The Wreck of the Stanley

The following article was written in January 1889 in the third volume of the Monthly Chronicle of North Country Lore and Legend.  It is tells the sad tale of the wreck of the Stanley off Tynemouth in 1864.

Wreck of the Stanley

The wreck of the Stanley at the mouth of the Tyne took place on the 24th of November, 1864. During the early part of that day, a strong breeze blew from the east-south-east. It was not, however, sufficiently violent off the mouth of the Tyne to account for the gradual rise of the waves as the day advanced. In the afternoon, the storm, of which the wind from the quarter indicated had been the herald, gradually grew in violence until it became evident that there were serious grounds for apprehension as to the safety of vessels which were then in the offing. About half-past four o’clock an occurrence took place which, unfortunately, proved the precursor of further and more serious disasters. One of the Tyne Commissioners’ hoppers, in tow of a steam-tug belonging to Mr. Lawson, of South Shields, was outside the bar, when the towline parted. The hopper was driven behind the North Pier, the two men who were on board of her being rescued by means of life-buoys by some of the pier men; while the tug was dashed upon the Herd Sands, whence her crew were saved by the South Shields lifeboat. The next vessel which ran on shore proved to be the passenger steamer Stanley.

This fine vessel was the property of the Aberdeen Steam Navigation Company. She was an iron screwsteamer, and was built at West Hartlepool by Messrs. Pile, Spence, and Co. in 1859. Her register tonnage was 376, her actual burthen being 552 tons. She had sailed from Aberdeen on the previous night, bound for London, in charge of Captain Howling, having a crew of 29 hands, all told. The number of passengers at the time of sailing was 30, about half of whom were women. The vessel had also a full cargo on board, and on her deck were about 48 cattle and 30 sheep. She proceeded on her voyage with every prospect of reaching her desired haven in safety, until off the Northumberland coast, where she first began to experience the effects of the storm. Finding the sea so turbulent in-shore, the Stanley stood out seaward in the expectation of finding smoother water, but discovered that she was only running into the full force of the gale. In this terrible plight, the captain determined to steam for the Tyne, the mouth of which was reached about a quarter to five o’clock. The master had only once during his nautical career been in the Tyne, and that was about twenty years previously. Under these circumstances, he naturally felt considerable hesitation in taking the bar, more especially as the tidal lights were not then burning. He fired a couple of rockets for a pilot, but none came off. A tug-steamer did, indeed, leave the harbour, but she never approached near to the Stanley. The mate, however, who had frequently sailed to and from the Tyne, expressed his readiness to steer the vessel into port. The captain yielded to his representations, and the head of the steamer was turned towards the bar. This was safely crossed. But the ship had got no further than just off the Spanish Battery, when, with a dreadful shock, she struck upon the rocks known as the Black Middens.

As soon as the peril of the Stanley was seen from the shore, a number of the coastguardsmen set about getting the rocket apparatus ready for firing. The Tynemouth lifeboat, the Constance, was promptly manned, while the North Shields lifeboats, the Northumberland and Providence, with the South Shields lifeboats, William Wake, Tyne, and Fly, were also got out and pulled down the harbour into the Narrows. Intelligence of the catastrophe spread with lightning-like rapidity, and the consternation and excitement of the inhabitants in the sister towns at the mouth of the Tyne were intense. The night was pitch dark, and from the elevated headland overlooking the harbour the sea could be made out only by a broad band of white foam; but a couple of hundred yards from the shore could be dimly discerned through the gloom some dark object indicating the position of the ill-fated vessel. The roar of the waves, too, was deafening; but in the lulls of the storm the despairing wail of the poor creatures exposed to the pitiless waves was heard with painful and agonizing distinctness. As the tide fell, the rocket apparatus was carried over the rocks, and preparations were made to establish means of communication with those on board.

Before the disaster, the Stanley had been provided with four lifeboats; but, after striking upon the rocks, three of these were speedily smashed to pieces. An attempt was made to launch the remaining lifeboat; and for this purpose four of the crew got into her, taking with them four female passengers. While the boat, however, was being lowered from the davits, a heavy sea caused her to turn round and sink. Three of the seamen were rescued by those on board, but the four ladies and the fourth seaman were, in a moment, swept beyond the reach of aid.

Wreck of the Stanley 2

After firing one or two abortive rockets, the coastguard at last succeeded in establishing communication with the Stanley. The line carried by the rocket was soon the means of carrying a stout warp between the vessel and the shore; and upon this warp the cradle was slung. The first man to venture into the cradle was an ordinary seaman, named Andrew Campbell, who was safely conveyed to the shore amid the cheers of the bystanders. A second seaman and a woman next got into the cradle, but, unhappily, they fell or were thrown out, and were drowned. The second mate, James Knipp, then took his place in the cradle, and was safely drawn through the raging waters to the shore. Owing to an unfortunate error of judgment on tho part of some one, the hawser was secured in such a manner that it was no higher than the rail of the ship, the consequence being that those on shore could not get it clear of the water. The result of the mistake was soon painfully palpable. When a seaman named Buchan had been drawn about midway between the vessel and the shore, the bight of the warp was borne by his weight against the rocks, amongst which the whip-line of the cradle became entangled, and the cradle itself was brought to a standstill. Inspired by the strength born of despair, the determined fellow managed to haul himself hand-over-hand to the shore by the warp. The warp and cradle being, by this untoward accident, rendered useless, an end was put for the time being to any further efforts in that direction; and the unfortunate passengers and crew still on board were left to their fate until the full tide of the morning should afford an opportunity for the resumption of measures for their rescue.

The captain and his mate appear to have done everything in their power towards saving the passengers from being swept away. Two women the only two who were afterwards saved were induced to place themselves in the foretop, where they were securely lashed; and three or four more were bound to the shrouds beneath. The bulk of the female passengers, however, were too much affrighted and prostrated by the fearful experiences through which they were passing to venture from the deck.

About half-past nine o’clock, the steamer was struck by a tremendous sea. The hull yielded to the irresistible blow, and parted abaft the mainmast. The force of the waves swung the fore part and larger portion of the vessel completely round until it was left in a position with the bow breasting the waves. At this time the whole of those on board were on the larger portion of the vessel. The second-class cabin was on the deck, and the top of it formed what was known as the bridge or “look-out.” Affording as it did a place of refuge from the breakers which poured incessantly upon the doomed vessel, it became crowded by female passengers and a portion of the crew. All were tightly lashed to the rails by which the sides were guarded. But a terrific breaker swept the entire structure, with its shrieking occupants, into the sea, where they all perished.

The survivors in other parts of the vessel had taken refuge in the fore and main rigging, whence several of them were washed into the sea. The same fate befel two of the women who had been lashed to the shrouds, while another, unable to bear up against the exposure and hardships of that terrible trial, expired from exhaustion.

About five o’clock next morning the sea had sufficiently fallen to permit a resumption of the exertions to save the survivors. Three rockets were fired before a communication with the vessel was established. This time those on board made the warp fast to the mast-head, by which means it was kept out of the angry surf, and the incline materially facilitated the working of the cradle. Soon all was ready for recommencing the work of rescue, and in a few minutes afterwards the whole of the survivors were brought safely to land.

There were lost, in all, about twenty-six lives; and with the other disasters which occurred at the harbour’s mouth during that memorable night, the catalogue of mortality was swollen to between thirty and forty.

There has since been no such lamentable experience in the history of Tyne navigation, the great improvements effected by the enterprise of the River Commissioners having largely contributed to the greater immunity from fatal disaster which is now enjoyed, while the brave members of the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade, which owes its origin to the wreck of the Stanley, are ever ready to render assistance when necessity arises.

The sketch of the wreck which accompanies this article is taken from a painting by Mr. J. W. Swift, a local artist of the time.

The Sunderland Babbies

The following article was published in January 1889 in the third volume of the Monthly Chronicle of North Country Lore and Legend and is concerned with the “Sunderland Babbies”.  Read on to find out more.  Also check out this article in the Sunderland Echo.

Let’s hope the funding comes through!

Babbies was the popular name given to two life-sized leaden figures which for many years formed the chief attraction and land-mark in Broad Street (now Roker Avenue), at the junction of Fulwell Lane and Church Street, Monkwearmouth. The house with the garden pillars thus ornamented was once a very pleasant residence, remarkable for having a clock and bells, and was occupied in its later days by “Gentleman John,” a soubriquet which clung to Mr. John Smith, shipowner, all through his successful career from a blacksmith to a capitalist. But previous to this it is said to have been the residence of the great-grandfather of the late Mr. George Cooper Abbes, of Cleadon Hall, who purchased the two figures’ which had been brought over from Germany (with ten more) by some speculative skipper, and set them up to adorn the entrance to his house. The other figures found their way into the hands of different gentlemen in the County Palatine, and most of them have probably long ere this been melted down for the sake of the lead. The duty on lead, in the shape of ore, was four pounds a ton a hundred years ago, whereas the Babbies, being “works of art,” would be admitted either duty free or for a comparatively small charge.

