Sunniside Local History Society

High Row & The Tanfield Waggonway


Waggonway Row later known as High Row.

Many families occupied the houses, this article featured in the April 2006 edition of ‘Tanfield Railway News’ and lists just some of those families.

We have featured this entry by kind permission of Eric Maxwell and Eileen Martin


Waggonway Row (pictured above) was lived in from the 1840s until 1959. In 1909 there were 55 houses. There were allotments on either side of High Row but after the houses were made into through houses the gardens on the south side of the Railway were abandoned. From 1914 the back to back row was rebuilt and by 1918 the houses were down to 39 houses and by 1920 there were only 35 houses, this number remained until 1959. However by 1958, people were beginning to leave as four houses were unoccupied. The census information used for the nineteenth century gives surname, christian name, age, sex, marital status, relationship to the head of the household, occupation and place of birth, as well as the current address. After the last available census of 1901, other information is obtained from the electoral roll, which only gives the surname and christian name of those eligible to vote. In 1884, men owning or lodging in property worth at least £10 per year could vote. In 1918, men over 21 and women over 30 could vote and also soldiers and sailors over 19. In 1928 the voting age for women was reduced to 21. By October 1959, only one house in the centre of the Row was occupied by Stanley and Margaret Reay, who only seemed to live in the Row that year. They must have left before the October 1960s information returns, as by then the Row is not recorded. The 1959 OS survey recorded that Low Row, the original 15 house through terrace had gone and only eight houses of the older rebuilt terrace were existing. A late connection to the outside world came in the 1950s when a bus service to the Row was provided with three buses a day. In the first world war, only the Armstrong family were noted as serving in the armed forces. In the second world war, mining was a reserved occupation so for the Row only the young men and women who were not working in the mining industry could serve in the armed forces. In 1945, those residents on war service were John Skeen, Edwin Prinn, John Morton, Kenneth McCormick, Terence McCormick, Elizabeth Wails, John French and Terence McGahon.


The Vickery family, (pictured on the left) who came from Carhampton and Luxborough in Somerset, lived in Waggonway Row from 1881 until 1958. The original couple, William and Sarah lived there until 1920. They moved to Sunniside and celebrated their diamond wedding in 1932. Edward John Vickery also from Somerset, lived in the Row at first but moved away after 1901. An Edward John and Winifred Vickery returned to the Row and lived there from 1955 to 1958, giving a notable 75 year connection for Vickery from Somerset with the Row.

Pictured above on the right are High Row residents Joseph & Sarah Liddle. they lived in there from 1881 to 1958. Mrs Liddle (nee Prinn), married in 1899 to Joseph Liddle who was in the Row as a three year old in 1881, Sarah was related to the Taskas family. It was quite usual for people to marry locally. The Prinn family lived there for over forty years from 1913 until 1958, they came from Cornwall to the north east.


The Taskas family originated in Cornwall and moved north initially to North Yorkshire in the late 1870s, they came to the Durham coalfield in 1901. Thomas, (pictured above left) was born in Loftus in 1880, lived in the Row from 1901 to 1939 with his wife Lavinia, a member of the Prinn family, who continued to live there until 1945. Thomas' mother came from Gulval, west of Penzance on the way to Lands End. His twin sisters Ester and Elizabeth were born in Normanby on Teesside in 1882.

Pictured above on the right is another High Row resident, Esther (Grannie) Gibson who lived at no. 34, she had 8 children and lived until she was 95.

The Morton family lived in the Row the longest, for nearly 100 years from 1861 until the end in 1958 Michael McDermott, born in Whickham in 1856, and his family lived in the Row from 1899 until 1925. John and Sarah McDermott then lived there from 1925 until 1956. The Riddlers came from Somerset in 1891 and stayed there until 1909. There were two sets of Riddlers living in the Row at the same time, Robert and his family, and John and his family. The Gooch family originally came from Hempnall in Norfolk in 1881 and were still living in the Row in 1914 but had gone by the end of the first world war.

Thomas and Elizabeth Phelps and their children Alan, Herbert, Charlotte and Selina lived there from 1925 until 1939. Barty Phelps sold fish from a van for a few years in the 1930s. David Skeen and his family lived there in 1930. Then William and Phillipa Skeen lived there from 1939 until 1958, and David also lived with them from 1955 to 1959. Next door John and Doreen Skeen were there in 1950. The McCormicks lived there for over forty years from 1913 until 1958 and the McGahon family lived in the Row The Morton family lived in the Row the longest, for nearly a hundred years from 1861 until the end in 1958. They were a north east family originally from the Cramlington area. There were a lot of Mortons, which creates a bit of confusion. A 1930s tale tells of a new colliery under manager inspecting his workings and staff. The first person was the lampman, a Morton. Then came the onsetter, a Morton. The rolleyman describing the haulage system was a Morton. The next man was a pony putter, again a Morton. Then at the coal face, the hewer he met was a Morton. When back in his office, he suggested to the overman that the place be renamed Morton pit as they seemed to run it themselves. After the war, a John Morton was colliery manager and later area manager . Thomas Brabban and family lived there from 1861, when he was a miner, until 1909. He became colliery overman by 1901 aged 72. Another Thomas Brabban was a deputy overman in 1901 aged 35 and lived there until 1914. The Brabbans, a local family, lived at several places around Sunniside over the years. The Wailes family, originally from Lanchester, lived there for almost a century from 1861 until 1958. William and Winifred lived at No.23 from 1935 to 1945. Hilda Wails lived there from 1945 to 1958. Another local family, the Chisholm lived in the Row from 1851 to 1909. Robert Chisholm and family lived there from 1871 until 1909.

