Exploring Penshaw’s rich history

Still following the craft he learned in the village smithy at Old Penshaw, 72 year farrier John Wilkinson - who used to be North of England champion - pictured in March 1955.
Still following the craft he learned in the village smithy at Old Penshaw, 72 year farrier John Wilkinson - who used to be North of England champion - pictured in March 1955.
0
Have your say

THE rich heritage of a Wearside community with royal and mining roots has been all mapped out. Nostalgia writer Sarah Stoner takes a look.

WEARSIDERS have been digging deep into mining history to put their village firmly on the map.

Experts from The Archaeological Practice joined forces with Penshaw Community Association last year to explore the heritage on their doorstep – funded by Sunderland City Council.

Now, following 12 months of research involving ancient maps, photos and charters, a Village Atlas detailing Penshaw’s industrial and social history has just been published.

“The atlas proves, once and for all, that there is a lot more to Penshaw than just a monument,” said Dr Alan Rushworth, of the Newcastle-based Archaeological Practice.

“Our research involved scouring archives, scrutinising maps and researching old charters, leading to discoveries such as the existence of two previously unknown 18th century pits.

“We also uncovered the exact whereabouts of a watermill which served the community of Penshaw in the late 12th century. Indeed, you can still see where the mill pond was today.”

The Village Atlas project was launched in January 2013 with an appeal for villagers to search their attics for hidden historic gems - with maps, documents and photos all donated.

Talks and workshops were then held, together with in-depth research trips to Tyne and Wear Archives, the North-East Mining Institute, Beamish Museum and other regional archives.

“When people think of Penshaw, it is usually the monument that comes to mind - but its history is far richer than that. Penshaw has links with ancient mining and royalty,” said Alan.

A medieval settlement centred on Penshaw is first mentioned in a charter of 1170/1180 - and in the Boldon Book of 1183 - when the community was known as Pencher or Penchare.

But, while most place names are of Old English or Norse origin, Pencher - meaning ‘hill of rocks’ or ‘Rocky Hill’ - is a rare example of the ancient British Celtic dialect of Brittonic.

“Prehistoric flints found around Penshaw Hill show people hunted here at least 8,000 years ago, but sadly little evidence of Roman or early medieval history has survived,” said Alan.

“There is a tentatively identified earthworks, and a possible cropmark site, but little else. It is only from the Middle Ages that we have concrete evidence about the village of Penshaw.

“The township, mill, moor, arable fields and woodland were documented in charters and, as part of our work on the atlas, we have tried to map out the likely layout of the settlement.”

Penshaw thrived as a rural idyll for centuries - until the discovery of coal. By 1737 several coal staiths were ‘well established’ on the Wear, at what became known as Penshaw Staithes.

A network of waggonways - first animal-drawn, then mechanised - soon criss-crossed the Penshaw countryside and, by the 1790s, 25 pits were supplying coal to 10 riverside staithes.

“The river staithes at Penshaw formed a crucial link in the transport of the coal to the port of Sunderland from mines in Rainton,” said Alan, who was a researcher on the atlas project.

“The coal was moved by waggonway - drawn by oxen at first - to the south bank of the Wear at Penshaw, where numerous staiths were constructed to load the coal onto keelboats.

“The Penshaw staithes were vital as they were the only ones rival coal owners could use in the face of ruthless obstruction from the Lambtons – who owned all the other staithes in the area.

“The waggonways were eventually very elaborate, with two private railway systems – the Wharton-Tempest-Londonderry network and the Lambton Railway – plus many other branches.”

The industrial boom saw hamlets such as Shiney Row, Cox Green, New Penshaw and Penshaw Stables develop - as well as new industries such as the Lamp Black Works at Penshaw Staithes.

Workshops, houses and a whole community grew up at Penshaw Staithes too - where life for most villagers revolved around coal; either shipping it, or turning the dust into blacking.

“The atlas explores the landscape and history of Penshaw, from prehistoric times to the modern day, with particular emphasis on the industrial history of the area,” said Alan. “It has been a very interesting project, and we’ve been working with a great group of people. I’m very proud of the atlas - and I think it does Penshaw proud as well.”

l A free community event will be held at Penshaw Community Association this Saturday, from 1-3pm, to launch the atlas - which will be made available free to libraries and archives.

