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An Old House History

An On-line History of Clifton House, Leadgate - Can Anyone Help?

A House History

Ever wondered who lived where you live now, perhaps having stumbled on an old bottle while digging the garden or carrying out some house renovation? I did and having carried out some relatively straight-forward research and like many others am now firmly hooked on local history.

While not in the same league as much more knowledgeable colleagues I provide what follows as a very personal, first-hand account of an old house, one out of many in one of our villages. Since moving here searching out who lived here, when and why the house was built and by who has given me hours of pleasure and not a little pain. Read it and see what you think and if you know more, please tell me.

Clifton House was built on what is now St Ives Road here in Leadgate, some time prior to 1856, adjacent to a large building simply numbered “719” on the first ever OS Map of 1861. “719” was of course the Old East House, demolished in 1982.

Maps are fascinating things, presenting snap-shots at different points in time. Other buildings are shown on St Ives Road and just around the corner into Watling Street, notably the Coach and Horses and what was until relatively recently Susan and John’s Fruit and Veg shop (OS No 718), now flats with an uncertain future. Anither building (OS No 720) is also on the old turnpike road on the left toward the Drovers. Otherwise St Ives Road, unlike the remainder of Leadgate especially to the West where the “squares” had been built, was totally undeveloped at this point in its history.

So what you might say? Clifton House has no real significance to anyone other than me and besides what are we talking about here - East House or Clifton House? I live in one and have “acquired”, as so many did before me, a part of the other. Were it not for this fact and the fact that I needed to know more, for all sorts of reasons, this little bit of research would mean nothing. Add to this a lucky circumstance that I was furnished with all of its legal documents by a thoughtful solicitor, it would remain to me, as it will be to most, inconsequential and irrelevant, simply a place to live.

Unlike the East House, which was the building numbered 719; Clifton House is not shown on the first Ordnance Survey of 1861 though a Deed of Conveyance for the property exists dated 27th November 1858. This question fired my imagination and led to the first question of many, only some of which I could and can yet answer.

I now know that the Nicholson family built the house, on a green-field site immediately to the West of the old East House that by then had become a Public House just off the Wolsingham and Newcastle Turnpike Road. The A N Other referred to in the first Deed of Conveyance was one Mr Thomas Heatherington, while the other was the Reverend G J Dunn. Both I now learn were members of notable Leadgate families. The Heatheringtons, though not on the same scale as the Dunns, were clearly prominent: their family burial plot is immediaely adjacent to the St Ives Church entrance, a dead give-away (no pun intended) to the social standing of families in Victorian times and this led to a sort of graveyard survey, something carried out earlier by Tommy Young and other local history enthusiasts. This led to more unanswered questions and so on. Incidentally, it also led me to become the Verger of this particular church as I try to put something back into the community which has now, finally I think, accepted me.

I needed somewhere to collect and assemble this information. Significantly, I also noted other names re-occurring throughout the relatively short history of the village manifest in the various deeds of conveyance and various abstracts. I also now know that many of those living in Leadgate, at least some of those whose ancestors lived in my house, didn’t know or don’t care! Why should they? Others however either had or have developed a keen interest and were only too willing to help. This helped me, as a novice historian and newcomer to Leadgate, to fit in and get to know more.

Still however, like the opening paragraphs to any book, a dry fact of no consequence, singularly uninteresting and unimportant to the person preoccupied with the living rather than the dead. At best objects of passing interest, a casual conversation over a pint! Indeed, we rarely have the time or inclination to ask questions on things like old maps, things unearthed while gardening or names brought up in casual conversation. I know that until recently I didn’t. But in the process of living in my old house for the first time after a life of moving house every couple of years and being preoccupied with ‘important’ matters I am, for the first time, alive to an aspect of my own life which positively enriches my enjoyment, which costs nothing and gives me a sense of belonging. This may and probably is a sad indictment on me and how much time I have on my hands. But – it’s fun and keeps me out of trouble!

How was a religious man involved with a Pub? Who and what were the Trustees referred to? What did the house and indeed the village look like? Who put that enormous piece of beautifully dressed stone in the ground just below my fork while gardening that jolted my spine and led to weeks of pain and misery?

When did the house catch fire, why is the roof irregular and who last smoked that old clay pipe that was uncovered the other day? Why are there traces of wallpaper on the walls on the attic above the kitchen when it should be an outside wall? Where did the two rooms above the kitchen therefore go to and when? Who was Mrs Close? What are those numbers on the OS Map and what do they mean? Are there any earlier maps? And so on. Questions that all have answers, some available simply by listening and others available by a little judicious detective work, as much a part of my future as my past and important at least to me..

Living in a village that is so obviously beaten up, either on the verge of recovery or terminal decline I can observe, quietly, how we behave toward each other and speculate how little we may have changed over a few thousand years. How decisions get taken and conversations translated into something far removed from what we meant to say. But enough of this preamble; I needed help then and still need help now to turn what I think I know into “published” fact and I ask you to read on, wade through the dry facts that start this work and get beyond them as quickly as possible.

This is about my adopted village of Leadgate and mainly concerns your memories and your knowledge. I ask you to lend me these so that I can give back something in return, if only a running commentary of how the excavations on the site of the old East House have progressed. Some people cycling or walking by during the four or so years that I spent toiling on my house will have noticed the eccentric old guy digging in all weathers, sieving soil in proper time-team fashion and smiling with delight over some old artefact. That was me and of course I am, at least I believe, quite sane!

