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Felling - Geography

Its physical situation determines and affects the past, present and future life of any settlement. Even when a man just wants to build a house, he should choose carefully where to set it, like the two men in the Bible story, one of whom foolishly built his house on the sand, and the other, wisely, on a rock.

Rock is a feature of the geology of the Felling area, which rests on a deep band of carboniferous sandstone interspersed with coal measures laid down about three hundred million years ago. The coal has been mined and the sandstone has been quarried. Near the River Tyne the low level ground is composed mostly of clay which has been used to make millions of bricks.

Felling lies on the south bank of the River Tyne where its valley is deep, and its water is tidal. Six miles to the east is the river mouth and. the North Sea. Between the Heworth and Bill Quay shores, the river makes a, sweeping- bend to the north. It did this to get round a high jutting promontory on the north bank called the Bill Point because it looked like a giant bird's bill or beak. This gave Bill Quay its name, but was blasted away in the 1850s to remove a hazard to navigation on the river. At Felling Shore, under the Goose Bank, there was once a deep hole known as the Hawk's Nest: "October 1574. The Bellman was paid a great for goinge two times about the towne for charging the commons to send downe the rever for helpinge to git up the shippe that is sonke at the Hawk's Nest upon the Fellin Shoare." Newcastle Common Council Rolls.

There are no bridges over the Tyne between Newcastle and the sea. Once, Felling people had to walk two and a half miles upriver to use the bridge, or take a ferry (sculler boats they were called), from the boat landings at Felling, Heworth and Bill Quay to St. Anthony's and Low Walker. There was a plan to build a bridge from Pelaw to Walker in the 1930s, the approach roads being Fisherwell Road and Pottery Bank, but lack of funds and the second world war put a stop to the idea.

The River Tyne was Felling's northern boundary from Friar's Goose to Pelaw Main. The western boundary was a tributary stream, the Mareburn, which ran down from Carr Hill. You can still see a portion of its valley (if you are quick), from the Felling by-pass on the west side of Coach Road Green. Up the steep hill then, to the end of the Causeway in Carr Hill and we reach the southern boundary of the town. Before the war of 1939-45, we sometimes walked this boundary path, up the Causeway passing the reservoir, to Windy Nook Road, over that and on to the Fell Dyke footpath, skirting the quarries, to White House and out onto Leam Lane.

The eastern boundary was the River Don which rises among springs just south of The Leam farm, flowing towards Boldon round the settlement of Follonsby (now Follingsby), and by its name once the home of Vikings). The boundary then leaves the River Don and heads north east to the marshes of the White Mere, crosses the Roman road again and enclosing Wardley and Bill Quay, reaches the Tyne once more via an ancient and half hidden ravine called Cut-throat Dene - a most curious name!

There were several other denes in this area. Sometimes spelt dean, they are small wooded clefts or ravines, often with water trickling along the bottom. The Cat Dene in Bill Quay had its burn, and almost certainly wildcats too, long ago. Heworth Dene alongside the Low Lane carried the Heworth Burn into the Tyne, and part of the course of the Mareburn was in the Friar's Goose Dene. Only the hollows remain, the streams having been fed into culverts like the one which takes the water of the old Blackburn under Sunderland Road and the railway at Low Felling.

The road in front of Felling Lodge makes a distinct dip, which marks the course of the Blackburn before the Turnpike road was laid in 1799.

The township of Felling has always had an abundant supply of water, not surprisingly, because it is set across and below a great rounded hump of a hill, the northern flank of Gateshead Fell. The fell was smoothed and rounded by glaciers during the Ice Age, Like its neighbouring hills to the west. Rising to over 200 metres (600 feet) above sea level, it is a landmark visible from the North Sea across the intervening plain. The topsoil on the hill is thin over the bedrock thus the vegetation is scrubby, coarse grass, gorse, whin, and heather. People still call this semi-wasteland the Heather Hills.

Beneath the surface are scattered a large number of springs which have fed streams and provided wells, and even now, in periods of heavy rainfall, can cause flooding problems further down the hill. In the 17th century the towns of Gateshead and Newcastle obtained clean water from 'the springs of Heworth Fell' and from the Blue Quarry springs near Heworth Windmill, and from 'Mr. Barnes' spring at Windy Nook, the best spring of all'. The water was carried away through hollowed out tree trunks, (fir or elm), and open conduits. The Swan Pond beside The Causeway had become a reservoir for the Newcastle and Gateshead Water Company by 1820.

The eastern edge of the town, unlike the steeply sloping western half, is marshy. Around Wardley, the lower Leam and Gingling Gate the ground is soft with underlying clay. Long ago a marsh was formed when water draining from the hill found a sump in which to lie in boggy pools: the White Mere - now misnamed White Mare Pool. But it is this part of Felling which has the most fertile soil, good farming land, and here the last farms have survived on the urban fringe, South Wardley, Follonsby and The Leam.

Our climate is moderate, rarely reaching extremes, though people will remember the freak weather such as the stupendous blizzards of 1941, 1947, and the long icy winter of 1963. We do not expect the sun to blaze down uninterrupted for long but we have the odd long hot summer, and even occasional drought, as in 1976. The coldest months are December, January and February when the temperature hovers between five and ten degrees Celsius. June, July and August are the warmest months, at fifteen to twenty degrees Celsius.

None of which is a surprise.

Rainfall is light, with an average of 650mm a year, the same as Oxford and Norwich. Keswick gets twice as much. There is a fortunate absence of fog, probably because it tends to be a windy spot. The prevailing westerlies have a lot of gusto about them as they sweep over the fell. Not for nothing do we have a Windy Nook.

During the last two hundred years Felling has become home to more and more people. In 1801, the population of the group of villages in the Chapelry of Heworth, combined, was just 3,000. The villages were Bill Quay, Nether Heworth, Wardley, Follonsby, High Heworth, Windy Nook, Carr Hill, High Felling, Low Felling and Felling Shore. By 1851 the figure was 9,000 In 1901 the census returns for the Urban District of Felling was 21,000, rising to 26,000 in 1951, and a whacking 38,000 in 1971, just before being absorbed into Gateshead Metropolitan Borough. Yet this area of about 3,250 acres, (you can work out how many hectares) has been pronounced the least densely populated part of the Tyneside conurbation, with more open space per person. That is a good thing and obviously people like living in Felling for various reasons. Chief among them are quick and easy transport, nearness to places of work, to shops, schools, hospitals, libraries, leisure and entertainment facilities, and even, in this materialist society, to places of worship or a peaceful green corner with flowers.

In short, Felling seems to provide for most peopleĆ¢??s needs.

J.M.Hewitt 1997



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