Tag Archives: Heaton Main Colliery

Heaton Below the Surface: William ‘Strata’ Smith and Charles Hatchett

One of the most treasured possessions in the library of Newcastle’s Mining Institute is the ‘Geological Atlas of England and Wales’ by William Smith, ‘the father of English geology’. Imagine how excited we were to receive an email recently from from Roy McIntyre, an amateur enthusiast of William Smith and exiled Geordie, revealing that, in 1794, this famous scientist had actually visited Heaton.

William Smith by Thomas Anthony Dean, after Hugues Fourau
stippled line engraving, published 1837. National Portrait Gallery.

Childhood

William Smith was born in Oxfordshire on 23 March 1769. He was the son of John Smith, the village blacksmith and his wife, Ann. William’s father died when he was just eight years old and so William and his siblings were brought up by their uncle, a farmer. Young William, largely self-educated, showed an aptitude for mathematics from an early age and at the age of 18 he found work with a surveyor in Gloucestershire, soon becoming proficient in his field.

Early Career

We know that, in 1791, Smith carried out a survey of the Sutton Court estate in Somerset, the seat of the Strachey family and then owned by John Strachey, a renowned geologist. Strachey had previously surveyed the family estate and nearby coalfields, measuring the layers of rock he could see below ground and recording them pictorially.

William Smith built on Strachey’s work and went on to work for the Somersetshire Coal Canal Company. He had observed that the rock layers in the pits were arranged in a predictable pattern, always being found in the same relative position. He had also noticed that each stratum could be identified by the fossils it contained and so he was working towards a theory he called ‘The principle (or law) of faunal succession’.  But he needed to go further afield to really test his hypothesis.

North to Heaton 

In his email to Heaton History Group, Roy wrote that ‘Smith’s trip up north in 1794 is what showed him the need for a geological map of the country, and gave him ideas on how that could be accomplished’. He added that ‘some of the things that he observed while travelling on the coach can be seen on the maps he went on to make’. The notebooks he used on the journey have not survived, but what he wrote down from memory in June 1839, two months before he died, does. Smith’s memory was excellent and his biographer, John Phillips (a prominent geologist in his own right, whose interest in the subject had been nurtured by Smith, his uncle), said that his account of the tour was ‘ nearly in the same words he had often used before in narrating it’. Here is what he wrote:

“… We arrived at Newcastle on Saturday afternoon, time enough to get to Heaton Colliery, but unfortunately too late for me to go down the pit; but a very intelligent overlooker kindly drew me with his stick on the dust a plan of the mode of working the coal, which to me was perfectly intelligible.

The railways to the staiths on Tyneside were then mostly wood, or wood plated with iron; and such was the state of machinery, that at Heaton Colliery the deepwater was raised by a steam-engine into a pool on the surface, and at other times in the twenty-four hours from the pool, by much larger pumps, to the top of two high water-wheels, which raised the coal.

We did not expect to see the things so managed in the north; and I was surprised to see the fires they kept, and other contrivances for promoting ventilation, as in the Somersetshire collieries there is no want of pure air.  I had observed that my friend Palmer’s string of questions sometimes produced a shyness in obtaining answers, and therefore I used to proceed upon the principle of give and take; and in thus offering my exchange of knowledge of the mode of working coal in Somersetshire, 1000 yards down the steep slope of 1 in 4, and perfectly dry and in good air, 100 to 250 perpendicular yards beneath the bottom of the pumps, I believe the honest manager of Heaton Colliery thought I was telling him a travelling story.

The mode of dividing their shafts and mother-gates by brattices of wood-work seemed inconvenient and unphilosophical, and we rather dissatisfied, hastened back through Ripon and Harrogate…’

A copy of Andrew Armstrong’s one inch 1769 map of Northumberland, used by Smith on the trip, annotated in pencil, and with colour wash added by him to show the strata , survives.

Detail of Andrew Armstrong’s 1769 map of Northumberland showing Heaton. Copyright: Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Later Life

Smith continued to travel, taking rock samples and mapping the strata in various locations. He amassed a large collection of fossils and published his findings.