If you can answer any of the questions posed, correct some of my mistakes or simply engage me in preferably friendly conversation I would be eternally grateful! The Website on which this document is mounted is a “labour of love” but I also need to earn my living. I hope it will grow and furnish me, as it might you, with opportunities to do both. It is about sharing – thoughts, ideas and experiences – communicating more effectively, handling “information” which is dynamic more adequately than sometimes is possible by word alone.

David Shields

The Beginning and a Social Comment as Well as a Solution to One Problem

The first available legal deed shows that Mr Thos Heatherington and the Reverend Dunn sold the land on which Clifton House was built to Mr Joseph Nicholson and his Trustees at a price of £50 and 5 Shillings. £37 and 13s went to Thos Heatherington with the balance of £12 and 12 shillings going to the Reverend Dunn.

The parcel of land consisted of the Reverend Dunn’s strip of land measuring 75 feet by 10’, which gave the builder, Joseph Nicholson access to what was described as “Clifton House and adjoining Cottage and Cow Byre”. The buildings themselves were erected on the land sold by Mr Thos Heatherington, which measured 32’ 9” adjacent to the road, by 82’ sloping to the Pontop and South Shields Railway where it was 25’ 5” wide.

It has always been a puzzle as to how something so grandly described as a “House” and an adjoining cottage, as well as a cow byre, could be build within such a small area. What did it look like? Was it once at a different level to the present?

The puzzle is being slowly resolved by a combination of judicious digging (both literal and metaphorical) which has established with reasonable certainty that the buildings ran North to South at a tangent to the road facing back toward the centre of Leadgate.

The physical evidence for this rests in the construction of the main dwelling house which has survived despite subsequent alteration elsewhere, that has load-bearing walls running East to West, the surviving walls of the adjoining cottage (now buried at a depth of 1 metres discovered below the lawn) and the cow byre that has survived intact albeit as a workshop/garage.

What remains of the main dwelling house would not be recognizable to Joseph Nicholson and his Trustees (of which more later). It is likely that the sheer demand for land between the East House and the village centre along the Wolsingham and Newcastle Turnpike (that has become St Ives Road) between 1856 and 1895, when the next Ordnance Survey was published, meant that what may have originally been open space very quickly became occupied by dwellings in the form of a continuous terrace. Moreover, family circumstances changed relatively rapidly during the same period to the extent that by 1895 the original house itself had been partitioned, with one part occupied by a surviving relative and the other let out to a tenant. This line of research was even in itself a fascinating insight into the family lives and social values which then prevailed. It would make a wonderful period play!

In 1820 the village itself would not have been a picture. It was functional place in which dwellings were exactly that. Places in which people sheltered and survived to work. By 1856 the houses were set out as befits the social conscience of the time in squares with centrally-located water pumps and middens, with schools provided by the powers-that-be and places of worship, all dependant upon those that ordered such things. The working man, for such was the order of things, provided an income while the wife kept the home in some semblance of order in which the large families could reach maturity before joining the workforce. All humdrum. There were fights, pub brawling, children died of infectious diseases and either learned at school or not, depending upon their personalities and upbringing. Became workers or ventured out into the world as soldiers and sailors. Life went on. The village grew; people lived and died. Not radically different from today in fact.

Parks were installed, new pubs, a tennis court even. Allotments were provided amidst the grime and scarred landscape, and gave back to the workers a sense of their origins as well as the opportunity to take leisure. Amidst all this houses were built, were added to or fell into decay and became the sources of future wonder, as is the site of the old East House to me now

By 1895 Clifton House had changed hands. What is fascinating to me is that the Deeds of Conveyance, Abstracts and Probates both prior and subsequent to this date have survived intact. They chronicle this period of industrial and economic growth, wealth and prosperity before an equally long period of economic decline and stagnation. Some of what is written down here is pure speculation but it is underpinned by best available evidence. And I can add to this over what remains of my life, if I have the help of others.

So, who was the Reverend Dunn (and who were the People in the Documents)?

The Trustees that Joseph Nicholson represented paid the Reverend Dunn £12 and 12 shillings, in those days a tidy sum. However, it may be significant that the Deed of Conveyance is retrospective and shows that by the time money changed hands, the buildings had been built. However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The table below shows who owned the house, from when, what money changed hands and to whom. Later tables describe in more detail the occupants, their tenure and circumstances. The tables are then amplified further with notes. Finally, the following narratives attempt to paint a more interesting picture of what actually took place, why the house changed hands and who were the principal beneficiaries.


27 November

Rev G J Dunn &
Thos Heatherington

Jospeh Nicholson


Note 1.
By all accounts the Dunn family was a prominent local landowner. The above transaction was more complex than described and involved two members of the Dunn family. Firstly, the younger brother, Reverend Dunn resident at Brooms had to be sold the land by his elder brother, by all accounts a shrewd businessman though none the less a gentleman, William Dunn who was then resident in Newcastle. This in itself involved a regularization of the tenancy agreement between Mr Thomas Heatherington, who was the tenant of the Inn and the outright owner of that other part of the land parcel sold. This then was the Reverend Dunn’s connection with the Inn. His family leased the land and East House to Mr Charles Allan for use as an Inn

What is also clear from this transaction is that Joseph Nicholson did not act purely as a builder but was effectively a property speculator. Indeed, most of the Nicholson family were engaged in the building trade, some as skaters, and were then largely resident in Leadgate, though having their origins in Shiney Row. The house was built prior to the land sale being effected, which in itself would be odd, were it not for the place of the Derwent Mutual Building Society then becoming active. In effect, the Nicholson family built the property for profit and may have been engaged in building other properties along the turnpike. Thus, a further document shows Joseph Nicholson indenturing the newly constructed dwelling house and the property on 2nd December 1858 to the Derwent Benefit Building Society for the sum of £240-0-00, 1 week after purchasing the land formally. By 17th January 1867 he had paid his dues and the house passed completely into the owner ship of the Nicholson family. As an aside, it is interesting to note that of the 4 trustees of the society, one was named Mathew Heatherington. Some relation to Thomas perhaps?

