The foundation of Bowburn Colliery, 1906

Article in The Durham County Advertiser, Friday 16th January 1906, p.2

(Note – Much of the article is very difficult to read.)


The work in connexion with the new colliery which Messrs Bell Bros. Ltd intend to establish at Bowburn, near Coxhoe, is progressing very favourably. Sinking has not yet commenced but the shaft has been bored a depth of about 27 fathoms to the stone heads in order to enable the owners to tell what stratas have to be gone through. The work of boring has been carried out by Messrs Johnson and Sons, East Boldon.

At the old Bowburn shaft about 300 (?) yards away a pumping station has been erected to draw the water out of the shaft which was sunk to a depth of 55 fathoms above 36 years ago and then abandonned as worthless. According to present ideas it is expected that a drift will be driven from the old shaft to the new and the ....... (?) in the latter so that any water which may be found in the top seams can be pumped out by the old shaft.

A large number of workmen are engaged at the new colliery laying the railway which will connect it with the North Eastern Railway, a distance of about half a mile, erecting the necessary workmen's shops and building a culvert 240 yards long to carry the water away. Sites for about 36 (?) cottages have been marked out near Bowburn but owing to a dispute as to the plans work in connexion with them has not commenced.

The owners of the colliery have however a number of men engaged at Coxhoe pulling down the firm's old houses in the Blue Row, which were closed some five years ago, and building workmen's cottages on the ground. The work of the new colliery is as yet only commencing but the prospects of the districts are bright.


Note: Robin Walton’s “A History of Coxhoe” (p.19) reports: “Front Coronation Street, built about 1902, replaced a row of cottages known as Blue Row.”

It seems likely that the date of Blue Row’s demolition may have been 1902 but that Coronation Street was not built till 1906.

(When did Bell Bros. acquire the site?)


Extracts from Bell Bros. Directors Minute Books

On 1/7/1901, at a “General Meeting of the members of the Company”, freeholds including “a plot of land situate at Coxhoe, Durham, conveyed 24/12/1886 from [Grantor] Thomas Laing”, were among the properties conveyed from Bell Bros. Ltd. (which was being liquidated) to the new company of Bell Bros. Ltd.

Was this [land including] Blue Row, Coxhoe?

Later, in the Directors Minute Book No. 1 (24/1/1899—8/7/1913):

4/12/1901 “Tursdale Cottages. The Sanitary authority having ordered certain copyhold cottages at Coxhoe, known as the Red and Blue rows, to be closed, authority was now given for the erection of 12 cottages to replace them on land belonging to the Company at an estimated cost of £2,000.”  p.72

(Clearly the intention at this stage was for the cottages to be built for Tursdale miners, not for the later colliery at Bowburn.)

12/2/1902 Coxhoe New Cottages. Mr. Johnson and Secretary authorised to accept best tender for building.  p.77

But then…

7/5/1902 Coxhoe Cottages. Seal to “be fixed to the conveyance of four copyhold cottages to Thomas Laing by way of exchange for land acquired for the new cottages”  p.82

10/9/1902 “Coxhoe Cottages. Robert Telfer’s tender for erecting six additional cottages for £952/13s/0d ordered to be accepted.”   p.89

4/2/1903 Bell Bros. Directors considered repudiating purchase of Crowtrees Farm and the Wheatsheaf Public House as vendor had failed to show satisfactory title the the property.

4/2/1903 “Crowtrees Farm. The vendors having failed to show a satisfactory title to this property, the purchase of which was approved by the board 5th September 1900, the Managing Director reported that the question of repudiating the purchase was under consideration, the altered circumstances of the colliery having rendered its acquisition of less importance.”   p.97

4/3/1903 “Crowtrees Farm and Wheatsheaf Public House. Reported that, in accordance with the minute of last meeting, notice had been given to Vendor’s solicitor repudiating the contract for purchase.”   p.99

8/4/1903 “Crowtrees Farm and Wheatsheaf Public House. It was reported that the vendor’s solicitor has undertaken to show a clear title to this property forthwith and that Mr. A.L. Steavenson having recommended that under these circumstances the property should be acquired, the notice repudiating the contract has been withdrawn. The Board approved the course taken.”  p.101

9/3/1904 Reported to Bell Bros. Directors that the Crowtrees Farm purchase problems now resolved and conveyance submitted. “Reported that this matter is now completed and the conveyance submitted.”  p.123(?)