In 1799, he produced the first large scale geological map of the area around Bath and, in 1801, a rough sketch of what would become the first geological map of most of Great Britain. His completed version published in 1815 was the first geological map to depict such a wide area in detail.

Detail from Smith’s 1815 map. Heaton Colliery is marked by a cross above the 2nd ‘e’ in ‘Newcastle’.

He used different colours applied by hand to indicate the various rock types and conventional symbols to show geographical features such as canals, tunnels, tramways and roads, collieries, lead, copper and tin mines, as well as salt and alum works. He went  on to produce a number of books and papers about strata and their fossils. 

Unfortunately around the same time, Smith began to have serious financial problems. He had first met Sir Joseph Banks in 1801 and, the botanist, realising the importance of Smith’s research, became an important and generous patron, without whom at some points Smith would not have had the means to carry on his work. Indeed, he dedicated his 1815 map to Banks.

Smith sold his fossil collection to the British Museum for £700 but was nevertheless, in 1819, sent to a debtors’ prison. On his release, he worked as an itinerant surveyor until Sir John Johnstone, appointed him as land steward on his estate in Scarborough. Smith designed the Rotunda in the town, a geological museum devoted to the Yorkshire coast.

In 1831, the Geological Society finally recognised Smith’s achievements by making him the first recipient of the Wollaston Medal, its highest award. It was at the presentation that the society’s then president, Adam Sedgwick, first used the term ‘the father of English geology’. In 1838, Smith was one of the commissioners appointed to select the building stone for the Palace of Westminster.

William ‘Strata’ Smith died in Northampton on 28 August 1839, aged 70, and is buried there.

Legacy

Smith’s many publications, his fossil collection, and especially his maps, are his most important legacy, of course. His maps are now appreciated for their beauty as well as their function and his genius. But there is also, for example, an annual Geological Society lecture in his honour and a crater on Mars named after him. The Rotunda in Scarborough has been refurbished and is a worthy memorial to its designer.

Heaton Main

Heaton Main Colliery had only been opened two years at the time of Smith’s visit. Its viewer (chief engineer and manager) was George Johnson of Byker, the leading colliery engineer on Tyneside at the time. It was one of the largest and most technically advanced coal mines in the world. It is not surprising that a man of Smith’s calibre should pay a visit. 

Hatchett job

Indeed he was not the only distinguished scientist to pick the brains of people associated with the colliery. Another distinguished visitor was chemist and mineralogist, Charles Hatchett (1765 -1847).

Charles Hatchett. Lithograph by W Drummond, 1836, after T Phillips. Welcome Collection.

Unlike William Smith, Charles was the son of well-to-do parents. His father, John, was a London coach builder ‘of the greatest celebrity’ and later a magistrate. Charles attended private school but is said to have taught himself mineralogy and analytical chemistry.

He had an opportunity to travel abroad with his wife, Elizabeth, when his father asked him to deliver a coach to Catherine the Great in St Petersburg. On this trip, with an introduction from William Smith’s later benefactor, Sir Joseph Banks, he visited a number of well known European scientists. In 1796, he began another extensive tour, this time through England and Scotland, where he visited geological sites, mines and factories. On Thursday 26 June 1796, he came to Heaton.

Charles Hatchett, ‘breakfasted with Mr Johnson at Byker and afterwards went with him and his son to Heaton Colliery’. 

Hatchett commented that ‘the ropes are worked by a steam engine…the cylinder of which is 70 inches in diameter…the same raises the water out of the mines, 300 gallons each stroke’ and noted that ‘the coal is raised in basket corves, which contain 24 pecks.The coal is conveyed to the waterside by what they here call wagons, made of wood with small iron wheels, which have a rabbit which fits the wooden railroads.’

The following year Hatchett was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, largely as a result of his work analysing lead. Like Smith, albeit for very different reasons, he sold his collection comprising 7,000 mineral samples to the British Museum.

In 1801, Hatchett discovered the element, niobium (which he named ‘columbium’), widely used today in the superconducting magnets of MRI scanners, as well as in welding, nuclear industries, electronics, numismatics and jewellery. He was awarded the Royal Society’s Copley Medal in 1798 and in 1822 was presented with a gold medal by the society.