Other family names are still remembered from High Row among them the Lowdens, Thompsons, Ibbetsons, Cliftons, Gibsons, Pattersons, Ellisons, Bells, O’Rourkes, Tilleys, Keenans, Herons, Nixons, Browns, Prinns and Wails.

High Row was demolished in 1960, many of the descendants of those families still live in our villages.


This photograph of her mother Winifred (nee Massiter) and father William Wails was forwarded to me by Muriel Pyle (nee Wails). The photograph was taken in the early 1940's outside their home at High Row, Williams parents also lived at High Row. Muriel now lives in Whickham and has fond memories of her childhood days at High Row.


THE TANFIELD WAGGONWAY ran adjacent to High Row and was an important part of our industrial heritage.

When the Tanfield Railway - or waggonway as it was known at the time - was built in 1725, it was a revelation. Its massive engineering was unlike anything else in its era, or even since the Roman Empire. It was a triumph of engineering over nature, a clear signal that a new industrial age was upon the world, and that railways would play a massive part.

First laid down more than a quarter of a century before the first railway officially sanctioned by government, over 75 years before the first steam locomotive and a whole 100 years earlier than the Stockton and Darlington Railway, the Tanfield Railway is the world's oldest railway.

For centuries the North-East was the main coal-producing area of England because of its easily-accessible seams and navigable rivers. As the demand for coal increased during the eighteenth century, new collieries had to be sunk further away from the rivers, and wagonways built to carry the coal to staithes on the river for shipment. Such expansion was only possible through the investment of large sums of money and to obtain these local landowners sometimes joined in partnership. One of these was that made between the families of Wortley, Ord, Liddell and Bowes, known locally as "The Grand Allies", which was dated to run for ninety-nine years from November 1726. From its beginning this partnership dominated the coal trade, with collieries in both Durham and Northumberland. In our immediate area the wagonway names of Bowes, Jarrow and Pontop were familiar, but most familiar of all was the Tanfield wagonway.

In c1830 the area of north-west Durham between the River Tyne and the Pontop- Tanfield Beamish region some eight miles to the south was traversed by a number of wagonways engaged in moving coal from mines to riverside staiths. Some focused on the Tyne but the Beamish wagonway connected the mines in that district with staiths on the River Wear. There were two major lines running to the Tyne. One of these was the Main Way from the Pontop-Dipton district to Derwenthaugh staiths (pictured above left), via Bryan's Leap at Burnopfield, Rowlands Gill and the valley of the River Derwent. The other was the Tanfield wagonway, or Old Way, from the Tanfield Moor region to Dunston staiths via Tanfield Lea, Marley Hill and Lobley Hill. Both were over a century old for much of their routes, and in the middle of the eighteenth century they had been linked together by a branch from Tanfield Moor colliery running north-westwards to join the Main Way. The Main Way itself, north of Bryan's Leap, dated from about 1710, while most of the Tanfield line dated from 1725-7. The latter had originally extended across the Beckley Burn near the Causey by means of the 103ft span Causey Arch, or Dawson's Bridge (pictured above right), to reach Dawson's Drift colliery. The arch was of stone, carried two lines of rails and was built in 1727; it was often referred to as the world's oldest railway bridge. A diversion of the line some thirty to forty years later made the bridge redundant, but it still stands today. Nearby, the line also included some notable cuttings and an embankment 100ft high and 300ft broad at its base.

By the early years of the nineteenth century the Main Way south of Rowlands Gill had fallen into disuse but it had extended its Thornley branch from Winlaton Mill eastwards to Spen (Garesfield). Garesfield colliery developed here after about 1837 and the mining village of High Spen grew up. The Tanfield line reached to South Moor and Pontop and had a short branch to Marley Hill colliery, with the Tanfield Moor colliery probably the most productive over a long period of the collieries served by the line. The Beamish wagonway, running approximately east to west from Fatfield staiths, reached Beamish South Moor, and had long branches to Pelton Moor and to Deaney Moor near Sacriston. This latter branch was known as the Waldridge wagonway. By 1830 most of the coal from the Pontop, Tanfield and surrounding districts went to Dunston, while the Beamish, Pelton and Waldridge areas sent most of their coal to the Fatfield staiths. The former Main Way had become the Garesfield wagonway, serving a limited area near Rowlands Gill.


