Tag Archives: Low Heaton Farm

For People Not Cows: Armstrong Park’s ‘cattle run’

Funny, isn’t it, how once something becomes generally accepted it gets, well, accepted? Take Armstrong Park’s ‘cattle run’: according to an interpretation panel in the park, this distinctive feature was sunk for bovine use by Victorian industrialist Lord Armstrong.

The livestock, goes the story, were herded through this costly railway-style cutting because the route had long been used for leading cows to pasture.

Armstrong Park interpretation panel, 2010

‘When [Lord] Armstrong was given the land’ the panel explains, ‘he had this deeper channel dug so that cattle could follow the old track and be kept apart from visitors and their carriages.’

Using archive materials, period maps, and copious illustrations, local resident Carlton Reid explains why the lottery-funded interpretation panel is, in all likelihood, wrong:

Bullshi…

‘For centuries, cattle had been driven down to pasture by the River Ouseburn from the fields above the valley,’ states the interpretation panel. The moss-covered panel is situated to the side of the upper of two bridges which span the 200-metre-long sunken feature in Armstrong Park. In the 19th Century this lozenge of land which now sports the ‘Shoe Tree’ was known as Bulman’s Wood.

Even though I argue here that the feature wasn’t designed for cows, I refer to it throughout this piece as the ‘cattle run’. Another descriptive convenience is the interchangeable use of Armstrong Park and Bulman’s Wood for roughly the same 29-acre plot of land.

There’s a linear east-west feature marked on the large-scale map attached to the Deed of Gift of September 1879 in which Armstrong gave this woodland in perpetuity to the people of Newcastle, but it’s not labelled as a ‘cattle run‘.

Plan from Lord Armstrong’s Deed of Gift, 1879

The feature was constructed not in the 1850s, which the interpretation panel seems to suggest, but in 1880 when the council — then known as Newcastle Corporation — owned the land.

Armstrong may have handed Bulman’s Wood to the people of Newcastle via the council’s stewardship but, ever the canny speculator, he inserted a clause in the deed allowing him to continue draining the parts of Heaton which he wished to later develop for housing.

I also speculate that, with the Victorian equivalent of a nod-and-a-wink, the Corporation incorporated Armstrong’s pre-designed linear feature into their plans for what they named Armstrong Park.

Remarks on a cutting

The cutting today known as the ‘cattle run’ starts on Ouseburn Road, rising and curving to finish unceremoniously in a quagmire forming the southern boundary of the plots administered by the 103-year-old Armstrong Allotments Association. Waterlogged and overgrown, this patch of land is understandably little-visited today. (Wear wellies.)

As the interpretation panel rightly points out, the cutting’s high-quality sandstone blockwork is reminiscent of Victorian railway infrastructure.

Armstrong Park ‘cattle run’

Some of the sandstone blocks and their coping stones have fallen to the ground — or, more likely, were pushed — and they lie scattered on the feature’s floor, an ankle-twisting deterrent to those wishing to walk along the ‘cattle run’.

There are two pillars at the Ouseburn Road entrance of the ‘cattle run’, eight courses high and capped with flat coping stones.

If you brush fallen leaves to one side, you’ll uncover rusted remains of iron railings where, within living memory, a gate once closed off the sunken feature at the roadside pillars, one of which is decoratively triangular.

At the opposite end of the ‘cattle run’ the sandstone blocks fade almost to ground level. This entrance is marked by stumpy, ivy-covered pillars, only one of which is now easily visible. This pillar, only a couple of courses high, is capped with a pyramid-shaped coping stone.

Eastern end of the ‘cattle run’

The quality of the stone work was intended to be seen,’ an archaeologist told me, ‘but not by agricultural labourers and cows.’

Hanna Steyne specialises in 19th Century landscapes. I sent her a great many photographs of the ‘cattle run’ and surroundings, including drone shots, and she also accessed period mapping to get the contemporary lay of the land.

‘I would not expect decorative column features on a structure only to be used for agricultural purposes,’ she pointed out.

On several period Ordnance Survey maps, Armstrong Park’s elongated feature is marked with a finger-shaped 100ft contour line. It’s likely that the masonry of the ‘cattle run’ shored up what was once a natural feature in Bulman’s Wood, a feature that the ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’ in 1884 called a ‘deep gully’.

As shown on the map from Armstrong’s 1879 Deed of Gift, this gully contained a linear feature prior to the following year’s construction of the ‘cattle run’.

Landscape artist

Hydraulics innovator and arms manufacturer Lord Armstrong was, of course, a noted philanthropist. Five years after handing Bulman’s Wood to the people of Newcastle he gifted the larger Jesmond Dene to the city. This provision of an amenity for his fellow citizens was generous but, back in 1878 when he first discussed the gift, would he really have commissioned a channel in a deep gully to keep cows away from people in a park he was soon to give away? It’s far more likely that when he charged his agents with designing the cutting, he and they had something else in mind.

By the time the cutting was built in 1880 the land was owned by the Newcastle Corporation. The council had no need for such a feature so it was likely to have been built on Armstrong’s orders, and with his cash, on the undocumented understanding that he had a commercial use for it.

Kraal rangers

According to a Historic Environment Record, the ‘cattle run’ is a ‘stone-lined animal kraal which took Armstrong’s cattle from grazing land to the east to the lower pasture land to the west, without disturbing visitors to the park. What was the historical source for this citation? ‘Pers. Comm. Jesmond Dene Rangers, 2004,’ says the record. There’s nothing wrong with using such local knowledge — especially when such ‘personal communications’ were gleaned from folks out there in all weathers looking after our parks and who, in the course of their work, probably hear their fair share of handed-down history — but it’s odd that the entry only cites unnamed 21st century rangers rather than providing 19th century sources.

For Lord Armstrong to go to the considerable expense of sinking a bovine passageway, it would, you might think, have to be a feature in regular use and therefore would have been of at least passing interest to the local press. Yet not in any of the long and detailed descriptions of Armstrong Park in contemporary newspapers have I found mentions of a ‘cattle run’, a ‘kraal’ or any other bovine-related use for the feature.

