to Whickham medieval village (HER 694) date from 1183 in the Boldon Buke, when it was apparently a large and important village, with 35 villeins each with 15 acres, a manor, a mill, and three fisheries on the Tyne. In 1382 there were four free tenants, and about 50 other tenants inhabiting upwards of 50 houses. There was also a com mon oven, a kiln, a forge, together with the fisheries. Whickham was a large village or small town at the centre of a large parish which lay between the rivers Derwent and the Team. The present main street is of medieval origin, as is St. Mary’s Church (HER 693), a heavily restored and rebuilt church of 12th century origin (there is also an 18th century rectory in the village, HER 4849, the site of a possible Quaker burial ground, HER 677).

Hollinside Manor House (HER 107) dates originally to the 13th century when it was an oblong structure with walls 0.90m thick, and consisted of two rooms (a hall and chamber) on two floors. Although there are various other references to medieval structures at Whickham, notably mills (e.g. HER 680), few structural traces survive – the surviving remains of a windmill (HER 679) are probably no earlier than early 18th century). Coal working probably began in Whickham parish from an early period – there was almost certainly Roman and early medieval extraction there – but did not begin on a commercial or organised industrial basis until the 13th century, when the shipment of coal to the London market began in earnest. In Hatfield’s Survey of 1382 there are four references to coal pits (HER 695): Robert Hawyk had pits on 10 acres once held by Simon de Bassyngham; Cristiana Nikson pits on 11 acres once held by William Hering; Adam Punder pits on 8 acres called Collierland; and Crossmoor was listed as waste because of coal pits. This trade made Whickam parish one of the largest and economically most important coal producing regions in the world, a status it held until the end of the 18th century. Later evidence of mining can be found under the Whickham Hill plantation, which now covers some of the Grand Lease Pits of the early 17th century (HER 1664). The scale of the industry can be gauged from the great number of pits recorded on 19th century maps in the vicinity of Whickham (e.g. HER 3648-50 and 3658-62). Coal mining in the area continued through the 19th into the second half of the 20th century, when Byermoor Colliery closed, although episodes of open-casting have continued. As a result of the coal trade, a number of smaller settlements grew or sprung up in the area, notably Byermoor, Marley Hill and Winlaton, with dwellings for workers and, eventually, an associated infrastructure of schools and churches. Large country houses such as the 17th century Dunston Hill House and Park (HER 5226-8) were also built for coal owners. The neighbouring Gibside estate (HER 4986, 4987, 4988 and 5124-5126), based on Gibside Hall (HER 4985) - built by Willaim Blakiston between 1603 and 1620 at the start of the ‘coal boom’ – was landscaped and developed Sir George Bowes (1701 - 1760), a founder of the Grand Allies of Durham Coal owners. The position of Whickham meant that the various industries reliant on coal did not flourish there, choosing Tyneside locations instead. Quarrying was important, however (e.g. HER 3654-7, 3666-9 and 3719-21), and a forge (HER 3640), mills (HER 679 and 3642) and limekilns (HER 3670) served local demand. Later sites of local cultural heritage value include Second World War roadblock sites (HER 5829 and 5841-5) and an unusual loopholed wall at Washingwells – this comprises a series of machine gun rests placed behind a pre-existing stone wall next to a public footpath, and was apparently put there when Whickham was identified as an area where an air-borne invasion might take place.   


The earliest recorded evidence of human activity at Whitburn are from a Mesolithic harpoon head (HER 851), and Mesolithic flints with an associated structure (HER 1998) found in 1989 at Potter’s Hole in a cliff face. Finds from later periods include Neolithic and Bronze Age flints (HER 841-846 and 857), cist inhumation burials with associated artefacts (HER 847-850) and Roman coins (HER 871). The first documentary references to medieval Whitburn village (HER 108) date from 1183 in the Boldon Buke. It was probably a 2-row village with a central green, but the green does not appear to have extended through the eastern half of the settlement, where the onetime hall garth projected north to reduce the width of Front Street. The parish church lies behind the south row. Today there are 18th century houses in the west half of south side of the village, and 19th century houses on the north side. The Hall was demolished in 1980 and the site built over. In c.1382 30 separate holdings are listed in the village which contained a windmill and a pound. Whitburn Church (HER 882) dates to the early 13th century, although it was altered in the 15th and 19th centuries. Medieval artefacts including a silver ring, belt buckle and bronze plaque have been found at Glebe Farm (HER 4613). Whitburn Mill (HER 1029) dates at least to the 1790s and was in use until the late 19th century, but later found use during World War Two as an observation post. Other (wind)mill sites (e.g. HER 962), some of which have survived, probably also have medieval origins. There is also a photographic record of a tithe barn at Whitburn which may have medieval or early post-medieval origins (HER 881). The industrial development of Whitburn, as elsewhere in the region was tied to the coal trade, although mining occurred rather later than elsewhere due to the depths at which workable seams occur there. A number of mine workings and features associated with the coal trade are recorded in the area (e.g. HER 2394-5, 2588 and 2466). Whitburn Colliery (HER 2493) was sunk in 1874 by Belgian miners for the Whitburn Coal Company and remained open until the mid 20th century, using the Marsden and Whitburn Colliery railway (HER 2466) to transport coal. A great many Limestone quarries were also exploited during the 19th century (e.g. HER 2325-8 and 2418-24). The rifle range (HER 2587) at Whitburn dates to the early 20th century and includes practice World War One trenches. A remnant of the Second World War is the Anti Aircraft Battery (HER 1795) at Lizard Farm. The coastal location of Whitburn meant that it became important in the 20th century defence of Britain. A World War One command post is located there (HER 1835) along with numerous Second World War defensive sites, including pillboxes (HER 1833, 4668 and 5351-3), a gun emplacement (HER 1785, aircraft battery (HER 1795) and road block sites (HER 5847-9).   