Joseph Nicholson left a widow, Margaret when he died on 2 June 1864 intestate at the age of 59 years. Although his will automatically went to probate his widow continued to reside in Clifton House and retained rights to the stable until she too died in July 1867, although having to pay an annual rent of £16-0-00 to the estate. The other dwelling house was rented to a Mr Pattinson at the annual rent of £7-16-00. Later documents scrutinized indicate that Mr Pattison may in fact have been Margaret’s son. The legal profession carefully chronicled all known facts to ensure correct eventual payment of death duties. These eventually became lodged with the house deeds. And here we have a wonderful insight into the lives of the Nicholson family, perhaps typical of the time, worth comment.

26 April 1867
Thomas Nicholson
William, George & Charles Nicholson

The offspring of Joseph and Margaret Nicholson (nee Margaret Hedley)
Mary Nicholson
26 May 1827

William Nicholson
28 Sep 1828
28 Apr 1829

Ann Nicholson
16 Jan 1830

Thomas Nicholson
15 Dec 1831

Jane Nicholson
11 Jun 1833
21 Jun 1834

Joseph Nicholson
6 Jan 1835

Margaret Nicholson
3 Jun 1836
29 Jul 1836

William Nicholson
10 Dec 1837

Margaret Nicholson
13 Jan 1839

Robert Hedley Nicholson
19 Mar 1840

George Nicholson
21 Mar 1842

Charles Nicholson
2 Mar 1844

Hedley Nicholson
15 Apr 1846

Elizabeth Nicholson
21 Jul 1850

5 Nov 1870
Nicholson Brothers
William Todd

Thomas Nicholson clearly inherited the whole of his father’s estate, which was not inconsiderable and included Clifton House, following the death of his father. Legal papers show that Joseph’s lifetime of work as a builder and sometime speculator had created a considerable estate by his death The estate included a total of 6 houses, leased out to various people, including the Marchioness of Londonderry.

Settlement of an estate this size was a lengthy business. For example on 15th December 1866 one Ann Carr, a widow, provided a solemn declaration that she was the sister-in-law of Joseph and therefore the sister of Margaret Hedley, whom Joseph had married, at Penshaw Parish Church, on 7 February 1827. Both were under the age of 21 requiring the consent of their respective parents. Thomas was the eldest surviving male heir, one of 14 children born to Joseph and Margaret between 26 May 1827 (3 months after marriage) and 21 July 1850. He had an elder sister, Margaret, and a brother christened William who was born on 28th September 1828 but who died on 28 April 1829 (2 other children of the 14 shared the same fate. Ann Carr’s solemn declaration was crucial to Thomas’s inheritance though the deeds show that Thomas did not survive his father by long. Indeed, had her own husband lived beyond the age of 40 years, he would have come into the inheritance, as would Joseph’s elder sister Margaret who died at the age of 60 just prior to her brother. In any event, when all the wrangling was eventually done, Thomas became the sole beneficiary.

In the interim period while probate was settled Joseph Carr, one of the original trustees, became the owner on behalf of the Derwent Building Society.

It may have been expected that Thomas would act generously. He did not in the first instance either through ignorance or lack of forethought. In passing on Clifton House to his younger brothers he did so by deed of sale, not as a gift. Moreover, the 3 brothers not only then had to accept that their widowed mother Margaret would continue to occupy the principal dwelling house and therefore forego the annual rental of £16-0-00, but also the other was occupied under leasehold by Mr Pattinson at an annual rent of £7-16-00.
To top the lot, the brothers also had to remortgage the properties to the tune of £300-0-00 on 30thApril 1867, agreeing to monthly installments of £3-9-6 over 10 years. Sound familiar? By then the Derwent Mutual Benefit Society had been taken over by the Auckland Union Permanent Benefit Building Society. Sound familiar?

As a part of the legal process it was common in those days for widows to be treated as Margaret was i.e. to benefit from the estate only in her own lifetime. By the time of Margaret’s death in July 1866, the younger brothers had already remortgaged the properties. The mortgage was paid off in full by 3 November 1870
When the Nicholson Brothers, William Charles and George sold the properties to William Todd on 5 November 1870 and redeemed their mortgage, the houses were then freed from all let or hindrance. Save one. In the deed of conveyance it was specifically expressed that should William Todd’s death precede his wife’s, she should not be entitled to continue to reside there rent-free or draw rent from other tenants. Is this perhaps an indication that they themselves felt aggrieved about their own situation? None of the brothers had been able to live in Clifton House while their mother was a sitting tenant, while the same was true of the adjacent tenant of the adjoining dwelling house, Mr Pattison.

Will of William Todd, lodged 5 November 1870
5 Nov 1870
William Todd
Edward, John, Jane & Bessie and to his widow, Tirzah Anne as well as son-in-law William Todd
House sale proceeds on death.

