Extending The Economy
Agricultural change undoubtedly underpinned the development of the North Tyne valley during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The policies of amalgamation followed by the Dukes of Northumberland were adopted by other landowners, like the Allgoods, the Swinburnes and the Charltons. Through a mixture of alterations of leases, private agreement and enclosure acts they too encouraged the growth of large sheep farms on their estates. The reasons for this were that the new type of livestock farming represented the best agricultural use of the land and permitted the farmers to produce economically commodities for which there was a steady demand in the developing urban industrial areas of the country.
In response to these changes, Bellingham, the oldest and largest village, began a period of sustained growth while other village settlements at Falstone, Greenhaugh, Stannersburn and Kielder developed to serve the farming families further north in the valley. Important institutions in communal life, churches and schools, began to be built in these villages. The Commissioners of the Greenwich Hospital estates built churches at Thorneyburn (1820) and Greystead (1818) and a rectory at Falstone, which was reconstructed by public subscription in 1824, while the Presbyterians re-built the Meeting House in Falstone in 1807. Schools were opened at Falstone in 1813 and Kielder in 1851.
The transformation of the agricultural community described above underpinned the changes that took place in the valley by the middle of the nineteenth century. However, this type of extensive livestock husbandry was one in which the returns to landowners were not great, and, because there was little possibility for diversification, and was at the mercy of any changes in market forces that depressed prices and the profitability of the farms. With these difficulties in mind, the landowning families began to consider other sources of income on their estates.
The North Tyne valley was rich in mineral resources such as coal, limestone and iron ore. In the past, little use had been made from these other than as sources for locally used fuel, building materials and, with changes in farming practice, an expansion in the use of lime. The growth of the woollen towns, like Hawick, over the Scottish border provided an opportunity for the exploitation of coal and the development of cross-border trade. Thus, in the 1820s, the Swinburne family encouraged coal mining on their Mounces estate and the opening up of a road along the valley of the Lewis Burn to transport coal to Scottish towns.
By the 1840s, the mines were sending away between 3000 and 4000 tons of coal each year and other landlords, like the Duke and Sir Matthew White Ridley, were beginning to investigate the opportunities for commercial mining on their properties. Meanwhile, in the 1840s, an iron foundry had operated on the Duke's property in Bellingham producing several thousand tons of pig iron before it failed. The failure arose from a combination of circumstances including depression in trade and the dislocation in the growth of the railway market surrounding the failure of Hudson's railway schemes but, in particular, because there was no rail transport in the valley to take away substantial quantities of cast iron.
A rail link to Scotland through either the Rede or the North Tyne valley had been projected on several occasions in the first half of the nineteenth century, but little had transpired from these ventures. The efforts in the 1850s were another matter and resulted in the opening of the Border Counties line linking Hexham to Riccarton Junction, in Scotland, being fully operational by July 1863 (see Sewell 1991).
Although the line was never the financial success that was so optimistically predicted in the 1850s, it became an important feature of valley life. It provided speedier links for travellers to the Scottish towns and to Tyneside than heretofore, but its most important impact was as a carrier of freight. Over 90% of the returns to the line in the 1870s and 1880s were from goods traffic, the bulk of which was coal. The railway opened new methods of marketing and sources of supply for the farmers, but the most important enterprise that was served by the railway was the Plashetts coalfield.
It had been known for some years that there were large reserves of coal in the valley, but without rail transport to the markets, it was impossible to exploit these resources. The opening of the Border Counties line meant that over 40 000 tons of coal a year was exported from Plashetts in the 1870s giving employment to a village of several hundred people. The new village also created an increase demand for goods and services that helped to promote and sustain growth in the other settlements in the valley.
Picture : Ridge and Furrow land at Burnmoor