Wearside Echoes: Stepping back in time with heritage walk

ON LINE: Lifting the old Hetton Railway, built in the 1820s by engineer George Stephenson. It closed in 1959.
ON LINE: Lifting the old Hetton Railway, built in the 1820s by engineer George Stephenson. It closed in 1959.
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WEARSIDERS are being urged to take a stroll down memory lane.

Hetton Local History Group has joined forces with Sunderland City Council and the Living Streets charity to design a heritage walk featuring sites of interest in the former mining town.

“Many people, both young and old, pass by their heritage every day without realising just how important the history of Hetton is,” said group member Alan Jackson.

“With its links to both the past and present Royal family, as well as the world’s first railway using locomotives and famous mining engineers and footballers, it has much of interest.”

The circular walk starts and finishes at the Hetton Centre. Classed as an “easy” stroll, it takes in several heritage locations – such as churches, schools, houses, memorials and old theatres.

“The locations reflect the life of a mining community which began in 1820, looking at the people and places which gave it both character and importance,” said retired engineer Alan.

“We hope participants of all ages will enjoy the walk, which takes just over an hour to complete, as well as get satisfaction from the information provided by our members.”

The walk is to be officially launched tonight at Hetton and Eppleton Community Hall, formerly St Nicholas’s Church Hall, from 7pm. An open invitation has been issued to all.

History group member Peter Witham will give a talk on the heritage of Hetton during the event, as well as a powerpoint presentation based on details of the walk.

“The walk was a new venture for us,” said Peter, retired vice-principal of City of Sunderland College. “We saw it as a bit of a challenge, but something we believed was very important.

“Many of the older buildings in Hetton have been rather forgotten about over the years. It has been good to bring the history of these buildings back to life through the walk.”

The history group – which has just celebrated its third anniversary – has produced 1,000 brochures featuring a map of the walk, as well as information and images on the historic sites.

Copies of the brochure, which is free, will be available at tonight’s launch, as well as at Hetton Town Council, local libraries and shops. It can also be downloaded on the internet.

“This is our way of celebrating the town’s rich heritage. The recent history of Hetton may only date to the 19th century, but it has links to many important events and people,” said Peter.

** Further information on the history of Hetton can be found on the website of Hetton Local History Group at: www.hettonlocalhistory.org

The local group meets on the last Monday of each month at 7pm at Eppleton and Hetton Community Hall. New members always welcome.

Sidebar: Sites of interest featured in the walk

Hetton Hall
Hetton Hall once dominated the Hetton landscape and was surrounded by “soft wooded grounds.”
“The date of construction is not known, but it is believed that a house here was sold on the death of John Spearman in 1725 to the Dowager Countess of Strathmore,” said Peter.
“The later house was built in the classical style and had a number of owners including vicars, doctors and colliery owner Nicholas Wood. It was demolished in 1923.”
* The Infants School
The infants school opened in 1872 and was built to hold 320 children.
“The school was initially supported by the Hetton Coal Company. A brick extension was erected in the 1920s at the rear of the building,” said Peter.

“The windows were built high in the walls, to prevent children looking out and being distracted from their studies.”
* Sleepers and the Hetton Railway
The line was surveyed by the famous railway engineer Robert Stephenson in 1820 and completed by 1822 under the supervision of his brother Robert.
It ran from the Lyons Colliery, owned by the Hetton Coal Company, to the staithes on the River Wear at Sunderland.
“It was the first railway in the world to use moving locomotives. Later it was joined by lines from Elemore Colliery and Eppleton colliery. It closed in 1959,” said Peter.
* Primitive Methodist Chapel
The first Primitive Methodist chapel opened in Hetton in 1823 within a private house.
“This was followed a year later when a building opened with a seating capacity of 500. A new chapel in Union street was opened in May 1858,” said Peter.
“Initially the size caused acoustic problems, but this was remedied in 1865 when a gallery was installed. An adjoining Sunday school was as popular as the chapel.”