Nor have I found any period maps, not even those of the largest scale, that mark the feature as a ‘cattle run.’ The only maps to do so are modern and crowdsourced such as OpenStreetMap, a volunteer-edited online resource founded, coincidentally, in 2004..

Don’t have a cow, man

Might there have been a time-out-of-mind cattle track through the deep gully of Bulman’s Wood? Maybe. According to an 18th Century field-name map, there were two large fields to the west of what became Heaton Road: North Cow Close and South Cow Close, both of which belonged to Low Heaton Farm. On the other side of Heaton Road there was a P-shaped field called ‘Cow Loan’ belonging to Heaton Town Farm.

Detail from a plan of Heaton believed to be by Isaac Thompson, c 1800.
Redrawn by Frank Graham, 1952. Included in ‘Maps of Newcastle’ by Frank Graham, 1984.

There was also Benton Bridge Farm, which according to the censuses between 1891 and 1911 was a dairy farm. The farmhouse was at the junction of Ouseburn Road and the Newcastle to Benton turnpike, today’s Coast Road. It is now a house called Woodburn, that, in exterior design, is little changed from the 1890s.

Bingo, you might think, cows. However, the existence of these three field names and dairy farms in the vicinity does not necessarily mean that cows would be taken to pasture on fields beside the Ouseburn.

Might cows have been taken down to the Ouseburn not for pasture but to drink? Thomas Oliver’s 1844 map of Newcastle shows Heaton Road, Heaton Hall’s garden that would become Heaton Park’s bowling green, and Ouseburn Road and, close to where the cattle run would be later built, there’s a field boundary.

Detail from Thomas Oliver’s 1844 map of Newcastle, showing Heaton

There’s no path marked at this point, for cows or otherwise, and it’s possible that cows might have been herded along the edge of this field and down to the river.

But as there were several water sources in or near the cow-themed fields was there any real need to lead cattle to a stream? Archaeologist Hanna Steyne thinks not:

‘From the topography identifiable from mapping, it seems highly unlikely that cows would be heading for pasture down by the river — there seems to have been plentiful farm land on which to graze cows.’

The three large fields may have corralled cows in the 18th century but, by the mid-19th century, only one of them — Cow Loan — was still being used for that purpose, and this only fractionally. According to an 1868 document mapping Armstrong-owned land in Heaton, only about an eighth of the fields worked by Heaton Town Farm and East Heaton Farm were devoted to pasture. (Today, these fields are mostly in the area around Ravenswood Primary School and the Northumberland Hussar pub on Sackville Road.)

As has been discussed previously on this website, Heaton Town Farm was an arable and dairy farm, owned through the 18th and most of the 19th Centuries by the aristocratic Ridley family once of Heaton Hall.

Sir Matthew White Ridley, the fourth Baronet, was the farmer of the family. He had a ‘thorough liking for agricultural pursuits, and took a deep interest in all matters relating to the farm’, reported an 1877 obituary ‘As a breeder of cattle, he was known throughout the whole of the North of England.’

Ridley sold Heaton Town Farm’s land and buildings in 1865. All were either then or soon after that owned by Sir William Armstrong. From the 1840s to the 1860s, the farm was leased by the 4th Baron Ridley to George Cairns. In the 1861 census, Cairns (who also features in records as ‘Carins’) was listed as working 145 acres of mixed farmland, employing ‘4 men, a boy and women labourers.’ Cairns lived with a housekeeper, a ploughman, a 19-year-old Irish dairymaid and a 14-year-old ‘cow keeper’. By 1881, it was still a dairy farm but was now just 27 acres.

Clearly, there were cows in this part of Heaton when Armstrong or his agents commissioned the feature which became known as the ‘cattle run’, but by the 1870s there would have been just a small number of them rather than herds so large and potentially disruptive that they required a cow cutting.

In the 19th Century, ‘dairy farming was seen as a fairly abhorrent activity,’ said Steyne, ‘and one which should be hidden from the delicate middle classes.’

Armstrong himself owned several Newcastle farms, at least two of which had cows on them. He kept small herds at Castles Farm (near to today’s David Lloyd fitness club) and at Benton Place (underneath today’s HM Revenues and Customs building off Benton Road). However, it’s unlikely these herds would have ventured as far as Bulman’s Wood, so we’re left with the small number of cows at Heaton Town Farm and Benton Bridge Farm. (By 1916, Benton Bridge Farm housed just three cows, said to be ‘shockingly emaciated’.)

The idea that cattle would be walked through a formal Victorian park is fairly strange,’ suggests Steyne.

The whole point about Victorian parks was that they were controlled “natural” environments — nature made beautiful — but deliberately separated from the reality of the [actual] natural environment.’

Even if the much-reduced number of cows in the locality during the 1870s and 1880s still used a ‘traditional’ route through the steep-sided gully in Bulman’s Wood, why would Armstrong care to preserve this? Cows are not eels, and the Ouseburn is not the Sargasso Sea. For a practical man like Armstrong, and probably for countless others before him, the sensible herding route would have been down the long-existing Jesmond Vale Lane.

Pedestrian pleasures

If the ‘cattle run’ wasn’t for cattle, what was it for? An 1880 newspaper report about the opening of Armstrong Park explains that it was for pedestrian use. The ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’ was clear: it was a ‘sunken footpath’.

The ‘new park is rapidly progressing towards completion’, began the report.

‘The ivy-covered mill on the eminence immediately above [the bank] has for many years been a conspicuous object of interest from the vale beneath’, explained the period writer, meaning the old windmill in Armstrong Park.

‘Beyond this ground, the boundaries of the park terminate at a hedge growing on the border of a fine grass field [where] it is intended … to erect villa residences, and in order to render these accessible from the Ouseburn road, a sunken footpath, which will be finished from plans suggested by Sir William, is at present being made.

(That’s it: the ‘cattle run’ was a sunken footpath for villa owners; quest over. True, but let’s carry on anyway, there’s plenty more to parse.)

The 1880 writer continued:

‘This path runs immediately through and underneath the park, but is in no way connected with the public pleasure ground.’

According to this contemporary description, a ‘wooden bridge forms a portion of the carriage drive over the path, which is also crossed in the middle path by a neat rustic bridge.’