Between sixty and seventy years ago, the Broad Street mansion (or, as some say, the house next to it) was occupied by a Scotchman of the name of Rae who kept a genteel school in it, which was attended by the children of the principal Sunderland families the Kennicotts, Robsons, &c. Mr. Rae’s wife was the sister of a Miss Gilbert, the mother of the celebrated Lola Montez, whose real name was Eliza Gilbert. Eliza, whose father is said to have been an officer in the British army serving in India, was sent home from the East while yet a mere child, and boarded with Mr. and Mrs. Rae, from whom she received the elements of a good substantial English education. She had for her schoolfellows many who, when she afterwards became world-famous, remembered her as a very interesting, clever, pretty girl.

A few years ago, the Babbies were presented to the Roker Park, where they may now be seen; but it is proposed to place them on the pillars at the entrance from Roker Promenade when the gateway shall have been completed. The style of dress denotes the figures to be of German or Dutch manufacture. The scythe which the man is represented in the act of sharpening, is the Flemish or Hainault scythe, with which a good workman could cut an acre of corn easily in a day, and which was introduced into this country by some enterprising farmers about fifty years ago, to take the place of the Irish scythe-hook, which had itself supplanted the old toothed hook or sickle, all to be rendered obsolete in their turn by the reaping machine.

Thomas Paine & Sunderland Bridge


Probably but few of the many hundreds who daily travel over the noble high level bridge of which Sunderland is justly proud, and read in conspicuous characters upon its balustrades the words “Rowland Burdon, 1796; Robert Stephenson, 1858,” are aware of the fact that this bridge is constructed of part of the materials of one built under the direction of Thomas Paine, the author of the “Rights of Man.” The history of Paine’s bridge, taken from Mr. Smiles’s “Life of Telford,” and other sources of information, may perhaps interest the reader.

Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine, who was the son of a Quaker of Thetford, in Norfolk, was brought up to his father’s trade, that of a staymaker; but he soon got tired of staymaking and Thetford. Leaving home early in life, he filled, during a few years, the posts of privateersman, exciseman, and schoolmaster.

Dr. Franklin, with whom he had become acquainted, persuaded him to go to America, and there he took an active part in the revolutionary discussions of the end of last century. He dwelt for some time in Philadelphia, and studied mechanical philosophy, electricity, mineralogy, and the use of iron in bridge building. In 1787 he boldly offered to erect an iron bridge of 400 feet span with a single arch across the Schuylkill River; in the same year he submitted his design for the proposed bridge to the Acadamy of Sciences at Paris, also a copy of his plan to the Royal Society of England. Encouraged by the favourable opinions of scientific men, Paine proceeded to Rotherham, in Yorkshire, to get his bridge cast.

In August, 1788, he took out a patent for this bridge, and in the specification he describes it as “a method of constructing arches, vaulted roofs, and ceilings, either of iron or wood, on principles new and different to anything hitherto practised, by means of which construction arches, vaulted roofs, and ceilings may be erected to the extent of several hundreds of feet beyond what can be performed in the present practice of architecture.” Paine says the idea was taken from “the figure of a spider’s circular web,” and other ideas from nature, fully described in the specification for the patent, which is No. 1,667 on the list, and is notable as the first patent in our records for arc improvement in bridge construction.

An American gentleman named Whiteside having advanced money to Paine, the castings for the bridge were duly made by Messrs. Walker, of Rotherham, and shipped off to London. The bridge was exhibited to the public at Paddington, where it was visited by large numbers of people.

Whiteside having become bankrupt, Paine was arrested by his assignees; but, two other Americans becoming bond for him, he was liberated. And now, apparently giving up all thoughts of his bridge, he espoused the principles of the French Revolution. Meanwhile, the manufacturers of the bridge agreed to take it back as part of their debt, and the materials were used in the construction of that high level bridge which now spans the Wear at Sunderland.

To the public munificence of Rowland Burdon, of Castle Eden, is due the erection of this bridge, at a cost to himself of about £22,000, in the year 1796. In the previous year he took out a patent for its construction, in which he describes it as “a method of making, uniting, and applying cast iron blocks, to be substituted in lieu of keystones in the construction of arches, the said cast iron blocks being kept in their proper positions, and made to abut against each other, and to support any incumbent structure by means of wrought iron bars and wrought or cast iron braces being affixed to their sides, and passing horizontally between ribs composed of the said cast iron blocks.”

Although the names of Rowland Burdon and Robert Stephenson (under whose supervision the bridge was widened and improved) are alone publicly associated with this bridge, “we must not” to use the words of Mr. Phipps, C.E., in a report to Robert Stephenson “deny to Paine the credit of conceiving the construction of iron bridges of far larger span than had been made before his time, or of the important examples, both as models and large constructions, which he caused to be made and publicly exhibited.”

Several alterations and improvements upon the original design were made in erecting the bridge. Its span is 236 feet, and the roadway is more than 100 feet above high water mark. The bridge was characterised by Mr. Robert Stephenson as “a structure which, as regards its proportions and the small quantity of material used in its construction, will probably remain unrivalled.”


It is admitted that Rowland Burdon constructed and erected Sunderland Bridge, but this is widely different to inventing it. Let us look at the facts of the case, as far as they are known. Paine’s specification of his patent was registered August 26, 1788, and numbered 1,667. No one will doubt that considerable time would elapse in considering and mastering the specification before it was registered. In fact, we know from Paine’s memoir, addressed to the United States Congress, that in the September of 1787, about a year before the patent was registered, a model of the bridge was sent to Sir Joseph Banks, president of the Royal Society of England.

In a paper read before the Royal Society, in 1797, Thomas Bowler states that “a plan for an iron bridge, on a new principle, was also invented by Mr. Thomas Paine, and exhibited some time ago near Paddington.” There is little doubt that the bridge alluded to was made at Rotherham, and sent to Paddington for exhibition. We now have historical evidence that Paine had a model of his bridge, the specification of his patent being registered seven years before Burdon took out his patent; and we may fairly assume that a bridge was built in accordance with Paine’s model and specification, and exhibited about the time Burdon’s patent was registered. There can be no doubt that Burdon, when considering and maturing his plans for the construction of such a novel structure as the Sunderland Bridge, would be fully aware of the facts alluded to. Rowland Burdon’s specification of patent was registered September 18, 1795, No. 2,066. The foundation-stone was laid 24th September, 1793, and the bridge was opened to the public on the 8th of August, 1796, so that the erection of the structure had been in progress for two years before the patent was entered in the patent office. This looks very much like making the machine first, and drawing the plans afterwards.

I must now call attention to the Rev. William Turner’s remarks in a paper read by him before the Literary and Philosophical Society at Newcastle, in 1795, and to Mr. John Rastrick’s letter, dated Morpeth, September 8th, 1795. Mr. Turner’s remarks certainly imply that he was not certain that Mr. Burdon was the inventor. Mr. Rastrick says: “It has been asserted that Wearmouth Bridge is built on the principles of a model of Paine’s which came from London one evening when I was at Castle Eden.” We may fairly infer that there must have been some grounds for this report.

An Act of Parliament was obtained in 1857 for the reconstruction, or rather the strengthening, of the bridge, which was carried out under the superintendence of Robert Stephenson. The original structure of the bridge was found to consist of six cast iron ribs. To the surprise and astonishment of all immediately connected with the repairs, the discovery was made that two of the ribs had been made of one pattern, and the other four ribs of a different pattern. The question naturally arose, how had this occurred? The most feasible answer is that the two exceptional ribs were those sent from Paddington, which we have most unmistakeable hints about.

In 1786 Paine made three models of iron bridges, partly at Philadelphia, but mostly at Borden Town, in the State of Jersey. One model was in wood, one in oast iron, and one in wrought iron connected with blocks of wood, representing cast iron blocks. He took the last-mentioned one with him to France in 1787, and presented it to the Academy of Sciences at Paris for their opinion of it. In September of the same year he sent a model to Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society in England, and soon after came to England himself.

The principle he took to begin with, and to work upon, was that the small segment of a large circle was preferable to the great segment of a small circle. The appearance of such arches, and the manner of forming and putting the parts together, admit of many varieties; but the principle will be the same in all. The architects Paine conversed with in England denied the principle, but it was generally supported by mathematicians.