‘Men of Science Living in 1807-8’ by George Zobel and William Walker. Both Smith and Hatchett feature along with other distinguished figures, such as Brunel, Davy, Herschel, Jenner and Telford.

Soon after this, Hatchett largely gave up his scientific pursuits. He had inherited his father’s business and began to pursue other interests: book collecting, manuscripts, musical instruments and painting. Hatchett died at his home in Chelsea in 1847. The Charles Hatchett award is presented annually by the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining for the best research on niobium and its alloys. The medal is cast in pure niobium.

Historical Perspective

Threatened with extinction as a consequence of global warming by fossil fuels, the world now views ‘King Cole’ in a different light. But these visits remind us that the Northumberland and Durham Coalfield was for several centuries the world leader in mining technology and Heaton one of the most technically advanced collieries in that coalfield.

Mining technology played a significant role in the creation of the society which we enjoy today. The genie had been let out of the bottle but that doesn’t detract from the achievements of our forebears or the importance of a visit to Heaton to pioneers like William Smith and Charles Hatchett.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Les Turnbull, Heaton History Group, with additional material by Chris Jackson. Huge thanks to Roy McIntyre without whom we would not have known about William Smith’s Heaton connection. Thank you to the National Portrait Gallery and Welcome Institute for permission to use the images of Smith and Hatchett.

Sources

A Celebration of our Mining Heritage’ by Les Turnbull; Chapman Research, 2015.

Geological Atlas of England and Wales’ by William Smith, 1815

Geological Map: a delineation of the strata of England and Wales with part of Scotland…’ by William Smith, 1815

‘The Hatchett Diary: a tour through the counties of England and Scotland visiting their mines and manufacturies‘ by Charles Hatchett; edited by Arthur Raistrick; Barton, 1967

Memoirs of William Smith’ by John Phillips; John Murray, 1844

Resources of the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers library

Wikipedia

Can You Help?

If you know more about William Smith or Charles Hatchett and, particularly, their visits to Heaton, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Heaton History Film Night

On 25 May, it will be our great pleasure to present the world premiere of Under Heaton Fields, a film made as part of the commemorations of the Heaton mining disaster of 1815. It will be shown along with two other films about the accident and its 2015/6 commemorations and another recent local history film, The Great Tyneside Fire 1854.

Namesforweb

Under Heaton Fields documents some of the activities that have taken place in Heaton during the bicentennial commemoration of the Heaton pit disaster of 1815. This includes work done in schools, concerts, the memorial service and the choral work ‘The Heaton Suite’ especially written for the occasion and performed by local choirs and musicians.

And through this prism the film will also look back to 1815 and, through the experiences of the characters of John Buddle and the Thew family, dramatise the events that morning in May and nine months later on the discovery of the bodies. The film has been made with the help of undergraduates, members of staff, and graduates of the Film/TV course at Northumbria University. Director, Peter Dillon, a member of Heaton History Group, will introduce the film and answer questions.

200 years is an audio visual work made by year 6 children at St Teresa’s School as part of the Under the Fields of Heaton programme. The class worked with visual artist and Heaton History Group member Tessa Green and sound artist and writer Ellen Phethean in summer 2015.

Looking at life in 1815, 1915 and 2015, the children made a soundscape based on the colliery disaster as well as collages, drawings, creative writing, singing and  interviews all of which were edited together to make the final piece which even speculates on what life might be like in 2115! Tessa and Ellen will introduce the film and answer questions.

Shafts of Light Kyle Donnelly and Sarah Hibbert, graduates of the Film/TV Production course who worked with Peter Dillon on Under Heaton Fields have shot and edited a short film about lantern making under the tutelage of Louise Bradley at the Woodlands Community Centre and their subsequent use during the commemorations at the Spinney and King John’s Palace in February. Tessa Green also shot footage at St Teresa’s School with Year Six pupils.

spinneylanterns5

All three films will stand as a record of what happened in 2015, while recollecting 1815.

The Great Tyneside Fire, 1854 commemorates a mighty explosion almost half a century later. Fire tore through communities, homes and workplaces on both sides of the river. Newcastle and Gateshead quaysides were almost totally destroyed, 53 people died and many hundreds were injured.

