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Chopwell


The first written record belongs to the Middle Ages when the land was part of the estates of the Prince Bishops of Durham. In 1150 Bishop Pudsey granted the Manor of Chopwell to the first Abbot of Newminster in exchange for the Manor of Washington. This gives a map with the boundaries drawn - the first definition of Chopwell.

The monks of Newminster Abbey retained possession of the Manor of Chopwell until the dissolution of the abbey by Henry VIII in 1536. They leased the land to tenant farmers such as John Swinburne whose family became involved in the legal dispute over the manorial boundaries in 1527 with Bishop Pilkington who had accused them of trespassing onto the Manor of Ryton. To avoid fresh disputes the boundaries were redefined in 1562. In 1569 John Swinburne Jnr was implicated in the rebellions to establish Mary Queen of Scots to the English throne. When the rebellion was crushed the farmlands of Chopwell Manor were given to Sir Robert Constable but the woods remained Crown property. After 200 years the farmlands of Chopwell Manor were divided and sold in 1799 on the death of Earl Cowper. The Rector of Ryton and his son Robert Thorpe bought Chopwell Hall, Horsegate and Broomfield. Today the name of Robert Thorpe appears on many of the deeds of the colliery houses in Chopwell.

Throughout the eighteenth century sword making flourished at Shotley Bridge, using steel made by the forges at Derwent Cote and Blackhall Mill. In 1834 a heavy flood carried away the mill dam at Blackhall Mill. Both the dam and the forge stood in ruins for ninety years before making way for the village school. The Derwent Iron Company was created in 1840 to exploit the local iron deposits. The company was reformed as the Consett Iron Company in 1864. It was the company’s exploitation of the coking coal in the valley which led to the establishment of the mining village of Chopwell.

The first recorded licence was granted by the Bishop of Durham in 1530. The eighteenth century saw an increase in mining to keep pace with industrialisation. In the Chopwell area the Maria pit was sunk in 1756, Whitefield pit in 1759, Good Luck and Speedwell pits 1781, followed by smaller workings like Bankside, Betty, Catherine, Convulsion, Dyke, Earl, Fortune, John, King, Lee, Nanny, North, Main, Snowball and Taylor. The Consett Iron Company opened new coke ovens at Westwood in 1872 and made a series of boreholes in the Chopwell district, before beginning full scale mining from two shafts at the northern end of the village. This transformed Chopwell into a thriving mining community.

The village grew with the development of the colliery. First Wear Street, Tyne Street and Tees Street were built next to the pit in 1895 and 1896. By 1899 Blyth Street, Severn Street and Thames Street were completed. In 1907 Wansbeck, Trent, Mersey, Humber,Tay, Clyde, Forth, Tweed and East Street were built. In the same year seven streets were collectively known as "Whittonstall", named after local farms, were built at the extreme west of Chopwell. The colliery official’s houses, Ramsay Road, Greenhead Terrace and Derwent View were better built and more pleasantly situated. In 1911 Blaydon Co-operative built Lesbury Terrace for its workers over the millrace of the old corn mill.

The first Church in Chopwell, St John’s was restored by Consett Iron Works in 1895 and the present St John’s was built, largely by volunteer labour in 1907. Chopwell became a parish in its own right in 1916. Methodism was strong in Chopwell. In 1900 a wooden chapel was built between Wansbeck Street and Tay Street. It was replaced in 1908 by a larger building capable of 750 people. This is now the only chapel in Chopwell. The Primitive Methodist chapel, built 1923, is now a haulage contractors.

Several public buildings were during this period. The Chopwell Hotel in 1895, Derwent Street in 1909, King’s Picture House in 1910 and the Roman Catholic church in 1912. The council erected the west school in 1901 and the east school in 1910.

After the First World War, coal production started to go down. Short time working, redundancy and sackings were common as the depression set in. There was considerable interest in socialism within the village which earned Chopwell, the name of "Little Moscow". There was a miners strike on June 22nd 1925, lasting until December 1926. No. 2 Pit never drew coal again, It stood idle until 1931 when the cages were removed. The pit head was demolished in 1946 and the shaft filled in during 1961.

After the Second World War, Labour nationalised the mines. There was an increase in the demand for coal and Whittonstall Drift reopened in 1953 and the East Drift in 1956. However in 1957 the first rumours about the closure began to circulate. Overtime and Saturday working were stopped, and opencast output was deliberately reduced. In May 1959 No. 3 Pit finished production and was finally closed in December 1960. In 1963 the headgear was pulled down, the shaft filled in and all the buildings demolished. Coal winding ceased from the last working shaft at Chopwell No.1 Pit in late 1960, the railway line was closed in February 1961, the last coals were screened from the Hollins West Drift in November 1966, and Chopwell colliery was officially abandoned on January 28 th 1967.

The closure of the colliery meant that the economic reason for the existence of Chopwell village had gone. In the development plan of 1964, Chopwell was categorised as a type "D" village Ä a settlement where new capital expenditure was limited to the maintenance of existing facilities. Chopwell was to be allowed to decline. This caused an uproar in the village were many sitting tenants had purchased their former colliery houses from the NOB The category D was removed in 1972, shortly before Chopwell became part of Gateshead MBC.

The village changed its character from a mining community to a dormitory village, with people commuting to Tyneside. The Chopwell Area Action plan was prepared by Gateshead council in conjunction with Tyne and Wear County Council in 1976. Essentially, the plan was concerned with defining sites for new housing, and it was decided that the area between Chopwell park and Derwent Street, was the most suitable site for building up to eighty new homes by 1981. There was the development of new light industry by the conversion of existing property which had fallen into disuse. The former Co-op store now houses engineering companies, curtains are made in the old Miners Institute and a haulage firm operates from the old Methodist chapel.

The new primary school opened in 1999, situated behind Derwent Street. The village has survived the death of the colliery.

M Dixon








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A History of Low Fell
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