In order to ascertain the truth of the principle on a larger scale than could be shown by a portable model of five or six feet in length, he went to the iron foundry of Messrs. Walker, at Rotherham, and had a complete rib of ninety feet span, and five feet in height from the cord line to the centre of the arch, manufactured and erected. It was a segment of a circle of four hundred and ten feet diameter; and until this was done no experiment on a circle of such extensive diameter had ever been made in architecture, or the practicability of it supposed. On the success of this experiment, he entered into an agreement with the iron founders at Rotherham to cast and manufacture a complete bridge to be composed of five ribs of one hundred and ten feet span, and five feet of height from the cord line, being a segment of a circle of six hundred and ten feet diameter.

At this time Paine’s bridge operations became suspended, and he employed himself on the now celebrated work “The Rights of Man,” in answer to Burke’s attack on the French Revolution. In 1792 a Convention was elected in France for the express purpose of forming a constitution on the authority of the people, as had been done in America, of which Convention Paine was elected a member. He was at that time in England, and knew nothing of his election till the arrival of the person who was sent officially to inform him of it. So great was Paine’s popularity in France that he was chosen about the same time by the people of no fewer than four departments.

During Paine’s absence in France, Sunderland Bridge was erected. Paine had a very intimate, friend Sir Robert Smyth, who was also an acquaintance of Mr. Monroe, the American Minister in Paris. Smyth had been a colleague in Parliament of Mr Ralph Milbanke, and, supposing that the persons who constructed the iron bridge at Sunderland had made free with Paine’s model, which was at the iron works where the Sunderland Bridge was cast, he wrote to Mr. Milbanke on the subject, and the following was that gentleman’s answer:

With respect to the bridge over the river Wear at Sunderland, it is certainly a work well deserving admiration both for its structure and utility, and I have good grounds for saying that the first idea was suggested by Mr. Paine’s bridge exhibited at Paddington. What difference there may be in some parts of the structure, or in the proportion of wrought and cast iron, I cannot pretend to say, Burden having undertaken to build the bridge, in consequence of his having taken upon himself whatever the expense might be beyond three and four thousand pounds (sterling) subscribed by myself and some other gentlemen. But, whatever the mechanism might be, it did not supersede the necessity of a centre [the writer has here confounded a centre with a scaffolding], which centre was esteemed a very ingenious piece of workmanship, and taken from a plan sketched by Mr. Nash, an architect of great merit, who had been consulted in the outset of the business, when a bridge of stone was in contemplation. With respect, therefore, to any gratuity to Mr. Paine, though ever so desirous of rewarding the labour of an ingenious man, I do not feel how, under the circumstances already described, I have it in my power, having nothing to do with the bridge after the payment of my subscription, Mr. Burden then becoming accountable for the whole. But if you can point out any mode, according to which it should be in my power to be instrumental in procuring him any compensation for the advantage the public may have derived from his ingenious model, from which certainly the outline of the bridge at Sunderland was taken, be assured it will afford me very great satisfaction.

Paine had no patent for his bridge construction in America, but he took care to put the country in possession of the means and of the right of making use of the construction freely. Among the world’s inventors he has an honoured place. The iron truss bridge, which he invented, now spans a thousand streams in America, a graceful monument to his mechanical genius. He was the inventor of the planing machine, which relieves the weary mechanic from much of the severity of his olden toil; and he was the first to suggest steam navigation, although not to practically carry out the idea.

The above summary and extracts are taken from two of Paine’s letters one to Sir George Staunton, Bart.; the other, “On the Construction of Iron Bridges,” to the Congress of the United States.

A long discussion took place in the “Notes and Queries;” of the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle in 1875 on the subject of the invention of Sunderland Bridge. Immense credit was of course justly given to Mr. Burdon for originating and building the structure; but the curious and varied evidence produced in the course of that discussion conclusively proved that the honour of inventing the principle on which the bridge was constructed belongs to Thomas Paine. It will be sufficient to enumerate here the names of some of the authorities who were shown to have awarded the credit to the author of “The Rights of Man.” I mention them in the order in which they appeared in the correspondence: Ralph Milbanke, the colleague of Rowland Burdon in the representation of Durham; the “Encyclopedia Londinensis”; Kensington Museum of Patents; Quarterly Review, July, 1858; J. C Jeafferson, “Life of Robert Stephenson”; Mr. Murray, engineer of Sunderland Dock; Dr. Smiles, “Life of Telford”; Mr. Phipps, C.E.; Professor Pole; Rees’s “Encyclopaedia”; Robert Stephenson, “Encyclopaedia Britannica.”

Our sketch of the Sunderland Bridge is copied from an engraving in Richardson’s “Table Book.” Paine’s portrait is a copy of Romney’s. It is to be regretted that we have been unable, though we made inquiries far and near, to obtain a portrait of Rowland Burdon also……………..although Northeastlore has tracked one down!!!!!

Rowland Burdon
Rowland Burdon – Sunderland Museum

Northern Superstitions


In some parts of Northumberland it is thought lucky if we meet with two magpies, but very unlucky if one crosses our path. The following couplet I have often heard repeated:

One is sorrow, two mirth,

Three is wedding, four a birth,

Five heaven, six hell,

Seven the de’il’s ain sel’!

There are many who still look in the candles for expected letters, and search the tea-cup for coming visitors. If a young lady, in snuffing a candle, snuff it out, she will not be married during the current year. A spider descending upon you from the roof is a token that you will soon have a legacy from a friend. When a spider is found upon our clothes, some money is coming to us. The sudden loss of hair is a prognostication of the loss of children, health, or property. If a person’s hair burn brightly when thrown into the fire, it is a sign of long life; the brighter the flame the longer the life. If it smoulders away, and refuses to burn, it is a sign of approaching death. If the nose itches, it is a sign that you will be crossed or vexed. Itching of the right hand portends receiving money. If the right ear tingles, you are being well spoken of; if the left ear, some one is speaking ill of you.

It is accounted lucky to carry in the pocket a crooked sixpence or one with a hole in it, or to put a stocking on inside out, or a waistcoat similarly, through inadvertence. If you put a button or hook into the wrong hole while dressing in the morning, some misfortune will occur during the day. If you dream that you have lost a tooth, you will shortly hear of the death of a friend. If you dream of a wedding, you will hear of death; if you dream of water, you will hear of sickness. If a toad crosses the path, it will rain. It is lucky to have money in your pocket when you first hear that harbinger of spring, the cuckoo. It is unlucky, after one has started on a journey, to be recalled, and told of something previously forgotten.

Mr. Henderson, from whom I quote for the purposes of this communication, states that a clergyman from Yorkshire told him that his grandfather, though anything but a weak man, would never turn back when he had once started upon an expedition. He had been known to remain on horseback at the end of his grounds, shouting to the house for something that he had forgotten, rather than turn back for it. When rooks desert a rookery, it foretells the downfall of the family on whose property it is. There is a Northumbrian saying that the rooks deserted the rookery at Chipchase (on the banks of North Tyne) when the family of Reed left that place. On the other hand, the Wilkie MS. informs us that when rooks haunt a town, or village, mortality is supposed to await its inhabitants; and if they feed in the street it shows a storm is near at hand. It is said to be a good omen for swallows to take possession of a place, and build their nests around it; while it is unpropitious for them to forsake a place which they have once tenanted. A cock crowing on the threshold is a sign of approaching visitors. For a magpie to be seen near anyone’s doorstep is an omen of death. I was told some time ago by an old but intelligent gentleman, a resident of Winlaton, that when he had seen a magpie on three different occasions fly close to the door of people’s dwellings a death took place shortly after.

When very young, and living in Haydon Bridge, the following was related to me by a friend who has long passed away, and who possessed a fund of local knowledge: About seventy years ago, a quarryman, who resided in the above village, proceeded to work early one morning, accompanied by other fellow-workmen. On walking up Cleatby Bank, opposite West Mill Hills, a magpie crossed and re-crossed their path several times. It then disappeared, but, when nearing East Brokenheugh, it suddenly flew in amongst them, nearly knocking the hat off the quarrymans head. One of the poor fellows was much alarmed, and advised quarryman to return home. “Not I,” said the quarryman; “I don’t believe in such nonsense.” Arriving at the scene of their labour, they commenced work, and had only been working a short time when an alarm was raised, and each shouted to the other to run for his life. On endeavouring to save himself, the quarrymans hat fell off, when he stumbled over it and fell, and before he could rise a large stone came rolling down, crushing him to death.

First footing still largely prevails in various parts of Northumberland. It is considered very unlucky for the first visitor to a house on a New Year’s Day to belong to the gentler sex. In order to obviate this calamity, so soon as the last stroke of twelve has tolled forth from the parish church on the night of the 31st of December of any year, the male members of each household, placing a bottle of wine or spirits in their pockets, sally forth upon visits to the houses of all their friends. Others keep their doors locked until a male commences knocking, when the inmates, on being assured that it is not one of the fair sex, admit him, and partake of bread and cheese, which is often washed down by a small sensation of “mountain dew.” There are some good ladies whom the writer knows very well (and with whom he has often been amused) who will not allow any ashes or slops to be taken out of the house on New Year’s Day, it being unfortunate to take anything out. One can bring in, however, as much as possible.

