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Local Histories - H


The earliest recorded evidence of pre-medieval activity in Heaton is the recorded find of pieces of Roman building stone (HER 1415) at Heaton flint mill in the early 20th century. The first documentary references to Heaton or Heaton manor (HER 1420) date from 1157, showing that Heaton village (HER 1406) had been established by the medieval period. Heaton is first referred to in 1157 as Hactona, a member of the barony of Ellingham; and in 1279 as Hoton. Its name has been interpreted as ‘haugh-ton’, the village on the haugh of the Ouse Burn. There were five taxpayers in 1296, and eight in 1312. Throughout the later there seem to have been about eight farms at Heaton. By the 18th century, the three farms in the Ridley West Heaton section were isolated, and of the five in the White East Heaton estate most were irregularly clustered on the east side of a north-south road (the modern Heaton Road) at its junction with one road to the east (perhaps Rothbury Terrace) and another to the west (Jesmond Vale Lane). The west side of the north-south road is today Heaton Park, the east side completely covered by housing. Sites and features dating from around this time include King Johns Palace (HER 116), also known as the Camera of Adam of Jesmond, built in the 13th century and probably in use until the early 17th century. A chapel (HER 1398) also belongs to this period and it was long thought that King John’s Well (HER 1394) was also of medieval origin, although recent work has suggested much more recent origins. The remains of an early 18th century windmill (HER 4140), used to grind corn and flour can be seen in Heaton Park close to King John’s Palace. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Heaton was heavily involved in coal mining. Heaton Colliery (HER 4152) along with associated pits including Heaton High Pit (HER 4031) and Middle Pit were in use until the end of the 19th century. Accidents at the pits were common: Seventy five miners starved to death when they were trapped at Heaton Colliery after it flooded in 1815, and at the High Pit an accident occurred in 1850 which resulted in many miners being trapped underground. The mound known as The Spinney in Heaton Park supposedly marks where the bodies lie. During the 19th century Heaton Station (HER 4159) opened as part of the North Eastern Railway, but was later replaced by West Heaton Station. Until the end of the 19th century settlement at Heaton remained highly dispersed, centred on the presumed medieval core (see above) with small outlying settlements at farms such as Low and High Heaton and the pit sites. Corn Mills such as Heaton Mill and Busy Cottage Mill continued to operate until the later 19th century on the Heaton side of the Ouseburn, along with other small-scale industries such as lime-burning and quarrying. The present housing estates, their associated public buildings and infrastructure of roads and services were built in response to the demand for improved housing from an increasingly mobile population, mainly in the first half of the 20th century following the closure of the mines and other smaller scale industrial concerns in the area. The late 19th century and early 20th century also saw the creation of pleasure grounds such as Heaton Park (HER 5005) which was based upon the gardens of Heaton Hall (HER 1401), a grand residence built c.1713 and demolished in the mid 20th century, and extended from a little south of the Hall to King John’s Palace in the north.  


The earliest recorded evidence of human activity at Hebburn is a Roman coin (HER 970) found in 1926. The first documentary reference to Hebburn (Heabyrn) is a grant to Aldwin of the vill of Jarrow and its appendages in a late 11th century document by Bishop Walcher, showing that the village (HER 978) had been established by this relatively early date in the medieval period. It then became the property of the prior and convent of Durham. In 1430 2 parts of the vill (6 messuages, 260 acres) were held freehold by one set of people, and one third (3 messuages, 96 acres +) by another. In 1504, when the prior and convent exchanged land with the Grays, the "town and fields" of Hebburn were described as lying on the boundary between the two holdings. The village is apparently shown on the south side of this road on Gibson's map of 1788. The road was rerouted north of the hall in the late 18th century and the original village may have disappeared with the extension of the park which seems to have followed. Hebburn Hall (HER 1951), built in the 17th century and subsequently altered, is said to have been built on the site of an old Pele Tower (HER 979), part of which was incorporated in the 17th century house. Hebburn became industrialised in the 18th-20th centuries, largely due to its riverside location and accessibility to sources of coal. Coal mining in Hebburn itself was relatively late to develop due to the problems associated with deep mining, but the many pits of Hebburn Colliery (HER 2228, 2235 and 2241) flourished in the 19th century. Elsewhere in Hebburn, brick works (HER 2223 and 2233), fireblack works (HER 2224), chemical works (HER 2232 and 2503), and a foundry were all important parts of the local industrial economy. Perhaps most important of all, however, was shipbuilding which developed from an early date at yards such as the Hawthorn Leslie Shipyard and the Newcastle Shipbuilding Company Ltd. (HER 2227 and 2504), both of which opened in the mid 19th century. In the 20th century engineering companies such as the Reyrolles Engineering Works (HER 1585) which opened in 1906 and eventually spread over an area of 44 acres, held important positions in the economic and social life of the area. Industrialisation also led to an increasing population and the construction on farm and estate lands of large-scale housing developments with associated public buildings, such as schools and churches, as well as a service infrastructure. For example, Hebburn Cemetery (HER 5234) and the Carr-Ellison Park (HER 5218) were built in the former grounds of Hebburn Hall. The North Eastern Railway, Newcastle and South Shields branch (HER 2509), also a 19th century construction associated with industrial development and urbanisation, was recently converted for use as part of the modern Tyne and Wear Metro system.  


