Earlier this year, out of the blue, a stamp-collector from Wales made contact with Heaton History group to say that he had spotted being sold on Ebay an item that might interest Heaton History Group. A seller in Australia was advertising a four page set of accounts from Heaton Colliery dated April 1842 and sealed with a Penny Red stamp. Naturally, we snapped it up, waited impatiently for it to travel halfway across the world and then showed it to our local mining expert, Les Turnbull, not knowing whether it told him anything new and whether he could interpret it for us.
Happily for us, Les was enthusiastic. He started by saying that there were very few accounts of Heaton Colliery surviving from this period. He was, however, able to draw on his knowledge of other sources, including Heaton Colliery’s then viewer, George Johnson’s submission to the Children’s Employment Commission, published the very same year, to help him interpret the figures.
Les commented on the low production of coal during the fortnight (11 working days) covered by the accounts. Johnson had reported that there were 108 hewers at Heaton, who would normally be expected to extract ‘a score a day’ each or about 1,188 scores. (A ‘score’ was a unit of measurement used in the coal mining industry.) In fact, page one of the accounts shows that just over 800 was extracted.
There could be many reasons for the low production, including the timing. Early April was the time that miners signed their bonds for the following year and this could have caused some disruption. Technical, environmental or other labour issues could also have been responsible. The first page of the accounts appears to show a loss in that particular fortnight but, of course, it’s dangerous to make assumptions for the whole year based on one possibly unrepresentative fortnight.
What is interesting to a transport historian is that the newly opened Newcastle and North Shields Railway already played a major role in Heaton Colliery’s distribution system. Page one of the accounts shows that the colliery paid over £60 to the railway company during the fortnight.
Bell’s map of 1843 shows the Heaton Waggonway from the Engine Pit to Carville Gate where it joined the Coxlodge line which served the Spinney (Heaton E), Longbenton and Bigges Main. There is a junction with the Newcastle and North Shields line to the west of Wallsend Station.
The accounts on page 1 are signed by William Loraine or Lovaine and the initials of what could be, though we aren’t sure, George Johnson, the viewer. Perhaps someone can help?
The second page of the accounts lists totals mined for the whole month of March in the three different pits that made up Heaton Colliery at the time: Longbenton (Howard), Heaton (Spinney Pit / E Pit) and Wallsend (Bigges Main), all mining the Low Main Seam.
The total value of the coals sold during March was £1778-10s-5d, compared to £518-6s-2d for the second fortnight, suggesting that, as Les said, there may have been been a blip then.
Les was also interested in what page three of the accounts tells us about the use of horses at Heaton Colliery:
‘The memorandum relating to the horses shows that they were mainly used for underground transport (49 out of 71 horses owned). Only seven waggon horses are recorded which would be used to marshall the coal from the Spinney to the Longbenton Pit and then to the head of the inclined plane at the junction of Coach Lane and the Kenton Coxlodge Waggonway. They would have travelled by gravity down to Bigges Main village. The coal for the Seacole trade would have been drawn by horses for the final mile down to the staiths.’
Watsons of High Bridge
Interestingly the back of the accounts (page four) was addressed to Robert Watson Esquire of High Bridge, Newcastle and folded to create what looks like an envelope. A Penny Red (actually a reddish brown stamp, introduced in 1841 to replace the Penny Black) is affixed. The stamp isn’t perforated (Perforations weren’t introduced until the 1850s.) There are also letters (E and C) on the bottom corners which indicate the individual stamp’s position on the sheet. The postmark shows the accounts to have been posted in Newcastle on 9 April 1842. But who was Robert Watson and why was he a recipient of the accounts?
The Watson family of Newcastle were involved in many many business activities, The family’s metal-working factory in High Bridge was established in 1767 by William Watson. In 1806 Robert Watson took over the business. We know that he made a miner’s safety lamp for George Stephenson and later gave evidence via his clerk to an enquiry concerning Stephenson’s successful claim that his lamp predated Humphrey Davy’s. By 1827, he was described as plumber, coppersmith, brass founder, patent lead pipe maker and mathematical instrument maker.
In 1838 Henry Watson, Robert’s nephew and long time friend of William Armstrong, built Armstrong’s first water-powered rotary engine. In 2010, the bicentenary of Lord Armstrong’s birth, a plaque was installed at nos 41-51 High Bridge to commemorate this. In 1842 Robert was quoted in ‘The Farmer’s Magazine’ as having invented a pumping system for raising water.
In 1847 the firm did more work for William Armstrong, making his newly-designed hydraulic cranes before Armstrong moved to his new site in Elswick. In the same year Robert loaned £5,000 at 5% per annum to Thomas Henry Liddell, Baron Ravensworth of Ravensworth Castle, the Honourable Henry Thomas Liddell of Eslington and John Bowes of Streatlam Castle. In the event of default there was a penal requirement for the payment of £10,000; Robert was clearly now a wealthy man.
Mining was another significant interest of the Watson family. Indeed it predated their metal-working activities. They were owners, consultants and viewers in a very extensive range of collieries right across the north but it isn’t always possible to know what connection they had with each mine. We do know though that the family held shares in Heaton Colliery: John Watson, who died in 1832, owned 5 shares. It is probably then as an owner that Watson was sent the fortnightly accounts. Incidentally, the Mining Institute has an extensive Watson archive which is considered to be of significant historical value. The records were deposited in 1863 by William Watson.
Robert died on 24 August 1850 in Harrogate. He has a brass memorial plaque in the Newcastle Cathedral on the family memorial stone but is buried in Jesmond cemetery.
Written by Chris Jackson of Heaton History Group using research material provided by Les Turnbull, including notes about the Watson family written by Jonathan Peacock.
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