19th Century Social Conditions

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We are fortunate that in the last quarter of the 19th century there is a reasonable amount of documentation as to the social and health conditions in Burradon and Camperdown. A series of articles were published in the "Newcastle Weekly Chronicle", in late 1872, called "Our Colliery Villages". A reporter travelled round the colliery villages of the North-East reporting his findings; he seemed to be the least impressed with Burradon and could not wait to move on to the more modern colliery villages eg. Cambois. 1872 was a significant year for Burradon in that the colliery ownership had not long since changed hands and the new owners were in the middle of developing new homes for their workers. The reporter praises this, but still thinks that more could be done. A sanitary act was passed by Parliament in 1872 and the "Chronicle" reporter probably had the implications of this in mind when he wrote the article. Burradon and Camperdown came within the Tynemouth Rural Sanitary District Authority and the reports of the two medical officers give us much valuable evidence. A public health act was passed in 1875, and as the act was implemented the lives of the villagers improved considerably.


Office  Row and Colliery

Office Row was described as being about three hundred yards long and starting near the pit-heap. The houses have one room and an unceiled attic, with a pantry at the back. The roof is made with slates - an improvement on the old-fashioned tile - and a garden is attached to the front of the house. The "Chronicle" reporter thinks they look fairly reasonable from the outside, and even on the inside are in reasonably good repair, but are far to small for a miner and his family. Police Row, or School Row, stood on the Bedlington to Newcastle turnpike road (main highway) and was identical to Office Row with the exception of having a ceiling in the attic, but no back doors.

The reporter found the new Colliery rows - Double Row, Middle Row and North Row - in the course of being completed. A few houses were already inhabited. These houses were raised above ground level and had a high step, to aid in keeping the house dry from surface drainage. The floor was made from wood; there was a wash house and a pantry at the back with an attic, complete with fireplace, about seventeen or eighteen feet square. The most important feature was the outside "privy" (dry toilet) and ashpit; no other house in Burradon or Camperdown had a "privy" attached. The "Chronicle" reporter praises the Colliery owners for these houses, but despite of the recent legislation he does not think they have went far enough to satisfy the new sanitary laws - he is not backward in his criticisms suggesting that the Colliery owners only go as far as necessary without really having a conscience towards their workers' welfare and suggests many improvements. These houses had not been built with a staircase. The method of reaching the attic was by a ladder to a dangerous open hole - which was frequently moved around to suit the inhabitants needs - as one woman commented to the reporter, "They might elways have put us a staircase in, hinny". The rooms were criticized as being to small for a miner's family - which were generally large in the 19th century, sons of eighteen or twenty years of age often having to share with the children.

Across the railway line in Hazlerigge Square was the worst housing. The "Chronicle" reporter implied that it was a disgrace to the Colliery owners - although the present ones did carry out a decade of improvements. These were back-to-back small terraced houses of a one-room-and-a-garret (attic) type; the attic being once again reached by a ladder and was unceiled. Staircases were not added to this type of housing until the mid-20th century. Small pantries had recently been added (1872), but there were no "privies" or an ashpit. The westerly facing row has a low wall in front of it that the excrement is thrown against; being so close to the front door it must have been very offensive. One woman gave this statement, "Ey hinney, it mony a time gies me ma brickfast i the morning". These conditions were bad by anybody's standards, and many families could stand no more, they were leaving, which is why the Colliery owners were building new housing, not out of philanthropy. The reporter made a comment that even the poorest labourer in Newcastle would not put up with such conditions and would probably not believe that they could exist.

The houses at Hazlerigge were probably all the more offensive because they received all the surface drainage and human waste from the over-shadowing Burradon. This ran into a pond at the top of the village, which although fenced from the main highway, was dangerous and smelt terrible. The Rural Sanitary Authority took steps to remedy this and applied, in 1874, to the Local Government Board for permission to borrow money to build a sewerage system. The scheme was completed by 1880, with help from the Colliery owners, but three rows, including Double Row, still had no drains.

