Top Bar


Bullet Point Home
Bullet Point Location
Bullet Point History
Bullet Point Town Councillors
Bullet Point Council Minutes
Bullet Point About Us
Bullet Point Links
Bullet Point Contact Us



The Hetton Centre, Welfare Road, Hetton-le-Hole, Tyne & Wear England, DH5 9NE


History of Hetton-le-Hole

Though a superficial glance at the Hetton of today may lead one to think it is a place with little or no history, this is not the case. The history of the area can, in fact, be traced back for up to a thousand years. The unusual name of Hetton-le-Hole derives from two Anglo-Saxon words, which were spelt together "Heppedune" or Bramble Hill. Various other spellings are "Hepedon", "Hepdon" and "Hepton". The name gave rise to a local landowning family the le Hepdons;who owned part of the Manor from the very earliest times. The ancient manor, which was bounded by that of Elemore, was, in fact, divided into two parts known as Hetton-on-the-Hill and Hetton-in-the-Hole the second and more sheltered part was that in which the village ultimately arose. Until the early 17th century, however, the two sections co-existed as one integral state.

In Norman times the manor house was on Bramble Hill (near the present Thompson's Farm) and in the valley below were the huddled houses of the village. The villagers owed their allegiance to the Lords de Hepdon and from them received their lands on lease. Around both the manor house and its grounds and the village were the common grazing lands and beyond that the extensive forest lands that then covered much of this part of Durham. The population of the village was quite small and in all probability the Lord of the Manor and his household formed almost as large a community. Life in the village and estates was self-sufficient and contact with the outside world (which, with poor tracks in use, would have been arduous anyway) was very limited.

Records exist of the many holders of the manor right back to the 14th century. William de Hepdon, we find, held half the Manor by deed in 1363 and in 1380, William de Dalden held the other half. However, even earlier charters go back to 1187 and make mention of the early village of Heppedune, its people, houses, crofts, ox-gangs and strips of land for the villagers in the three great fields around the settlement. In 1187 Bertram de Heppedune held the manor for the King and the other de Hepdons were his descendants. At some early period the de Hepdons sold part of the estate to the de Latons of Sedgefield with them thus becoming part owners of Hetton. The de Latons were ancestors of the Musgrave family who held much of the land from about 1600 onwards. Part of the manorial lands were also surrendered to the monks of Finchale Priory (the most important monastic establishment in the country to-day, with ruins beautifully set above the River Wear). After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, however, much of this land was returned to its original owners. The early manorial estates held their own courts at which those who broke the manorial laws and customs were dealt with. These laws;in fact our earliest 'Bye-Laws' carried penalties of up to forty shillings fines (a large sum in those days). Fines or other punishments could be imposed for those who trespassed; who ploughed the waste lands; who illegally kept greyhounds; who blocked-up the watercourses; who harboured beggars; who allowed his fowls to wander or who did not repair his hedges or walls. A strict code indeed!

In 1380 William de Laton's daughter Elizabeth married Piers Tylliol and the descendants of this union may be traced the Colville, Morseby and Musgrave families, all of whom were landowners here. The part of the estate belonging to the Musgraves was purchased by the family of Bishop James of Durham and later passed to the Spearmans who lived in Hetton Hall. In 1746 the estate was again sold, this time to the Countess Dowager of Strathmore whose sons and grandsons lived in Hetton Hall. Finally the estate passed to the late Honourable Frances Bowes-Lyon, the Queen's uncle. Several memorial tablets and windows to this family are found in the parish church of neighbouring Houghton-le-Spring.

The exact date of construction of the earliest manor house building is not known but an early historian describes it as "standing low to the West of the village and surrounded by soft wooded grounds and almost on the edge of a lake formed by the Hetton Burn". This site corresponds exactly with to-days Hetton Park and with the former Hetton Hall. Some time in medieval times the mansion was built and, as already related, it became associated with the Bowes-Lyon family. For many years after 1812 the house was empty but Nicholas Wood, the eminent colliery engineer, bought it and lived there with his son, later Sir Lindsay Wood. After his death in 1865 the hall was seldom occupied and was finally demolished after the First World War. Pictures of the house show it to have been a mansion in the classical manner and thus its destruction was a great loss.

By the mid-17th century a change had come to this part of Durham, which was losing its wooded aspect and was seeing its agriculture decline quite rapidly. Local villagers were losing their holdings on the land as the great fields were enclosed. Sheep farming was carried on to help foster the country's wool trade, then its prime industry.

By this time too industrialisation was beginning to "rear its head". Coal Mining had, in fact, been carried on since Roman times and by 1180 there were coal "smiths" at Bishopwearmouth and Sedgefield and in 1239 at Newcastle. Coal was obtained by drift mining at first but by the 14th century shafts were used and coal-getting activities had spread to East Durham and the Ferryhill-Gateshead-Sunderland area. The River Wear was a coal exporting centre for supplies mined around Chester-le-Street and areas directly north of Hetton.

By 1790 these earlier workings were exhausted and, with the growth of railways, it became possible to tap new seams of coal farther from the ports. The first venture in the Hetton area was in 1815 when an unsuccessful attempt was made to mine coal near Rainton Bridge. Success came in 1822 when the Lyons colliery at Hetton was opened though not without controversy and heart searching. It was a highly controversial point with geologists as to whether, in fact, coal even existed beneath the 38 yards depth of magnesium limestone, which covers this area. If it did it might prove to be worthless. Deep coal mining was still frowned on at that time and the Houghton and Hetton projects were experiments. The sinking of the Hetton Lyons shaft was a major scientific job involving the penetration of no less than 94 beds of strata. However, this difficult task was achieved and 296 yards below the surface a seam of Hetton or Wallsend coal two yards thick was found.

In 1819 the Hetton Coal Company was formed by a group of local people and the first sinking operations began a year later. Subsequent co-partners in the Company listed on 31st December 1857 included Edward Shipperdson of South

Bailey, Durham; Hannah Jane Cochrane (Widow) Standish House, Gloucester; John Burrell, Durham City; Jane Darnell, Clifton Grove, York; Martin Dunn, Newcastle-upon-Tyne; William Erskin Cochrane (Major in H.M. Army), Albany Street, Regents Park, Middlesex; William Lynn Smart, Linden, Bedfordshire; John Mounsey (Merchant), Bishopwearmouth; Ralph Park Philipson, Newcastle; Nicholas Wood (Colliery Viewer), Hetton Hall; Archibald Hamilton Cochrane, Radcliffe Hall, Leicester; John Dalton, Long Hall, Yorkshire, and George Smithson, Newcastle.

The first shipment of coal from the Lyons mine was made from Sunderland Staiths in November 1822 along the specially built railway via Warden Law. The building of this railway was, in fact, as remarkable an achievement as the sinking of the pit shafts.

It was in 1819 that the Hetton Coal Company owners decided to build a wagon-way from their new Hetton mine to the River Wear at Sunderland. It was to be built in the style of a shorter but very successful line at Killingworth Colliery. George Stephenson was chosen as the engineer of the new eight mile long line (he had also designed the Killingworth track) and after long consultations with his brother Robert he decided to keep to the natural contours and to use both locomotives and stationary engines. The methods he adopted were still used until 1959, as was even some of the original machinery.


The line, which included five self-acting inclines, two stationary engines and five locomotives took time to build but at last in 1822 the first train load of coal was transported over its seventeen trucks full of coal weighing sixty-four tons and all at an average speed of four miles per hour. The local press described the event thus:

"The Hetton Coal Company effected the first shipment of coal to their newly erected staiths on the banks of the River Wear at Sunderland. The wagon-way, which extends eight miles from the Colliery to the Wear, and in so doing crosses Warden Law, one of the highest hills in this part of the country, was crowded with excited spectators, gathered to witness the first 'operations' of the skilful and ingenious machinery employed for conveying the wagons. Five of Mr. George Stephenson's patent travelling locomotives, two sixty horsepower fixed reciprocating engines, and five self-acting inclined planes under the direction of Mr. George and Mr. Robert Stephenson, the Company's resident engineers, simultaneously performed their various and complicated offices with a precision and exactness of the most simple machinery, exhibited a spectacle at once interesting to science and encouraging to commerce. After the line had been formally opened and the business of the day completed, the owners of the Hetton Colliery and about fifty of their friends dined at Miss Jowsey's Bridge Inn, Bishopwearmouth."

These pioneering efforts did much to lay the foundations of the railways of the world and were evidence of the skill of the engineers of the day and of the faith and foresight of the local men who had made an 'impossible colliery' a success. These activities led to a great and rapid increase in the size of Hetton and over 200 houses for the miners were built at once. Conditions, however, in the mines themselves were appalling, men, women and children toiling for long hours below the surface for mere token wages.