An exhibition featuring illustrations and information from the atlas, including old maps, photos and archaeological records is planned - and researchers will also be on hand to answer questions.

The Penshaw Affray

DURING the Middle Ages - when everyone was armed and a man’s honour and dignity were precious - violence could break out within seconds. Even in tranquil Penshaw.

“One such story we came across involved Margaret - lady of Offerton - who went with her household on a sporting excursion to Penshaw hill - possibly hunting,” said Alan.

“One of her company, Thomas of Woodburn, summoned Thomas de Miridon from Penshaw to join them. When he was delayed, four others were sent to seek the original messenger.”

As the party reached the village, they met Marmaduke Basset, who said to one of Margaret’s men - William le Baker - “Are you not the man who is speaking ill of me?”

Despite Baker’s quick denial, Basset raised the axe in his hand and attempted to strike the other man - who warded off the blow with his shield.

Miridon then joined Basset and struck Baker in the back with his halberd. Baker’s friends scattered and, believing himself mortally wounded, Baker turned for help to his lady.

“Margaret hurried to Penshaw to restore the peace. There she found Basset at the top of the village and, upon seeing her, he moved towards the woman raising his axe,” said Alan.

“Peace, peace, peace! Any evil done shall be made good to you,” she said. But Basset cried: “There can be no peace as long as that perverse man, Thomas of Seaton, is near you.”

A fight followed, in which Basset suffered a sword wound to his arm. Then, when Miridon sprang to his defence, Lady Margaret’s entourage fell on Basset - trying to kill him.

“Lady Margaret intervened, trying to cover Basset’s body with her own, while Baker, Seaton and the rest thrust at Basset’s legs, wounding him in seven places,” said Alan.

“Meanwhile John of Burton Agnes, Basset’s henchman, shot arrows at one of the assailants, while Miridon thrust him through the middle with his halberd.

“The battle ended with the flight of the henchman and Miridon, pursued by the hue and cry from Penshaw township. The fate of Basset is not recorded.”

l It is thought that Lady Margaret was the widow of John de Dunum, while Marmaduke was perhaps a younger son of Sir William Basset. There was ill will between the two families after Sir William relinquished control of Offerton and Penshaw Wood to de Dunum.

Snippets of historic gems

•Earthworks and a possible cropmark site - pointing to a possible Iron Age hill fort - are visible from the air.

•Penshaw is first mentioned in a charter of 1170/1180 - and in the Boldon Book of 1183. It is recorded as being held by the Basset family, with the Bishop of Durham as overlord.

•The watermill of Penshaw village was first documented at the same time, and stood where Penshaw foundry was later built.

•Between 1307 and 1310 Sir William Basset relinquished control of the manor of Offerton and Penshaw Wood - “Pencher-Wood” - to John de Dunum, which caused a family outcry.

•The open fields were probably enclosed in the 17th century, as in neighbouring townships, but it may have taken place even earlier.

•Several farms grew up around Pencher - with most functioning by the late 18th century.

•The river staithes at Penshaw formed a crucial link in the transport of the coal to the port of Sunderland from mines in Rainton.

•The coal was moved by waggonway to the south bank of the Wear at Penshaw, where numerous staithes were constructed to load the coal onto keelboats.

•The Penshaw staithes were vital to the coal trade as they were not owned by the Lambtons - allowing rival coal owners an outlet to move their coal.

•Construction in 1844 of the Earl of Durham’s Monument, more widely known as Penshaw Monument, gave the district its most prominent landmark.

•Two previously unknown coal pits, operational in the 1770s, have been identified from historic maps.

•Penshaw Hill was generously wooded until the early 17th century. The ballad of the Lambton Worm of Wearside has helped bring enduring fame to Penshaw Hill.

•Penshaw engine driver Thomas Drummond spent his life claiming to be the rightful Earl of Perth. Even in death his claim lives on, through his gravestone.

•Temperley Arthur Scott, 15, of 29 Castle Street at Fatfield, fell 70ft to his death from Penshaw Monument in 1926.

•Kate Middleton’s great-great-great-great grandmother, Martha Stephenson, was a washerwoman from Penshaw.