7/2/1905 Coxhoe Copyhold. Sale of a building site to Allan Johnson,  432 sq. yds. for £51/6s/0d ordered to be sealed.  p.139

5/12/1905 “Tursdale New Pit” Plans for railway sidings for £3,208 + £3,500 approved by Bell Bros. Directors for the erection of 20 houses for the sinkers (including streets) + two high-pressured boilers, a second hand engine for sinking etc. to be purchased at a total of £6,000 + £3,500 for the cottages.  p.162

6/2/1906 Authority given “to the Managing Director to arrange erection of 100 Miners Cottages, say 34 at Coxhoe and 66 at Bowburn during the next two years, at an estimated average cost of £160 to £170 each… and that Tursdale Coals shall maintain them and pay rent to the Special Reserve fund” [to which the cost of the cottages would be charged]… at 5% per annum [etc.]  p.166

4/12/1906 “Coxhoe and Bowburn Cottages. That £1,504/2s/9d, the cost of erecting 14 cottages on the copyhold land at Coxhoe, be charged to Profit and Loss and not to the Special Reserve , and that no more cottages be built upon the land under this minute.

“That a third row of 32 cottages, making 96 altogether, be erected at Bowburn, and the cost charged to the Special Reserve fund.”  p.187


Bowburn Colliery – not-the-sod-cutting by Gertrude Bell, Monday 23rd July 1906

Durham Count Advertiser, Friday 27th July 1906, page 7


On Monday [23rd July 1906] an important event in the history of Bowburn, a hamlet near Coxhoe, was the commencement of the sinking of the shaft of the new colliery which Messrs Bell Bros., Limited, owners of the adjoining collieries at Tursdale, Browney and Page Bank, have decided to work. The ceremony can hardly be called “sodcutting,” as the top soil around the circumference of the new shaft had previously been removed, but Miss Bell may be said to have commenced the sinking by digging up and turning over a piece of clay from the top of the shaft with a spade presented for the purpose. The new shaft is situate close to the main road, on the left hand side from Coxhoe to Durham, and is slightly over a mile from the former place, and about three and a half miles from the city, and is being sunk with the idea of relieving the heavy haulage at the adjoining Tursdale Colliery. The district into which the shaft will emerge has already been worked in the Busty Seam at Tursdale, but the firm having acquired a large royalty in the Whitwell and Sherburn districts, it has been decided to sink a new shaft and save haulage, a branch siding connecting the new colliery with the N. E. Railway south of Shincliffe Station. Tursdale Colliery will continue to work in the south-east direction, the new shaft being for the east and west districts. The shaft is situate on the north side o the “Whin Dyke”, which has been driven through in three or four places at Tursdale, and it is intended to sink it about one hundred and ten fathoms into the Brockwell Seam, passing through the Harvey and Busty Seams, both the latter and the Brockwell being at present worked at Tursdale, although only the Busty has reached the site of the new shaft. The work of sinking has been placed with Messrs E. Johnson and Sons, East Boldon, and a commencement is expected on Wednesday first. A temporary pit heap and engine house has been erected for the purpose, and as “boring” close to has proved that the first twenty-five or six fathoms consist of clay and loose sand in small beds, brick kilns have been erected by the colliery owners to convert the clay into bricks. Some forty [sic] years ago a shaft was sunk, to a depth of sixty-five fathoms, but a “big trouble,” thought by some to be part of the “Whin Dyke” which runs close to being reached, the shaft was abandoned after a great amount of money was spent over it. Since Easter the colliery owners have had an engine constantly engaged lifting water out of the old shaft with a bucket, at the rate of two hundred and fifty thousand gallons daily, but lately this has barely made any difference in the amount of water in the shaft, and has been given up as useless, arrangements being made to place a twelve inch special pump in the shaft to do the work. When cleared the old shaft will probably be sunk down, and used as a return air shaft. A good number of bricklayers, joiners, fitters, labourers, &c., have been employed some time at the new colliery, where offices, workmen’s shops, and an engine shed have been built, the lamp cabin being in the course of erection. The colliery is well adapted for railway transit, as the loaded trucks will run down to a siding, from whence the North Eastern engines can reach them. The Colliery Company have erected a number of new dwelling-houses at Coxhoe for workmen, the majority of which are now occupied; while Mr J. Taylor, contractor, Chester-le-Street, and his partner, Mr Geo. Willey, Byers Green, are at present building a row of comfortable four-roomed houses, with sculleries and washhouses for the colliery workmen, by the side of the main road near the pit. Other houses have been arranged to follow and the prospect for the district is a very bright one, as it is expected that coal will be drawn from the new shaft in about a year, and as the colliery progresses work will be found for some three or four hundred hands. The new shaft is 25 feet in circumference at the top, and will taper to 13 feet. Flags were hoisted at the colliery officers and other places on Monday in celebration of the event. Amongst those present being Miss Bell (daughter) and Mr Maurice Bell (son) of Sit Hugh Bell, chairman of Messrs Bell Bros.; Mr A. L. Stevenson [sic], Holywell Hall; Mr John Ramsay, manager of Tursdale and Bowburn Collieries; Mr M. Kirby, engineer for Messrs Bell Bros.; Mr Walls, draughtsman; Mr E. Johnson, Boldon; Mr F. Barkhouse, resident engineer; and a number of the general public.