Today, these two bridges are the large upper one over the ‘cattle run’ at the carriage road and the smaller one down the path from the Shoe Tree. Both bridges now have metal railings, and both are made from stone not wood. The bridges have been rebuilt some time after 1880, but let’s continue with the contemporary description.

Bridge over the ‘cattle run’, Armstrong Park

‘An elegant waterfall will be seen from both structures,’ wrote the correspondent.

Water surprise

Wait, what, a waterfall? Where? It ran parallel to the ‘cattle run’. To confirm its existence I pulled back some of the overgrown foliage to unveil the vertical rock face over which the cascade once ran.

Site of former waterfall, Armstrong Park

Just like the well-known waterfall in Jesmond Dene — the subject of countless paintings and photographs — the hitherto unknown one in Armstrong Park was built rather than being wholly natural.

Given similar landscape shaping in Jesmond Dene, it’s possible that the cascade was Armstrong’s idea, or perhaps that of his friend, the naturalist John Hancock, co-founder with his brother Albany of the museum which until recently bore their name. Some of the Dene’s naturalistic features, such as its ornamental rockeries, were either designed in whole by Hancock or in association with Armstrong.

The 1880 newspaper report has a vivid description:

‘The water, which is obtained from the fields beyond, will flow through a 15-inch pipe, placed for a distance beneath the sunken footpath, and then securing an outlet between the carriage drive and the rustic bridge, will dash merrily onwards over an ingenious arrangement of rocks, falls and ferns, until it at length mingles the purity of its stream with that of the singing burn beneath.’

(The original rocks remain, and there’s still a pipe in situ, although it’s a modern one, concreted into place.)

The waterfall pre-dated Newcastle Corporation’s ownership of Bulman Wood. According to a report in the ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’ of October 1878, the waterfall — described as a ‘small cascade’ — was fed by a spring that ‘runs evenly the whole year through’.

Armstrong Park has several perennial springs. Heavy rain landing on year-round saturated ground is now channeled by numerous drains but, before these were constructed, Bulman’s Wood would have been almost permanently boggy, and, during high rainfall events, there would have been a rapid runoff of stormwater down the deep gully.

Water on the brain

Bulman’s Wood, according to the ‘Chronicle’ report, was owned by a Mr. Potter. (Actually, it was owned by Armstrong, who had inherited the land in 1851.) The Mr. Potter in question was Colonel Addison Potter, who lived with his large family and many servants at Heaton Hall, once the seat of the White-Ridley family but bought in 1840 by Colonel Potter’s father, the coal owner and industrialist Addison Langhorn Potter, Armstrong’s uncle.

Armstrong bought land in Jesmond and Heaton as it became available, adding to the land he inherited from his father’s close friend Armorer Donkin, a rich Tyneside solicitor.

Armstrong Senior and Donkin were town councillors, and thick as thieves. In the 1820s and 1830s, the Armstrong family would spend holidays at Donkin’s country retreat in Rothbury. Young William developed a taste for open water fishing in the Coquet River during these holidays and loved the area’s hills, weirs, and waterfalls, a landscape he would later go on to recreate in Jesmond Dene before doing similar at Cragside.

Armstrong Junior had a lifelong fascination with water’s potential for motive power. From a young age, he was afflicted with ‘water on the brain’, joked his family.

After leaving school, Armstrong was articled with Donkin, a bachelor who treated the bright youngster as his adoptive son, heir to his fortune and his land in Heaton. Armstrong worked for some time as a solicitor in Donkin’s firm but his real vocation was as an inventor and engineer with an abiding interest in the growing science of hydraulics.

Donkin lived in Jesmond Park, a grand house in Sandyford with gardens and woodlands sloping down to the Ouseburn. Jesmond Park was famous among Tyneside’s elite for ‘Donkin’s ordinary’, a weekly Saturday luncheon where the great and good — and the rich and influential — would meet to exchange ideas as well as contacts and contracts.

Armstrong, eager to ditch his legal work and forge a living as an engineer, was a habitual attendee at these dinners, no doubt enthused after talking with visiting Victorian luminaries including Isambard Kingdom Brunel. For the young Armstrong, it would have been a short stroll down the slope from Jesmond Park to the deep gully that later became the ‘cattle run’.

There’s a linear feature in the gully shown on the 1864 Ordnance Survey map. The 200-metre-long feature is drawn like a road, with parallel lines. But it’s too narrow to be a road and isn’t dotted, so it’s not a footpath, either. Nor is it a field boundary. The nearest equivalent, on this particular map, would be a mill race.

While there’s a mill race in Jesmond Vale, opposite the gully and one of several mill races in the Ouseburn valley, there’s no known water mill in Bulman’s Wood.

The linear feature on the map was too straight to be natural and, if you were looking down from the lower bridge, it curved to the right as it neared Ouseburn Road. This “J”-shaped tail — which can still be seen on the ground today — curved in the opposite direction to the later ‘cattle run’.

There are footpaths marked on the 1864 map that follow and cross over the linear feature and its J-shaped tail. Many later maps plot both the tail and the ‘cattle run’.

The feature shown on the 1864 map is narrow, about the width of the mill race opposite. It’s probably an open-to-the-elements storm drain, yet large enough to be plotted on a map.

Detail from 1864 Ist edition OS map

‘[The] little stream which runs through [Bulman Wood’s] dell is sunk deep in a stone-lined channel,’ reported ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’ in 1884, adding that it had been built because it had been ‘difficult to prevent the rivulet when flooded from breaking the banks away.’

The ‘Chronicle’ didn’t give a date for the stone-lined channel’s construction but as it’s marked on the 1864 map, it must have been built sometime before 1858 when the OS map had been surveyed.

Could the channel on Donkin’s land have been used by Armstrong — or constructed, even — for experiments in hydraulics? Maybe. Armstrong certainly cited the Ouseburn as a stream that could power machinery.

‘The transient produce of useless floods’ Armstrong told an 1845 meeting at Newcastle’s Literary and Philosophical Society ‘could become available as a permanent source of mechanical power.’

He wanted to harness the ‘vast quantities of water which pour down brooks and watercourses … in time of rain.’

