Our Gateshead



                'Around Whickham Through Time' a new book by Nick Neave

The purpose of this book is to show to readers the changes that have taken place in their communities over the past hundred years or so. In some cases the changes are dramatic, and it is difficult to compare old and new scenes, sometimes a single feature of a building, or part of the landscape provides a reference point to aid the comparison. In other cases there is a striking similarity between the images, and it is perhaps comforting to note that some things change very little over time. This book will encompass an area of Gateshead that includes Whickham, and the surrounding towns and villages of Marley Hill, Sunniside, Lobley Hill, Swalwell, and Dunston. This choice of locations is not an arbitrary one because these areas have strong historical, political, social, and industrial links. Such links go back for hundreds of years, and the waxing and waning of industrial and social fortunes in the various locations is reflected in the changing landscapes that are apparent throughout the book.

A key aspect that links these communities is coal mining. This industry began close to the river Tyne as outcrops were near the surface and easy to extract and transport; as the seams became worked out then the industry moved further south, the terrain became much more challenging, and the difficulty of transporting the newly-hewn coal back to the river became more and more difficult. The area around Wh ickham was rich in good quality coal and it is thought that organised coal extraction began in the fourteenth century. These early mines were simple 'bell pits', but from the sixteenth century coal extraction began to be 'industrial' in nature, as demand from larger cities at home and abroad for the 'black gold' became incessant. Around this time Whickham became one of the most productive coalfields in the world, and Queen Elizabeth I purchased land around the town.

Coal was big business, and the coal owners formed powerful alliances to guard their precious resources, and they combined their wealth and power to maintain their monopolies. This also enabled them to invest in new technologies that would enable coal from further afield to be extracted and transported. Both the tiny village of Sunniside and the larger Swalwell were important cogs in this machine, collieries and associated industries here contributed to Whickham's status, and the waggonways and later railways criss-crossed these villages on their way to Dunston. Swalwell could boast its own pits and associated iron­making industries, and strong railway connections. The end-point of all of this activity though was the staiths on the river Tyne at Dunston from whence coal could be transferred onto waiting ships and dispatched to far-flung destinations. Dunston's transformation from a sleepy fishing village to a major industrial centre is remarkable, but it is difficult to picture this today as the gradual decline of the coal industry also led to a marked decline in all of the other industries that had gone hand-in­ hand, and thereby a decline in the towns that hosted them.

It is hoped that the reader will gain an appreciation of the many changes that have taken place in these towns over the years, and a feel for the history that has shaped the people and the surrounding landscape.


Nick Neave is the Vice Chairman of the History Society and has produced these two excellent books. The hundreds of photographs clearly display the industrial & social heritage of the area's covered by the books. In some cases it is easy see the improvements that have taken place in the environment, but in others the viewer is perhaps left with a feeling of nostalgia for what has gone forever. Use these book's as a guide to see how these places have changed or not, and find out some interesting historical facts about your local area.

The Books cost £14.99 and can be purchased at all good book shops. Should anyone have a problem finding the books please log into: www.amberley-books.com

Or contact: Amberley Publishing Plc, Cirencester Road, Chalford, Stroud, Gloucestershire, GL6 8PE


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