Therefore, in 1870, Clifton House did not pass totally out of the Nicholson family. There was clearly a strong family connection between the Nicholsons and the Todds. However, who occupied the other part of the property adjoining Clifton House is uncertain. It is almost certain that Tirzah Ann lived in Clifton House until her death on 15th December 1891. On 16th March 1878 William Todd died and his will was not proven until 14 May 1878. His son, Edward should have been one of the principle beneficiaries but declined to accept his father’s will, perhaps because he had in mind to right a past wrong and pay the Nicholson brothers the future value of the property. Subsequently, William Nicholson, with the agreement of Edward, was able to substitute his brother George in the will with equal rights. Therefore by 1892, 2 of the surviving Nicholson brothers once more came into ownership of the property but only on paper. They then immediately sold the properties back to Edward Todd at the price of £800. Thus finally by 1892 the properties passed completely into the hands of the Todd family. Moreover, with the death of William Todd’s widow, the full intent of Joseph Nicholson’s estate became realized. All his family had realized some benefit from his large estate, including all his younger brothers, directly, as well as his younger sisters indirectly by a process of inter-marriage with the Todd family. How much of the latter was contrived and how much an accident of circumstances is unknown. However, one can judge that old Joseph was a shrewd character and some of his capacity for securing an advantage was also inherited by his brother William. It is also interesting to speculate on the true identify of the tenant put in place by Joseph’s widow.

All of the twists and turns of the Nicholsons had an impact on the original house plans of Clifton House. Quite clearly if old Joseph had ever intended that the original buildings that he erected would remain a single large house he was mistaken. As early as 1870, the properties referred to a “Clifton House, adjoining cottage and stables” had ceased to be used as a single family dwelling and became effectively two separate dwellings, albeit one let out to a preferred tenant for family profit. This also appears to have been a preferred method of creating and accumulating wealth of all the prominent Leadgate families of the time. Indeed, exploration of census records of the time shows that most of Leadgate rested in the hands of a series of recurring family names, of which Todd and Nicholson were but two. This is certainly true of both the St Ives and Durham Roads, essentially the oldest private houses in the village and it is interesting that later census records of the mid 20th century show exactly the same, albeit by that time many of the properties had fallen into decay.

From 1892 to 1959 the properties remained effectively partitioned and in the hands of Edward Todd’s direct descendants. The following table describes the remaining transactions concerned with the houses up to the present.

12 Feb 1924
John Rae Todd
Edward Ridley
18 Feb 60
Sarah Ethel Johnson
Cecil Tilney
26 Jan 65
Henry William McWilliams
Cecil Tilney
£10 (Land)
10 Feb 65
Cecil & Margaret Tilney
David Gregson
17 Jul 67
David Allan Gregson
Robert Palmer
23 Apr 68
Robert Palmer (Deceased)
Margaret Close
28 May 84
Margaret Close
Frederick D Close
22 Feb 85
Frederick D Close
Julia Donaghy
31 Jul 87
Julia Donaghy
Barbara Donaghy
14 Sep 88
Barbara Donaghy
Peter Fox
17 Sep 99
Peter & Susan Fox
Helen Shields

Uncovering the Old East House

The Old Cow Byre

Despite all the changes in ownership of Clifton House, of building structure and indeed the surroundings which make up the village of Leadgate, as it is today, one part of the property has stood almost intact for 154 years.  The Cow Byre that occupies the NWW corner of the plot. 

When Joseph Nicholson convinced The Revd Dunn and Thos Hetherington to sell him the piece of land on which Clifton House and Cow Byre were built he was already, to all intents and purposes, a property developer and needed the tools of his trade.  His sons and grandsons subsequently were roofers, slaters  and general builders.  Indeed, one piece of enclosed land immediately behind Leadgate's Railway Station is first described on an earlier OS Map Edition as "Nicholson's" Yard and then the "Slater's" Yard

He may have had grander designs for both the house and his offspring though I doubt it.  He may or may not ever have kept cows in the cow byre but he would undoubtedly have owned a cart and possibly a horse to pull it.  There were no motor cars then!

When Nicholson was building his house and outbuildings he built these in the same manner,from the same local materials and using the same techniques as the Irish navvies 30 years previously.  These navvies, employed to construct  the Stanhope - Tyne railway used the same friable sandstone overlying and inter-spacing the seams of coal common throughout the area and sometimes outcropping and visible at the surface.  In Leadgate, pre-1820 when the line of the railway was being driven, selecting the terrain on which the line was to be run was all important.  As level and with as slight a gradient as possible, no mean feat in these parts.  Then as now, cost was a major factor but then, unlike now, there were fewer planning rules and even fewer people living hereabouts to complain.  Those that lived in Leadgate were at that time here in the main because of the Consett Iron Company and worked as well as lived under company rules.  It would take a brave man indeed to bite the hand that fed him!

We might speculate how Clifton House's Cow Bryre might have looked.  Indeed despite many years of asking and looking, I have yet to find any photographic evidence.  However, it would not be unreasonable to believe that the building would be purely functional and would have looked much the same as the odd one or two others that have survived almost intact in Leadgate.  As to the height of the roof apex above ground level, a question much vexing our planning authorities (and I might add the cause of much frustration and nugatory effort being expended by me) I suspect that the fomer if not the latter woud havbe been much the same as now though I think it would have mattered not one jot.  Suffice to say that while I may not say with certainty how the Cow Byre might have looked then, it would not have been roofed with asbestos sheets nor have had a roof supported on timbers salvaged from timbers recovered from the Leadgate Railway Station's Waiting Rooms, as it had until recently.  Both came much later.

Without doubt, the roof would have been of slate and clearly visible from the railway line which has now become the Sea to Sea (C2C) cycleway as well as the buildings that made up the railway station, now long gone and replaced by the more recent development of St Ives Gardens.  There would have been little to object to in this.