A newspaper report of the meeting said Armstrong ‘proceeded to point out the advantages which would result from the principles of impounding surplus water and causing it to act as a column, by referring to … the Ouseburn.’

‘Suppose,’ posited Armstrong to the august audience, ‘that instead of having a succession of six mill races and six falls, as was the case on the Ouseburn, the first mill race were continued along the banks of the stream gradually getting higher and higher above the natural channel of the brook, to within a short distance of the Tyne where a single fall of upwards of 100 feet might be obtained.’

There’s no documentary evidence to connect Armstrong’s 1845 desire for a high mill race to the probable storm drain down the gully in Bulman’s Wood, but he would have been well aware of the water feature’s existence.

The run-off from the storm drain was later employed for the scenic waterfall introduced above.

‘The stream of water,’ continued the 1880 newspaper report, ‘has been diverted along a channel of masonry almost at its highest point after entering the grounds, and it is brought along its artificial bed until opposite the larger of the two rustic bridges, where it is thrown over a rocky ledge in a high fall.’

While undoubtedly scenic, the waterfall also had a practical purpose. The storm drain which created it was said to also drain the upper field, which today is the waterlogged patch of ground between the end of the ‘cattle run’ and the multi-coloured plots belonging to the Armstrong Allotments Association.

Armstrong Allotments, 2020

‘Ingenious drainage [in Armstrong Park] has in several instances converted marshy, sodden land into pleasant places,’ reported the ‘Chronicle’

If this ‘ingenious drainage’ dates back to the 1840s or 1850s that’s only a decade or two after the introduction of the transformative Deanston method of agricultural field drainage. The work of James Smith of Deanston in Perthshire used drain tiles and narrow pipes beneath fields. Smith created the technique in 1823, but its use only became widespread after a journal published details in 1831.

‘Smith o’ Deanston’s the man!’ exclaimed a character in ‘Hillingdon Hall’, a now-forgotten but popular-in-the-1840s novel by Robert Smith Surtees of Hamsterley Hall, Rowlands Gill. ‘Who ever ‘heard o’ drainin’ afore Smith o’Deanston inwented it?’ continued John Jorrocks, an upwardly-mobile, country-sports-loving businessman who, wrote Surtees, couldn’t pronounce the ‘v’ sound.

The new method of drainage led to a revolution in British farming, financially boosted in 1846 by the Public Money Drainage Act. This largesse enacted by parliament extended generous farm improvement loans to landowners. (Many parliamentarians owned large estates at this time.) Previously soggy and unproductive land became highly profitable arable fields which, for 15 or so years, made the rich even richer.

The ‘now common accompaniment of a country gentleman,’ pointed out Surtees in ‘Hawbuck Grange’ (1847) was a ‘draining-pipe.’

After going ‘boldly at the Government loan’ another Surtees character was said to have transformed a ‘sour, rush-grown, poachy, snipe-shooting looking place’ into land ‘sound enough to carry a horse.’

Deanston’s method of introducing smaller-bore, more frequently placed drains was an improvement on former methods, wrote the landed Surtees, who described ‘gulf-like drains as would have carried off a river … but there was no making head against wet land with stone drains, the bit you cured only showing the wetness of the rest.’

The stone-lined watercourse in Bulman’s Wood was more likely to have been a storm channel than one that could drain a field, but contemporary descriptions are divided on the subject.

Even though, according to the 1864 map, it looked like one, the watercourse wasn’t a mill race, Duncan Hutt, a local watermill expert told me. ‘There is no clear evidence for any feature nearby being a conduit for water to feed a mill.’

He added: ‘The [cattle run] is far too steep to be a watercourse for a mill, [it’s] more likely something to help provide some surface drainage in times of heavy downpours in the past.’

Archaeologist Steyne agreed:

‘The identification of a drainage watercourse and a decorative waterfall to the north of the line of the cattle run, would correlate with the information in the mapping indicating earlier drainage from the land to the east, and then a later stone-built feature running alongside.’

An 1894/95 OS map shows the ‘cattle run’ to be a full-on watercourse, printed blue. This was probably a mistake by the map makers. (Mistakes were common — on the same map, Hadrian’s Wall is marked not as the Roman Wall but as the Romam Wall.)

‘It is very possible that the earlier drainage feature became less visible and was confused in the mapping with the later cattle run,’ suggested Steyne.

‘Land was not completely resurveyed for each new map, only changes added. The fact that both were perhaps unused, or fell into disrepair shortly after construction might explain [the anomaly on the 1894/95 OS map],’ she said.

‘Land for housing’

During the first 75 years of the 19th Century, the British landed aristocracy were the wealthiest class in the world’s richest country. For the last 25 of those years this wealth had at least partly come from the huge profits enabled by government-sponsored field drainage. But the good times for many of these landed elites did not last. A dramatic fall in grain prices following the opening up of the American prairies to cultivation led to a steep decline in British agriculture. This agrarian depression started in the 1870s and continued until the mid-1890s resulting in British fields that had previously been money-spinners losing much of their value.

Between 1809 and 1879, 88 percent of British millionaires had been landowners; from 1880 to 1914 this figure dropped to 33 percent.

‘Land has ceased to be either a profit or a pleasure,’ complained Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s 1895 ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’.

For the elites, it became prudent to sell land rather than farm it.

Urban farmland, in particular, could generate huge one-hit profits, with expanding cities such as Newcastle in desperate need of space for housing.

Heaton landowners Colonel Addison Potter, Sir Matthew White Ridley, and Lord Armstrong and others could — and did — make handsome profits by selling off their fields for building plots. These three in particular were voracious sellers of land, especially Armstrong who employed agents that developed housing estates on his behalf.

Armstrong, of course, also gave away land to the people of Newcastle, but the gift of his extensive Jesmond Dene ‘garden’ wasn’t perhaps as purely philanthropic as it is usually portrayed — creating an attractive country park from a steeply sided valley that might have proved too deep to fill and flatten was a savvy move for a housing developer.

‘The more he bestows, the richer [Lord Armstrong] becomes’ , a magazine calculated in 1889.