In fact, they were slaves in all but name. Gradually, however, humanitarian ideas prevailed and conditions improved. New inventions eased the toil and made the mines safer. Hetton Colliery has, in fact, suffered few explosions. One occurred in 1836 and another in 1860;both resulted in the loss of 22 lives. Water was always a trouble and flooding was a constant annoyance. By 1897, however, a steam pump was at work drawing out one thousand gallons a minute!

In the mid 19th century years serious disturbances occurred among miners who, not unnaturally, were unhappy with the poor and only slowly improving working conditions. Strife and strikes resulted;as throughout the mining areas—but out of the turmoil came better conditions, higher wages and the birth of the strong miners trades union.

Some idea of the growth of Hetton caused by its industrialization can be gained from the census returns. The first census in 1801 gave the population as 212, in 1811 it had only risen to 264 but by 1821 it stood at 919 and, with the colliery established was growing rapidly. The village had, however, no government of its own and was still a part of Houghton parish (eventually it and five other parishes were "carved" out of Houghton). Hetton however, despite its population of just under a thousand, had in 1821, no less than 30 public houses and 5 breweries! There were also eight private schools or academies in Hetton and Easington Lane (state schools were unknown) and local business folk included farmers, a miller, blacksmiths, a printer and publisher, tinsmith, stonemason and joiners. There were many shops and a physician;indeed the trade facilities seem enough for a town many times bigger than Hetton.

Travel conditions had improved though no railway for passengers existed. Carriers provided services on certain days each week to Sunderland, to Newcastle and to Durham and Bishop Auckland. These carriers also conveyed passengers on market days. Stagecoaches for Durham, Sunderland, Newcastle and even London left from Houghton-le-Spring, the "fast" journey to London taking about a day and a half!

Rail transport came in 1836 when the Durham to Sunderland line was opened &; at first using the rope and incline plane system but later reverting to normal working. Now, of course, this line is closed and thus has the course of history turned full cycle.

Another glimpse of the constituent parts of the present urban district as they were in the middle of the Victorian era is given in a Gazetteer published in 1866. This says of Hetton-le-Hole:

"This township comprises, 1,739 acres. Has real property worth £30,478 of which £24,700 are in the mines and £652 in railways. Population in 1861: 6,419. 1,318 houses. Hetton Hall belongs to the Hon. Mrs. R. Barrington and is occupied by N. Wood, Esq."

After describing the rise of the coal industry, the reference concludes:

"The chapelry is conterminate with the township; was constituted in 1832 and made ecclesiastically parochial in 1847. The living is a rectory in the diocese of Durham;value £280. The church was built in 1832. There are several chapels, a national school and three reading rooms and libraries."

The same reference describes East Rainton as a township of 1,965 acres with 339 houses and an 1861 population of 1,505. Its value was £5,870 and most of its inhabitants were miners. The district had a church and chapel.

Moorsley was also referred to as a "township" with 588 acres, 185 houses and a population of 973. Some of the inhabitants, we were told, were employed in neighbouring collieries and quarries.

These are the "bare bones" of the facts but some details can be filled in from contemporary accounts. Though such streets as Front Street, John Street. Hetton Square and Pemberton Street were in existence there were many open spaces in the town area. The oldest part of the town, of course, grew up around Hetton Park and the Church. The early streets were long and dreary with rows of grey stone or local brick cottages. The streets were largely unpaved and undrained and such sanitary facilities as existed were shared as was the water supply.

As the 19th century advanced so the township progressed, roads were improved, bus and train services were provided and new churches, schools and other buildings erected. The Urban District was formed by an Order in Council dated March 30th, 1895 and it then consisted of the Hetton, Hetton Downs and Easington Lane Wards;the population was 12,726 and the rateable value £20,475.

It is pleasing to note that one block of twelve former mining cottages from Francis Street in Hetton Centre, was demolished and re-erected stone by stone at Beamish Open Air Museum, Stanley, near Chester-le-Street, where visitors may view the housing conditions, including gardens and pigeon crees, of the former Hetton miners.

The original houses were built between 1860-1865 and were occupied by miners and their families until 1976.


A Hetton Lyons Colliery Locomotive (1822-1913) is on display at York Railway Museum.







The connotation of the arms being "Puffing Billy" represents the locamotives used on the Hetton Colliery Railway
constructed by George Stephenson, resident Engineer in 1822. The ears of corn represent the Agricultural community.
The Lion Rampant has association with the Bowes Lyon Family.



Hetton Town Council - Serving your local communities of
Easington Lane, Moorsley, East Rainton, Eppleton and Hetton-le-Hole