Standing on the hill between Charlaw Fell and Burnhope we may observe the pretty valley of the River Browney to the south. Nearby are the ruins of the Tudor Langley Hall and at the foot of the valley the former mining village of Langley Park.

The Browney flows along this village's northern edge, separating it from the industrial estate that was once its colliery site. The river rises eight miles to the west of here near Satley but several little streams that feed this river originate in the Consett area. In fact Consett and the Browney valley played a big part in Langley Park's history.

Staying on our hill, and looking further south, we see Durham Cathedral only four or five miles distant but if we set our sights to the horizon, a further twenty miles away we see the distant Cleveland Hills. They seem remote from Langley Park, but are a part of its history as it was a railway link from Consett to Cleveland that brought about the birth of the village.

Ironworks were established at Consett in 1841 but in the 1860s Consett needed better access to the iron town of Middlesbrough and the neighbouring Ironstone of the Cleveland Hills. There were some circuitous rail links between the two towns but a direct route was needed. The Browney valley provided the ideal setting for such a line.

In February 1861 construction of the NER Lanchester Branch commenced and it officially opened the following year. It was initially a single-track line with stations at Consett, Knitsley, Lanchester and Witton Gilbert. The Witton Gilbert station, opened in 1862, served Langley Park and the building can still be seen today. It is not located as might be expected at Witton Gilbert, but at Wall Nook on the edge of Langley Park. There was a good mile or so to walk from the station to Witton Gilbert village but Witton Gilbert's name was adopted for the station because in 1862 it was the nearest place of significance. Langley Park simply didn't exist when the station was opened.

The old station, now a privately owned building still exists. It has a rugged stone-built exterior, remarkably similar to the old station at Lanchester although that was of course the next station on the line.

Witton Gilbert station closed to goods in 1963 and last served passengers in 1939. The line itself closed in 1966 and is now the Lanchester Valley Walk. A railway bridge that crossed Langley Park's Front Street at the entrance to the village was removed along with the line.

It was the railway that caused Langley Park's birth. Colliery villages need large collieries and large collieries need efficient transportation. Just as the Deerness Railway caused the birth of Esh Winning and Ushaw Moor in the next valley, the NER Lanchester Branch opened up mining possibilities along the Browney.

In 1870, Lord Lambton who owned land in the Browney Valley accepted an application to search for coal and the following year coal was found. The NER doubled its track in anticipation of colliery demand and collieries soon opened along the line at Bearpark, Malton, Lanchester and Langley Park.

As we discovered last week Langley Park was originally farmland but small drifts existed at Hill Top village, overlooking the valley that Langley Park would come to occupy. The Hill Top mines were incorporated into S.A Sadler's Malton Colliery (opened 1870) two and a half miles further west along the Browney at Lanchester. For much of the twentieth century the Hill Top drifts were linked to Malton by an aerial ropeway.

Langley Park Colliery came into being in 1874 at the bottom of the valley on the northern side of the river. An unknown person first sank a shaft in 1871, but this was abandoned due to flooding and incorporated into the colliery at a later date. In 1874 the sinking of Langley Park colliery was taken over by Consett Iron Company. It was a sinking fraught with problems and internal flooding almost drowned the workers employed in its construction. It forced a complete upgrade of water pumps used in the process and the seam was not reached until April 1875.

In this year Coke ovens were erected south of the river but construction of the Langley Park village had already commenced on this bank of the Browney. Front Street and Quebec Street developed from country lanes, but the first houses were not built in those streets. This honour fell to North Street and South Streets (since demolished) consisting of basic, temporary houses of wood and stone that accommodated Sinkers employed in the colliery construction.

Other early streets were East and West Cross Streets, Langley Street, Durham Street and Railway Street. The last of these was located alongside a mass of railway sidings serving the coke works. Housing development also took place at the northern end of Front Street and along Quebec Street.

Consett Iron Company built Langley Park's earliest houses in stone, using material from a quarry at Hill Top that once supplied stone for the construction of Ushaw College. Brick was only used in Langley Park houses after the 1880s but it is the stone terraces at the heart of village that make it so visually interesting.

It seems that only a select few could come to work and live at Langley Park in the early days. The first manager, William Logan an employee of Consett Iron Company was in charge at Langley Park for twenty years and it is said that he was very particular about selecting his workers, apparently only choosing those attending interviews in collar and tie. Among those who made the grade were Cornish tin miners and a number of former lead miners from Weardale. All these new workers would of course require houses, shops, churches, schools and pubs and we will turn our attention to these in next week's Durham Memories.

If you have memories of Durham you would like to share with The Northern Echo, write to David Simpson, Durham Memories, The Northern Echo, Priestgate, Darlington, DL1 1NF. E-mail or telephone (01325) 505098.

E-mail david. simpson@ nne. co. uk or telephone (01325) 505098

Published: 06/08/2004