Hetton-le-Hole and the surrounding area is steeped in history dating back to the later stone age. A number of prehistoric features have been located in the area including a rectilinear enclosure (HER 5300) and the burial mounds of Copt Hill (HER 100) and Fairies Cradle (HER 249). Such features may suggest that the area was occupied during the later Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. No evidence of structures relating to a prehistoric settlement site have been located. However a number of small finds, including Late Neolithic to Early Bronze Age axe fragments (HER 251) do indicate that prehistoric people were located in the area.
Early charters going back to 1187 mention the village of Heppedune, a combination of two Anglo-Saxon words spelt together. The ‘le Hepdons’, a local land owning family, owned part of the local Manor from the 1180s. The ancient Manor was divided into two parts known as Hetton-on-the-Hill and Hetton-in-the-Hole, with the later being more sheltered and where the village ultimately arose. The early core of the village appears to have been bounded by Front Street, Park View and the burn in Hetton Dean (HER 262).

The village grew during the Industrial Revolution with a number of key raw materials located close by. Pits to extract gravel (HER 2995, 2997) and sand (HER 2992) were situated in the local area. The Hetton Coal Company was formed in 1819 with the first shaft being sunk in 1820 at the Hetton Colliery (HER 2989, 3207). It was decided to build a wagonway (HER 3624) from the colliery to the river Wear at Sunderland. George Stephenson was chosen as the engineer for the 8 mile stretch. The tomb of his friend and mentor Nicholas Wood who was also involved with the Hetton Coal Company can be found at St. Nicholas Church (HER 5186).

The village prospered with the increase in industrial activity and was required to grow to accommodate more workers, including the building of 200 houses for the coal miners and their families. There are no remnants of the mine which has been heavily landscaped since its closure in 1950.


Houghton-le-Spring and the surrounding area is steeped in history dating back to the later stone age. The Copt Hill burial mound (HER 100) indicates a potential ritual importance of the area during the later Neolithic and Early Bronze Age.

The earliest documentary evidence for the village is 1112 AD. The name derives from Hoctona, the name of the settlement in the Boldon Book of 1183. The ‘Hough’ part of the name comes from the Anglo-Saxon word meaning ‘a point of land projecting into a plain’. The addition of ‘le-Spring’ could have been added from two possibilities: a Lord of the Manor by that name or due to the numerous limestone springs in the area.

In the 14th Century the village is listed as having 27 tenants, a watermill, brew house, oven and forge (HER 280). It still shows as a prosperous village on 17th and 18th Century maps.

St. Michael’s and All Angels Church (HER 263) has many noteworthy people interred inside the church, including Rector Bernard Gilpin (1557-1583). Gilpin was known as the ‘Apostle of the North’ and went on to become Archdeacon of Durham in 1557. The village has other buildings that featured prominently during the medieval period. Much of the medieval Rectory (HER 264) was demolished, yet it is thought some of the original features may still exist in the present day building. The archway entrance into the rectory was re-built as the entrance to St. Michael’s Church.

The late-medieval building of Houghton Hall (HER 1858) still stands. Built by Rector Robert Hutton, he was a noted Puritan and when he died he was buried alongside his horse and dog in the grounds of the Hall.
The Industrial Revolution led to an expansion of the settlement with the opening of the Houghton Colliery (HER 3166) in 1829 and the formation of the Union workhouse in 1864.

A World War ll Home Guard bunker (HER 5504), located not far from Copt Hill provides the area with the most recent of records. The walls of the bunker still remain, but the roof has collapsed due to landslip from the hillside into which it is built. 

