Our Colliery Villages II West Moor and Burradon
Newcastle Weekly Chronicle Saturday October 12th 1872
"After leaving West Moor a short walk up the waggonway brought me to Burradon Colliery, which about twelve years ago was the scene of a terrible explosion, whereby 76 men and boys lost their lives."
"At Burradon, almost every variety of pit house may be seen. You have some of the very oldest, and some of the very newest; although the new ones,I am sorry to say, are not built upon such improved scale as the houses at Dinnington or Cambois."
[The reporter had this to say of the scientifically-managed Cambois colliery and its superior housing in the piece he wrote about it: “After passing through the garden, the kitchen entered by an approach of two or three steps, and is a fair sized room, with nice fireplace, oven, and pot. Behind the kitchen a wash-house is formed and out of the wash-house a staircase with hand-rail leads to the upper storey, which contains two decent sized bedrooms, to say nothing of a sort of lumber room outside the bedroom doors and immediately under the slates. These bedrooms are vastly different places from the garrets of Seghill and Killingworth, and much better than even the new houses in the course of erection at Burradon, indeed, the lumber rooms of Boca Chica would make far snugger bedrooms than any of the garrets of Seghill. Outside, and at a good distance from the back doors, is the privy for each house, with its accompanying ash-pit.” The colliery was just over five years old.]
"There is one row of houses, which begins close, to the pit heap, and 300 yards long, every house from the front looking snug and comfortable with its liberal allowance of kitchen, garden in front, however, are deceptive, and the inside of these houses, although they are in pretty good repair, are far too small for people with a family. [He was referring to Office Row which was constructed in 1859-60. Large gardens were a feature of miner’s housing. The gardens at Cambois were thirty yards long. Colliery officials housing did not often have gardens attached, but they were more commodious.] There is only one room downstairs, and the garret upstairs, with a projecting pantry at the back side: These houses are roofed with slates, and they are considerable improvement upon the old-fashioned tile." [Photographs from the 1890s of the earlier Lane Row show this housing to be roofed in pantiles.]
|Quoits Team at rear of Lane Row and Pantiled Roof c1900|
"At a distance-of about half a mile is another row of houses the same as these, With the exception that they are ceiled upstairs." [This is Burradon Terrace, near the farm, possibly privately built and leased to the colliery.]
"Two or three new rows are in course of erection, and at first sight they look very nice and neat and they are undoubtedly improved in some particulars." [North, Middle and Double Rows.]
"They have a good high step up the door, which will greatly tend to aid inside dryness and cleanliness, and the downstairs floors are of wood. There is a washhouse and a pantry at the back of each, and further back again there is a privy to each house, and a substantial ashpit. Fifteen of these new houses have privies attached, and so will all the others when finished, but these are the only privies in the place. The attics of the new houses will be very comfortable, for they are all to be nicely ceiled, and have each a fireplace in them. The rooms are about 17 or 18 feet square, and are undeniably a great improvement upon the old style; but still they are much too small for men with families. Just fancy a working man living in Newcastle and earning two pounds or two pounds ten per week living in a little place like some of these houses with a family of six or eight, some of them perhaps grown up to the age of 18 or 20; Why, decency forbids it, and a due regard for sanitary laws ought to cause coalowners to build larger houses for their married workmen. In the new houses at Burradon the dangerous ladder and the unguarded hole in floor is still the only means of entry to the upstairs room. As one woman put it, "They might elways hev put us a staircase in, hinny."
|Camperdown in 1920 looking E-W with Lane Row on left|
[There had been much agitation in Parliament regarding public health in the period preceding 1872. This had resulted in public health acts being passed, notably in 1848 and 1873, but the Public Health Act of 1875 brought together all the previous legislation and compliance with the act was now compulsory. Sanitary Authorities were created under the terms of the act. This led to a drainage and sewerage scheme being installed at Burradon by 1880. The money to implement the scheme was loaned from the Local Government Board. But even in 1878 the Medical Officer of Health reported that there was a lack of systematic removal of refuse and middens had accumulated for nearly six months and had “assumed such a state of putrefaction as to be almost unbearable”. Farmers removed the refuse when it suited them and not a sanitary conditions required them too. It seems that throwing slops and rubbish into the streets, “producing a filthy nuisance”, was a habit the mineworkers could not overcome quickly though. Even when most houses, by 1879, had been provided with privies this practice still continued, as reported by the Medical Officer of Health.]
"These are the best houses at Burradon, now let us take a look at some of the worst. On the opposite side of the road to Burradon is what is known as Camperdown, although I believe the proper name is Hazlerigg. At the top of the village is a filthy pond which is the receptacle for all the surface drainage of Burradon; and, although it is guarded by a low wire fence on the side next the road, it is very dangerous as well as very offensive. A little lower down you have the old-fashioned back to back type of colliery house, which is more economical still than the West Moor "to-falls". It is simply one house, as at Seghill, divided between two families." [This is West Row and Lane Row built in the 1820s - the early days of the colliery.]