At this time therefore the Cow Byre probably looks much as it would have in the 1850s though is subject to a Planning Enforcement Notice stating that it must be reduced to a height of no more than 4 metres above ground level.  The question in purely technical terms is which ground level?  Perhaps the bigger question is why and the answers to either are problematic.

Most people will recognise that  this account of the Cow Byre are just words, of no use to some but of vital importance to others.  Indeed a few make their living by saying and writing such things.  An interersting basis of a talk to a history society perhaps or published work, as it is here, for the benefit of anhyone with interest.  The words are what we choose to make them, as unfortunately are the facts.  They can be presented in different weys.  How we choose to use the words depends very much on our perspectives, on attitudes and beliefs.  Often the facts ae no more than  an inconvenience.

Can I prove the accuracy of any of this information painstakingly gathered over many years, are the facts relevant to their purpose?  I can of course prove that the Cow Byre or Stables as it is referred to later is contemporary with Clifton House, was built at the same time and is of practical use.  I can also prove that the asbestos roof with which is was formerly covered was a risk to my health, was leaking and urgently in need of repair and replacement.  I can only guess however of how others might have and may still yet see it.

I would hazard that when the asbestos roof was installed some time around the mid part of the 20th century, the days of its use as either a cow byre or stable were long gone.  Such a purpose would not by then have been encouraged let alone allowed, nor would too much attention be paid to the asthetics of its apperance.  I also know who did the work and why and found much evidence of how the work was carried out.  How the supporrting walls were reduced in height onn one side and increased on another, where one gable end wall was totally removed in order to install a garage up-and-over door and a fire place removed from the other.  I would not have discovered these things unless some care had been taken to uncover its past and speak to those people still living who I knew had knowledge and first-hand experence.

I can also say with certainty what I intended and still intend, of how much time and money was spent and how much is still being spent!  Whether anyone believes me is for them to believe.  All I may do is seek to demonstrate, with actions as well as words, my motives and intent.  All I ask is that where and whenever possible the facts are as painstakingly researched and where this is not possible, sensible judgements are made.

The Cow Byre at this moment in time has cost close to £4000 to develop to the point where it is almost completed.  I know this because my wife tells me so, when we still talk and I am not preoccupied with my attempts to pick up the pieces caused by earlier, ill-judged planning decisions that  have left part of Leadgate looking like post WWII bomb sites.  I also know that I attempted, unsuccessfully it now seems, to engage with the relevant council departments as well as neighbours and previous owners to gain the necessary consents.

Where it stands now is where it has always stood.  Nothing has changed, save that  the roof has been restored to a safe, practical and visually-attractive condition!  Yet I am being told in ever more strident terms, as though this will somehow fit the facts to suit, that  I have done wrong and that I am setting a bad example.  How?  I ask again that  someone makes the effort as I have to present the facts to counter and convince me, for the sake of my future mental health and prosperity, why I should waste all this time and effort going into thinking of others as well as myself.

What I can say, have said and will continue to say is what I believe and what  I can evidence by my actions.  The words should count for much less than what  is visible here and now, receives support  from passing cyclists, pedestrians and residents alike.  Clearly, a complaint has being made though by whom I know not and I doubt  that given the strength of feelings being displayed by neighbours and other living in Leadgate alike it would take a brave man now to admit to making such a complaint.



St Ives Gadens in the context of Clifton House

The site of the Old Railway Yard, including Railway Station, sidings and "The Slater's Yard" was, when this first proposal was first written down, about to be developed by Broseley Homes.  Of course there was hue and cry. "Destroying our heritage!" was the claim, "What about the "Scout Hut" another; "We need new blood in the town", "The site's a mess anyway" some of fewer counter-claims.

Of course at the time the old peoples home, Watling House, was where another new development now sits (another story) and besides which the council had long declared the old railway yard site to be "identified for development".  There really didn't seem to be much room for maneouvre.  The land was "owned"mainly by the council and Sustrans, the "charity" controlling the nation's network of cyleways

Thirty-Six houses were about to be built. The local partnership said we had to object otherwise the developers would do as they wished and the cynics said they would no doubt anyway. Road access would be from the main highway through the site of the Old East House, by then a pleasant enough, tree-planted space punctuating St Ives Road.  There was no obvious alternative other than a narrow road, the entrance which was between "The Commercial" public house and the equally old Roxy cinema, by then being put to other use.    Work was planned to begin by July 2004

The site was to be levelled during the construction phase.  It was suggested by one or two lone voices, especially from those living in houses immediately above and below the proposed development that it might be a good idea to lower the height of the terrace on which the old railway station formerly sat.  Just by a metre or so to prevent over-looking on those below and to allow the same over-looking (at least over a roof-scape onto open country) by those above!  It all seemed terribly sensible and relatively straight-forward when faced with the alternatives.

But by then there was a strong campaign developing, not only to leave the C2C cycleway roughly in place, but also ensure that the narrow corridor through which it will ran did not become an eyesore.  The lone voices were drowned out as the committees took charge and the factions became entrenched.  There was conflict and no real regard paid to other things already going on in Leadgate.  The blinkers were well and truly put on to make sure we concentrated on matters in hand, all else was irrelevant and of course life simply isn't like this.

At this time (early 2004), there were also plans to demolish another old building further along Leadgate, known locally as "The Top Shop" and simultaneously, following the demolition of the Top Shop, as well as the old railway bridge and through the efforts of the then Community Tea Room Association, the rear of Front Street was being tidied up and gardens set out.  At a later date it was also thought likely that the public toilets would also be demolished.  This meant that the resultant green corridor would run the entire length of the village, bounded along the entire length of St Ives Road and Front Street by houses and structures which had some local historical context.

