An old collieries walk

(First published in Bowburn Interchange no. 57, December 2010, but updated for this website in 2013)

(A more detailed account can also be viewed here.)

Bowburn, Park Hill and Old Quarrington (OQ) were once in the township of Quarrington.

Well over 200 years ago – long before the 20th century Bowburn Colliery – Quarrington miners dug coal for landsale in South Durham and North Yorkshire. Then, in the 1830s, railways opened export markets in London (and beyond).

With thanks to Google Maps

A short walk takes you through some historic countryside.

Starting at Park Hill, walk up Ramsay’s Drive, opposite Park Avenue. The track is named after William and John Ramsay, managers of Tursdale Colliery, who lived at West Hetton Lodge.

The Lodge stood in what is now woodland, at the end of the first section of this path. It was built in the 1830s, a two storey stone building, with an impressive colonnade facing the drive.

Among its early occupants were Richard Sheraton Johnson, who later owned Whitworth Colliery; William Lishman, later the Earl of Durham’s Agent, and both Mountjoy Pearse and George Lockwood, later shipbuilders.

Beyond the woods is an open field and then you cross the line of the last section of a branch of the Clarence Railway, once the bitter rival of the Stockton & Darlington Railway. This branch served the Crowtrees and Heugh Hall Collieries, then owned by William Hedley, designer of the early locomotives, Puffing Billy and Wylam Dilly, as well as the first working Bowburn Colliery, West Hetton Colliery and Joint Stocks and Clarence Hetton (Clay Hole) collieries at Coxhoe. The first steam locomotive to run on the Clarence Railway, the “Tyneside”, was constructed by Messrs Hawthorn, of Newcastle, for William Hedley, to run coals from his Quarrington collieries in 1835.

To the left, a cutting still runs through to the Bowburn–OQ road. It once led to the first Crowtrees Colliery. To the right, the railway ran to a level crossing at Coxhoe and beyond.

Further on, you pass the site of an 18th century Newcomen steam engine, which once pumped water from mines in this area. You then reach open fields again.

To the right, across the field, is a footpath which has recently been re-opened after a dispute over its status as a right of way. This path is of great historical interest. It was created in 1912, to divert two paths that previously crossed the site of the first (1840s) working Bowburn Colliery. One went from West Hetton Lodge to Coxhoe (Joint Stocks) Colliery – now a waste disposal site. The other had been a wagonway from Heugh Hall Colliery, at OQ, to the Clarence Railway.

The diversion took the path round the old colliery site, which by 1912 was a brickworks. This was owned by Thomas Barker, once Fives Champion of the World, who bought it with his winnings (or perhaps his bets!) in that sport.

Thomas Barker (back right) and his brickworkers

Our walk, however, does not go down Barker’s Path but carries on towards OQ. You soon arrive at a stable building. Just beyond here once stood the hamlet of Woodhouses and another coal mine (“Hedley’s Pit”).

Now turn left, leaving the bridleway to OQ (a former wagonway connecting the last Heugh Hall Colliery to the Clarence Railway), and head for the bottom end of Heugh Hall Row. A series of stiles takes you through paddocks created in the 1990s from open farm land. On a clear day, there are amazing views from here, from Thrislington Quarry to the left, through Brandon and the upper Browney valley, to the hills round Stanley to the right.

Today’s Heugh Hall Row was built by Durham Rural District Council in the 1930s. An earlier Heugh Hall Row, of much smaller houses, once housed 38 households of Heugh Hall miners.

When you reach the OQ road, cross over and follow the path past modern outbuildings of the old Cassop-cum-Quarrington Vicarage, now Grey Gables, on your left. Built in 1870 (at a cost of £1,750), the vicarage was sold by the Church in 1956.

The path crosses the quarry road, built in the 1980s to divert heavy traffic away from OQ. Then, soon afterwards, it enters a large pasture that slopes down towards Heugh Hall Farm. This was the home of perhaps the oldest family in Bowburn, that of the late Harry Story. Head in the direction of that farmhouse.

The footpath passes some very uneven ground on the left. This is believed to be the site of the original Heugh Hall Colliery (bought by William Hedley in 1824, before he sunk a new one at OQ). The right of way then joins an embanked track, possibly an old wagonway, and heads towards the new A688 link road.

Turn left alongside the new road. You soon have an excellent view, to your left, of the site of that first Heugh Hall Colliery. It is especially striking in early morning, when the sun throws shadows across the uneven land.

The path on the left of the A688 crosses the new entrance to the OQ quarry road. The original Crowtrees Colliery was probably about opposite this, near the beck. (This was also acquired by William Hedley, in 1824, who later sunk a new Crowtrees Colliery near Quarrington Hill.)

The path then crosses the bridge over the Bowburn-OQ road. Bowburn Cemetery, opened by Cassop-cum-Quarrington Parish Council in 1945, is on the other side of the new road. The road past it was once the only road to OQ, coming from opposite the forge and behind the Pit Laddie public house. These were both lost to the motorway in 1969.

The final section of the new road goes through a cutting. To create this, the County Council’s contractors had to dig through the Five Quarter coal seam; selling the coal helped pay for the roadworks. The old mine workings uncovered by this work dated from the 18th century but were known in the mid-19th century as John Bell’s Pit. John Bell – nothing to do with the Bell Brothers who later sunk Bowburn’s 20th century colliery – was a local farmer. He had a sub-lease allowing him to “rob the pillars” of the earlier workings.

Old workings at John Bell’s Pit were exposed when

the A688 link road was being constructed in 2007

To return to your starting point, at the entrance to Ramsay’s Drive, turn left at the new roundabout. We hope you enjoy this walk, which is about 2.5 miles long.

A digitised map of all public rights of way in Durham County, including the ones shown above, can be viewed at: