Bowburn – the johnny-come-lately colliery village

POST OFFICE: probably Bowburn’s oldest building

POST OFFICE: probably Bowburn’s oldest building

First published in Durham Memories by

In the first of two features about the community of Bowburn, south of Durham, David Simpson traces the origins of the village.

BOWBURN was a relatively late arrival in comparison to many other former mining villages that surround Durham City. Most of the colliery villages of the area were established in the early or mid-19th century, but Bowburn only arrived during the first decade of the 20th century.

A colliery had opened in about 1840, but was a relatively small enterprise and it did not bring about the birth of the village.

The first colliery owners were John Robson and Ralph Ward Jackson who was the founder of the port and town of West Hartlepool. Though it was called Bowburn Colliery, it was situated in what is now scrub woodland north of Coxhoe, to the east of the Park Hill estate.

Park Hill was named after a prominent farmhouse of the same name, most of which was demolished to make way for the A1(M) motorway interchange in the 1960s. The housing estate called Park Hill to the south consists of homes built for miners before and after the war. Because it is separated from Bowburn by the motorway, Park Hill was often mistaken for part of Coxhoe but in recent times Durham County Council set the record straight by erecting signs that clearly show that Park Hill is a distinct community.

The first Bowburn colliery was one of several 19th century pits near Coxhoe, and Coxhoe itself was one of several pit villages in the area. Others included Quarrington Hill, New Cassop and East Hetton (at Kelloe). But they were all wellestablished before Bowburn colliery village came into being.

The Clarence Railway – named after the Duke of Clarence, who became King William IV in 1830 – linked the collieries in the area to ports at Stockton and Hartlepool. Established in 1828, at first this railway only linked Port Clarence, on Teesside, with neighbouring Stockton, but it was extended north in the 1830s. Bowburn was one of the collieries on the line and Clarence connection is remembered in Bowburn’s Clarence Street and Park Hill’s Clarence Villas.

Clarence Villas is close to Four Mile Bridge on the border of Park Hill and Coxhoe, where the Coxhoe Beck trickles beneath the road. Here stands the Kicking Cuddy pub, formerly a house called Clarence Villa that became the Clarence Villa Hotel around 1870. It was later renamed the Kicking Cuddy, from a northern word meaning horse or donkey.

Incidentally, Cuddy was also St Cuthbert’s nickname – and Cuddy was a reference to his mode of transport.

By the 1850s, Coxhoe was a substantial mining settlement straddling the Durham to Stockton road. Here there were several houses, pubs and an ironworks. By comparison, Bowburn was a tiny hamlet. In the late 19th century, records show there were 11 stone cottages, a smithy and three pubs at Bowburn.

The smithy was on the eastern side of the main road opposite a pub called the Pit Laddie.

Today, the motorway interchange occupies the site.

Early Bowburn was situated north of here on the eastern side of the road. A small collection of farm buildings was located on Crow Trees Lane behind a pub where a toll gate once stood. In Victorian times, this pub was called the Wheatsheaf, and went by that name until it became the Cooperage in 1993.

Just north, and also on the eastern side of the road, was a collection of houses forming the hamlet of Bowburn. In the 19th century, this consisted of no more than four or five houses, one of which became the Post Office – probably Bowburn’s oldest house.

Further north and slightly separated from the hamlet was the Hare and Hounds, the only pub noted on the 1850s map.

In 1909, when Bowburn was undergoing transformation from hamlet to mining village, the pub was removed, rebuilt and renamed the Hare and Greyhound.

Before the 20th century, Bowburn hamlet was hardly large enough to support a pub, so its early patrons must have been farmers or travellers passing by on the main road.

The road in question – since designated the A177 – is Bowburn’s oldest feature. The course of the road is more or less Roman in origin and is sometimes referred to as Cade’s Road, after the 19th century historian who drew attention to its presence. It crosses the Tees near Middleton St George and continues north towards Sedgefield, before running through Coxhoe, Bowburn and Shincliffe.

North of Shincliffe, the course is uncertain, but it reappears as Chester-le-Street’s main street and continues on through Gateshead, eventually crossing the Tyne at the Swing Bridge near to which it entered a Roman fort on Hadrian’s Wall called Pons Aellius – better known today as Newcastle. It has been suggested there was a Roman settlement of some kind at Bowburn – perhaps accounting for the kink in the road – but, unfortunately, there is no real evidence to support the theory. The kink may have simply avoided the meandering Bowburn Beck, the stream that gave Bowburn its name.

Bowburn Beck was called Wedop Burn in medieval times, but it seems likely that it was also called Bow Burn, as it flows in an S-bend in two bowshaped meanders across the area.

The stream passes under the old Roman road near the village library at Bowburn Bridge.

On the library side of the road, it enters a culvert, before emerging alongside a Methodist church.

The name Bow Burn was not recorded before the 19th century, and while it is only a small watercourse, it is arguably the very heart of Bowburn village.

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