The film was made by Mark Thorburn of Lonely Tower Film and Media with the help of historians, Anthea Lang, Freda Thompson and Graeme Turnbull. Anthea Lang will introduce the film and answer questions.

To book

The event will take place at The Corner House, Heaton Road, NE6 5RP on Wednesday 25 May 2016 at 7.30pm and is FREE to Heaton History Group members. Non-members pay £2. The doors open at 7.00pm. You are advised to take your seat by 7.15pm. Please book your place by contacting maria@heatonhistorygroup.org / 07443 594154. Booking is open to Heaton History Group members only until Wednesday 9 March.

Heaton Mining Disaster Film – call for volunteers

A film is in production to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Heaton Mining Disaster of 3 May 1815. The film will feature some of the commemorations, such as the concert in St Teresa’s Church Hall on 2 May and the ecumenical service the following day – the anniversary itself. Within that contemporary framework or structure using dramatic re-enactments we also hope to give an impression of what happened in 1815.

There is a call from Heaton History Group member, Peter Dillon, for volunteers to take part in several scenes to be filmed in Heaton Park on Sunday 19 July from 9.00am – (approx) 10.30am. In the first instance males aged from 12 to 82 are needed to represent the 75 miners who died. These representatives will be filmed emerging from the trees in the park. Several 7 year olds from St Teresa’s Primary School will represent the boys who died. ‘Miners’ please meet at the children’s playground by 9.00am.

And secondly – from approximately 9.30am – men, women and children of all ages are welcome to represent contemporary Heaton and will be filmed walking together in the footsteps of the miners – indeed across the ground below which they died – down the grassy incline towards the adventure playground. The walk is intended both as a mark of respect for those from this place that came before and a celebration of the vital and vibrant community Heaton is today. The meeting place is again the children’s playground in Heaton Park. Please come dressed in your everyday clothes (or whatever is comfortable). The aim is for the shoot to be complete by about 10.30am.

Celebration of our Mining History cover

The plan is to complete the film by the 201st anniversary in 2016 and then show it in church halls and community centres.

Heaton Mining Disaster – 200 years on

3 May 2015 was the 200th anniversary of one of Newcastle’s worst ever disasters; an accident, caused by flooding, at Heaton Main Colliery, which killed 75 men and boys. Heaton is marking the bicentenary and also taking the opportunity to celebrate Heaton’s important place not only in coal mining but more widely in the industrial development which mining made possible. Did you know that, in the mid eighteenth century, the greatest concentration of steam power in the world was centred in Heaton and Jesmond Vale at Heaton Banks Colliery? The year-long commemorations have been made possible by two community projects:

Heaton Beneath Our feet

Heaton History Group’s Heritage Lottery Fund project through which there will be:

– several lectures by mining history expert, Les Turnbull, who lives in High Heaton;
– community research into mining in Heaton and the disaster itself;
– the distribution of a resource pack, including Les Turnbull’s book, ‘A Celebration of Our Mining Heritage’ to 75 schools and youth and community groups;
– a Heaton Beneath Our Feet heritage trail to be in place by spring 2016

Front cover of Les Turnbull's Heaton history

Cover of A Celebration of Our Mining Heritage

Under the Fields of Heaton

Four Corners Music Network’s project, funded by the Arts Council, Sir James Knott Foundation, Newcastle City Council through which there will be:

– artists in residence in schools in an around Heaton;
– a year long community arts festival;
– the distribution of Les Turnbull’s children’s book, ‘Exploring Beneath the Earth’, to primary school children in and around Heaton;
– snowdrop planting across Heaton.

Under the Fields of Heaton CD Cover

Under the Fields of Heaton CD Cover

What’s Coming Up

Friday 2nd October ‘A Bit Crack Story-tellers’ Night: Stories from Underground’ at Chillingham, 91 Chillingham Road NE6 5XN Tickets £8 / £5

Wednesday 10 February 2016 Lantern Procession through Jesmond Dene and Armstrong Park from the Spinney to King John’s Palace, Heaton Park. Refreshments at St Teresa’s FREE

Keep up to date with everything that’s going on throughout 2015-16 – and add your own event: www.underthefieldsofheaton.com

The Heaton Main Colliery Disaster 1815

This year is the 200th anniversary of Newcastle’s worst ever peacetime catastrophe, often known locally as ‘The Spinney disaster’. In the first of a series of events to take place in and around Heaton over the coming year, Les Turnbull will give the fascinating historical background, tell us what happened at Heaton Main Colliery on 3rd May 1815 and in the months that followed – and he might surprise you when he explains WHERE the events unfolded.