There was a huge potential back in 2004 and still is now to exploit these opportunities provided by these developers, not only for the Local History Society but more importantly by the villages and villagers as a whole.  The object of what was formerly a proposal and is now a story was and is several-fold:

  • To try and draw some lessons from the past and learn from our mistakes!
  • To identify if members of the local history socitieties and others who have previously researched not only the railway, houses and families of Leadgate but also other aspects of local history peculiar to what is now a green corridor and would be prepared to contribute the results of their research, working through this website on which this story sits.
  • To gather together all that research with a view to producing “Information Points” to be positioned in situ to add interest to the village for the benefit of cyclists, pedestrians and residents alike.
  • To offer a potential focus for the whole of the society to pool local knowledge and create an easily accessible archive, helping to make local history not only live and understandable, but also relevant for the benefit of all present residents of Leadgate, young and old.
  • To demonstrate to the Developers, SUSTRANS, Derwentside District Council and any other concerned agencies that the residents of Leadgate not only value their heritage, but also the extent of their commitment to ensuring that the development is appropriate to its setting.

The Concept

Too often, local history is removed from the day-to-day, everyday life of a village.  Places like Beamish are museums; Leadgate is potentially a living museum where local history is not far removed from folk memory.  We should celebrate the place and possibly re-instil a sense of worth and real value.  Local history could be combined with contemporary needs reflected in modern developments, but always linking the past with the present while planning for the future in successive generations.  The consequence of a failure to do this is often manifest in inappropriate development and ill-considered demolition.  The place suffers; the people suffer to the point where there is no longer pride, without which littering and vandalism become endemic.  Cynicism takes over from optimism and enthusiasm.

While I know that the Local History Society does not meet more than once monthly, these developments and initiatives started in July 2004.  They provide opportunities too good to miss and if the members are unable to assist because there is no focal point of co-ordination or contact, I will drive things myself.  However, it would be good to know that the society supports the endeavour in the longer term.

We have our excellent local history books and I know that some members began to walk old routes in and around Leadgate.  These could be incorporated.  But what I envisage is a continuous process, of information points combined with seating, local art and appropriate planting schemes, possibly combined with ongoing volunteers drawn from the ranks of the existing clubs/societies and schools as well as proximate residents who might benefit as much from the presence of the C2C.  In other words to continue whatever is started and see if this might make a difference, to coin a well-worn phrase.  All these exist: we simply need to harness them, either through the Pont Valley Nwetwork or other forum.

There may even be funds available and most certainly I would envisage working in close conjunction with not only SUSTRANS and Broseley, but also the local council, who ought to be doing this anyway, not only through the normal processes of meetings and elected members, but more by being in touch with the residents by the day and by working together. through out network

Buildings and Structures.

Many existing occupants of the houses and premises on both St Ives Road and Front Street have knowledge of the history of their properties and previous owners.  Indeed, ancestors of their families can be traced back to these same properties or other descendants remain resident in Leadgate.  Likewise, the historical contexts of other original properties on Durham Road and Watling Street in close proximity to the route of the C2C are worthy of note, as indeed is the street layout of the properties behind Front Street past which, conservatively 10,000 cyclists travel, some coast-to-coast, every year.  These are buildings and families worth celebrating, not in the way of any famous aristocratic family or notable building, but as an example of a Northern industrial town and those that made it work during the industrial revolution.

These are mere exemplars that spring to mind:

  • The site of the Eden Colliery and earliest drift mines; site of the quarry from which the stone for St Ives Church was extracted.; a pointer toward the Cheviot, which used to be seen on any clear day; the cutting through which the C2C runs, parallel to the main road and former toll road; comment on the Toll Road.


  • The site of the Old East House, by now well researched, which is now the entrance to the new estate.  An information point could be installed where the C2C crosses the access road.


  • The stone boundary wall along which the C2C runs toward the centre of the village from this point, into which information concerning the Old Railway Station could be set.


  • The structure that looks like an old engine shed at the end of this wall, now garages which I know has a wealth of anecdotal history.


  • The Coach and Horses, likely the site of an Inn from earliest times, marking a point mid-way between Lanchester and Ebchester, notable Roman settlements.  Perhaps the reclaimed site of the public toilets could be set out as a major information point, with a flower planter and seating to complement that over the road, as well as leaving the cycle stands in place.


  • The Old Smithy, which Tommy Young used to run as a Fruit, veg and Flower Shop has a fascinating history.  Tommy knows it, and this building could be brought back to life, not knocked down.  Without creating a yawn, a combined tea-room and craft centre if Peter Murphy has to give up the existing premises.


  • The area immediately behind, perhaps an illustration of how people lived back-to-back in the 19th century.


  • Over the road, the Chinese Takeaway looks almost Georgian to me.  What is its history?  A picture of the bridge, perhaps an artist’s illustration of how a railway station could have looked had an earlier scheme proceeded.


  • The building to the back of Fosters.  A photograph of how it once looked.  Perhaps the site of future restoration and new use for some other purpose.
  • A comment on the Old Miner’s Hall.  How each village had one, as was the case with the picture hall.
  • Pointing down the hill toward the bungalows.  When built, why built.
  • The Quadrangles: their layout, when built, the middens and communal pumps.
  • The back of Front Street itself, where cyclists and residents can stop and sit.
  • The site of the Old West House, demolished bridge and remaining bridge.
  • And so on………….



This sort of project should have the support of SUSTRANS, developers and our council, whoever these may be.  But to have any long-term benefit it needs the support of the people who live in the places most affected.  You and me and an awareness that this isn’t just about Local History or a couple of “features” and seats.  It’s about trying to work together just a little bit differently, for us, while keeping the support of others who recognise that everyone benefits.


David Shields

Incorporating a proposal made back in 2004.

Politics, Planning and People

By now it should be clear to anyone reading this 'story' that there is some purpose and has been since 1999.  However, I woulde b e the firstto concede that in most  instances as individuals we simply do not have the time and resources to do as I have done.  10 yrs is an awfully long time to work for nothing!

Site Survey

David shields






site survey

of the old railway yard, leadgate

ON WHICH HOUSING DEVELOPMENT IS PROPOSED with consequent re-routing of c2c cycleway


·         Resident at 17, St Ives Road (formerly known as Clifton House);

·         Adjacent to the site of the Old East House through which the access road will run;

·         Immediately adjacent to the Bus Shelter which is proposed to be set-back from the main highway;

·         In process of preparing a separate Planning Application for the development of Clifton House which is dependant upon an exchange of land with the current owners (SUSTRANS);

·         Awaiting the outcome of this Planning Application before an exchange of contracts with the prospective developer (Broseley)’s agent (Bishop Laird).

     The report is objective but the author therefore declares a vested interest.

The report is complete with supporting documents, including a PowerPoint presentation illustrated with digital photographs, diagrams and document extracts.  The contents of the report are without prejudice and any opinions expressed are personal.  The report may be reproduced without permission but only for the express purpose of satisfying the requirements of the planning regulations.




A.       1832 Geological Survey.

B.        1861 Ordnance Survey.

C.       1896 Ordnance Survey.

D.      1921 Ordnance Survey.

E.       1938 Ordnance Survey.

F.        1986 Ordnance Survey.

G.      OS Pathfinder 561 (NZ 05/15). (1990).

H.       Geological Survey (Sheet 20) (Solid Geology).

I.          Various Deeds of Conveyance, Abstracts of Title and Bills of Sale 1854 – 1998.

J.          Planning Application and Associated Plans (to Revision 4).




Leadgate in common with its larger near neighbour Consett may be considered historically unimportant. Consequently since the demise of the Consett Ironworks and the economic stagnation of the area in the 1960’s, little has been done locally to preserve the heritage of the immediate area.  Expediency and economic necessity have been the order of the day.  Sadly, much of the characteristic industrial architecture and social infrastructure has been lost, apart from specific, selected sites intended as tourist attractions. 

However, outside of the Beamish Open Air Museum, Leadgate is still one of the regions best preserved “living” sites illustrating not only the social history of Durham’s industrial past during an important period in the history of Great Britain; but as importantly its decline during the last century..

Leadgate sits astride the N – S roman Watling Street and what is now the E – W Coast to Coast (C2) cycleway crossing the Pennines.  The proposed development sits on what was formerly the site of the old railway station and station yards.  These were dismantled and demolished during the last quarter of the 20th century.  The site was identified as “Brown Field”, suitable for redevelopment, following the demolition of the East House in the 1980’s and has been owned by SUSTRANS, in its entirety, since the last parcel of land adjacent to No 20 St Ives Road was bought in 2001.

Leadgate is not nor never was a pretty place in the way of a Cotswold village.  It was functional. However, typical of many locations throughout the NE, both the site and immediately surrounding area has “greened” during the past 2 – 3 decades.  The main site, measuring approximately 1 hectare, is a valuable local amenity as well as the corridor for the C2Ccycleway.  The site of the Old East House, through which the development access road will pass, is lawned and planted with established trees.  Both are visually attractive feature in this part of the village, characterised by traditional stone-built houses (St Ives Road) and open space, enhanced by a DCC-provided stone planter in which bedding plants are displayed.

Although essentially constructed as a dormitory village for the workers and families of the nearby iron works and collieries from around 1830, the village has mellowed and is becoming popular, not only as dormitory village for Consett, which is experiencing a period of significant regeneration, but in its own right as a visually attractive gateway to the N. Pennines, the Derwent and Pont Valleys through which traffic passes.

Its Victorian and Edwardian architecture is characteristically functional.  The original village layout remains essentially intact with successive periods of building occupying earlier, existing sites.  Moreover, the families of Leadgate during the first half of the 19th century remain the families of contemporary Leadgate. There is therefore succession and continuity.  

The Eastern side of Leadgate, especially Front Street, is in urgent need of refurbishment and regeneration of a smaller number of viable commercial units. St Ives Road has however been maintained and former commercial units converted to housing stock.  If Front Street is refurbished in a similar manner, the whole frontage of Leadgate would become once more attractive.  Moreover, as the C2C cycleway runs the whole length of the village immediately behind St Ives Road and Front Street it has the potential of creating a safe, potentially visually attractive corridor.  This corridor would greatly enhance Leadgate for not only passing motorists, but walkers, cyclists and local residents. 

Therefore the development of the Old Station Yard as a housing development site and purely functional transit corridor for the C2C should not be considered in isolation.  Consideration should be made in the overall context of the future of Leadgate.

This report is intended to provide the Planning Control Committee with an independent report drawing all information – social, historical, Geological and Geographical – together from the perspective of a local resident with vested interests. Economic, Demographic and Planning expertise of course remain the prerogative of the Councils officers.