Creating the amenity of Jesmond Dene as a sweetener to help sell the plots on his extensive housing developments in Jesmond and Heaton made perfect business sense. Likewise, Armstrong Bridge wasn’t commissioned by its namesake to ease the burdens of packhorses climbing Benton Bank — a backstory usually attributed to the kindness of Lady Armstrong — but as a high-level road approach for the prestigious properties Armstrong planned to develop on both sides of the Ouseburn valley.

On the plus side, his shrewd philanthropy prevented any infilling of Jesmond Dene. Many of Newcastle’s other denes disappeared under landfill — a third-of-a-mile segment of the Ouseburn valley near Warwick Street was culverted in the early 1900s and crammed with rubble and other rubbish. However, the land created on top of the Ouseburn Tip — which is now the ‘City Stadium’ — proved too unstable for housing.

Similarly, today’s plots owned by the Armstrong Allotments Association only exist because the land they were carved from proved unsuitable for building use.

Armstrong originally planned to develop this land to create Heaton Park Estate, an exclusive neighbourhood of mansions overlooking the Dene.

In 1878, Armstrong instructed his architect Frank W Rich to ‘lay out villa residences upon the land to the eastward of the park,’ Rich had ‘already marked off into building plots the whole of the land which lives above Bulman’s Wood,’ reported the ‘Newcastle Courant’. but, as has already been discussed on this site, these villas would not be built.

Problem: ‘the ground here forms a natural basin, and a spring rises just above it, and runs evenly the whole year through,’ revealed the ‘Courant’, adding that the land was ‘soft and swampy.’

Solution: ‘The water … is now carried away to form a small cascade,’ reported the ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’

This cascade was the waterfall parallel to the ‘cattle run’. The waterfall, and the rivulet that formed it, were carried through one of the two arches beneath the lower of the two Armstrong Park bridges. The second arch spans the ‘cattle run’.

Bridge in Armstrong Park over the ‘cattle run’ and former waterfall

Except, remember, it’s not a ‘cattle run’, it was a sunken footpath, reported the period newspaper mentioned earlier. A sunken footpath from Ouseburn Road to Armstrong’s putative posh villas; a sunken footpath for use by the villa owners, or perhaps to be used as a hidden-from-view passageway for servants or tradespeople.

‘The quality and style of the stone work would support [the] suggestion [that this was a] pedestrian route to link the road to proposed housing,’ concluded Steyne.

The sunken footpath was built by Newcastle Corporation in 1880, working to plans drawn up by Armstrong or, more likely, his agents. Although decorative and with its own sylvan cascade, the expensive railway-style cutting didn’t help sell the plots — the thirteen posh villas never got built.

By 1884, Rich had modified the plan, dividing the development into 41 plots. However, after fresh surveys revealed the land to be unsuitable for housing, this plan, too, fell by the wayside.

The sunken footpath was itself sunk, with no longer any reason to exist.

Armstrong died in 1900. His will stipulated that part of what would have been the Heaton Park Estate should become allotments. Other parts of the would-be development lay fallow until the 1920s when almost 100 houses were erected on the land that had been deemed unsuitable forty years previously.

Heaton Park Estate never made the jump from Rich’s drawing board, but a similar development to the north of Armstrong Bridge proved more successful. In 1894, Rich (probably acting for Armstrong) was advertising ‘Villa SITES for Sale on Jesmond Park Estate.’ Significantly, the adverts stressed that on these plots the ‘drainage [was] perfect,’ which suggests that the drainage for the plots on Heaton Park Estate had not been perfect.

Jesmond Park Estate was a commercial success, and some of the large houses that stand back from the roads Jesmond Park East and Jesmond Park West are among the most expensive properties in Newcastle.

White elephant

The ‘cattle run’ was built in advance of the prestigious housing it was designed to service, perhaps constructed early to act as a sales tool to attract rich house hunters. It had been built on land owned by the city council by railway engineers who were working to plans commissioned by Lord Armstrong via his jobbing architect Frank W. Rich.

It’s possible that work on the cattle run was done by Rich’s assistant, H.G. Badenoch.

‘When Lord Armstrong presented the beautiful Jesmond Dene to Newcastle, the erection of the lodges, making of footpaths, and building of bridges was … in Mr. Rich’s hands, and I superintended most of the work,’ remembered Badenoch later in life.

Badenoch also reported that he had conducted ‘all the surveying, levelling, and setting out of streets’ for Lord Armstrong’s housing developments in Jesmond and Heaton.

The unsung Badenoch might have also been responsible for converting what had been a pre-1860s storm drain in Bulman’s Wood into Armstrong Park’s scenic waterfall.

There has never been a ‘cattle run’ in Heaton. The linear feature now known by that name was built as a sunken footpath next to a tumbling cascade. The cascade may have tumbled for some years, but it failed to drain the sodden field above it, and as the sunken footpath ended in a quagmire and not, as was planned, at the foot of thirteen posh villas, it too was a flop.

Knowledge of the ‘cattle run’’s true purpose was lost soon after its use became moot. Ordnance Survey maps didn’t label what was — and remains — a distinctive ground feature. A large-scale OS map of 1907 managed to pinpoint small items such as urinals but didn’t state the use of the feature that ninety or so years later became known, wrongly, as the ‘cattle run.’ A 1942 OS map got the closest, labelling the feature a ‘subway.’

Other Armstrong-commissioned subways exist, including the fully-covered one from his Banqueting House to St. Mary’s chapel, and another in Jesmond Dene to Blackberry crags.

Sorry, Newcastle City Council, but the lottery-funded interpretation board you installed in 2010 is incorrect — the ‘cattle run’ was built for people, not cows. But let’s look on the bright side: while Armstrong Park loses a bovine superhighway, it gains a long-lost waterfall.

Notes and Sources can be found here.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Carlton Reid. Photographs by Carlton Reid. With thanks to Marek Bidwell, Sarah Capes, Ann Denton, Keith Fisher, Henrietta Heald, Duncan Hutt, Chris Jackson, Alan Morgan, John Penn, Yvonne Shannon, Hanna Steyne, Les Turnbull, and Will Watson-Armstrong.

Carlton Reid was ‘Press Gazette’ Transport Journalist of the Year, 2018. He writes for ‘The Guardian’, ‘Forbes.com’ and ‘Mail Online‘.