A more agreeable rendering of the magpie rhyme is current in Wensleydale. Here it is:

One for sorrow, two for luck,

Three for a wedding, four for a death,

Five for silver, six for gold,

Seven for a bonny lass twenty years old.

F. Bland, Newcastle.

The Forth, Newcastle

The following is taken from Volume 1 of the Monthly Chronicle of North Country Lore and Legend and was published in June 1887.  I love this one as I used to work in Thornton Street and The Forth Hotel ( is one of my favourite drinking establishments.  It constantly amazes me how places change over time. Hope you enjoy!  JPM

The Forth 2 - Oliver's Plan of Newcastle - 1830
From Oliver’s Plan of Newcastle, 1830


No locality in Newcastle has excited more interest among the inhabitants than the open space called the Forth. It was for ages a playground for old and young; there the children used to bowl their eggs at Easter; and there Ned Corvan’s songs was a lamentation for the loss of the Forth. That famous trysting-place, together with the Spital, has long since disappeared. The very site of it is now but dimly remembered, even by the oldest inhabitants of Newcastle. Nevertheless, the interest in the subject is still great enough to justify an attempt to give people now living the best idea possible of the appearance and situation of the Forth. No sketches exist of the enclosure, the citizens used to enjoy the ancient game of bowls in summertime. Political meetings in later days were sometimes held in the enclosure. Only of the most pathetic as far as we are aware, are in existence. The only approach to anything of the kind is contained in Buck’s “View of Newcastle,” published in 1745. A rough outline of part of that “view” is here printed. A cross in the outline indicates the Forth Tavern and the trees surrounding it. We give also a tracing from Oliver’s Plan of Newcastle, published in 1830. This tracing shows that the Forth joined the Cattle Market, and was situated between the (Gunner lower, which was removed in 1885, and the Infirmary, which still stands in the place it occupied in 1830. Neville Street, the Central Station, and the North-Eastern Railway, in fact, have taken the place of the once popular resort. Besides these outlines we have pleasure in presenting our readers with three sketches of the old Forth Tavern, taken from original drawings preserved in a book that belonged to the late John Waller. The original drawings were made in 1843, shortly before the place was pulled down and the entire locality transformed. It was in this tavern and under the verandah in front of it, that the citizens were accustomed to gather of an evening, there to watch the sports which were proceeding on the green sward of the Forth itself. The view of the west end of the tavern shows the steps which led up to the terrace overlooking the Forth Walk. Mr. M. A. Richardson published in 1848 Alderman Hornby’s “Extracts from the Municipal Accounts of the Corporation of Newcastle.” To these accounts he appended some historical notes, one of which furnishes the best description extant of the ancient playground of the Newcastle people.

The Forth 1 - Buck's Prospect of Newcastle - 1745
From Buck’s “S.E. Prospect of Newcastle,” 1745


Mr. Richardson’s History of the Forth

The Forth has probably been in use as a place of recreation from a very early period, and that, too, countenanced by the governing body both in purse and person; our mayors and aldermen of the earlier days of Queen Elizabeth do not appear to have thought it beneath their dignity to witness and reward the exertions of “the fellyshpe of a shyp [of] Albroughe, dansyng in the Fyrthe,” or even the pranks of a “player,” who, it is gravely stated, was rewarded “for playing with a hobie-horse in the Firthe, before the maior and his brethren”; and, though it is not specially mentioned where the ceremony took place, yet we can hardly doubt that the bearward of Lord Monteagle, “him that had the lyon,” and the “tumbler that tumbled before Mr. Maior and his brethern,” one and all exhibited the capacities of themselves or of their respective charges in the presence of these worshipful sightseers in this ancient place of recreation. In all these things we can discover a simplicity of manner, and an unbending of the sternness of justice at particular seasons, which cannot fail to impress us with a very favourable idea of the kindliness and easy intercourse of the magistracy with the commonalty at the period in question.

Archery, too. it would seem, has been practised here by the stalwart youths of the town, for in July, 1567, we have a charge “for making up the buttes in the Fyrthe.” It seems probable, in fact, that the Forth has also been the campus martius of the town, or, at least, one of the places appropriated to the purposes of military array.

On 25th Sept., 1657, the Forth and paddock adjoining were ordered to be leased out under the common seal at a rent not exceeding £20 per annum, for 21 years, the lessee to let it to those only who should be bowling green keepers, with a clause to permit all the liberties, privileges, and enjoyments formerly used there; amongst these occur “lawful recreations and drying clothes.” It is thus mentioned in a survey of crown lands, &c., in and about Newcastle, taken 29th Oct., 1649: “Item, one parcell of pasture grounde, called by the name of the Frith, lyeing on the west parte of Newcastle, conteynyng by estimacon 4 acres and one rood, and worth per annum 42s. 6d. Both this and Castle-Leazes or Castle-Fields hath been time out of mynd in the possession of divers persons residing in or neare unto Newcastle, and (as we are informed) holdeth the same of the crowne in fee farme. Therefore, we have not valued the same, but leave them to better judgements.” Mention occurs of the Forth in an old rental of the sheriff of Newcastle which appears about the age of Car. 1. “The Forth and Gooden-deane letten to Thomas Cook.”

About 1657, a bowling-green and house for the keeper, was made by contribution in part of the Forth; around which on 29th July, 1680, the Corporation ordered a wall to be built, and lime trees brought out of Holland to be planted therein. On 25th Sept., 1682, there was an order of the same body “to make the Forth House suitable for entertainment, with a cellar convenient, and a handsome room, &c.” On this occasion there was erected a stone inscribed “Nicholas Fenwicke, esq. maior, Nicholas Ridley, esq. sherriffe, anno Domini, 1682.” In Brand’s time it was affixed to the west end of the house, but was afterwards built into the parapet over the piazza.

The Forth Tavern from three prospects

A keeper of the bowling-green was retained till about the middle of the last century. Whether bowling was practised here previous to 1657, we have not been able to discover, but it is mentioned in 1690, and Thoresby, the historian of Leeds, who visited the town on 19th May 1703, especially mentions having “walked to the very curious bowling-green, built at a public charge, and where the best orders are kept, as well as made, that ever I observed.”

“It was an ancient custom,” says Bourne, “for the mayor, aldermen, and sheriff of this town, accompanied with great numbers of the burgesses, to go every year at the feasts of Easter and Whitsuntide to the Forth, with the mace, sword, and cap of maintenance carried before them.” They then unbent the brow of authority, and joined the festive throng. On the north side of the bowling-green was the tavern, with a balcony projecting from the front, and a parapet wall, whence the spectators, calmly smoking their pipes and enjoying their glasses, beheld the sportsmen below. On Easter Tuesday, 1808, the holiday people assembled here were disturbed in the enjoyment of their annual amusements by an affray of a rather serious nature between some boys and a party of recruits of the Wiltshire Militia. The boys, according to annual custom, were amusing themselves with a game of football in the interior of the Forth, when the soldiers, no doubt for the sake of fun, interrupted them in their diversion, by running after them and tripping up their heels. The boys being reinforced by their friends, and encouraged by another party of military, set upon their opponents manfully, and with stones, brickbats, and other missiles, kept up such a determined discharge, that they compelled their antagonists, though superior in numbers, to seek safety in precipitate retreat. Luckily the scene of action being near the Infirmary, the wounded were conveyed thither. Two men received severe but not dangerous wounds on the head; the other accidents were mostly slight. At Easter-tide, too, the children used to go to the Forth to “bowl their eggs.”

It seems pretty certain that the practice of several of the incorporated companies, of convening at the Forth and Forth-hill on their head meeting days, which during the latter half of the seventeenth century had become quite usual, was the traditional observance of a much earlier custom, and must, we think, have been derived from the assembling themselves together in former times of the body of burgesses, for the celebration of their processions and Corpus Christi plays. From the deficiency of very early records, and the paucity of the information given by those which do exist, we have not been able to trace any earlier mention of the custom than 1647, when the Cordwainers are enjoined to hold their head meeting on the Monday after Corpus Christi Day “in a place called the Forth, without the walls of our town, before 9 of the clock in the forenoon.” The Smiths, on 23rd June, 1739, require that their company, which “heretofore usually on the head meeting day have gone to the Forth-hill to call the roll and gather in their fines,” shall in future appear at their meeting hall for the same purpose. The Coopers, who had also met here for the adjustment of their business at seven in the morning, also discontinued the custom 7th June, 1710; and the Cordwainers, after the repair of their ancient meeting house in the Black Friars in 1728, in like manner abolished the practice from 30th September that year. Scattered over the records of the incorporated fraternities are many amusing entries relative to these meetings, whereby we observe that they did not neglect creature comforts, or spurn the aid of the drinking glass or of the fragrant weed. The companies brought their muniment chests to the place of meeting, called over their respective rolls, and fined not only those who were absent, but such as misbehaved themselves whilst there. We have an unfortunate wight so punished for calling one of his brethren “three times a knave att the Forth-banck.” As might be expected, the proximity of a tavern and a bowling-green tempted many from their sterner duties; so we find that while one slips away to enjoy a pipe, a second is detected “playing at bowels” in the green, while “the twelve,” or committee of his company, were waiting for his presence in order to the due despatch of business, which was frequently further retarded by others neglecting to bring the company’s box. After these disputes were over, they incontinently entered the adjoining tavern, and, in repeated draughts, would reward themselves for their continence during the bygone hour; a procedure no doubt often hastened by unpropitious weather to the satisfaction of all, especially as the cost was defrayed at the common charge “the raine causeing them in.”

