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Tyne and Wear HER(8628): Birtley, Elisabethville - Details

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Birtley, Elisabethville





Model Settlement



Documentary Evidence

The model village of Elisabethville was built in the First World War to house Belgian workers at the National Projectile Factory. "The Huts" were envied by many local people whose housing was of much lower standard - the huts had flush toilets and electric lights. There were hostels for single men and two sizes of furnished cottage with a garden for families. There was great sympathy for the Belgian refugees and at the same time there was a shortage of munitions. National Projectile Factories were built by private firms and the government working together. In 1915 Armstrong Whitworth agreed to build two factories at Birtley, one to produce shells and the other cartridge cases. Belgian refugees were to be employed there. The factory was administered on strictly military lines. Discipline was only relaxed when the workmen's families arrived. At its peak Elisabethville had a population of 6000, of which 1200 were children. The model village was named after Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. It was self contained with its own doctors, nurses and teachers. It was separated from Birtley by a surrounding fence. Local people were only allowed in on the Armistice 11 November 1918 for a torchlight procession. The Belgain school was built in 1915/6. It was designed to last ten years but stood for nearly sixty. St. Michael's Church was run by Belgian clergy. It later became the Salvation Army Hall. In 1916 a field adjacent to Lamesley Lane was set aside for a Belgian cemetery. The Belgians left in 1919 and the contents of the huts were sold off. The Daily Mial on 26 May 1919 described it as "the largest furniture sale on record". The Huts were renamed and let by the Council. By the 1930s they were dilapidated and were demolished.




G. Nairn and D. Rand, 1997, Images of England - Birtley;; J. Burrow and Co. Ltd (ed). 1969. Birtley Co. Durham: The Official Guide; Bygate, J.G. 2005. Of Arms and Heroes: The Story of the ‘Birtley Belgians’; Gateshead Council. 2010. The Changing Face of Birtley The Gateshead Towns and Villages Series (leaflet at Gateshead Library); Henderson, D. 2000. Memories and Photographs of the People of Birtley; Letch, H. 1970. Gleanings from the History of Birtley; Marshall, T. c.1980. Elisabethville: The Belgian Colony 1915-1918; Schlesinger, J. And McMurtie, D. 1988. The Birtley Belgians: A History of Elisabethville; Turnbull, L. c.1980. Glimpses of Old Birtley; Bygate, J. 2005. The riot at Elisabethville, Birtley. Durham County Local History Bulletin, 68 (Durham Record Office H6); Batho, G.R. and Faulkner, M. 2000. An Elisabethville Family: the Prowses, Durham County Local History Society Bulletin, 61 (Durham Record Office H6/9); Brown, M. 1990. The Belgian Colony at Elisabethville, Birtley. 1916-1919, Northern Catholic History, 31 (Durham Record Office H 7/4); Nairn, G. 1997. The Archive Photograph Series: Birtley; Burn, R.S, 1957, A recent history of Birtley Parish (Tyne and Wear Archives L/PA/252); The Belgian Community at Birtley (Tyne and Wear Archives L/PA/1545); Microfilm LHR3: Elizabethville: Various documents relating to munitions factory (Gateshead Library)

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