He’s also a historian – his recent books include ‘Roads Were Not Built for Cars‘ and ‘Bike Boom’ both published by Island Press, Washington, D.C. The ‘cattle run’ isn’t the first infrastructure he has shown to be wrongly labelled: in 2017 he discovered the existence of hundreds of miles of 1930s-era Dutch-style cycleways paid for by Britain’s Ministry of Transport but which fell out of use so quickly that they became buried under grass or were misidentified as service roads.

Property Ownership in Heaton Township 1795-1810

The streets of Heaton and High Heaton are familiar to most visitors to this website but have you ever wondered what was here before they were built in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries? Eminent local historian, Mike Greatbatch, has been looking at surviving records to help us find out what Heaton was like 210-225 years ago:

The township of Heaton, like all the townships in Northumberland, owes its existence to the Settlement Act of 1662 which stipulated that the northern counties of Lancashire, Cheshire, Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Northumberland, Durham, Cumberland and Westmorland, `by reason of their largeness of the Parishes within the same’, should henceforth be subdivided into townships for the better administration of the `the Poor, Needy, Impotent and Lame’ (13 and 14 Charles II c12 Settlement).

Whilst the township boundaries may have mirrored those of some major landowners in 1662, it should not be confused with these private estates. Townships were administrative districts created by parliament to levy the poor rate and disburse the available funds to relieve the poor. Consequently the township boundary of 1662 continued to define Heaton as a district for the next two hundred years, well beyond its incorporation into the Town and County of Newcastle in 1835. Only when the population of Heaton and Byker townships began to grow rapidly towards the latter half of the nineteenth century did the old boundaries become indistinct, with ward boundaries based on the changing size and distribution of Newcastle’s municipal electorate becoming the norm.

The Poor Rate

Heaton township was created to better administer the poor rate. This was a tax based on an assessment of the yearly value of property, defined by the annual rental paid by the occupier. Heaton township lay within the parish of All Saints, and surviving records show that the poor rate was supervised by the magistrates and administered by the parish vestry, whose members appointed and employed the overseers of the poor from amongst the ratepayers of the parish, and administered all collections of the rate and its disbursement.

The rate assessments were agreed at regular meetings to cover specific periods and purposes, being recorded in Rate Books along with a list of properties, their occupiers, and their rentals. The rate itself varied from time to time depending on changing levels of demand for poor relief and other associated expenditure, such as overseers expenses.

The number of surviving rate books for Heaton is very limited: the catalogue at Tyne and Wear Archives lists just three volumes between 1860 and 1890. However, within the records of the neighbouring township of Byker there is a detailed assessment that includes Heaton. Recorded in March 1795, this was specifically `a taxation for the purpose of procuring (jointly with the Township of Heaton) a Volunteer, to serve in His Majesty’s Navy during the present War’. A rate of two pence per pound was calculated to raise £20 10s 3d from Byker and £18 11s 8d from Heaton in the following month of April. At the end of the assessment, there are the signatures of the Overseers of the Poor for both townships, which for Heaton was Thomas Holmes, a farmer.

HeatonRateAssessmentOct 1810_edited-1

Rate assessment for the township of Heaton, October 1810. TWAS 183/1/102. Reproduced with permission of Tyne & Wear Archives

A similar detailed record also survives within the rate books for the parochial chapelry of Newcastle All Saints. Undertaken in October 1810 for the purpose of raising `the sum of four hundred pounds and upwards’, being the sum required to `reimburse the Church Wardens for the money expended by them for the Bills, Clerks Salary, Bread, Flour, Visitation Charges etc and to enable them to keep the Church thoroughly clean and in repair and other incidental expenses’. A rate of four pence per pound was levied, calculated to raise a total of £503 from the whole parish, of which £93 09s 3d would be raised in Byker and £66 12s 8d raised in Heaton. At the end of the assessment, the signature of Samuel Viner, a magistrate (`his Majesty’s Justices’) and Peter Marsden (a public notary acting on behalf of the church) are recorded, confirming their consent to the agreed rate, together with the date they attached their signatures to this declaration, 23 October 1810.

Taken together, these two detailed records illustrate the nature and changing value of property in Heaton during these years, together with the names of those whose income permitted them to occupy these premises as tenants of the two principle landowners at that time, Matthew Ridley and Sir Matthew White Ridley. The latter lived at Heaton Hall on land owned by the former and ,in 1795, the rental value of the house and grounds was £60, rising to £180 in 1810. Whilst this is the only house identified in the rate assessments, the farmhouses were included in the overall value of the farm rentals, and likewise the cottages occupied by the labourers. The working poor did not own property and thus they are absent from both assessments.

Coal and Iron

The population of Heaton recorded in the first detailed census carried out on 10 March 1801 was just 183 persons. By contrast, the population of neighbouring Byker was 3,254 persons. Byker was far more industrialised than Heaton by 1801 and this is reflected in the rate assessments undertaken in 1795 and 1810. Industrial property was present in Heaton in both years but its share of the total value of property was significantly less than in neighbouring Byker.

Heaton Colliery was the most valuable property in Heaton. In March 1795 it was valued at £1000 annual rental, increasing to £1,750 per annum by October 1810. This one industrial concern accounted for at least 45% of the total value of the property in Heaton recorded in both years.

Other industry in Heaton accounted for a mere 5% of the total value in both 1795 and 1810, despite the significant increase in value of Malin Sorsbie’s iron-works at Busy Cottage, from a rental of £30 per annum in March 1795 to £100 rental in October 1810. In neighbouring Byker the contrast couldn’t be greater. Here industry other than coal mining and associated transport accounted for 15% of the total in 1795 and 41% of the total value in 1810.

The iron-works at Busy Cottage (where Jesmond Dene’s visitor centre and Pets’ Corner are now) had long been a significant industrial settlement in Heaton. When it was advertised for sale in 1764, following the bankruptcy of its then owner, George Laidler the younger, this settlement adjacent to the east bank of the Ouseburn consisted of a dwelling house, three houses for servants and workmen, a stable with two parcels of ground adjoining, an over-shot forge and bellows wheel, a furnace for making iron, and facilities for making German steel. There was also a tilt hammer for making files and other items from thin iron plate, and a grinding mill with up to seven grindstones, a machine for cutting dyes, and a slitting mill for cutting and shaping bars of iron, all powered by over-shot waterwheels or water powered engines.