"Privies" were also fitted to most houses - Office Row and School Row being exceptions - but through force of habit some people were still throwing their waste into the street. The Medical Officer complained, in 1878, that the waste was being taken away at irregular intervals, sometimes up to six months apart. The farmer was contracted to remove the waste from the ash-pits - to use as fertilizer on his fields - but did this when he needed to, not as sanitary conditions dictated. The cartmen he employed to do the job charged an extra 3s. per house to clean underneath the seat of the "privy", so in many cases this was not done. Pressure was put on the Colliery owners to take responsibility themselves for emptying the middens and removing the ash-pits.

The water was supplied by a series of wells running through the villages - two that are known about are now under Quarry Houses and Fryer's Terrace - or water could be obtained from the pit. The water for most had to be carried a great distance. The surface waste sometimes ran into these wells and outbreaks of enteric fever have been traced to this cause. Later, in the 1870s, the Sanitary Authority took action to have the wells cleaned out and protected from the surface drainage by covers. The "Chronicle" reporter suggested that with any amount of engine power available at the Colliery it would be very easy to pump water into every home; after all, the miner at the end of a hard days work did not want to be carrying water. He also suggested the building of wash-houses. The miner often had to bathe in front of the family in a tin tub, in the only room of the house, so often he didn't bother, unless he was going out, to the pub for instance, in case he had, "ta fight the neet". The miner also, did not like to shave - the safety razor not as yet having been invented - so he would grow a beard all week, then have the barber shave him at the weekend.

The main places for entertainment in the villages were the pubs, of which there are four, all on the Camperdown side. This, compared to the fact that there were only two churches at the time, probably says a lot about miners' drinking habits - although to be fair he probably needed a break from the insanitary home conditions. Tea-dances, recitals and piano concerts were common. These would be given by talented locals, especially for a fund raising event, such as the Colliery explosion widows fund. They were first held in the Colliery offices or church/school, but later the Mechanics' Institute provided a place of recreation, then later still, the Co-op.' "store" dance hall, or the grand balls held in a marquee for such events as the opening of the Co-op. premises.

We have seen from some of the above quotations given to the "Chronicle" reporter in 1872 what the manner and customs of the 19th century Burradon folk were like. They were obviously a rough people and spoke the "Geordie" slang. The pubs were quite probably the scene of much brawling. A crime report from July 1866, gives us a further insight into the behaviour of the people. John Harrison had caught Thomas Charlton and Thomas Horsfield - boys employed at Burradon Colliery - breaking sheaves (a guide for the ropes pulling wagons by means of a fixed engine on a railway) on the Brunton-Shields railway line near Camperdown. The railway owner's agent did not seek compensation for this act of 25s. damage, but wanted an example set, because they have been caused a considerable nuisance and expense by this vandalism, that had been going on for a long time. Charlton - said to be the ringleader - was sent to prison for three days. His mother made an arrogant and impertinent plea to the bench, but they were told she was a violent woman who had threatened John Harrison's wife. The boy was taken away crying.

An interesting report of a court case highlighting a miner's relationship to his masters, and his financial position in general, appeared in the "Shields Daily News" on September 24th, 1867. This was described at the time as being a very important case, on a national level, for workers' rights. Joseph Bower, the Colliery owner, was taken to court by one of his workers, Daniel Marr. John Fryer, the shop owner and viewer, had an agreement with Marr and the Colliery owners, that part of Marr's wages (£3.7s.6d) be paid direct to him via Marr's "marra". Daniel Marr had not long been at the Colliery and had arrived in needy circumstances. Fryer had allowed Marr provisions and credit, but only under the previously mentioned conditions. Marr wanted to repudiate the deal, which he tried to imply he had never agreed to in the first place. After much deliberation Marr finally won his case.

Another piece of ephemera from the "Shields Daily News" (January 20th, 1883), was the Queen's bounty of £3 being passed through Dr. Joell of Killingworth, to Mrs. Cuthbert Reay, of Burradon Colliery, who a few days previous had given birth to three male children!