Whitley Bay (including Marden)   

There is no recorded evidence of prehistoric human activity in Whitley Bay and little archaeological field investigation has taken place there. However, the view that this resource-rich coastal environment would have been exploited from the earliest times is supported by discoveries of archaeological remains in similar contexts in the wider region. Mesolithic activity is attested by flints from the mainland opposite St Mary’s Island and discoveries of Neolithic polished stone axes have been made at Earsdon and Marden (HER 728). In 1958 and 1962 George Jobey excavated a rectilinear enclosed settlement (HER 304) of late Iron Age date at Marden. The historic township of Whitley (HER 725) vis first recorded in 1110 in a document of Henry I, but the name Whitley derives from the Anglian for white lea or pasture, and may suggest Anglian origins. Between 1190 and 1393 there are many references to the family which took its name from the manor, suggesting that the family held considerable position in the district. In 1345 Edward III granted Gilbert de Whitley a licence to crenellate his manor house (HER 728). The 16th century saw the township divided into five tenements with 200 acres under arable cultivation. The Dove family came to prominence at this time –Robert Dove was a collector of tithes in 1539, and by 1663 John Dove was the principal tenant of the manor. In 1673 John Dove took out a 21 year lease on the coal-mines of Whitley and district. Shallow coal deposits in the area had been worked since at least the 13th century, and there is mention of coalmines in the ownership of the priory at Marden in 1316 (HER 735). Much of this coal probably serviced salt pans at Shields and Cullercoats; later documentary evidence records the introduction of salt pans at Cullercoats in the 1660’s fired by coal from Whitley, and John Dove’s coalmines certainly supplied coal for this purpose in 1677. The dawn of the modern period is marked first by the enclosure, then by increasing industrialisation of the rural landscape. While small-scale fishing continued along the coast, industrial enterprises such as coalmines, quarries and waggonways encroached upon farmland, and encouraged the expansion of rural settlement. In the latter part of the 17th century the collieries in the district of Whitley were expanded and connected to the coast by wooden wagon ways, or ‘Newcastle roads’, which came into general use around 1670. The decline of the salt trade in the 1720s led to the decline of the coal field, which was rejuvenated only in the 19th century (HER 1192 and 2152), with Whitley Colliery re-opening in 1810. The decline in coal mining was to some extent offset by the exploitation of ironstone, which was worked in galleries from shafts on Whitley Links, some of which still survive (HER 1045-6). Quarrying and lime-burning were also important - Whitley Quarry (HER 1193) began its working life in 1663 and by 1825 had an internal wagon way, smithy, twelve limekilns and a reservoir, to which were added in 1875 a brickworks (HER 5876), although this was short-lived and circa 1924 the quarry was infilled and landscaped to become West Park cricket field. The wealth derived from industrial concerns such as the quarries and mines enabled the construction of grand residences such as Whitley Hall (HER 1882) (built between 1757 and 1769), Whitley Park (HER 1883) and Whitley House. The latter was erected in 1803 on ground formally owned by John Dove whose former ‘Head House’ (HER 5479) was on the site of the present Belvedere shop, with the attached malt kiln and byre on the Whitley House site. Early maps of the area give an indication of the lay-out of the village along the north and south sides of a wide street, the present Whitley Road, with St Paul’s Church (built 1864) constructed a short distance from the grand houses in the centre of the village. The 3rd Edition Ordinance Survey Map of 1919 shows the spread of built structures from a cluster around Whitley Hall and St Paul’s Church into areas previously occupied by gardens and fields. In the later 19th and 20th centuries the adverse effects of the collapse of mining and dependent industries in the area were ameliorated by the emergence of mass-tourism. Subsequently, Whitley Bay grew as a residential area serving the urban conurbation of Tyne and Wear centred on Newcastle, leading to the replacement of grand residences and farm buildings by housing estates and associated structures and services – typically, Whitley Park, built by Edward Hall in 1789 was demolished in 1939 and replaced by a library and small park. Road and rail links also developed in the 19th century (HER 1038, 1044, 1940 and 2153). Survivals from this period include the railway line and station (HER 2153), 17 Webb Gas Lamps (HER 1604/6/8/9 and 1611-12), designed to purify sewer smells and gases while providing street lighting, a K4 red telephone box (HER 4634), Spanish City (HER 2216) and a number of military sites, including World War Two pillboxes (HER 1790, 1831, 1844, 4669 5345-6 and 5358), an anti-aircraft battery (HER 5508), road block sites (HER 5822-3) and a Spigot Mortar Emplacement (HER 5419). The maritime traditions of Whitley Bay continued in the form of St Mary’s Lighthouse (HER 1037), built in 1897 but decommissioned in 1984, since then it has been used as a visitor centre.