Mr STEVENSON [sic], in a brief speech, referred to the great expectations they had from the new shaft. The firm had the royalty as far as they could see to the east and west from where they were standing. The speaker referred to the historic associations of the district in the time of the Scottish Wars, and said they would soon have a thriving village around them, where he hoped they would live happy and contented. He asked Miss Bell to commence the new shaft, and presented her with a spade for the purpose.

Miss BELL, after digging out a piece of clay, said she hoped the new colliery would prove successful, and that some good coal would be obtained from it.

Mr MAURICE BELL said he believed this was the seventieth [sic] shaft sunk by Messrs Bell Bros., over which Mr Stevenson [sic] had had charge. They looked forward to the new colliery being successful, and proving a boon to the district.

A vote of thanks to Miss Bell concluded the proceedings.

Subsequently the workmen were entertained in honour of the occasion.


Durham Chronicle & County Gazette, Friday 27th July 1906, page 11



Monday [23rd July 1906] was a special day in the annals of the little hamlet called Bowburn, situated about a mile and half from Coxhoe, on the main road to Durham. On that day Miss Bell, daughter of Sir Hugh Bell, Bart., chairman of Bell Bros., Lit., visited the place to commence the sinking of the shaft of the new colliery which Bell Bros. have decided to commence at Bowburn. Miss Bell had not the pleasure of cutting the first sod, that duty having been done some time ago, but she commenced the shaft by digging out a piece of clay from the top of it, after being presented with a spade for the purpose. Miss Bell was accompanied by her brother, Mr Maurice Bell, amongst others present being Mr A. L. Stevenson [sic], chief agent for Messrs Bell Bros., and Mrs Stevenson [sic], Holywell Hall; Mr M. Kirby, head engineer for the firm; Mr John Ramsay, manager of the new colliery and Tursdale Colliery; Mr F. Barkhouse, resident engineer; Mr Walls, draughtsman; Mr Gardner; Mr E. Johnson (Boldon), and some of the workmen and the general public.

Mr Stevenson [sic], in asking Miss Bell to accept the spade and commence the sinking, said they had great expectations from the new shaft. As far as they could see to the east and west from where they were standing the royalty belonged to Messrs Bell Bros. They had also some to the north. Tursdale Colliery would work south as at present. The hills around them were historic from their asociations [sic] with the time of the Scottish wars; but they would soon have a thriving village around them, where he hoped they would live happy and contented.

Miss Bell, having dug up and turned over a piece of clay which had been watered previously, expressed her hope that the new colliery would prove a success, and that some good coal would be obtained from it.

Mr Maurice Bell stated that they looked forward to the colliery being successful and to its proving a boon to the district. He complimented Mr Stevenson [sic], and believed that was the seventeenth [sic] shaft the firm had sunk over which Mr Stevenson [sic] had had charge.

A vote of thanks was accorded Miss Bell, which concluded the proceedings.

To celebrate the event, the workmen at the new colliery were afterwards entertained to refreshments.

The new shaft is close to the main road from Coxhoe to Durham, about a mile and a half from the former place, and is being sunk to avoid the heavy haulage at the adjoining Tursdale Colliery, owned by Messrs Bell Bros., who are also the owners of Browney and Page Bank Collieries. South of Shincliffe Station a slight fall will allow the loaded trucks to run to the sidings connected with the railway.

Sinking was expected to commence on Wednesday, Messrs E. Johnson and Sons, East Boldon, the well-known contractors, being entrusted with the work. A temporary pit heap and engine house have been erected for the occasion. Workmen have also been engaged for some time building workmen’s shops, offices, engine shed, lamp cabin, etc., ready for the pit commencing.






“At Bowburn winning, a shaft was seen in the process of being sunk by piling through the thick Glacial Drift of clay and sand, which covers the surface in the neighbourhood of Durham city…”

See full article, with notes.

Mike Syer,
21 Mar 2016, 14:38