WINSTON is a lovely village of low cobbled cottages huddled high above the River Tees. It is hard to imagine that 100 years ago, its fields were full of miners and its steep bank to the river had an extraordinary rickety railway running down it.

The details are revealed in Brian Clarke’s new book, Sweet Winston.

People had obviously picked at coal in the area for generations, but come the start of the 20th Century, prospectors clearly hoped for rich pickings on an industrial scale.

At Westholme, near Winston station on the Darlington and Barnard Castle Railway, substantial money was sunk into a colliery, and the isolated hamlet of South Cleatlam was built for the miners.

South Cleatlam is a curious place. Two industrial terraces of 50 houses line a rural road.

At Westholme’s peak at the start of the First World War, it employed 87 miners, 60 of whom were underground.

Down the lane at Whorley Hill, another 94 miners were employed, with 68 underground.

Coalmining was big business at Winston, although no one made a fortune.

With such operations came accidents. On September 1, 1912, William Makepeace, 41, the nightshift chargeman at Westholme, had “foolishly gone into the workings with a naked light”, causing an explosion.

“He died two days after and his death was entirely due to his own disobedience,”

says the Mines Inspector’s report, rather harshly.

After the war, attention switched to two new collieries: Teesside and North Tees. Teesside bore practically underneath the village, and constructed a railway that ran from its mouth several hundred yards down the steep hill to Winston bridge.

At the bridge was a large wooden contraption, as Brian’s stunning photograph shows. The wagons rolled up the contraption, opened their doors and their coal came spilling out onto the road below where motor vehicles drove it over the bridge to market.

Teesside closed on August 31, 1938, leaving only North Tees.

The Northern Echo:
A brilliant picture of the rickety railway and gantry at Winston. The photographer is standing on Winston bridge – its stone parapet can be seen in the bottom right-hand corner. Wagons from Teesside Colliery came about 200 yards down the steep bank on a ramshackle railway and then up on this timber contrapation so that the coal could be emptied into motor vehicles below

On October 21, 1941, putter Harry Dunning, of Burnt Houses, Cockfield, returned to the coalface after getting his bait to discover his two colleagues had disappeared.

There were old workings nearby and, after having raised the alarm, Harry went to investigate.

But he was driven out of the old workings by foul air.

He did not give up. He entered on five occasions, once getting as far as 80 yards, but each time he was beaten back.

But he’d seen enough to know that Reuben Brown, 30, and Joseph Tallentyre, 40, both of Staindrop, had been trapped by a roof-fall and overcome by fumes.

Eventually, the Crook Fire and Rescue Brigade arrived and retrieved the two bodies.

At their inquest, the coroner paid tribute to the “foolhardy but magnificent” efforts of Harry and another miner, Thomas Gargate, in trying to reach their colleagues.

Until its closure in 1966, North Tees employed 60 men, 55 of them underground.

The Northern Echo:
The book’s cover

With it gone, only the drift and open cast workings around Osmondcroft, near the A67, were left and they continued seeking coal until as recently as 1991.

  • Sweet Winston – A History of a Teesdale Village by Brian Clarke costs £10, plus £1.25 p&p. It is available by emailing sweet or calling 01325-730434. All proceeds go to Winston church roof repair fund.