Coal mining was carried out near the old farming village of Brandon in the 1830s when records describe a man raising coal from a mine using a whim-gin operated by a bull.

However the area was largely agricultural and there was no major colliery. Things changed in the 1850s.

The arrival of Brandon's first railway and an increasing nationwide demand for coal provided stimulus for growth. Brandon Colliery opened in 1856 just as the Durham to Bishop Auckland Railway was being completed nearby.

It was no coincidence. Railways were essential for transporting coal. The railway skirted the fields half a mile south of the village and continued east where the new colliery was built.

The owners called Strakers and Love, were a company that leased a third of Vicount Boyne's huge Brancepeth Castle estate for the purpose of mining. The land included Brandon. Mines need manpower so the company built a colliery village to house its workers. Located north of the colliery and called Brandon Colliery village, it was three-quarters of a mile across the fields from old Brandon village.

It consisted of rows of terraces like North Street, West Street, Durham Street and Sunderland Street but all have now gone. A second railway came to the area in the 1870s and brought further growth to Brandon.

It was the main line from London and the nearby collieries at Littleburn and Browney opened up on adjoining railway sidings. Another colliery had also been built on a siding alongside the first railway line.

This was Boyne Colliery near Langley Moor. Its date of opening is uncertain but it had closed by the mid-1890s. Nevertheless the remaining collieries were enough to sustain the newly born villages of Brandon Colliery, Langley Moor, Littleburn, Meadowfield and Browney.

They were located in what were previously empty fields. There were 260 houses at Brandon Colliery by 1871 and the sudden growth must have been quite a shock to the people of Old Brandon village where there were only twenty-five houses.

They must have wondered where all the new people came from. In fact by the end of the nineteenth century men had migrated to the area from Yorkshire, Northumberland, the Lake District, Lancashire, Derbyshire, Ireland and several parts of County Durham.

Some were agricultural labourers from farming areas attracted by the better wages of industry.

Census details show for example that by 1881 several families had moved to the Brandon area from a collection of villages near Southwold and Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. Shops, schools, and churches opened up to serve the growing communities and there was no shortage of pubs.

Meadowfield and Littleburn had one pub each by 1896 while Langley Moor had five. Brandon colliery miners could visit the Brandon Inn near the colliery's A Pit or could traipse across the fields to three pubs in old Brandon village. Alternatively they could head east to the Red Lion, an isolated establishment in the fields near the colliery waste heap.

Known locally as 'the Bleazer' it was demolished in the 1960s. Old Brandon village had no church to call its own and the parishioners attended the ancient parish church at Brancepeth. Intriguingly, Brancepeth church is dedicated to the Irish saint called St. Brandon.

Despite the appropriate name, it was too small for Brandon's expanding population and a new church dedicated to St John was built on land donated by Viscount Boyne at Meadowfield. It became Brandon's parish church in 1877.

However, even this was insufficient for Brandon's needs so in 1893 a church dedicated to St Agatha opened on the northern fringe of the colliery village.

Now demolished, it is remembered in the name of the recently built St. Agatha's Close. Of course not all of the late nineteenth century population was Church of England. Several Nonconformist chapels were built, whilst Roman Catholics, many of Irish origin, attended St Patrick's R.C Church near Langley Moor.

A Catholic School with 150 pupils was built nearby. It was one of three schools in Langley Moor.

There were two schools at Brandon in the 1890s, namely the National School, at Brandon Village with 40 pupils and the British School, built north of the colliery village by Strakers and Love, with 150 pupils.

Only the school wall remains today. Another indication of Brandon's rising nineteenth century population was the opening of the railway station. It was located on the Bishop Auckland line that is now the Brandon-Bishop Auckland Walk.

The station closed in 1964 and was demolished. Station Road and Station Avenue point to the location.

Brandon and its villages formed a local government district called Brandon and Byshottles from 1877 that became an Urban District Council in 1894. Since 1974 it has been part of Durham City.

Brandon Pit House Colliery opened in 1924 to the west of old Brandon village and operated until 1968. It brought an end to mining in the area. Brandon Colliery closed in 1960 and those at Littleburn and Browney in 1950 and 1923.

Housing development has been a constant feature of Brandon history since the 1950s and by the 1960s continuous housing linked the old village with its colliery neighbour.

Old terraces were removed at Littleburn to make way for the much-needed jobs on a developing industrial estate and Brandon's colliery terraces were demolished in the 1970s for new housing. The neighbouring pit heaps were also flattened to the ground.

For many years they had been known as the 'fiery heaps' because of their tendency to ignite without warning.

Today Brandon is still occasionally described as a colliery village but the collieries are no more.

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

Published: 06/12/2003