As we have indicated, the Forth or Forth-field appears to have been used as a public drying ground, as also for the sweetening and airing of clothing of other descriptions. In 1685, the Cordwainers occur conveying thither “to aire” the cloaks, pall, and other burial paraphernalia of the fraternity, an economical expedient which in the following year is called “sunning.”

The Forth, especially so called, was of square form, enclosed by a low brick wall, within which was a broad gravel walk, shaded by two rows of lime trees, planted at equal distances. Bailey informs us that these limes, which formed a kind of Lyceum for the inhabitants in their morning and evening walks, were subsequently cut square over at about fifteen feet from the ground; for years they shot out afresh, but by the latter part of the last century were going fast to decay; that at the time he wrote (1801) the constant exercising of troops on the green, and putting horses and cattle on the neighbouring field, had greatly impaired the beauty of the place, and entirely subverted its original and peaceful intention; but the Corporation prohibited these trespasses on the quiet enjoyment of the inhabitants, planted many young trees, and put the whole into excellent order, rendering it the most convenient and delightful promenade in the vicinity of the town. As such it was the daily resort of the inhabitants whose leisure permitted their making use of its pleasing features; while on Sundays, between and after Church hours, it was crowded with a brilliant and gaily dressed throng.

After 1840 the Forth declined; the green, which had been surrounded by a railing, and kept in a state of exquisite verdure, was broken in upon, and a footpath formed from one corner to the other by idle people as a short cut from gate to gate; the seats, which were placed all around the enclosure for the convenience of the delicate and invalid, fell into decay, and were either torn up for firewood or intentionally removed; and the trees, dying one by one, were cut down and not replaced. Subsequently, the railing was overthrown, and “the green” so completely disappeared that hardly a blade of grass was discernible, and the interior of the Forth became a miry plunge.

The open summit on which it was seated, the delightful views formerly to be had from it of the fine vales and extensive tracts of fell country in the distance, with its immediate contiguity to the western suburb, gave it all the advantages that could be desired for an evening resort in summer; but, from many manufactories and other works having sprung up in its vicinity, the smoke rapidly destroyed the vegetation. Bourne, writing in 1735, tells us that the Forth is a “mighty pretty place, exceeding by much any common place of pleasure about the town. On the east side of it you have a prospect of part of the town’s wall, through which is the common passage to and from this place, under a shady walk of trees; on the west you view the grounds of the village of Elswick, which have a gentle ascent to the village itself; a place at the proper season of the year much frequented bythe town’s people, for its pleasing walk and rural entertainment. From this quarter we view also, as we do on the south, the banks of the River Tyne, together with their villages.” In Bourne’s time there was nothing to hinder an uninterrupted view of the country south and west; but now the very scenes upon which he expatiates are wholly shut out from obser vation, and covered with modern dwellings.

The last tree, extending its gaunt leafless arms over the neglected swamp, as if pointing out deploringly the melancholy condition into which the place had fallen, was removed in November, 1842, when the workmen were engaged in cutting away the western side of the enclosure, for the purpose of adding to the ground occupied by the Cattle Market. On this occasion the wall was set into a line with the end of the tavern; the old gate, which had posts to prevent the ingress of horses, was removed, and a new one built up against the house; while among the mass of soil removed were found a great number of cows’ horns.

It may be implied that there was not any tavern in the Forth previous to the year 1657, as in 1651 we find the whole fraternity of Smiths indulging in thirty-pence worth of “beare in the Foorth,” a sum which includes the cost of “fetching it,” a charge that would hardly have occurred under other circumstances. The same remark may possibly apply to expenditure of this kind at an earlier date.

The enclosure appears originally to have been effected by a wooden railing, which we have reason to think was erected for the first time in 1654. Mention of the Forth wall first occurs in 1681, when, or in the preceding year, it was originally built. Considerable renovations also took place in 1731, and the succeeding year. A “seat in the Firth” is first mentioned in 1681, after which period down to the close of the century, it occurs being kept in repair, or at least some acknowledgment made, by the company of Smiths.

A Book with a History

The book from which our views of the Forth Taven are taken belonged to the late Mr. John Waller, proprietor of the Turf Hotel, Newcastle. It is a copy of Mackenzie’s “History of Newcastle,” bound in two volumes, and interleaved with rare engravings and original sketches of old buildings, many of which have now disappeared. The work has twice passed through the hands of Mr. Robert Robinson, of the Bewick’s Head, Pilgrim Street, in the course of his business. It is Mr. Robinson himself who relates the history of this literary treasure. The book originally belonged to a gentleman named Bacon, who was for half-a-century the respected agent of Messrs. Cookson, in the Close, and who resided not far from the office of the firm. Mr. Bacon amused himself for many years by collecting local engravings, &c., to illustrate the text of the historian. Furthermore, in 1843 he employed a scene-painter at the Theatre Royal to make drawings for him of old and picturesque buildings and places in Newcastle. When he had completed his task, Mr. Bacon informed two or three old friends, collectors like himself, that he intended to present the result of his “labour of love” to the Literary and Philosophical Society. These old friends heartily approved of his scheme. Urged by them to quit the Close for a more pleasant part of the town, Mr. Bacon took a house in Derwent Place, sent his book to a bookbinder to be bound, and then died. The gatherings of many years were shortly afterwards sold by auction by the late Mr. George Hardcastle, of Sunderland, in a room in the Royal Arcade. Endeavours were made at the time to get the Mackenzie volumes from the bookbinder, in order to present them to the Lit. and Phil. But the auctioneer would not assent to this proceeding, got possession of the books, and sold them with the rest of Mr. Bacon’s collection. The sale took place about thirty-six years ago, to the best of Mr. Robinson’s recollection. Mr. Robinson bought the Mackenzie lot, which he sold afterwards to the late William Sidney Gibson, the author of the “History of Tynemouth Monastery,” &c. On the death of that gentleman the work fell a second time into the hands of Mr. Robinson, who sold it to Mr. Ketelle, musicmaster, at whose death it came into the possession of the late Mr. Samuel Neville. When Mr. Neville’s library was dispersed, it was secured by the late owner, Mr. Waller. Such is the history of one of the most curious and interesting works extant.

The Grand Duke Nicholas at Wallsend



When the allied sovereigns visited England after the overthrow of Napoleon, Alexander I., the Emperor of Russia, was accompanied by his brother Nicholas, afterwards destined to become Emperor himself. The Grand Duke Nicholas (for such was his then rank), anxious to see something of the method of working coals in this country, came down to the North to acquire the knowledge he needed.

Among the prominent people to whom he was furnished with letter? of introduction was the Rev. Dr. Gray, then Rector of Bishopwearmouth, afterwards Bishop of Bristol. Dr. Gray introduced him to Dr. Clanny, showed him the bridge over the Wear, and entertained him to lunch in the Rectory. Subsequently, the Grand Duke, in company with his suite, which consisted of Sir William Congreve, the inventor of the Congreve rocket, and some half dozen Russian noblemen in military uniform, set out for Newcastle. Here he visited the Royal Jubilee School, through which he was shown by the Rev. William Turner, the celebrated Unitarian minister. Here likewise he inspected, with much curiosity and interest, several beautiful specimens of wood engraving laid before him by Mr. Thomas Bewick. The Grand Duke was invited by the Mayor (Sir Thomas Burdon) to partake of the hospitalities of the town, but these were courteously declined on the plea of other engagements. Afterwards he paid a visit to Alnwick Castle.

The “illustrious stranger” arrived at Wallsend on December 16, 1816. Mr. John Buddie, the viewer of the colliery, had received instructions to show his Highness all that was to be seen, both above and below ground, and make him fully acquainted with the mode of winning and working the coal, ventilating the pits, &c. He was taken to Mr. Buddie’s residence, which was situated in the immediate vicinity of the principal pit; and there he was politely asked to take off his glittering uniform and orders, and put on the dress worn by a deputy-over-man, consisting of thick flannel trousers and a jacket of the same. This metamorphosis he accordingly underwent, and was then escorted to the mouth of the pit down which he was to be lowered.