Howdon and Willington    

There is no recorded evidence for early human activity in, or in the immediate vicinity of Howden, although this is likely to be the result of lack of fieldwork opportunity in the area, rather than the absence of potential. From Willington an antler mattock of likely early prehistoric date was reported in 1934 (HER 776), and a Romano-British quern in 1842 (HER 778). Willington is first mentioned in 1072 when it formed part of Bishop Walcher's gift to the priory of Durham. A mill is recorded there in 1299, and a windmill is specifically mentioned in documents of 1438-9 and 1464. In 1536-7 there was a waste water mill and a salt pan. In 1539 there were eight tenants each paying rent of 33s 4d each, and 3s 4d for the salt pan. Eight farms are also mentioned in 1585, but by 1839 there were six farms of very unequal size, three of them outside the village. Originally Willington was a 2-row village of oval outline, with the green located around the present cul-de-sac, Engine Inn Road. The later history of both Willington and neighbouring Howdon are dominated by heavy industry, the diverse variety of which is as great as anywhere on Tyneside. As elsewhere, the industrial development of these two centres was based on the coal trade which developed rather later in the lower course of the Tyne where the seams were lower. A large number of sites associated with mining are recorded in this area, including Flatworth Pit (HER 1174) at Howdon and the older Howdon Old Pit (HER 1178). The pits were linked to staithes on the river by wagonways and railways, such as the Blythe and Tyne Railway (HER 1055; see also HER 2031, 2032 and 2036-43). Closer to the riverside the exploitation of coal and its transport intensified (e.g. HER (HER 1163-73). The original Willington Wagonway from Bigges Main to Willington Square was opened in 1785 by Gibson, Bell and Brown and closed around 1800. Part of this wagonway (HER1130) later seems to have served Bewick, George and Christo Pits (HER 1161,1125,1126). Bewick Pit was also associated with wagonways (HER 1083 and 1162). Another wagonway, Willington Wagonway (HER 1167 ) started near Old Engine Pit (HER 1166) and served Edward Pit, Bigge Pit, Willington Colliery Low Pit (HER 1165, 1163, 1189), crossing Willington Dean by a Viaduct (HER 1185). This followed at least part of the course of the Grand Allies' Willington New Line, from Battle Hill to Low Pit, opened in 1820. Coal-dependent industries in and around Willington and Howdon included salt pans (HER 5258), brick and tile works (HER 1176, 2105, 2185 and 2188), aluminium works (HER 5019), lead and other smelting works (HER 2035, 2101 and 2106), and, somewhat earlier than most of the other heavy industrial concerns in the area, the Howden glassworks, which was built in the17th century (HER 5078) and operated for around a century until destroyed by fire. The Willington Quay ballast hill (HER 2107) was a related product of the coal trade. Other important industries included roperies (HER 1174, 1179 and 2028), corn mills (HER 1177 and 2044), and shipbuilding (HER 2197, 2210, 2211, 2104 and 5017). Extensive housing estates, their associated public buildings and an infrastructure of roads and services were built in response to housing demands of an increasing population in the industrial period. The transport infrastructure was also developed and improved for both industrial and passenger use – notably the Newcastle to North Shields road, the Tyne Road and pedestrian tunnels (HER 1798 and 1799), and the North Eastern Railway, Tynemouth branch (HER 1186), now part of the Tyne and Wear Metro line. Modern sites of importance to the local cultural heritage include military sites such as an anti-aircraft battery (HER 5501) and pillboxes (HER 5432).   


The earliest recorded evidence of human activity at Hylton are prehistoric flint tools (HER 343-4) at North Hylton and Hylton Grange. Other finds from early periods include a perforated stone axe hammer found in North Hylton, a log boat, a number of bronze swords from the river Wear and a Beehive Quern (HER 346, 386-88, 4649). Finds from later periods include Roman coins (HER 31, 32 and 4606), a Roman milestone (HER 4991) and masonry from a possible Roman bridge or dam across the River Wear (HER 4623). An Anglo-Saxon brooch has also been discovered (HER 347). The first documentary reference to Hylton Chapel (HER 13) dates from 1157, but the first reference s pecifically to a village (HER 14) is from1323 in a grant by Robert Hilton which refers to the freemen and cotmen of Hilton. In the 15th century Sir Robert Hilton granted the prior and convent of Durham a place in the vill on which to build a tithe barn. Fryer's map of 1800 shows buildings on the east side of the south end of Hylton Lane, and perhaps a farm on the south side of the road from Southwick. Field names here, such as Town-end field, suggest this as a possible site for the village. Hylton Castle (HER 12) built by Sir William Hylton, dates to the late 14th or early 15th century. It remained in the Hylton Family until 1746, since when various owners made alterations until the 1950s when it went into state guardianship. A ferry crossing site (HER 446) on the River Wear is also said to be of medieval origin, and continued in use until 1957. Hylton was the site of Civil War skirmishes in 1644 (HER 24-26), but the 18th and 19th centuries saw its development as an industrial centre. The coal trade was an element of this industrial development (HER 1713), though not as important as elsewhere in the region (more important were the nearby mines of Washington and the Washington staithes). One of the earliest modern industrial concerns listed at Hylton is a copperas works established around 1750. Subsequently, however, pottery was particularly important, with the opening of Low Ford Pottery or Dawson’s Pottery at South Hylton in 1794, and of Maling’s Pottery Works at North Hylton in 1762 (HER 2645 and 4969). The Maling Family also bought the Wood House estate in North Hylton from the Hylton Family in 1743, turning it into a small industrial and agricultural complex. As well as pottery, brick-making was also practiced at several sites (HER 2634, 2637 and 2646-7). Shipbuilding was also very important at Hylton, but most of the known shipbuilding concerns are early, wooden shipbuilding yard (HER 2638, 2640-1, 2643, 2651-2, 2672) which it appears did not successfully make the transition from wooden ships to iron, although various iron works and possibly related furnaces and smithies are also recorded there (HER 2643, 2650, 2654-6 and 2658). The importance of Hylton declined when the shipbuilding and pottery industries transferred to locations on the lower Wear and Tyne in the second half of the 19th century.