There were also extensive smiths shops that could employ up to fourteen workmen using three hearths, plus a foundry for casting iron and a steel furnace capable of producing about four tons of steel every nine days. When the premises were advertised again, two years later, there were an additional thirteen smithies, several warehouses, and a `Compting-house’ (counting-house) or office.

From January 1781, Busy Cottage was owned by the owners of the Skinner-Burn Foundry, Thomas Menham and Robert Hodgson, and when they became bankrupt in January 1785, Busy Cottage once again was advertised for sale, being `well adapted to carrying on the nail, hinge, ….file cutting, or any other branch in the smith and cutlery way’. The complex also included a water-powered corn mill at this time.

Although advertised for sale again in the summer of 1790, Thomas Menham is still recorded as living at Busy Cottage in January 1793, so Malin Sorsbie had not long been in possession of the property when he was recorded as occupier in the March 1795 rate assessment.

The Sorsbie family had long been prominent amongst the business and municipal community of Newcastle; a Robert Sorsbie served as mayor in the 1750s and Jonathan Sorsbie later served as Clerk of the Council Chamber. In the 1760s the family business interests included grindstone quarries on Gateshead Fell and a foundry at a site on the south side of the Tyne called the Old Trunk Quay, in addition to their corn merchant business with offices at Sandhill. Malin Sorsbie owned a house and garden in fashionable Shieldfield from at least January 1789 onwards.

Mills: Water & Wind

If Heaton Colliery and Busy Cottage were the highest value industrial property in Heaton, this does not diminish the importance of the other three industrial enterprises active in these years. All three followed the upward trend in value between 1795 and 1810 and were an important feature of the township beyond this period.

The precise location of Robert Yellowley’s flint mill is uncertain, but should not be confused with the similar establishment on the west side of the Ouseburn in Jesmond. The Yellowley family were merchants, and by the 1790s Robert Yellowley was wealthy enough to afford the rent on a house at St Ann’s Row on the New Road, west of Cut Bank. When the Ouseburn Pottery of Backhouse and Hillcoat ran into financial difficulty in 1790, Robert Yellowley acquired the business and is recorded as proprietor from June 1794 onwards. Flint by this time was an essential ingredient in the manufacture of better quality earthenware as it turns white when burnt, and thus provided a bleaching agent when used in firing the ware.

Heaton windmill was in the occupation of William Dodds throughout these years and, like the watermill occupied by Patrick Freeman in October 1810, it was an important adjunct to the eight farms that occupied the greater part of the land in the township. Identifying the precise location of Freeman’s watermill is not easy. In a schedule of land prepared by the surveyor John Bell to accompany a plan of West and East Heaton in December 1800, there are three mills – High, Middle, Low – identified in fields adjacent to the east bank of the Ouseburn. However, in 1810, Freeman’s is the only mill specifically identified as water powered, so it may be that the other two were dormant and unoccupied. In the 1795 rate book, this property appears to be occupied by Richard Young but again little indication is provided as to its location.

Heaton’s Farms, 1795 and 1810

In the October 1810 rate assessment there are eight farms, which together had a combined value of £1,738 or 45% of the total rental value of the township. The families who occupied those farms were the same as in March 1795 with the exception of William Lawson who had died in January 1804. In 1810, Lawson’s farm was occupied by John Watson.

The most valuable farms were High Heaton Farm (the Holmes family), Lawson’s farm, the Newton family farm in Low Heaton, and Thomas Carins’/ Cairns’ (the spelling varies throughout this period)  farm. Some indication of their social and economic standing is provided by the fact that Thomas Holmes was the township’s Overseer of the Poor in 1795, and Cairns the treasurer of the local Association (for Prosecuting Felons). This Association combined with similar associations of property owners in neighbouring Gosforth and Jesmond to offer cash rewards to anyone providing information that helped secure a conviction for theft, damage or trespass, and/or the return of stolen property. They also published appeals to their fellow property owners and hunt enthusiasts to avoid damage to crops and `not to ride amongst corn or grass seeds’.

Heaton & Jesmond Association1807

Membership of the Heaton and Jesmond Association for the Prosecution of Felons etc included 6 Heaton farmers and 1 mill owner. Newcastle Advertiser 7 Feb 1807, p1. Reproduced with permission of Newcastle City Library Local Studies & Family History Centre.

All these farms were extensive undertakings, and given the sparse population of Heaton at this time, all were vulnerable to theft. When Lawson’s farm was broken into in 1790, thieves stole hens, geese, and poultry, and made off on a mare that returned to the farm the same night. In the summer of 1795, twenty-three chickens, six hens and two cockerels were stolen from a single hen-house in Heaton; a reward of two guineas was offered by William Pattison of Heaton, with a further reward of three guineas paid by the Gosforth Association on conviction. When Joseph Newton’s garden was broken into in July 1808 and a quantity of fruit stolen, causing injury to the trees, a reward of twenty guineas was offered by the Heaton and Jesmond Association, Newton being one of its members.

If apprehended, those convicted could face severe punishment. In October 1798, Joseph Nicholson, William M’Clarie, Jane Cunningham, and Mary Eddy were all sentenced to six months hard labour for having stolen rope from Heaton Colliery. Given the need to store ropes, screws, bolts and other iron materials, the colliery was a regular target for thieves. As incidents of infringements of property rights increased, so the punitive nature of these associations became more pronounced.

Conclusion

In March 1795, the total value of property assessed for the poor rate in Heaton Township was £2,136. By October 1810 the total value of the same property was £3,878; being an increase of 81.5%. Despite the on-going war with Revolutionary France and its allies throughout this period, the local Heaton economy experienced something of a boom period.

The interdiction by French naval ships or privateers of merchant ships importing grain and other foodstuffs to the Tyne resulted in a food shortage, especially of wheat and rye. In 1799, the resultant scarcity of flour led some local newspapers to recommend rice and potatoes as good substitutes by way of relieving the distress prevalent amongst the town’s poorer inhabitants.