As almost all our readers doubtless know, the pits are round holes, of about 10 feet in diameter, sunk into the earth to the depth in some cases of 300 fathoms, nearly one-third of a mile, and divided by a wooden partition or brattice the whole way down, so as to form two shafts, one known as the upcast and the other the downcast. Before the general adoption of Fourdrinier’s apparatus, the mode of descending a shaft was either by entering a large basket or corve used for hauling up the coals, or by putting one leg through a large iron hook at the end of the rope and clinging by the hands to the chain to which it was appended. The latter mode, contrary to what might be imagined, was the best and safest, and for this reason, that the basket was liable to catch the sides of the pit, and be thus turned upside down. Each person was provided with a short stick to keep himself from grazing the black and dripping walls as he proceeded downwards, and the rapidity of the descent was such as to render this precaution highly expedient.

Wallsend pit was at that period in the full enjoyment of its fame as sending up the finest coals in the world, and on this account it had been selected to give the Russian prince the best possible idea of what a coal pit was like, and how it was worked so profitably as to nett its owners an annual income of fifty or sixty thousand pounds. There were no coal mines of any consequence then in Russia, and Nicholas had never seen one in his life. What idea he had formed in his own mind of a coal pit it is impossible to say; but it is to be presumed that he had either thought little about the matter or been very wrongly informed on the subject. For when Mr. Buddie escorted him up the ladder leading to the platform of the pit-mouth, and introduced him to the scene of operations, he stopped suddenly short, and asked with alarm whether that was really the place to which he had been recommended to come. Upon being assured that such was actually the case, he went forward to the very edge of the pit, and attempted to look down into the Tartarean abyss, up which a blinding smoke was rising; then, stepping precipitately back, and holding up his hands in horrified amazement, he exclaimed in French, “Ah! my God, it is the mouth of hell! none but a madman would venture into it!” After uttering these words, he hastily retreated, made his way back to Mr. Buddie’s house, and there, slipping off his coarse, vulgar flannels as quickly as he could, again assumed his splendid uniform of a Russian general, with the badges of half the military orders in Europe hung about him. Then, without a minute’s delay, he left Wallsend Colliery far behind him, never to attempt the exploration of another coal mine.


The Lighting of Towns

Street Lighting

The lighting of towns in our island, by combined effort, is of modern date. Even in the metropolis it had no existence prior to the last century. So far back as the reign of the hero of Agincourt, there was, indeed, street-lighting; but in a sorry, makeshift sort of way. When Christmas was at hand, in the year 1418, as festivities would then be on foot, and wine would be in and wisdom out, an order was made that each honest person dwelling in the City should set “a lantern, with a candill therein,” before his house, in promotion of the public peace. An expedient of the like homely kind was also resorted to at Newcastle in the seventeenth century, more especially in seasons of civil commotion.

Whether systematic street-lighting was first adopted in England or on the Continent is an open question. “Of modern cities,” says Beckmann, “Paris, as far as I have been able to learn, was the first that followed the example of the ancients by lighting its streets.” Yet in 1524 it was still content with lights exhibited before the door by the citizens; but about the middle of the century there were brasiers in the thoroughfares, with blazing pitch, rosin, &c., dispelling (or at least mitigating) the murkiness of the atmosphere by night. Almost immediately afterwards, in 1558, came street lanterns; and in little more than a hundred years, an enterprising Italian abbe was in Paris, letting out lamps and torches for hire, and providing attendants. His operations were extended also to other cities; while not only was all Paris now lighted by its rulers, but even the outskirts: for nine miles of lamps extended as far as Versailles. In London, meanwhile, in the latter years of the seventeenth century, householders were admonished as of yore to hang out a light every night from Michaelmas to Lady Day. It was a device by which the gloom of the metropolis after nightfall was but imperfectly relieved. How it fared with the citizens in their benighted paths may be conceived from the pages of the poet Gay, who published his “Trivia, or the Art of Walking the Streets,” in the reign of Queen Anne. To all who might stumble into danger unwarily, he gave this word of caution:

Though thou art tempted by the linkmairs call,
Yet trust him not along the lonely wall;
In the mid-way he’ll quench the flaming brand,
And share the booty with the pilfering band;
Still keep the public streets, where oily rays,
Shot from the crystal lamp, o’erspread the ways.

The ineffectual fires of these crystal flickerers hardly served to make visible the increasing accumulations that addressed themselves, in almost every town of the time, to the more prominent feature of the face. “I smell you in the dark,” muttered Johnson to Boswell, passing along the High Street of Edinburgh on an autumn night of 1773; and Gay sounded his warning note in London:

Where the dim gleam the paly lantern throws
O’er the mid-pavement, heapy rubbish grows.

There were also roysterers of the night, ready for a brawl, yet respecters of persons; topers who, observant of the better part of valour,

Flushed as they are with folly, youth, and wine,
Their prudent insults to the poor confine;
Afar they mark the flambeau’s light approach,
And shun the shining train and golden coach.

So sung Johnson in his “London” in the year 1738, when Parliamentary powers had recently been obtained for the establishment of corporate lighting by night. A Bill was introduced for street-lighting in 1736; and in the ninth year of the reign of George II. the Royal Assent was given to “An Act for the Better Enlightening the Streets of the City of London.”

When the eighteenth century, whose midnights had been visited by the glare of flambeaux and the glimmer of oil-lamps, closed its course, it was casting before it the splendour of gas. A hundred years earlier, indeed, the Dean of Kildare, Dr. Clayton, had liberated ” the spirit of coal.” “Distilling coal in a retort, and confining the gas produced thereby in a bladder, he amused his friends by burning it as it issued from a pin-hole.” It afterwards became a common amusement to fill a tobacco pipe with crushed coal; thrust the bowl into the fire; and light the gas jet as it flowed from the stem. This was a toy. But William Murdock, a native of Ayrshire, put gas to work in earnest. In 1792, residing at Redruth, in Cornwall, as the representative there of Boulton and Watt, he lighted up his house and offices with “the spirit of coal,” and in the general illumination of 1802, in celebration of the Peace of Amiens, he wrapped the whole front of the famous Soho Works in a flaming flood of gas, dazzling and delighting the population of Birmingham, and publishing the new light to the world! Its success was so decided that the proprietors had their entire manufactory lighted with gas; and several other firms, in various parts of the country, followed their example.

“New lights” have ever to contend with old. However brilliant their promise, there is the shadow of incredulity, the gauntlet of ridicule. Oracular heads were shaken at gas. As well think of lighting a town with “clipped moonshine,” was their contemptuous conclusion; while the alarmists anxiously inquired, “if gas were adopted, what would become of the whale fishery?” The world, careless whether the whale should survive the change, listened to Murdock.

One of Murdock’s most enthusiastic disciples Winsor, a German introduced the light into London in 1807. Winsor applied to Parliament for a Bill, and Murdock was examined before the committee. “Do you mean to tell us,” asked one member, “that it will be possible to have a light without a wick?” “Yes, I do, indeed,” answered Murdock. “Ah, my friend,” said the legislator, “you are trying to prove too much.” It was as surprising and inconceivable to the honourable member as George Stephenson’s subsequent evidence before a Parliamentary Committee to the effect that a carriage might be drawn upon a railway at the rate of twelve miles an hour without a horse. Even Sir Humphry Davy ridiculed the idea of lighting towns with gas, and asked one of the projectors if it were intended to take the dome of St. Paul for a gasometer! The first application of the “Gas Light and Coke Company” to Parliament in 1809 for an Act proved unsuccessful; but the “London and Westminster Chartered Gas Light and Coke Company” succeeded in the following year. The company, however, did not prosper commercially, and was on the point of dissolution, when Mr. Clegg, a pupil of Murdock, bred at Soho, undertook the management, and introduced a new and improved apparatus. Mr. Clegg first lighted with gas Mr. Akerman’s shop in the Strand in 1810, and it was regarded as a great novelty. One lady of rank was so much delighted with the brilliancy of the gas-lamp fixed on the shop-counter, that she asked to be allowed to carry it home in her carriage, and offered any sum for a similar one. Mr. Winsor, by his persistent advocacy of gas-lighting, did much to bring it into further notice; but it was Mr. Clegg’s practical ability that mainly led to its general adoption. When Westminster Bridge was first lit up with gas in 1812, the lamplighters were so disgusted with it that they struck work, and Mr. Clegg had himself to act as lamplighter. (Smiles’s “Lives of Boulton and Watt.”)