The 1st geological survey of 1832 (Ref A) is the base point for the excavation and research that underpin this report.  It is little different from the 1st OS of 1861 (Reference B), save that it identifies the crops of coal and to a lesser extent ironstones that characterise the area.  There is no evidence of igneous formations, intrusive or extrusive, close to the surface although the Whin Sill obviously occurs at a greater depth.  The last Geological Survey (Reference H) shows the site to be essentially “made”, although the immediately surrounding surface topography is remarkably unchanged.  The made land occurs throughout the whole of the Old Station Yard and is deepest at the NNE of the site, where bedrock occurs at a depth on average of 9 metres.  To the SSW of the site i.e. adjacent to the existing rear boundary wall of St Ives Road, itself built upon the remnants of an earlier wall; bedrock is encountered very close to the surface once the overburden has been removed. 

This overburden runs along the whole length of the boundary wall and is all that remains of the rail embankment.  It is up to 4 metres high in places, highest to the East and shallowest to the West..  Made up of coal waste below present surface level, it also contains substantial quantities of very old, domestic refuse, typically non-degradable pottery and glass, the earliest pieces of which date back to circa 1822. 

Evaluation of the quantities and patterns of pottery recovered, as well as types of old bottles, indicate at least 3 phases of major infilling and building-up as well as regular, continuous tipping of lesser quantities by occupants of St Ives Road and the former Old East House, a former Inn on the Turnpike Road (a private house owned by the Dunn family circa 1780) which pre-dates main construction of later houses, including Clifton House (circa 1854). 

The first phase probably occurred around 1823 when the embankment was created in order to carry the mineral railway, the second around 1880 when the line was upgraded and the last around 1910 when the railway yard was created.  The last created the raised land terrace required supporting the station and railway yard.  The majority of the site was excavated by SUSTRANS in the 80’s in order to recover the construction material that contained low-grade coal and shale fill.  However, the 10-metre strip running along the St Ives boundary wall remained largely untouched.

The boundary wall itself was built no earlier than 1822 and is likely contemporary along most of its length with the construction of the embankment.  Substantial parts of it remain visible above ground.  Indeed, it can be viewed in places inside the boundary wall from within the residents’ back yards and gardens, which are below the level of the site. Adjacent to Clifton House where excavation took place to a depth of 2 metres, for example, the footings had still not been reached.  

The wall is also constructed in readily recognizable local sandstone, containing a particular form of brachiopod fossil (from the Harvey Marine Band).  This outcrops locally and is easily worked, the upper layers especially being fractured along identifiable bedding planes. The gangs of navvies likely quarried it specifically for this purpose before the trench was backfilled and embankment created.  The evidence to support this is in the fact that the depth of infill along the whole length of the boundary wall is considerably below the bedrock exposed during excavation, which occurs, on average, 3 metres from the wall.  Indeed, Clifton House is built of the same stone, as was East House St Ives Church and likely the whole of St Ives Road.  Further evidence to support this and suggest the methods employed by the gangs of navvies rests in the cross-section of the excavation. 

The immediately underlying stratigraphy is typical of the region, a succession of Upper Carboniferous, sedimentary rocks laid down since the Silesian era.  These have been exploited for at least 5 centuries for the economically important coal measures, which locally outcrop, and to a lesser extent the interspacing iron stones.  Thus the surface topography has been substantially changed by successive extraction and infilling as well as subsidence and collapse following pit mining, though not below the Old Station Yard site.

It is clear from excavation to a depth of 2.2 metres immediately adjacent to the rear boundary wall of Clifton House that the major part of the site is made up of compacted coal waste, overlying sandstone

Archaeology and Social History

St Ives Road dates back to 1834; before that it was a turnpike paralleling the railway track as far as the Jolly Drovers and the site of the Eden Pit.   When the public toilets next to the Surgery are demolished, this will once more expose a corner of the engine house, as well as The Old Forge.  Both these were built around 1820, as was the old wall which separated the railway from the houses on St Ives.  The Coach and Horses was the first house on St Ives Road apart from the Old East House, now demolished.  In June 1854 Clifton House – now No 17 St Ives Road was built by Joseph Nicholson.  Between 1854 and 1858 the remaining space between Clifton House and the Coach and Horses was built, the separate houses being terraced with their neighbours.  Beyond the East House, more houses were built toward the Jolly Drovers and on the other side of the road, the remainder of St Ives Road was developed.  All this building was completed by no later than 1858.

The Old Forge (No 3-4 Watling St), like the building opposite (The Chinese) and the whole complex behind Fosters Butchers also dates back to 1830’s, as does most of Front St.  What’s left is worth restoring and keeping.  It should be incorporated into the fabric of any future development – not demolished.  Cleaned up, the old random stone complements the village and shows it off for what it used to be before the post-1960’s ravages.  It’s worth recording for posterity and makes a link back to their ancestors for the families of Leadgate.  It might even help to restore some sense of civic pride and stop people littering.



Geography (Topography)

Digging into the past

Since removing spoil, line of old railway yard wall between Nos 17 and 20 St Ives Road has been revealed.  So has hard surface running immediately alongside.  These have been cleaned up a little for these images.


The wall root and hard surface correspond exactly with your last plans.  Could I suggest that the wall is re-built and surface retained as a practical feature marking the route of the C2C?  It would also allow me to begin laying stone on my internal boundary wall (shared with No 1 Old Railway Yard) and complete my rear (N) wall to where it rejoins N Wall of No 1.

The wall would then run contiguously to where the C2C crosses the Old Railway Yard estate access road, and the existing hard surface could be made serviceable.  In combination with intended soft planting for this particular part of site and a little further stonework this would help blend in the development and possibly allow some complementary local input.



Created on 06/07/2007 05:08 PM by dshields
Updated on 26/02/2010 03:28 AM by dshields
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Clifton House
17 St Ives Road
Co. Durham

01207 582385