Celebration of our Mining History cover

Les, who is a member of Heaton History Group and an acknowledged expert on the history of mining, especially in the North East, was born near the Middle Pit in 1941, educated at Tosson Terrace Primary, Chillingham Road Secondary and Heaton Grammar and now lives near the ‘C’ Pit.

The talk will take place on 29 April 2015 at The Corner House, Heaton Road, NE6 5RP at 7.30pm (Doors open at 7.00pm. You are advised to take your seat by 7.15pm as we are expecting a full house). It’s essential to book your place by contacting maria@heatonhistorygroup.org /07443 594154. This event has been supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of our ‘Heaton Beneath Our Feet’ project.

Celebration of our Mining Heritage

Les Turnbull’s book has been written to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the major disaster at Heaton Main Colliery in which 75 men and boys died. However, it covers much more than the terrible events of 1815. As the title indicates, it celebrates the importance of mining in the North East, Newcastle and Heaton, in particular, to the industrial revolution, mining safety, the development of railways and indeed to world history. It also looks at the lives of the colliers, engineers, mine owners and their families that contributed to Heaton’s mining heritage and the development of Heaton as a centre of population.

Celebration of our Mining History cover

The fully illustrated 92 page book contains many rarely seen maps and plans of Heaton. It was published by Chapman Research (ISBN 978-0-9561248-2-1) with the support of over 70 subscribers and is available, priced £15 (plus postage where required), from:

Heaton History Group – in person at our regular events

The Literary and Philosophical Society (Lit & Phil)

Newcastle City Library

Newsbox, 297 Chillingham Road, Heaton

The Back Page

North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers (Mining Institute)

The book’s publication is the first of over a year of commemorative events, supported by the Arts Council and Newcastle City Council, to take place under the banner of the Shafts of Light Festival. Check out the programme so far – and arrange events of your own which can be added to it.

In addition, a programme of talks, community research and the development of a heritage trail called ‘Heaton Beneath Our Feet’ is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. If you are not already on our mailing list and are interested in finding out more, please contact chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Heaton’s Mining Heritage – and your chance to help commemorate it

2015 sees the two hundredth anniversary of Newcastle’s worst disaster of modern times. On 3 May 1815, floodwaters from a neighbouring, disused mine overwhelmed workers at Heaton Main Colliery resulting in the death of 75 men and boys. It was a tragic event, which will be appropriately commemorated. But it was just one incident in a largely forgotten, long mining history, one which encompassed much hardship, not infrequent injuries and deaths, controversy and conflict but also comparative affluence, great camaraderie and incredible resourcefulness.

Heaton was nationally and internationally important. Yet it’s fair to say that most people living in the area today, yet alone the wider world, are unaware of its rich heritage. It is hoped that by the end of next year that will have changed. A series of commemorations and celebrations are planned of which details will soon be publicised.

The year will begin with the publication of a comprehensive history of Heaton. ‘A Celebration of Our Mining Heritage’ has been written by leading authority on mining history and Heaton History Group member, Les Turnbull. We are inviting anyone who is interested in the history of Heaton to be permanently associated with its story and at the same time support the publication of the book by becoming a pre-publication subscriber.

The 100 page A4 full colour illustrated book will retail at £15. Subscribe before 10 December 2014 and for the same price, your name will appear in the book itself on a List of Subscribers and you will be invited to a special launch event at the Mining Institute on 22nd January 2015.

Front cover of Les Turnbull's Heaton history

To be part of this local initiative, send your name, address, telephone number / email address plus a cheque for £15 made payable to Heaton History Group to: The Secretary, Heaton History Group, 64 Redcar Road, Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne NE6 5UE. There will also be an opportunity to sign up in person at Heaton History Group’s talks on 22 October and 26 November 2014.