One of the earliest provincial towns to adopt the new light was Newcastle-upon-Tyne. This was in 1818; of which year Smiles has a characteristic anecdote relating to Murdock. He had come to Manchester to start one of Boulton and Watt’s engines, and, with Mr. William Fairbairn (from whom the biographer had the story), was invited to dine at Medlock Bank, then at some distance from the lighted part of the city. “It was a dark winter’s night, and how to reach the house, over such bad roads, was a question not easily solved. Mr. Murdock, however, fertile in resources, went to the gas-works, where he filled a bladder which he had with him, and, placing it under his arm like a bagpipe, he discharged through the stem of an old tobacco-pipe a stream of gas, which enabled us to walk in safety to Medlock Bank.”

Before going any further, let us observe that public lighting is of considerable antiquity on the Tyne. In the month of November, 1567, a dozen years before Parliament was considering a Bill for maintaining a light on Winterton steeple, “for the more safety of such ships as pass by the coast,” the Corporation of Newcastle was paying 3s. “for 4lb. of waxe maid in candell for the lanterne of Sancte Nyciolas Churche, and for the workynge.” Such items were not uncommon. Here is another, of the month of December ensuing: “For 2lb. of waxe, wrought in candell for the lanterne in Sancte Nycholas Churche, 1s. 6d.” There were lights aloft on the church tower for the comfort and guidance of wanderers over the open country, whose feet were in anxious search of the Metropolis of the North.

In town and country men had then to grope their way by night. At a much later date than the reign of Elizabeth, how darksome were the streets of Newcastle!

There is an instructive anecdote of Lord Eldon, reviving the days when the future Lord Chancellor was on the threshold of his teens, and lighting by Act of Parliament was unknown on the Tyne. He and his schoolfellows would forgather on a winter’s night at the Head of the Side, on boyish freaks intent. It was a time when shops were unglazed, the windows open to the outer air, and the interior feebly lighted by a lamp or a “dip.” Down the Side the youngsters would start for the Sandhill; and first one, then another, would drop on his knees at a tradesman’s door, creep across the floor, lift up his lips, and blow out the flame! Hasty then was the retreat; and the merry band were off in pursuit of another victim, till all the shopkeepers in the row were reduced to dipless darkness.

The reign of George II. had to pass away before the aid of Parliament was successfully invoked for lighting the streets of Newcastle. The Common Council, which in 1717 had applied for an Act, again took up the matter; and soon after the accession of George III. powers were obtained. In the spring of 1763, Newcastle obtained an Act for lighting and watching the town, and regulating the hackney-coachmen and chairmen, the cartmen, porters, and watermen; and on Michaelmas Day the oil lamps were a glow to the best of their ability.

Whether the Act of 1763 spoiled the fun of Young Newcastle, and threw oil on the troubled waters of the tradesmen, our annalists do not say. But doubtless the schoolboys of the good old days “when George the Third was King” found abundant channels in which to gratify their love of mirth and mischief. For half a century and more the ladder of the lamplighter was in alliance with the harpoon of the whaler. But when the age of gas had arrived, the metropolis of the coalfield could not hold back, whatever came of the whale-fishery. In the dawn of the long reign of George III., Newcastle had received powers for lighting by oil; and near its close it was applying for an Act for lighting by gas. The requisite powers were granted. On the 10th of January, 1818, on which day the Savings Bank was first opened, gas-lighting also began. “In the evening,” says Sykes, “a partial lighting of the gas-lights took place in such of the shops in Newcastle as had completed their arrangements. The lamps in Mosley Street were not lighted till the 13th (Tuesday evening), when a great crowd witnessed their first lighting up, and a loud cheer was given by the boys as the flame was applied to each burner.” Collingwood Street had its illumination on the 26th; and the Old Assembly Rooms in the Groat Market, occupied by the Literary and Philosophical Society, were lighted on the 27th. Before the end of the month gas-lighting was becoming general. “This beautiful light,” says the Newcastle Chronicle, “is now introduced into most of the shops in the streets through which the pipes have been carried, and thus the thorough-fares are rendered in the evening beautifully resplendent.” The theatre was first lighted with gas on the 3rd of March.

Newcastle having led the way, other Northern towns were not slow to follow. North Shields was lighted with gas in 1820; Berwick-upon-Tweed and Stockton-upon-Tees in 1822; Durham in 1823; Sunderland in 1824; South Shields in 1826; and Darlington in 1830. Gas had passed into general favour. Instances occurred, however, in which tradesmen were admonished that if they had the “new light” in their shops they must not expect to see their old customers; and some cautious folk, providing for their safety, retired to watering-places or elsewhere ere the gas-lamps were lighted! They would have had their neighbours walk in the ancient ways, and stand by the whale.

Slowly street-lighting had moved onward in the olden time. Through long generations the householders were contributing each his candle to the public service. Twinkling stars of light strove through “the blanket of the dark,” producing an effect on which the “sickly glare” of oil was subsequently thought to be an improvement! But the rate of progress has been accelerated in modern days. Half-a-century sufficed to make an end of oil in the streets of Newcastle; and now, after less than four-score years more, gas is in controversy with the electric flame.

It was in June, 1850, that Mr. W. E. Staite, a pioneer and patentee of electric lighting, exhibited his light from the South Pier, Sunderland. Mr. Staite had been invited by the Commissioners of the River Wear to show his invention, in order that, if found suitable, it might be adopted as the permanent means of illuminating the New Dock. Great interest was manifested in the exhibition throughout the town; and towards evening thousands thronged the piers and quays, while many availed themselves of trips to sea so as to witness the effect of the light several miles from land. The apparatus was erected upon a temporary platform, raised a few feet above the lighthouse, the galvanic battery being placed in a shed below. At ten o’clock exactly the spectators on shore were gratified by the first glimpse of the light, which was shown with a parabolic reflector. It was directed towards Hartlepool, Seaham, and Ryhope, and then brought gradually northwards by the reflector being moved slowly round. The light was then sent successively upon the Docks, St. John’s Chapel, the quays, piers, and then towards Roker and Whitburn. A few nights later, between eleven and twelve o’clock, on the 25th of June, 1850, Mr. Staite exhibited the light at the Central Railway Station, Newcastle, to the directors of the company and a numerous party. The inventor had been asked to give a tender for lighting the station, which he did, but the directors did not see their way to adopt it.

Mr. Staite’s visits were naturally recalled to mind on the eve of the first lecture of our townsman. Mr. J. W. Swan, whose name is now everywhere familiar. This lecture was given before the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle early in 1879. Not a few were then present who remembered how, on the occasion of the marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1863, Mr. Swan threw down from the Shot Tower and St. Mary’s the flooding light of

The shining sun that mocked the glare
Of envious gas, struck pale and wan.

And the whole of the brilliant audience brought together in 1879 saw the same docile flame hermetically imprisoned, like some genius of the Arabian Nights, within walls of glass, and diffusing around it the soft lustre which the drawing-room desires.

The world is ever making new conquests, while not throwing aside the old. Society is not unthrifty. It adds to its roll of handmaids. Further arrivals do not foreshadow the departure of their forerunners. There was, as we have seen, in a former generation, an alarm for the whale fishery; and yet, the cry was so groundless. that it has given place to a fear lest the whale fishery, in the persistent and growing consumption of oil, should become extinct. Oil, indeed, is in such demand that the earth itself has been harpooned. On land as on sea oil is struck; and the mineral supply sheds its serene light over a million firesides. Oil, and gas, and candle have yet a long lease of social service to run; while the electric light has before it a career but dimly seen in our brightest dreams.

Madame Tomsett, Vocalist

Madame Tomsett, a well-known Tyneside soprano, is a native of Sunderland. At an early age she was found to possess a phenomenally full and round voice. Before reaching her teens she was taken in hand by Canon Bamber for his choir at the Catholic Church, Bridge Street, Sunderland, where she was a leading singer for some years. She first took lessons with the late Mr. Robert Ferry, a prominent local basso, who subsequently engaged her to lead the chorus of the Sunderland Philharmonic Society. On the occasion of that body giving a performance of Handel’s “Alexander’s Feast,” the solo soprano from London became indisposed before the concert commenced, and, at a moment’s notice, Miss Tomsett was called upon to take her place, which she did with the greatest credit and to the satisfaction of the audience.

