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Birtley


The meaning of the placename is ’Bright Meadow’

War Memorial
The memorial to the 189 killed (out of 1,350 who served) during the Great War of 1914-18 was erected in 1923. The names of the 89 men killed in the 1939-45 war were added to the monument in 1950. The memorial stands on land once part of Constable’s Garth.

Brickworks
Brickworks are important in many parts of the Gateshead area, but especially important in Birtley. There were a total of 25 Brickworks in the Washington, Birtley and Kibblesworth area, and one company, Redland Bricks, is still operating.

Elisabethville
Elisabethville was a small town built to house Belgian refugees during the Great War of 1914-18. The name is spelt with an ’s’ rather than a ’z’ as the town was named after the Belgian Queen Elisabeth. The town was quite separate from Birtley. In addition to huts for families, there were barracks for soldiers and workmen, shops, police force, hospital and a cemetery. As far as possible the refugees were kept away from the population of Birtley by railing off the site and having only a few gateways! The men were employed at a munitions works, making shells for use mainly in France.

Later, after the Belgians returned home in December 1918, the community was used to house the growing population of Birtley. Streets were given English names in place of their original Belgian names, and even the place name Elisabethville fell into disuse as most people called the area simply ’the huts’. Maps of the area showing Belgian and later English names can be seen at the Central Library in Gateshead, along with many photographs of the area taken by a Belgian photographer in 1916 to 1918.

Entertainment
Early horse-racing in the area included a steeplechase in Birtley in 1845.

Celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 included a giant bonfire on Shadon’s Hill. The Coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in 1902 was also marked by a monster bonfire after a day of children’s sports.

The new recreation ground was opened in 1913, commemorating the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911.

A whole week of celebrations took place in 1953 to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

The first regular entertainment was at the Royal Theatre, a picture house which had been a Primitive Methodist Chapel from 1867 to 1899 and later a pottery storehouse. The Royal, which was also known as Bolam’s, was operating as a cinema by 1910. It continued in use as a cinema until 1958.

Another picture house, the Birtley Hall, was converted from skating rink to cinema in 1912.

Co-operative Society
As supermarket chains have extended, the Co-operative societies have become less important, but once the Co-op was the most important store in every Northern village and town. Those using the stores became members of the society, and these members were paid a dividend. Even now most older women will remember either their own or their mother’s dividend number, as it was important to give this to staff on every visit to the store.

The Birtley Co-operative Society began 1861, and had premises first in Mount Pleasant, then in Durham Road, then from 1885 in large premises at Harras Bank. There was a disastrous fire at this store on Christmas morning 1900, and the store eventually re-opened in new permanent premises on Durham Road.

Houses
The most important large houses in the village were Birtley Hall (built by 1828), Birtley House (at least two houses seem to have had this name at different dates), The Grove, and Birtley Old Hall.

E-mail for more information about these.

Perkins
In the village square is a memorial erected in 1874 to Colonel E. Moseley Perkins. For information about Colonel Perkins and his son Charles, please e-mail.

Ironworks
Birtley Iron Works in its early days about 1800 when it was located at Eighton Banks used ironstone from a local pit, probably King Pit at nearby Wrekenton. The company later moved to Birtley where it planned to use local ironstone, but this was such a poor quality that the company began to use Whitby Stone Company ironstone, transported by the newly-built railways.

Coal Mining
The earliest recorded coal mining was in 1351 and when John Wesley visited in 1743, he described Birtley as, "surrounded by collieries on every side". This situation continued until the nineteen sixties when the trade declined. The last coal mined in Gateshead was at Marley Hill Colliery near Whickham in the early nineteen eighties.

Salt Trade
The first salt works were destroyed about 1646 and manufacture did not begin again until 1785 when a remarkable salt spring was discovered. The presence of both salt and coal on Tyneside led to the development of the early chemical industry.

The Roman Catholic Mission
The mission is the oldest in the diocese, dating back to about 1696 when William Tempest gave £300 to the Benedictines for the benefit of Catholics living in the Lumley area.

The Anglican Church
Until the consecration of St. John’s Church in 1849, Birtley was part of the Parish of Chester-le-Street.

Methodism
Although John Wesley had visited the village in 1743, the first Methodist Chapel in the village was not built until 1832.








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A History of Low Fell
A History of Low Fell
A Four part series By M. Hope Dodds

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Prince Consort Road, Gateshead, NE8 4LN
Tel: 0191 433 8410

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