THE former colliery village of Quebec is located along a front street less than a mile to the north-east of Esh Winning.

A farm building named after the famous Canadian city and province gave its name to the village.

Fields were enclosed here in the mid-1700s when Britain was at war with the French Canadians and Quebec was a topical name.

On the other hand, this name may simply have something to do with the perceived remoteness of the fields in this area of Durham.

This would also help to explain the name of a farm called Greenland, half a mile to the north-east.

Quebec is situated on Hamsteels Common, where the fields were enclosed in the 18th century. The common was named after a little settlement called Hamsteels, a mile to the north-west, located between Quebec and Lanchester.

Hamsteels’ Anglo-Saxon name, Ham-Stigel, meant steep ascents by the homestead but it is now a small collection of buildings clustered around Hamsteels Hall.

The hall dates from the 1700s and is now a bed and breakfast guest house.

Hamsteels was also the name of a quite separate colliery village that came into being in the 19th century. It was located half a mile south of Quebec and its colliery was nearby.

Senior colliery staff resided at Hamsteels colliery village, but Quebec village was built to house the majority of the miners.

The colliery came into being in 1867 and was initially called Taylor Pit. It was built on the site of the Esh Tile Works and probably used buildings from the old works.

In 1861, most of the area was empty farmland but by 1871 there were 38 families at Hamsteels Colliery and 110 at Quebec.

The colliery owner, a Mr Johnson, built houses along the main road that became Quebec’s Front Street, with a further nine streets such as Brockwell Street and Busty Street built at right angles to the main thoroughfare.

At Hamsteels Colliery, Johnson built Office Street, High Street and South Street, each with garden plots.

Although Hamsteels housed senior employees, most of the village amenities were at Quebec, including a school, a church and a miners’ institute.

Johnson, a brewery proprietor, also built two pubs at Quebec called the Hamsteels Colliery Inn and the Hamsteels New Inn, but the miners probably had mixed feelings about his ownership of the pubs.

Hamsteels Colliery continued to operate until closure in the 1920s when Stanley Sadler, a Teesside industrialist, acquired small drift mining interests here and named the Clifford and Ethel drift mines after his son and daughter.

The mines operated under the name of Hamsteels Colliery until closure in the 1950s, by which time Hamsteels Colliery and Quebec were declared category D villages under the county development plan.

Such communities were described as lacking in social facilities, situated in poor locations, with no source of employment and having properties in poor condition.

Investment in these places ceased and residents, despite their strong attachments, were relocated to allow for demolition of the villages.

All houses in Quebec except for Front Street and the farm were demolished in the 1950s and the residents were relocated to Langley Park and Esh.

At Hamsteels Colliery, the streets were not all removed until the early 1970s.

Only 17 families resided here by 1973 when residents included a retired African bishop.

The National Coal Board carried out extensive opencast mining soon after the demolition of the last remaining houses and Hamsteels Colliery village is now an empty field, with no trace of its former existence.

A Hamsteels housing estate was created half a mile south of the colliery on the outskirts of Esh Winning, partly to re-house former Hamsteels residents.

In recent years, the estate was the subject of a boundary dispute, being the only part of Esh Winning in Derwentside district rather than Durham City council district.

The dispute is now resolved as both councils ceased to exist from April of this year.

A large area of land between the former colliery site and the new estate is of archaeological interest and demonstrates how the depopulation of old settlements is nothing new.

Rowley Gillet and Rowley farmhouses lie immediately to the west of the estate and include several interesting archaeological remains.

Rowley Gillet, sometimes spelled Gillot, arguably pronounced with a soft G, is named after a family called Gelet who owned land here in the 1200s.

Earthwork traces of a large, rectangular fortified manor house called Castlesteads lie to the east alongside the site of a medieval chapel.

The whole area may have belonged to the wealthy De Esh family of Esh village, but nothing is known of its history.

It was probably abandoned in the 1600s.

Several other earthworks can be found nearby and it is probable that the area was occupied from ancient times.

All the sites are scheduled ancient monuments and protected by law.

A woodland area just north of Hamsteels Estate called Rotten Row Plantation, suggests further abandoned settlement.

Dere Street, the most important Roman Road in the North, runs through the heart of this area between Quebec and the former colliery site and it is possible that the various archaeological sites have some connection with the road.

A farmhouse called Cobie Castle stood on the northern side of Dere Street between Quebec and Esh Laude until the early 20th century and may occupy a site of antiquity.

It is interesting to contemplate that while there are extensive and protected traces of medieval settlement, nothing remains of the more recent village of Hamsteels Colliery.