Madame Tomsett

After remaining with Mr. Ferry for some time, it was decided to send the youthful vocalist to London to acquire a thorough musical training. She was placed under the late Dr. Wylde, principal of the London Academy of Music, where she also received lessons in singing from Signor Lablache, who entertained a high opinion of her vocal powers. After barely nine months tuition, she was entered as a candidate to compete for the Crystal Palace prizes at the National musical meetings, among other competitors at that time being Miss Leonora Braham, Miss Bolingbroke, Miss Adeline Paget, Miss Jessie Jones, Mr. Leslie Crotty, and Mr. Herbert Thorndike. Notwithstanding that she had had much less experience than the other competitors, she managed not only to sing into the first half-dozen who were selected for final adjudication, bat carried off the certificate for “excellence in singing, voice, and expression” (similar to that won by Mr. Crotty in the baritone class), which certificate was signed by the judges. Sir Julius Benedict, Luigi Arditi, and Wilhelm Ganz. The London papers were very lavish in their praise of the wonderful progress the Sunderland soprano had made in so short a time. The Standard said: “Miss Tomsett was nervous, but the resonant qualities of her beautiful ringing voice completely filled the Crystal Hall. This young lady is a student of the London Academy, and her progress is nothing short of marvellous, considering that she has received scarcely a year’s tuition. A brilliant future is before this vocalist if she but husbands the splendid resources at her command.”

Miss Tomsett afterwards sang with great acceptance at Gresham College for Dr. Wylde; at the St. James’s Hall and Crystal Palace concerts with Mr. Mann’s orchestra (notably on the occasion of the first visit of the Shah of Persia); at operatic recitals with Madame Elena Coraui and Mr. J. W. Turner; at Signor Arditi’s, and elsewhere. Instead of remaining in London, however, she returned home, and her services have since been much in request for oratorios and concerts in the North of England and in Scotland. For some years she has been principal soprano at St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Newcastle. She married a local journalist, Mr. William Heenan, and has a daughter who is already a talented pianist.

The accompanying portrait is from a photograph by Mr. James Bacon, of Northumberland Street, Newcastle.

Illustrations of Railway Development

Opening of Stockton and Darlington Railway - September 27th 1825

Although George Stephenson is rightly regarded as the “Father of Railways” for it was he who first made the locomotive a practical success for traffic the idea of a steam engine for traction had been previously worked out by several mechanical geniuses. Thus, Messrs. Trevethick and Vivian obtained a patent in 1802 for a high pressure locomotive engine, which, when the inventor had made certain improvements in it, was found capable of drawing a carriage on a circular railway at the rate of twelve miles an hour.

In 1813, Mr. William Hedley, of Wylam Colliery, made the first travelling locomotive engine, or substitute for animal power in the traction of coal waggons, ever see in the North. The coal was worked on the south side of the Tyne, conveyed under the river to the bottom of the shaft, and drawn up there; and from thence it was sent by the locomotives on a tramway to Lemington, a distance of above five miles. Each engine drew ten waggons, carrying eight chaldrons of coals, or 211 tons, and sometimes a dozen or more waggons were dragged by one engine. Strangers used to be struck with surprise and astonishment on seeing a locomotive engine moving majestically along the road at the rate of four or five miles an hour, drawing along from ten to fourteen loaded waggons; and their surprise was increased on witnessing the extraordinary facility with which the engine was managed. This invention was deemed a noble triumph of science, and so it really was, considering the time; but “Puffing Billy, “as Hedley’s locomotive was christened by the people near, is now only a curiosity, though it kept the road for a considerable time. The escapes of the jets of steam at high pressure, indeed, caused so much annoyance to the owners of horses in the neighbourhood, that the engine had to be stopped whenever a cart or carriage approached, and the working of the traffic was thus seriously interrupted, until Billy’s manners were improved by an ingenious arrangement for allowing the eteam to escape gradually.

George Stephenson, who had been for some time experimenting on the subject, constructed in 1815 the engine of which a figure ia here given, and which was a great improvement in many respects, and particularly in the simplicity of its mechanism, to Hedley’s engine. It weighed about eight tons, and could make a speed of nearly sixteen miles an hour in those days quite a marvel but with this disadvantage, that the chimney often became red-hot when running at that rate. But George was one of those extraordinary men to whom failure in any task, not physically impossible, is an unrecognised thing; and though his first locomotive was not very efficient, he was never satisfied till he had improved it so far as to come up somewhat near his own ideal. Mr. Goldworthy Gurney’s grand improvement of the steam blast was utilised by him to carry his experiments to a triumphal issue.

In 1820, Stephenson was appointed engineer for the construction of the Stockton and Darlington Railway; and when that line was opened on the 27th September, 1825, his locomotive engine was called into requisition, and drew a train of thirty-eight carriages, fully loaded with coals, goods, and passengers, exclusive of the tender with coals and water, a distance of eight and three-quarter miles in sixty-five minutes, the speed in some parts being frequently twelve miles an hour, and, in one place for a short distance, near Darlington, fifteen miles per hour. On this occasion the fields on each side of the railway may be said to have been literally covered with ladies and gentlemen on horseback, and pedestrians of all kinds. A man rode in front carrying a flag, as may be seen in our engraving.

The rapid growth of the trade of South Lancashire, together with the unpopular management of the Bridgewater Canal, gave rise in 1821 to the project of a railway between Liverpool and Manchester. Stephenson, who had meanwhile fully established his reputation as a practical man, was chosen engineer by the directors, with a salary of £1,000 a year. He proposed to work the line with locomotive engines going at the rate of twelve miles an hour an idea which was held up by some incredulous critics as sufficient to stamp the project as a bubble. “Twelve miles an hour!” exclaimed a writer in the Quarterly Review: “as well trust oneself to be fired off from a Congreve rocket!”

The Rainhill Competition 1829 - The Rocket First

It had been originally contemplated to work the trains by horses; but locomotives having been long used in conveying coal in the Newcastle district, it was believed that they might be used to draw passengers with advantage. The company consequently offered a reward of £500 to the maker of the best locomotive, particularising certain conditions necessary to be fulfilled. The trial took place on the 6th October, 1829, at Rainhill, near Liverpool, on a level piece of the railway one mile and three quarters in length. The distance to be run was seventy miles, backwards and forwards, thus giving forty stoppages. The following engines appeared: The “Novelty,” made by Messrs. Braithwaite and Ericsson, of London, but this was withdrawn, in consequence of some derangement in her pipes shortly after starting; the “Rocket,” made by Messrs. Robert Stephenson and Co., of Newcastle, weighing 4 tons 9 cwt., which did the seventy miles in six and a-half hours an average speed of somewhat over five and a-half minutes per mile and so gained the prize; the “Perseverance,” made by Mr. Burstal, of Leith; and the “Sans Pareil’made by Mr. Timothy Hackworth, of Darlington. The two latter came in second and third. The “Rocket” afterwards astonished everybody by drawing a carriage containing from twenty to thirty passengers up the Whiston inclined plane, rising 1 in 96, at rates of from fifteen to eighteen miles per hour. Yet, marvellous as was the “Rocket” in its day, it would now be looked upon by railway engineers as a pretty toy. For it was soon discovered that the bite and steadiness of the locomotive on the rails were of so much importance as to counteract the disadvantage of the vis inertia of increased weight; and therefore locomotives began to be made always heavier and heavier, till some of them are now, we believe, up-wards of twenty tons weight.

Chat Moss - Showing Stevensons Line

One of the most difficult parts of the Liverpool and Manchester line to make was that over Chat Moss, a huge bog, between Bury Lane and Patricroft, comprising an area of twelve square miles, so soft as to yield to the foot of man or beast, and in many parts so fluid that an iron rod laid upon the surface would sink out of sight by its own weight. It varied from ten to thirty-five feet in depth, and the bottom was composed of sand and clay. On the eastern border, for about a mile and a-half, the greatest difficulty in the construction of the road occurred. Here an embankment of about twenty feet above the natural level was formed, the weight of which, resting on a soft base, pressed down the original surface; many thousand cubic yards gradually and silently disappeared before the desired level was attained; but, by degrees, the whole mass beneath and on either side of this embankment became consolidated by the superincumbent and lateral pressure, and the work was finally completed at less expense than any other part of the line. Hurdles of brushwood and heath were placed under the wooden sleepers, which supported the rails over the greater part of this moss; so that the road might be said to float on the surface. And on the 1st of May, 1830, the “Rocket” steam-engine, with a carriage full of company, passed over the roadway, along the whole extent of Chat Moss, thus affording the first triumphant proof of the possibility of forming this much-contested line.



A bit random, but I wanted to share something. One of the main reasons I have such a passion for history is my dad. Everyone’s family is normal in the sense you grow up not thinking that your situation is any different but my family is brilliantly different. I am 33, born in 1982. My dad died when I was 8. He was born inChester le Street in 1910. He worked down the pit (Lumley 6 Pit then Dawdon) for most of his early life before moving to London and working in construction. Through my dad I’ve always had the sense that history is actually not that distant. He lived through some momentus changes. Most people my age have great grand parents or at a push grand parents who lived over the same time span. I’ve got my dad. My grandad was a Victorian in the purest sense. I love that about my family and wanted to share a photo of my dad (on the right when he was 21), his dad (my grandad, centre) and my uncle (left). I love this photo as it seems so distant in time yet so near too. I hope you don’t mind a slight digression.