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Leadgate Not So Much a Village, More a Way of Life

The Great Battle of Leadgate

Mr Patrick Conway, revisiting tribalism over a pint of Eighty Shilling ale, recalled the fearful story of the Great Battle of Leadgate, described in The Northern Echo 113 years ago as "a rather serious riot".

Though it may not be his precise title, Patrick is Durham County Council's director of libraries and similarly cultural carryings on and is an avid Sunderland (and Grimsby Town) supporter. Leadgate, all the emphasis on the second syllable, is a village near Consett.

He'd been researching John Campbell, who on October 25 1890 at Bolton became the first Sunderland player to score a Football League hat trick. Events at Leadgate that day were to prove more memorable yet.

Leadgate Exiles were a Catholic team, left footers among a large Irish population. Leadgate Park, their fierce local rivals, were principally Protestant. When they were drawn together in the second round of the Durham Challenge Cup, 4,000 spectators - the same number as watched Bolton Wanderers play Sunderland - crowded onto Park's ground on Durham Road.

"For the past week the tie had been the principal topic of local conversation, bets being laid freely on the result and the utmost enthusiasm prevailed among the numerous patrons of each club," said the Echo.

A good deal of badinage was indulged in both before and after the match, we added, but at 10.30pm in the Bradley Arms - the Exiles headquarters - enthusiasm turned into insurrection and badinage into a bloodbath.

Police led by Sgt Nicholson had arrested and handcuffed Joseph Carr but Carr's brother armed himself with a stout stick, completely smashed up the front of the pub and ran off, the polliss in pursuit, towards Dipton.

In the Bradley Arms, the mayhem continued. The officer guarding Carr was beaten and thrown to the ground. Carr, still handcuffed, escaped with his accomplices. "The disturbance still increasing, several fights occurring on the main street, word was despatched to Consett and Inspector Benzies and three or four constables hastened to Leadgate," said Monday's paper.

"They found a great deal of disturbance and excitement in Front Street and some of the back thoroughfares, the yells and shouts which rent the air being really deafening."

The female portion of the community, we added, appeared in that respect to be the worst offenders.

"The police made several charges on the turbulent mob and eventually succeeded in dispersing the crowd. Two of the ring leaders, Wheatley and Curry, were taken to the Consett lock-up."

The Bradley Arms, rather ironically, is now the Sportsman's. Leadgate Exiles and Leadgate Park, who lost to Stockton in the 1897 FA Amateur Cup semi-final, are long defunct; the different churches get on famously. "That sort of conflict might have been a factor in the past, but we're very proud of our ecumenical activities now," says local councillor Bill Stockdale, president of the Leadgate Historical Society (to whom thanks for the team photographs) Locals, adds Bill, still talk about the former rivalry - "but they've probably forgotten the riot and the real trouble which football can cause."

Leadgate Exiles had won that match 2-1. What they had helped prove, was that there's nothing new under the sun.


Elsewhere on October 25 1890, Bridget Conley - "commonly known as Biddy the Muf" - made her 43rd appearance before Middlesbrough police court and was given a month's hard labour, a lion tamer at Buffalo Bill's circus in Stockton came before magistrates after hitting a bairn of whom he claimed to be frightened and Haughton-le-Skerne Bible Class beat North East Swifts 3-1. Bolton Wanderers v Sunderland didn't warrant so much as a mention.


Brian Hunt, who makes Leslie Welch the Memory Man resemble an absent minded professor by comparison, came back to the boozer, too.


"Ah, Leadgate Exiles," he said. "The goalkeeper was Joe Crowther, had seven bairns, died in a dynamite explosion in 1915, in the paper at the time."


There was an astonished pause, broken finally by Brian himself.


"Those seven bairns," he said. "Make it eight."


So what of Johnny Campbell, the Sunderland centre forward who inadvertently started all this? One of the so called "Scottish professors", he was signed from Renton in Dumbartonshire in 1889 and hit 150 goals in 215 appearances as Sunderland won three championships in four years. His brother Robert was Sunderland's manager from 1896-99. He was transferred for £40 to Newcastle United in 1897 but retired the following year after taking a pub, which was against club rules.


Just 36 when he died, Campbell - who actually scored four against Bolton - remains the fifth highest scorer in Sunderland's history, and may for a little while yet.