"One family lives on one side, and another family faces the other way. Little pantries, with entrance from the inside of the house, have lately, been added; but privies or wash-houses, or ashpits there are none. These houses are simply a disgrace to any coalowner, and it is some slight satisfaction to know that the present proprietor who have not been long in possession, are building houses as fast as they can for the better accommodation of their hands."
[In 1871 Nathanial Lambert purchased Burradon Colliery by auction. He, along with his partners, lived and had financial interests in the Killingworth district. They also owned the Coxlodge colliery and from this time forward their company was known as the Burradon and Coxlodge Coal Company. They traded up until the time of nationalisation in the mid-20th century. The new owners did seem more willing to improve the conditions of their workforce and it was noted by the Medical Officer of Health in 1876 that they were fully co-operating in the drainage scheme by laying several hundred yards of of sewer pipes along the rows. But even in 1884 there was still a dispute as to who was responsible financially for the supply of water as this piece from the Morpeth Herald illustrates.]
"Within the last last few months large numbers of men have left the place simply on account of having to live in these dwellings, so that it has become absolutely necessary for the owners to do something."
[It was a similar situation in other nearby colliery villages too. This is what the reporter wrote about Seaton Burn: “These are miserable houses, and are rented by the occupants. Each house has two rooms, one on the ground floor and one above. Each of these rooms is occupied by a family, and somehow or other people manage to exist in them. We enter one on the ground floor to be nearly stifled with the heat and foul air, for there is no through ventilation here, and the woman of the house, who strange to say, looks hearty enough, assures us that ‘There’s ne call fur onny vapor baths in this place, fokes can git thim if they only stop in thor awn hooses.’ This we can readily believe, for a few minutes inside have been sufficient to induce a state of unhealthy perspiration… The people of the room we enter are preparing to flit. ‘Weev leeved here ower lang,’ says the woman in charge, ‘an’ noo weer gan to try Blaydon.’ This is evidently a wise woman, for though her house is the best in the block, if she stays much longer, the ceiling which, for some time past, has been coming down in ‘single spies,’ will come down in ‘whole battalions’ upon her.”]
"One row, which faces to the west, has a low stone wall almost close in front, against which the ashes have to be laid, and some of the middens, being so close to the door, are very offensive. Indeed one old woman complained bitterly of the close proximity of the nuisance, and, speaking figuratively, I suppose, in allusion to the stench, said, "Ey, hinney, it mony a-time gies me ma brickfast i' the mornin." [It was not uncommon for toileting facilities not to have been provided in the earlier 19th century colliery housing. Reference is made to this in the reports on many colliery villages, eg Holywell and New Delaval where residents toileted behind a hedge on the other side of a railway track..]
"The ovens in these houses are curiosities. In fact I can compare them to nothing but the half of a common furnace-pot, let horizontally into the side of the fire-place, flat side down. They are made of very thick metal, but are small inside, and have a loose door which has to be lifted off and on when the oven is in use. One man, with a family of seven, said his was just barely big eneuff to byek" a pie for the dinner; but the good wife, looking affectionately at her growing lads, doubted it would soon be "far ower little for byeking wor family pie in."
[They were perhaps lucky in having individual ovens. Many mining villages had outdoor communal ovens in the earlier part of the 19th century. A mention was made by the reporter on a visit to one colliery of “ovens, ash-holes and coal places thrown into unpleasant prominence”. The ovens being round were an indicator of their antiquity, square ovens having become the norm in the later 19th century.]
"Turning from the sanitary to the social conditions of the Burradon miners. I am bound to say that it does not contrast very favourably in some respects with West Moor. There is not much difference in the present population, although a census taken last year gave Burradon a population of upwards of 1,600. Burradon and its dependencies is only provided with two chapels, while it can boast the possession of four public houses, such as they are."
[The Weslyan Methodist chapel was erected in 1830. An ecclesiastical census taken in 1851 lists 80 free sittings and 50 other sittings. The Primitive Methodist Chapel was newly built. It is quite a small building which has now been occupied as a dwelling house for over a century.]
"They have, however, a branch of the Cramlington Co-operative Society flourishing here, which seems preparing to lighten the darkness of the coming winter by the brilliant display of fancy paraffin lamps in the front window." [The Co-op was also a newly-opened venture, the premises being a leased shop in Fryers Terrace.]
"The most intelligent of the Burradon miners are justly proud of their school, which is larger than either the Seghill or West Moor ones, and is their own property. There is a compulsory payment of 6d. per fortnight by each married man, the young men and boys, who can have the advantage of the night school if they choose, paying 3d. per fortnight. The school is a mixed one, and the aggregate average daily attendance is 164. As nearly all the denominations are represented among the scholars, the teaching is purely unsectarian. There is a news-room and small library attached to the school, but it does not number on its list more than 30 members."
