A Rowland Ramble Through Time

What’s in a Name?

Let’s begin with the name ‘Rowlands Gill’. Nothing complicated here.

The land where the village is situated was once owned by Robert Rowland and ‘Gill’ referred to a stream.

Bowler Hat or Flat Cap!

By 1930 Rowlands Gill was an established village of two communities – the miners living in the Rows (flat cap), and the business people and professionals living “over the railway line” (bowler hat).

Now we’ve got a general understanding of the village, let’s go on our ramble. Start at the east end of the village at Lilley Terrace.

King Coal – Lilley Terrace and Cowen Terrace

Joseph Cowen, a prosperous businessman of Blaydon, knew Rowlands Gill would have rich seams of coal and decided it was worth his while to sink the “Lilley Drift” into the hillside about a quarter of a mile north of Rowlands Gill railway Station. Once the mine was opened houses had to be built for the miners who worked in the pits – hence, “Cowen Terrace”. As the mine prospered, more houses were added to the existing Cowen Terrace and Lilley Terrace built.

Method in Methodism

Primitive Methodism was strong among the miners. The mining families of Rowland’s Gill sent the hat round to collect money to build a Methodist Chapel. The money was soon raised among the respectably mining folk and work soon began. Whitish bricks, that matched the houses of the Terraces were chosen as the preferred option. They were bought from Cowen’s brick yards at Blaydon, and erected on land given by Joseph Cowen. This chapel opened in April 1883 and closed in 1955. It is now a scout meeting place.

A Brick in the Wall

The coal mined from the Lilley Drift had particularly good coking properties and so coke ovens were built in the colliery yard. Soon vast quantities of clay were being brought from underground so it made more sense to convert the area occupied by the coke ovens into a brick yard. The chimney belonging to the brick yards is still quite visible.

The ‘Bottoms’
(Originally, to the left as you head for the railway station)

As the colliery made more and more profit, more houses were needed for the workforce. A strip of marsh land near the river was bought by the colliery owners, where  children had gathered nuts and skated on small ponds previously. Five rows of houses and flats were built here and it became known locally as the ‘bottoms’, although it had originally been named ‘Mafeking’ and ‘Ladysmith’ after battles in the Boer War. The houses deteriorated over time and were demolished in the 1930s.

It’s all at the Coop!
(Continue along the road until you reach the coop and war memorial on the right hand side of the road)

In 1903 a branch of Burnopfield Co-op was built in the village. The coop movement had begun in Rochdale Yorkshire in 1844. In that year 28 men (weavers and skilled workers in other trades) formed a cooperative society. The purpose was to buy and sell goods so that workers could share in any profits made.

Sacrifice – World War Memorial

Rowlands Gill, in common with other communities throughout Britain lost men in the First and Second World Wars. The village memorial to those who made this ultimate sacrifice stands in front of the Coop which is inscribed with 40 names alongside their ranks and regiments.

Tracking the Railway
(Originally on the left had side of the road)

In December 1867 a railway was built from Scotswood (Newcastle) to Leadgate and Consett passing up the Derwent Valley in front of the Gibside Estate. The line carried both coal and passengers, but closed for passengers in 1953 and for goods in 1962. The track was lifted in 1966 and in 1972 the track-bed became part of an area of recreation walks called the Derwent Walk.

Stirling Lane – Murder most foul!
(Across the road on the left hand side)

On Thursday, 1st November, 1855, Dr. Robert Stirling left the surgery at Burnopfield where he was employed, to visit patients at Garesfield and Spen.  When he failed to return to the surgery, his employer became worried.  The police mounted a search and when his father Charles Stirling and another of his sons Andrew arrived they too joined in the hunt.  After a long search, the body of the doctor was found by his father and Thomas Holmes, a local man, in a small wood near the bottom of Smailes Lane, Rowlands Gill. There were gunshot wounds in the right abdomen, with a spread of shot about the size of the palm of a hand. There were also knife wounds on the left side of the face, 2 inches long and 2 1/2 inches deep. The face was badly beaten, and the nose was broken.

Whiskey Jack, who lived in the woods near Rowlands Gill and had a nefarious background of illicit still making, was tried for, but acquitted of the murder of Dr. Stirling. The perpetrator/s was never found. The bottom part of Smailes Lane was renamed in honour of the young doctor who tragically lost his life.

Paying to Travel – The Toll House

Road travel in the early eighteenth century was hazardous – pot-holes in summer and ribbons of mud in winter. To improve the road network local businessman were given stretches of road which they were required to maintain. In return they could make a small charge or toll. One such road or turnpike, as they were known, ran through Rowlands Gill and  up the valley and near to the railway station another road led off to Burnopfield along the track of the old wagon way. The toll was a halfpenny for a donkey, a penny (1/2 pence) per horse and threepence (1 penny) for a horse with pulling a vehicle. This road junction, opened in 1835, was controlled by a Toll House with gates until 1888 when the toll was taken off and the house used as a residence only.

Townley Arms – ‘Wor Nanny’s a Mazer’

Near to this toll house and the railway station was a pub called the Townley Arms. In the days of horse travel, fresh horses could be exchanged here for an onward journey. The coming of the railway made this use redundant but the pub remained popular with local workmen and the beer flowed freely. It was also the setting of a famous Tyneside song, ‘Wor Nanny’s a Mazer’. It tells the tale of Nanny who intended to catch the train to Newcastle but had one too many and missed her connection!

All together now!

Wor Nanny an’ me myed up wor minds te gan an’ catch the train,

‘Te gan te the toon te buy some claes for wor little Billy and Jane:

But when we got to Rowland’s Gill the mornin’ train wes gyen,

An thor wasn’t another one gan’ that way till siventeen minutes te one

So aa ses te wor Nan its a lang way te gan an

Aa saa biv hor feyce she wes vext;

But aa ses nivvor mind we heh plenty o’time, we’ll

stop an’ we’ll gan on wi’ the next.

She gove a bit smile an wen Aa spok up an ses, ther’s a

pubbilick hoose along heor,

We’ll gan along there and git worsels warm an’ a glass

o’ the best bittor beer.

But Nan wes se stoot Aa knew she’d not waak an she

didn’t seem willin’ te try.

Wen a tink o’the trubble Aa’d wiv hor that day,

Aa’s like te borst oot an’ cry.

Charabanc Disaster (Methodist Church)

A terrible disaster took place on Saturday, August 26, 1911, when the open-topped bus carrying members of Consett Co-op Choir to sing at Prudhoe Flower Show crashed. The brakes failed on the infamously steep bank at Medomsley and the soft top roof squashed down to the seat-backs. Ten died and only 4 of the 33 on board escaped serious injury. Among the dead was 33 year-old Amelia Annie Maude Davison, of Hope Street, Blackhill, who was headmistress of Rowlands Gill Infants School.

The War Calls – Victoria Garsfield and the Alloy Works
(head toward Orchard Road)

Since 1907 “The Alloy” Works had been producing ferrochrome, an alloy essential to the production of armour-plating, using electric furnaces. In WW1 overseas sources of ferrochrome were inaccessible, so production at “The Alloy” was massively increased. Alongside these Coke Ovens was a small factory locally known as “The Alloy” where for a time during the 1914-18 war very hard steel was manufactured for the sides of battleships. Little remains of the Works.

Orchard Road

A group of 44 business men from many places in Northumberland and Durham Counties banded together to buy and develop this land as a residential area for the better-off and hence the ‘bowler hat’ community was added to the ‘flat-cap’ miners.

These are but a few snapshots of the village. More is to be discovered on rambles through the village and a search at the archives of Gateshead library.