It was also at the Durham do that Henry McLaren, former Durham County and Sunderland all rounder and Brancepeth farmer, enquired which former Durham cricketer's World Cup record was finally broken this year.


The answer is Winston Davis, the West Indian whose 7-55 against Australia at Headingley in 1981 was successively overtaken by Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee, seven for rather fewer.


Davis made 15 test appearances and also played for Glamorgan, Northants and Tasmania. His Durham career was rather less spectacular. While Sunderland's 21-year-old pro in 1980 he was chosen for the county against Scotland B at Selkirk, didn't bat, claimed 1-93 over two innings and was never asked again.


He now lives in Worcestershire but, sadly, is confined to a wheelchair after suffering severe injuries when falling from a tree.


Back up in north-west Durham, nine votive candles burn in the bar of the Grey Horse in Consett. Like the green bottles, they began with ten.


It's a sweepstake. "It started when Sunderland had ten games left. Every time they win or draw a candle stays lighted, every time they lose a candle is extinguished," says Rose Conroy, the landlady.


Rose, a Sunderland fan, has her money on eight lighted candles at season's end. "It's getting a bit worrying, but I'd like to think Mick McCarthy is the man to save us," she says.


Others disagree. A Newcastle supporting customer has added a picture of St Jude to the little shrine. Jude is the patron saint of hopeless causes.


Tommy Spencer's ghost still walks. Seven and a half years after we reported the international cricket umpire's death, the day after we teased The Cricketer magazine for a somewhat belated obituary, The Times also tweaked The Cricketer's tail on Wednesday.


The magazine had claimed that long delayed notification of Tommy's passing was "perhaps a sad reflection on modern sport and perhaps on modern society in general."


"The outrage," said The Times, "didn't wash with a columnist on one of the country's leading regional newspapers."


Tommy, who lived in Seaton Delaval, near Whitley Bay, stood in 17 Tests and was awarded the OBE for services to cricket. He'd love to have lived to tell the tale.


Tuesday's column on Bishop Auckland Cricket Club's 150th anniversary mistakenly identified Harry Smurthwaite as club secretary. John Russell took over the post last year. Apologies.


We also said that Peggy Lee had sung Hard Hearted Hannah - don't ask - in the 1950s film Pete Kelly's Blues. It wasn't says Don Wilson in Durham - a man not to be trifled with - it was Ella Fitzgerald.


the eight English test cricketers born between Tyne and Tees (Backtrack, March 11) are Jim McConnon and Colin Milburn (both Burnopfield), Simon Brown (Cleadon), Peter Willey (Sedgefield), David Townsend and wicket keeper Dick Spoonor (both Norton-on-Tees), Bob Willis (Sunderland) and Andrew Ernest Stoddart, born in 1863 in South Shields.


Fred Alderton in Peterlee today wonders what the Scottish football clubs Queens Park, Cowlairs, Rangers, Partick Thistle, Renton and 93rd Highlanders have in common with the Irish clubs Linfield, Crusaders and Distillery.


More cross-border co-operation on Tuesday.


Published: 14/03/2003


Archive Home



Snapping Billy as Scanned

Back to Snapping Billy...

As Annie George said of her father, Billy Costello, he was ahead of his time.  For this, we should all be eternally grateful now though, no doubt, he would have been occasionally ridiculed in his time.  Nowadays of course cameras are common place and often built into such other things that even he, prophetic as he was, would not recognise.

Sharing is something we as people are not particularly good at doing.  Computers, perhaps like the cameras of Billy's day, are still not that common place.  There is still a reluctance to embrace information technology for fear of the bad it can do, rather than the good, especially when it needs new ways of working as well as thinking.

Since launching our website, as a communal space for anyone to use for virtually any reason, within the bounds of common courtesy and decency, we have always struggled to get people to use our webspace to share. All sorts of reasons are given to us why this is something we shouldn't be doing.  Yet if we don't try, who will know how we lived, thought and sometimes fought, save through the few fragments of information that have stood the test of time and survive?  Is it not better to work together, now, recording what is now easy to record and recreate, while still relatively fresh in our memories how our immediate ancestors lived their lives and we as their children carried on?

