Waggonways 1724-1800

Risemoor 1737-<1820

The Risemoor way was an extension of the Crawcrook Way. It was built in 1737 when John Humble took a lease of pits at Risemoor which had become idle because they could not be worked economically without a waggonway. As the pits became exhausted others were sunk to the west and the waggonway extended to them. By 1820 the coal was exhausted and the way closed.

Garesfield 1801

The Garesfield Waggonway to the Earl of Bute’s pits at Garesfield was opened in 1801. George Hill and George Stephenson prepared a report in 1819 for improvements to the way, but they were not implemented. The way operated on wooden rails with one man leading a horse pulling a single waggon until the 1840s. Iron rails were laid then but otherwise the waggonway remained unchanged until the colliery at High Spen, also called Garesfield was purchased by the Consett Iron Company in 1889. The waggonway was eventually replaced by the Chopwell and Garesfield Railway, the route of which can be seen on our map.

Lands 1728 <1797

This way was built by Albert Silvertop in 1728 and was in use by him ten years later.

In the 1750s the Colliery was run by Matthew Ridley and John Simpson. Ridley’s partners specialised in glass making. The colliery was later run by John Hood and his son Anthony, apparently unprofitably.

Blaydon Shibdon 1749-1798

The original eighteenth century Shibdon Colliery was in production until 1798. It was worked by Alderman White and both Blackett baronets and their agent John Wilkinson. The land between the colliery and the river was boggy and this made a wooden waggonway viable despite the short distance to the river.

The colliery was reopened in 1853 and a new waggonway was constructed with iron rails.

Tanfield 1724

The Tanfield Waggonway is perhaps the most famous of the North Durham waggonways. It was built in 1724 or 1725 by George Liddell and the Wortleys to take their Blackburn coals on Burdon Moor to staithes at Redheugh and Dunston. The way incorporated part of the extension to the Northbanks way which had been constructed shortly before the closure of the Northbanks way in 1723.

In July 1725 the Tanfield way was extended to Tanfield and Causey to reach collieries recently acquired by Wortley. This involved crossing a deep gorge twice.

In June 1726, Sidney and Edward Wortley, their agent, Thomas Ord; George Liddell and Sir Henry Liddell; George Bowes and William Coatsworth as secretary formed a Partnership known as the Grand Alliance. They agreed not to raise any lawsuits involving each other; to pool their wayleave rights and existing waggonways for their common use; to work their coal in quantities to be agreed and generally to work cooperatively. The partnership then completed the Tanfield way which Liddell and the Wortleys had begun and extended it to Beamish, Shield Row and South Moor in stages.

George Pitt had worked coal at Tanfield Moor, which was transported to the Tyne via the Western Way. Pitt negotiated with the Grand Allies. Although they did not admit him into the alliance, they allowed him to build a waggon-way from Tanfield Moor which connected into the Tanfield Way near Marley Hill. Similarly the Beckley coal which had been transported via the Western Way was now exclusively transported via the Tanfield Way on the Grand Allies’ terms. Pitt’s connecting waggonway stretched to the outskirts of Burnopfield and the terminus was close to the Western way.

Western Way III 1728-1800

It had long been the ambition of the Grand Allies to control the price of coal by regulating supply. One of their aims was to prevent the exploitation of the huge reserves of coal around Dipton and Pontop where there were accessible seams of coal almost three metres thick. The pits here were owned by the Claverings, Ridley,Simpson, Lord Windsor and the Mallabars.

Having constructed the Tanfield Way and closed the two Western ways leading to Swalwell and Derwenthaugh, the Grand Allies believed they had achieved their objective. The Western allies were unable to access the Tanfield way and all other Dunston waggonways were now closed. Lady Clavering entered into negotiations with the Grand Allies. There was always the possibility that she could construct a waggon-way over land in her control from Burnopfield down to the Derwent Valley at Rowlands Gill and thence to staithes at the mouth of the Derwent, but this would involve major engineering works and would be very costly. The negotiations failed and the western allies set about building the new Western Way. The stretch of the way between Burnopfield and the Derwent Valley ceased to be used after 1800 and the earthworks have long been removed. The civil engineering must, however, have been on a scale and cost to rival that of the Tanfield Way at Causey, for the stretch involves a steep descent of 150 metres in 1.2 kilometres down Busty Bank. The exact route of the way is not known but it is not believed to be along the road which presently bears that name. Bennett, Clavering & Rounding in their book “A Fighting Trade” conjecture that the way crossed the Derwent on an embankment built on top of a stone bridge. However, we have discovered in the Gibside archives a contemporary watercolour, belonging to the Northumberland Estates, showing that the way was on a wooden viaduct built on the stone bridge. The image of the watercolour by W Beilby dated August 6th 1774 entitled “A view upon the Derwent at Cowford Bridge”, is reproduced on this website with the kind permission of the Northumberland Estates. This should not be copied without their permission.

The construction of Western Way III and the partnership of those who were allowed to use it in effect brought the war of the waggonways to an end. The Tanfield and Western Way between them transported the majority of the winnable coal which coal that formed the Tyneside trade. The two partnerships realised that if they stopped fighting each other they were able between them to control the supply and price of coal. By the 1730s the price of coal rose sharply and remained high until the collapse in prices in 1767 when the development of technology, particularly the steam engine, allowed the pits in the Tyne basin to be drained and developed.

Birtley Fell 1734-1732

The Birtley Fell way was built by Francis Rudston whose family were collier shipowners. The staithes were at Bill Quay where coal could be transported directly from the pit by waggonway and loaded directly onto the collier. Much of the route of the way is uncertain, but it is clear that it involved lengthy pulls to climb over the Fell. Unfortunately the colliery caught fire and was subsequently flooded. Rudston was declared bankrupt in 1733.

Heworth c1759-<1780

This was a short way serving the High Heworth colliery.

Friar’s Goose c1746

This was the shortest of all the waggonways, serving the Fiar’s Goose Colliery. Both the workings and the staithes were later reused in the development of the Tyne Main Colliery opened in 1798 and closed in 1926.