This scarcity also resulted in an increase in the price of grain and locally milled flour. Despite the accumulation of imported grain in temporary wooden stores, soon commonly referred to as Egypt, just west of Saint Ann’s Church in the summer of 1796, the price of wheat, rye, barley, and oats all increased from 1798 onwards. This of course was good news for farmers, millers, and landowners in townships like Heaton where transport costs to the local Newcastle market were negligible.

One might think that as their income and property values increased, the respectable residents of Heaton might relax their attitude to their neighbours in the manufacturing districts of Sandgate and Byker. Sadly, the opposite appears to have occurred. As the wartime economy and interruptions to overseas trade increased the numbers of those without work or on low income, so the property owners of Heaton became increasingly conscious of the vulnerability of their privacy and possessions. Unemployment, food shortages, and widespread human distress made the sparsely populated lanes and fields of Heaton all the more attractive to those desperate for redress and with little to lose.

In June 1805, a blacksmith named Erington was stopped near Heaton Wood by a man dressed in a blue jacket and robbed of a £20 bank note. Such incidents of so-called foot-pads became a recurring feature of Newcastle newspaper reports as the number of homeless seafarers and unemployed workers increased. The response of the local associations of property owners was characteristically harsh, resulting in the following all encompassing resolution by the Gosforth (& Heaton) Association in November 1805 `to prosecute with the utmost rigour, all vagrants, or other disorderly strollers, and those who give them harbor or encouragement’. By the first decade of the nineteenth century, even going for a stroll, in Heaton, had become a dangerous pastime.

Sources & Acknowledgements

Written for Heaton History Group by Mike Greatbatch. Text copyright Mike Greatbatch and Heaton History Group. Image permissions from Tyne and Wear Archives for use on this website only.

The surviving rate assessments for these years are part of the collections at Tyne & Wear Archives, specifically 183/1/577 Byker 1794-1802, and 183/1/102 Newcastle All Saints June-November 1810.

Contemporary trade directories and Newcastle newspapers, specifically the Courant, the Advertiser, and the Tyne Mercury provided details of properties and owners, together with reports on the human impact of wartime food shortages and the response of property owners through the various Associations. Many of the newspaper sources were accessed on-line via the British Library’s invaluable British Newspaper Archive.

The author is grateful to staff at both Tyne & Wear Archives and Newcastle City Library Local Studies & Family History Centre for their help in accessing sources and for permission to reproduce the two images.

The Heaton Road Millionaires’ Row That Never Was

In 1868, while Lord Armstrong was enthusiastically buying Ridley land in Heaton, he acquired a plot north of Heaton Hall as far as Benton Bank: it included areas then known as Bulman’s Wood and Low Heaton Farm (the farmhouse was by the junction of Benton Bank and the Ouseburn Road: see map) plus three abandoned coal mine sites – the Thistle, the Knob and the infamous Chance Pit up by the windmill. This entire plot was bordered along its western edge by the Ouseburn Road, its southern boundary by Jesmond Vale Lane and the eastern side by Heaton Lane (now Road). After giving Armstrong Park to the people of Heaton, two new roads were planned through the remainder of the land which had been divided up and offered for sale as thirteen residential plots of between two and four acres each. This extravagant development would be named The Heaton Park Villa Estate: millionaire mansions by the baker’s dozen. There goes the neighbourhood!

HeatonRoadvillasmap

The following illustration shows the plots in relation to today’s developments.

Heaton Road lost estate 3

This last illustration indicates how little more than half of the estate was ever developed (more on this is to follow) while the remainder was given over to an allotment complex of two halves: the small northern section called St Gabriel’s Allotments and the larger southern portion known as the Armstrong Allotments.

Heaton Road lost estate outline

Back at the ranch

A letter dated 1884 to Sir William from his Newcastle architect Frank W. Rich of Eldon Square (who was later to design St Gabriel’s Church) explains how the original 13 large plots have been abandoned in favour of 41 plots of between one-third and one acre-and-a-half. He indicates that these smaller sizes are what buyers are looking for and that anyone needing more may simply buy multiple plots. One such gentleman for example – Mr Thomas H. Henderson of Framlington Place (behind the Dental Hospital) – asks for a particular 1.5 acre plot at an offered rate of £500 per acre when Sir William is looking for £600. This tells us what a four acre plot would have actually cost and why there were obviously no takers for such sizes, especially when you consider that the largest residential plots anywhere in Newcastle were an acre and a half.

The layout for the forty-one plots was never lodged with the planning department and it seems likely that the outlined houses shown on the original thirteen plot plan were simply random or figurative, and that each house would have been designed (hopefully by Mr Rich) to the specifications of the buyer. There were certainly no house designs lodged with the planning department for either the thirteen plot estate or the forty-one plot version.

Mr Rich further explains to Sir William that the roads were run by necessity according to the gradient of the land. Looking at the terrain today indicates that the largest sites – those bordering the park – would have been on relatively flat ground down at low level, but with no prospect beyond their own boundaries; while the smaller Heaton Road sites would have occupied the high ground looking out across the park. I don’t think anyone buying a four acre plot down below would have been greatly enamoured of their neighbours in the cheap seats lording it over them; would you?

However, thirteen or forty-one soon became immaterial because it didn’t take long for surveys to reveal that much of this land was actually one giant sand-hill and totally unsuitable for house building purposes, unless it was to mix with cement. Mr Rich does inform Sir William at a later date that they now have sand, stone and brick immediately to hand on their land in Heaton (where was the stone quarry?) and that builders could buy it all directly on site. Oh, how the rich get richer! But…

Ever the benefactor to us hoi-polloi, Lord Armstrong’s will said that the entire area be reserved as allotments for those tenants of his Heaton development lacking gardens of their own – which was a lot of them. Sir William’s heir was forced to apply for an act of Parliament in order to overturn the will and develop such areas deemed suitable for construction – but not until the nineteen-twenties when housing shortages had become a government issue.

Keith Fisher, Heaton History Group

House Histories

If you own a house in Heaton and have the deeds and other documents and would like to know more about its history, get in touch via chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org and we’ll try to help. If enough people are interested, we might be able to arrange a course in researching your house – and could even help with the research depending on demand.