Local history is more to us than a once monthly meeting in a community room.  It always has been.  The difference is now that we have the chance to use a few simple tools and get past our fear of sharing our own pasts with others so we can involve everyone in the continuing lives of our families and villages.  There are others all over the world doing exactly what we are seeking to do.  Why should we be any different.  Information is a powerful weapon, for good as well as bad. This is something we need to recognise and take the chance that if we work together trying to do good, we will always win out over those that try to do bad.  There are simply more good people than bad.


Not so much a village, more a way of life

"Not so much a village, more a way of life" is the title of a series of booklets, written by author Colin McCance some years ago.  They, like the current round of "local history" booklets still produced by the Leadgate Local History Association, still pop up occasionally and, when they do, always stimulate much discussion.

This discussion, usually in the form of sometimes annimated conversation lasts for a few minutes, hours or sometimes days, weeks or months.  Then its gone and forgotten.  We want to keep it alive and relevant to how we live today, not out of pure nostalgia, but more so we learn something of our past and use what our predessors learned the hard way in their lives to help us to make sense of a society that has changed.

When I say we perhaps I mean me but I think not always.  This website,, isn't perfect or precise.  Nothing's finished - nothing ever really is - and this particular part of the website in particular needs help so we can carry on building on what has been done already.  If you get involved, we might get closer to making the website what it's supposed to be - a community website.

The thing about "Leadgate, not so much a Village, More a Way of Life" and its Author Colin McCance is that it could have been written by or about any one of us and any of our villages.  It shows that although things are changing all the time, nothing really changes.  We all have an interest in what might have been said about us or where we live in the past and, quite often, would like to add to it, if we get the chance.

Without more ado therefore, let's try again to do something really different and start working together to get involved and add what we know.  Through these pages where our comment facilities let us do this without having to crowd thousands of people into a small room occasionally.  Let's try a bit of learning by doing, taking the chance that it just might help us here in Leadgate and maybe encourage others to do the same.  Hit the comment button to see what we mean and say what you might say over a pint or in a casual conversation anywhere and see where it takes us.

David Shields

Newspaper Cutting

Snappin' Billy

Beautiful collection safe with pitman's family.

Snappin' Billy

Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, not a lot happened in the Leadgate area without pitman Billy Costello recording it.

When he wasn't underground at the Eden Pit, Billy was to be seen with a huge plate camera and tripod photographing scenes and people around the area.  Scenes which have long since vanished, like the colliery where he worked, Leadgate railway station, village processions, the mines pumping engine at Boggle Hole and even the outside netties at Bottle Bank.

Some of his pictures are still to be seen as fading sepia prints in local pubs.  Some are at Beamish Museum.  And they occasionally suface in old books of the area.

Many of his picures - some date back to late Victorian times - are lost, but some of this local heritage is still safe with his descendants.

Billy's great great gandson, Joe Mallon, who lives in Leadgate, has a collection of his ancestor's glass plate negatives.

Joe has allowed us to publish a selection of that treasure of his ancestor.

Father of 14 children

Bily Costello was born at Mountain Ash, in South Wales, in 1861, the son of a stonemason.

He arrived in Leadgate as a small boy with his father and older brother, when the three were travelling the country building dry stone walls.

The mother of the family had died young and the three stuck together until, in Leadgate, little billy was taken in by a local family and sent to school there.

He spend the rest of his life in Leadgate where he died, aged 88, in 1949.

He married local girl Maggie, who died aged 80, aged 80 six months after him.  They had 14 children, 12 of whom survived infancy.

The last surviving daughter, Annie George, is now over 80 and lives in Leadgatge.

Passionate interest in geology

Billy Costello had another passion besides photography.

Like many pitmen, he became interested in geology and had a large collection of fossils.

He was widely read and took a keen interest in scientific matters.

Daughter Annie George said "My father was ahead of his time.  When I was a small girl, he made three predictions which were later to come true.

"I remember my mother telling him to shut up or people would think he was daft."

The three predictions were:

  • Man would one day stand. on the moon.
  • Pictures would come across the air waves like the wireless did.
  • Hot water would come from taps in ordinary houses.



Author: Colin McCance


During the months it took me to compile this book I have pestered the life out of people - especially the elderly, and for their help and co-operation I am much indebted.  Also to many other people of our village who have so freely given of their time tracing facts and family histories - many thanks.