[The miners of West Moor had commented that their news room was too close to the colliery offices where officials where always in proximity and: “A chep was afraid to speak his mind”. The school was built in 1861, which was prior to the state taking responsibility for education in 1870, and was in part funded by the explosion disaster relief fund from 1860. The Methodist Church had established itself in the coal districts by the 1820s and had a great effect on improving the moral welfare of the pitmen and encouraging education. A schoolmaster, Edward Davidson, was resident in the village even on the 1851 census, presumably the Weslyan chapel serving a dual purpose of school and place of worship as Mr Davidson is also listed as the steward of the Weslyan Chapel on the ecclesiastical census. Mr J Wales, the manager of Burradon and Killingworth collieries in the 1840s had told a government commissioner of the rapid moral improvement of the men in the previous two decades due to the influence of Methodist preaching and effective policing. Gambling and blood sports were not nearly so widely practiced and there were no men who could any longer be described as vicious. However, the reporter did mention that Burradon did have four public houses within a short distance of one another and although no other vices were mentioned it is difficult to imagine that the villagers were much more virtuous than their neighbours. The reporter made these remarks on Dudley colliery which is two miles from Burradon: “In conclusion, and we have a few words to say about the prevailing vice of Dudley- pitch and toss. The vice is not peculiar to Dudley, but it seems to have very firm hold in the village, and all attempts to dislodge it seem in vain. Now, most men have some respect for Sunday as a day of rest; but here, at Dudley - and again, Dudley is not singular- Sunday is not at all held sacred by the pitchers and tossers, who on that day, hold high carnival, and coins may be seen spinning aloft among the hedge rows to the accompaniment off "heads a croon", or "tails a shilling". Gambling in itself is bad, and the gambling of the pitmen is no worse than the gambling of others who indulge in its excitement; but to bet on the spinning of two pennies seems so ridiculously absurd that, making all due were allowances for the passion of Englishman to back their opinion, we cannot help wondering at the folly of men who are content to form an opinion and hazard money on the whirl of a coin.” Even in 1904 local newspapers were reporting prosecutions for pitch and toss gambling, on a Sunday, with some quite heavy fines being handed out to pitmen caught in the act by concealed policemen.]
[On the positive side the sport of quoits was beginning to become popular and competitive and there were many more pastimes peculiar to the North East coal district played among the pitmen. It has already been mentioned that the pitmen’s houses came with a large garden. Gardening was encouraged, although how much the pit workers needed encouragement is only to be guessed at - an inexpensive supply of vegetables was obviously desirable. The Chronicle reporter made this comment about Seaton Burn colliery village flower show and judging by reports in the local press in the following years this was the norm in every colliery village: “The society has been seventeen years in existence, and its object is to promote the cultivation of flowers, fruits, and vegetables, by the distribution of prizes to the most successful exhibitors. When the society first commenced operations Its funds were very limited, and, consequently, its prizes were small; but year by year it has gone on steadily improving, until now it is the boast of its members that they have the best show between Bishop Auckland and Alnwick. The rearing of prize flowers and vegetables is a healthy hobby, its development has been assisted to the fullest extent by the genial resident viewer of the colliery, and now the men of Seaton Burn and Dinnington vie with each other as to who shall do most to support the show.”]
"I have reserved to the close of my paper a few remarks upon the water supply of both West Moor and Burradon, and I will venture a few suggestions as to the manner in which the families of both places may be better supplied with water. At both places the water has to be carried, and that sometimes to a considerable distance. At West Moor, many of the people have small casks fitted on to wheelbarrows, and they bring their water in these from an old pit shaft; at Burradon the water has to be carried from the pit or from wells. Now a much better system of water supply might easily be adopted at both these places. There is any amount of engine power at the collieries; pumps could easily be attached, pipes laid along the rows of houses, and thus a constant supply of good water could be cheaply brought to the door of every house, to the great improvement of cleanliness and the great saving of time and labour." [As previously mentioned the new colliery owners participated fully in the installation of a drainage system soon afterwards.]
"To go a step further, I would suggest the erection of wash-houses, with a supply of good large tubs, wherein the grimy miner might wash himself after his shift was done, and not as now have to wash himself in the principal room - sometimes the only room - of the house. If such places as these were erected (so many to each row) and made fit for use either in summer or in winter, personal cleanliness would be greatly promoted, and there would then exist no reason for the pugilistically-inclined miner, while washing himself before the fire, to say, "Mary com eer and wesh me back, for fear aw hev te fight the neet.”
"In conclusion, I will just say that, as I am rather tired of looking at the dark spots of mining life in this district, I will next week betake me to “fresh fields and pastures new" and write in more cheerful strains of top modern and model colliery of Cambois."
[Frank Atkinson gives a useful account of pit village life in his 1977 book: ‘Life and Tradition in Northumberland and Durham’ also ‘The Pitmen of the Northern Coalfield: Work, Culture, and Protest, 1790-1850’ By Robert Colls
Other Sources: Morpeth Herald January 16th 1904 ‘The Isabella Pit - School’. Coal Mining Villages of Northumberland and Durham: A study of Sanitary Conditions and Social Facilities MA Thesis 1973 Jennifer YE Seeley.