Tanfield Wagonway Changes

Changes inevitably took place on the Tanfield wagonway from the 1830s. Mention must be made of its acquisition by the Brandling Junction Company who began relaying it southwards from Dunston in 1837, reaching Tanfield Moor Colliery in 1840. The line had a 1 in 40 ruling gradient, and there were several inclined planes on it. Lobley Hill self-acting incline just south of Dunston was fifty chains long. There was a relatively level section before the Fugar incline, also called Sunniside incline or Baker’s Bank, (pictured above left), which was one mile four chains in length, (one chain equals 66 feet) this also was a self- acting incline. At the southern extremity of the line was the Tanfield Moor incline between Tanfield Lea and Tanfield Moor. In 1843 the southern section to the Stanhope & Tyne via Harelaw was reopened, while in 1854 a line was opened from Tanfield Moor, north westwards to Lintz colliery. There were also three inclines worked by stationary engines on the Tanfield branch. Pictured above right is an example of a gravity haulage incline in operation.

One engine was at Bowes Bridge near Marley Hill, which hauled sets of wagons up and down northwards to Fugar bank top and also worked the section southwards, named Causey east bank. Another engine worked the moderate Causey west bank which extended northwards from Tanfield East. Horses worked the traffic on the intermediate sections until July 1881, when the stationary engines were closed, and the inclines worked by them, and the horse haulage sections changed over to locomotives. Bowes Bridge locomotive depot was erected on the site of the stationary engine there. Near here was also the branch to Marley Hill colliery, which linked there with the Pontop & Jarrow Railway, shortly to be mentioned. Bowes Bridge shed housed two locomotives and operated all the traffic between Tanfield Lea and Fugar bank top. The branch rose from about fifty feet above sea level at Dunston beside the Tyne to 500ft at Tanfield Lea in six and a half miles, then to almost 800ft at Tanfield Moor (one and a half miles).

On 16 June 1842 the Brandling junction Railway began to operate a passenger service on the Tanfield branch. This was between Tanfield Lea and Gateshead, and there were four recognised stations at Tanfield Lea, Bowes Bridge, Fugar Bar and Redheugh, and an unofficial stopping place by the Whickham turnpike at Lobley Hill. It operated only on Saturdays and the journey took an hour. At first a passenger coach was used, but later coal wagons were provided; all in all not a good service for the 2,6oo inhabitants of Tanfield chapelry. This service did not last long, and disappeared when the Brandling junction disappeared into George Hudson's empire.

There were several branches of the Tanfield line besides those mentioned. A short branch came to serve Watergate colliery not far from Lobley Hill, while the wagonway branches from the Tanfield Lea district southwards to Shield Row and Stanley appear to have closed by the end of the nineteenth century, this area being well served by the Stanhope & Tyne line and the improved route of the 1890s.


End of the Tanfield Branch

Traffic on the Tanfield branch slowly declined after World War 1. By 1945 it amounted to only a third of the 1907 figure. In 1947 the Tanfield Moor colliery ceased production after several centuries of operation, and the LNER closed the Tanfield Moor incline. This was not lifted until 1957 by which time it was in an advanced state of dereliction. The remaining sources of significant traffic following this closure were Tanfield Lea (Margaret) pit and East Tanfield colliery, (pictured above right). The latter ceased using rail transport in 1955, after which usually only one locomotive was needed on the line to handle traffic. On 24 August 1962 the death knell of the line sounded when Tanfield Lea colliery was closed. The railway was then closed south of Watergate colliery, near Lobley Hill (pictured above left). The remainder succumbed on 18 May 1964 when Watergate colliery switched to road transport. The northern part of the branch then fell into disuse and was eventually dismantled, although even in early 1969 parts of the rusting lines remained near Teams crossing, Dunston, just north of the embankment carrying the Dunston Extension Railway. A few forlorn NER signal gantries and other relics also remained, but in 1970 construction of a new road on the course of the line had removed some of these mementoes, now line and locomotive have gone.

That neighbour of the Tanfield branch, the Pontop & Jarrow (Bowes Railway) also followed the path of decline. The major closure here was in 1968 when Burnopfield (Hobson) and Byermoor collieries were closed. The railway was closed and lifted west of Marley Hill in 1969. Marley Hill colliery remained in production until March 1983 but this did not prevent the closure of the line between there and Kibblesworth, lifted early in 1970. This left a railway 'island' at Marley Hill, where a single engine shunted coal wagons about before road transport carried the coal away. The Marley Hill lines closed on 13 August 1970. The line east of Kibblesworth colliery remained, including the two inclines in the Team valley which met at a point beneath the east coast main line railway beside Tyne yard, combining the old and the new.



The growth of motor traffic on the roads made the decline of the railways of north-west Durham inevitable. Road haulage lorries played a part in the decline, but the most significant factor was the doomed coal industry. Following the destruction of the coal mining industry in the 1980’s little trace remains of the wagonways, even the most recent one from the Dipton Delight Colliery through to Dunston Staithes is now almost untraceable. The wagonways and the staiths are all consigned to history, with the exception of a small section of Tanfield railway acting as a scenic and historic journey for visitors and ending at Sunniside.

Pictured above is a section of the old Tanfield wagonway gradually being reclaimed by nature and the derelict remains of Dipton Delight colliery.

Reference: The Bowes Railway, C.E.Mountford

The Railways of Consett and North West Durham,G Whittle.

The archive material of The Sunniside & District Local History Society