* Pavilion Cinema/Theatre
Salt Works businessman Ralph Barton built the Pavilion in 1909 to show silent films and host live productions.
The first manager was Linden Travers, father of Born Free actor Bill Travers. Silent films were accompanied by live music from a trio which included Mr. Barton.
“The Three Musketeers film was shown in 1921 and the Prisoner of Zenda in 1922. The Pavilion closed in June 1959,” said Peter.
* Nicholas Wood’s house
Born at Ryton in 1795, Wood was working as an apprentice collier viewer (manager) at Killingworth Colliery by 1811.
“Here he met engine-wright George Stephenson and became friends. He worked with Stephenson on a revolutionary safety lamp and Stephenson’s locomotives,” said Peter.
“He designed locomotive valves, helped form the Institute of Mining and, in 1844, became a partner in Hetton Coal Company and manager of the Hetton Lyons pit.”
* Wesleyan Methodist Chapel
The Wesleyan Chapel in Front Street was erected in 1824 and enlarged in 1888 at a cost of £875 - including a new organ.
“The internal furniture was made of pine and the building held 500 people. The Sunday School, a small adjacent building, was built in 1859,” said Peter.
“Additionally there was a reading room and library containing 380 volumes. These were an integrated element of the Sunday School. The building closed in 1965.”
* The National and Barrington School.
The school - made of local limestone - was built in 1834 by subscription.
“This superseded most schools in County Durham,” said Peter. “One of the main subscribers was the Honourable Mrs Barrington, from an illustrious local family.
“Initially the school was mixed school, but it reverted to being boys only when the girls’ school in Bog Row opened in 1893. It closed in the late 1930s.”

* Memorial for Bob Paisley
Born in Hetton in 1919, Bob excelled at football as a schoolboy.
“His name wason the Honours Board at Barrington School. He left to work as a miner, later becoming an apprentice bricklayer before turning to football,” said Peter.
“After army service during the Second World War he resumed his career with Liverpool. He had a successful playing career before becoming manager in 1974.
“Liverpool won six League Championships, three League Cups, one UEFA Cup, one European Super Cup, five Charity Shields and three European Cups under him.”
* Hetton House
Hetton House is one of the oldest buildings in Hetton and could date to as early as the 1720s.
“It was bought by the Lyons family in 1746. Used as a house and later as council offices, it was finally closed in 2010.” said Peter.
“The building comprises three adjoining sections; the largest is 18th century, the middle part 19th century and the east section was built in the 20th century.”

* Standard Theatre
In 1840 the yard behind the Brewers Arms was known as Collet’s Theatre.
“In 1874 the Standard Theatre was built, with a capacity of 800 people,” said Peter.
“Built on a hillside, this unique theatre had a gallery, a raised balcony and stalls.
“It lasted until 1916, when it was converted to a bus garage - hence the big door on the roadside.”
* The Old Smithy
Built of magnesian limestone rubblestone in the 18th century, the Old Smithy is one of the oldest examples of a still-working blacksmith’s shop.
“It was built on the lane leading from Easington Village to Houghton, in order to maximise regular passing trade,” said Peter.
“The forge would originally have been heated with charcoal, then coke and finally gas. In the 1940s Elizabeth Emmett worked here as a blacksmith.”

Sidebar: A brief history of Hetton

THE name of Hetton-le-Hole is derived from two Anglo-Saxon words which, when written together, made Heppedune – or Bramble Hill.

The ancient Manor of Hetton was divided into two parts, known as Hetton-on-the-Hill and Hetton-in-the-Hole, with much of the land owned by the le Hepdon and de Dalden families.

A manor house stood on Bramble Hill in Norman times, near to the present-day Thompson’s Farm. Its grounds, and the village of croft houses beyond, offered common grazing lands.

In 1746 the estate was sold to the Countess Dowager of Strathmore, whose sons and grandsons lived at Hetton Hall. It later passed to Frances Bowes-Lyon, the Queen’s uncle.

But the hunt for ‘black diamonds’ was to change the rural idyll forever. The first venture was carried out in 1815, when attempts to mine coal at Rainton Bridge proved unsuccessful.

Local businessmen were undeterred, however, and in 1819 the Hetton Coal Company was formed. Success finally came in 1822, when the Lyons colliery at Hetton opened.

The first shipment of coal left Lyons for Sunderland Staiths in November of that year, transported on an eight-mile-long railway line designed by engineer George Stephenson.

A flourishing town soon grew up around the colliery, with over 200 homes for the new miners created. Shops, pubs, churches, breweries and recreation halls were also erected.

At its peak, in the 1890s and 1920s, the pit employed more than 1,000 men and boys. When it finally closed in 1950, some 440 miners lost their jobs. Today, only memories remain.