I am especially indebted to the people who have included manuscripts and photographs.

Mr Ron French for searching the Durham County Records offices.

Mr David Watkins MP for his help with documents from the Houses of Parliament.

Mr Con and Mrs Hilda Daly for their writing and information on local history.

Mrs Mary Harle and Marjorie for their help with this history of the local schools.

Councillor Bill Stockdale for his help and advice relating to the local railways.

Miss Ann Steel Smith a tower of help (I hope you don't have to leave the next Church Meeting).

Mr Kit Owens.  Kit, unfortunately, died only shortly after relating his memories of Leadgate.  He was a great help in the writing of this book - to his family I send my deepest sympathy.

Mrs Winifred Moore.  A dear and well-loved lady, for her help with the history of the Queens Head (Manor House).

The Durham County Archives for their generous help in tracing documents.

Bill Willis (Bone-setter) for his life story and help on local affairs.

Dr Gerry Lawrence

Reverend Barrie Lees as Methodist Minister in Leadgate for recollections of the village during his five years here.

Mr Matt Black - for his story of the 'Black' family.

Miss T Mathews for her advice on Brooms Church and School.

Mrs George for permission to reproduce Mr Costello's photographs.

Mrs Jessie J French.  The one person whom I would like to give an extra special thank you, for without her help, guidance and untiring encouragement this book could never have been completed - a lady who not only compiled and edited the manusripts, but took much patience correcting my grammar and spelling mistakes, of which there were many.  For the mountain of typing she has done.  A lady who I regard, not only as a colleague, but a dear friend - I only wish she had been my school teacher in my young days at St Ives.

Colin McCance.


Price £3.00

Profits from the sale of this Publication will be donated to the funds of the Four Churches in Leadgate.

In Progress Fawcett

Consett History and Local Forum

Consett Town --- Consett History --- Consett Forum
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 Post subject: Re: Bits and pieces about the Consett area.
Posted: February 19th, 2010, 8:46 am 

Joined: July 7th, 2009, 7:07 am
Posts: 2270
Dr. D wrote:
Perhaps Compo or Tommy can help my memory.
Firstly, who were the couple, I think father and daughter who lied in a shack in the woods near Pudlers on the Durham side?

Secondly who was the old guy that sang outside the old post office on Front Street?

Woodbine Annie seems to ring a bell regarding a hut near puddlers.

 Post subject: Re: Bits and pieces about the Consett area.
Posted: February 19th, 2010, 9:01 pm 

Joined: February 8th, 2010, 6:40 pm
Posts: 799
Drifter wrote:
Found the book again. :good:
It's The English Aboricultural Society from the late 1800's. The chapter is Dendrological Notes from North West Durham By James W Fawcett of the Grange, Satley. So he's a local guy writing about the area. I've come across his name several times before to do with local history and i think Harry Raine mentioned him in notes that i've read, perhaps he might have been related to Fawcett's that i've come across, who lived down Watergate farm in Castleside.
Where would we be if these people hadn't put pen to paper, we've got a lot to thank them for. :drinks:

J W Fawcett was a remarkable man. Born at Satley in 1862, he was an amazing scholar with a gift for languages especially.
At the age of twelve he was appointed rate collector for Butsfield Township. At thirteen he could speak 14 languages.
At eighteen he was chosen from 2000 candidates for the post of Army interpreter. Before he was twenty five he knew 33 languages. He was aide-de-camp, interpreter and firm friend of Lord Kitchener in Egypt for seventeen years.

He was shipwrecked in the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and also the Red Sea. He went on to study Law and was appointed Chief Stipendiary Magistrate for the town of Kennedy in New South Wales, he also became the town's MP in the legislative Assembly. He returned to his native Satley and wrote many books about our area as well as many learned papers for different historical societies. He died in 1942 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Satley churchyard. Recently a group of people have located J W Fawcett's lost grave and are raising funds to erect a suitable headstone and memorial.

Mr Fawcett, Harry Raine and others dug up Tommy Raw's remains at Allensford to verify the story of Tommy's burial under a tree. Ray Thompson, (yes, Ray the Red!) shows some photos of Tommy's bones on a tablecloth in a slideshow he gives to raise funds for Mr Fawcett's headstone. Ray knew Fawcett and used to visit him at Satley.

 Post subject: Re: Bits and pieces about the Consett area.
Posted: February 19th, 2010, 9:30 pm 

Joined: July 7th, 2009, 10:02 pm
Posts: 1072
Did they put him back where they found him then? (Tommy I mean).

 Post subject: Re: Bits and pieces about the Consett area.
Posted: February 19th, 2010, 9:43 pm 

Joined: February 8th, 2010, 6:40 pm
Posts: 799
rosie wrote:
Did they put him back where they found him then? (Tommy I mean).

Rosie, the opening of Tommy Raw's grave was done with respect and his remains were re-buried in a proper and serious manner. I think the type of people involved would not have dreamt of doing it any other way. Typical old 'Castlesiders' I like to think. :biggrin:

 Post subject: Re: Bits and pieces about the Consett area.
Posted: February 19th, 2010, 10:34 pm 

Joined: July 7th, 2009, 10:02 pm
Posts: 1072
Tommy Raw wrote:
rosie wrote:
Did they put him back where they found him then? (Tommy I mean).

Rosie, the opening of Tommy Raw's grave was done with respect and his remains were re-buried in a proper and serious manner. I think the type of people involved would not have dreamt of doing it any other way. Typical old 'Castlesiders' I like to think. :biggrin:

I've lived in Castleside all my life and I never knew that they'd had Tommy 'out'! Glad he's back where he belongs as I've always found him fascinating.

Used to visit Wharnley Burn in my teenage years - seen the 'TR' carved in the inglenook never really convinced that someone didn't add it later :biggrin:

 Post subject: Re: Bits and pieces about the Consett area.
Posted: February 20th, 2010, 12:09 am 
Site Admin

Joined: June 15th, 2009, 1:59 pm
Posts: 2358
I've seen the photo of them digging him up. :bigshock:
We used to go down to the farm when Cranston's had it.

 Post subject: Re: Bits and pieces about the Consett area.
Posted: February 21st, 2010, 1:02 am 

Joined: July 6th, 2009, 10:49 am
Posts: 1456
Location: Canada, True north strng and free.
Those Walnut trees must be at the limit of their growing range.

About 30 years ago I planted three Karpathean Walnuts which are from the Ukraine and cold resistant. They are now about 20 ft high but nothing like I thought that they would grow.

Needless to say my friends the red squirrels love them and I've never had a walnut.

 Post subject: Re: Bits and pieces about the Consett area.
Posted: March 1st, 2010, 10:42 pm 

Joined: July 7th, 2009, 10:02 pm
Posts: 1072
When I was little my Dad used to tell me about a witch called Jane Frizzell who lived at the Sneep or Crooked Oak Farm.

My Dad's family had one of the cabins up there long before I was born where they would stay for weekends. He used to take me up there to show me the cabins and terrify the life out of me with tales of the witches ghost!

Anyone verify her existance?

 Post subject: Re: Bits and pieces about the Consett area.
Posted: March 2nd, 2010, 10:01 am 

Joined: February 8th, 2010, 6:40 pm
Posts: 799
rosie wrote:
When I was little my Dad used to tell me about a witch called Jane Frizzell who lived at the Sneep or Crooked Oak Farm.

My Dad's family had one of the cabins up there long before I was born where they would stay for weekends. He used to take me up there to show me the cabins and terrify the life out of me with tales of the witches ghost!

Anyone verify her existance?

Very well known story in the Castleside area, for years and years Rosie.
It was Crooked Oak.

She was later reincarnated as our first woman prime minister. :devil: :devil: :devil:

 Post subject: Re: Bits and pieces about the Consett area.
Posted: June 28th, 2010, 7:05 pm 

Joined: June 26th, 2010, 8:46 pm
Posts: 5
I'm new to this site so am just catching up on all the messages.

Re Tommy Raw. I can verify that his remains were dug up and respectfully reburried. My grandfather was owner of the land at the time and my grandmother was against the whole business. She insisted that it was all done with respect - which it was. (I'm not sure how respectful photographing a skeleton is?)
I have a copy of the photo somewhere. Re the TR in the fireplace at Wharnley Burn - I think they are genuine. Not sure that the escape passage was genuine - though there was a very small cellar under the stairs and we spent hours as kids trying to find a tunnel!

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