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The Story of Ushaw Moor

The first Ushaw was located adjacent to the College farm with Low Esh to the immediate west and Hilltop to the north. Esh registers show the existence of a bakehouse belonging to Robert Batmanson long before the college was built.

To quote "David Gordon, a poor soldier begging his bread, fell sick of a fever and died in a bakehouse at Ushaw, buried the 16th day of January 1699. A poor lame beggar who was lodged at Robert Batmansons bakehouse was buried 24th day of April, 1702". "James Thompson, a poor lame beggar, died at Ushshaw in the same bakehouse, buried February 2nd, 1702". "Jane, wife of James Thompson, a poor lame beggar, died at Ushaw, buried the 25th day of the same month 1702". "George, the son of Roberta Robinson, a poor beggar woman (six) who lay in Robert Batmanson's bakehouse at Ushaw, baptised the 24th day of November, 1707".

Robert Batmanson, himself, was buried the 10th day of March, 1708. A bakehouse, in those days, was used by the local villagers as a place where communal cooking and baking were carried out. A price would be paid to the owner for the use of the oven. Hospitals and refuges were almost non-existent. Many people were poor and homeless and, when they fell sick, the only place with any warmth was the local bakehouse. So many people died in poverty and misery, a situation that eventually led to the establishment of the workhouse.

Another name for the district was Middlewood Moor and the district extended from Hag House (which name is said to mean a clearing in the wood) in the west to Broom in the east. Its boundary to the North ran along the pathway from Hag House up towards the college farm and along to the West gate of the college wall, across the field in front of the pond and on to the park towards the short golf course. It then went back to the road, which ran past Whitehouse Lane, down to the Workmen's Club, turning east to Broom Hall Farm and Broom itself. The south boundary was marked by the Deerness for a considerable way, the total area being about six hundred acres. Through the Enclosure Act of 1763, people who had used the land were allowed to fence or wall and so claim ownership of their plot. Mineral rights still belonged to the Prince Bishops of the Durham Palatinate.

A little to the North of the college farm stands the ruined base of a former windmill. This mill was erected about 1820 to provide flour and feeding meal for the college and the livestock on its farms. It was 70ft. high. The miller was George Correy and he was allowed to grind flour for his own profit. On New Year's morning of 1853 a gale-force wind destroyed the mill, blowing the sails and cap to the ground with a loud crash.

In 1804 Bishop Gibson, the Vicar Apostolic Of the Northern District, purchased 300 acres of land from Sir Edward Smythe-Bart and commenced building the present college at Ushaw. Some four years later the community from Crookhall, near Consett, took possession. Father Fortin must be given credit for being the first person to bring education to the mining population of the Deerness Valley. In 1874 he erected a corrugated structure near Ushaw Moor colliery, naming it St.Joseph's School (GR27C). Both Catholic and Protestant children paid one penny each Monday for their education. The school, although having accommodation for 100, had an average attendance of 130. With the closing of the 'tent school', as it was nicknamed, during the strike in 1882, the Catholic children attended the school at Newhouse, Esh Winning, being taken there each morning by horse-drawn brake. The fare was six pence per week, although each evening the children walked back to Ushaw Moor. In 1898 the school was dismantled and transported to Newhouse, where it was re-erected and used as premises for the first Newhouse Working Mens Club.

The only Coal workings in the district up until the 1850s were a small landsale drift at Esh Hill Top, worked by the Holliday family and a similar mine, situated to the west of Esh Hall, owned by John Clish. In 1858 a drift mine was established at Ushaw Moor Colliery, selling coal on the landsale system. The owners were the Hollidays, and it is probable that this same family owned one of the two workings at Esh Hill Top. John Sharp & Co. were the next proprietors and it was they who built the beehive coke ovens from bricks manufactured at the colliery.

Little more is known up to this time, but it is well to remember how the atmosphere of the mining villages had been tempered by previous industrial events. The years between 1816 and 1849 had seen fifty-nine explosions, killing 999 miners in Northumberland and Durham. This high death rate had brought about a Mines Inspection Bill, which was passed in 1861, and, with the formation of the Durham Miners Association in 1869, the feeling of resentment grew. In 1872 the Coal Mine's Regulation Act was passed, and in the same year the Yearly Bond was abolished, releasing the pitman from the binding obligation to work for a master or owner for a full year no matter what conditions were imposed upon him.

Paul Clough, September 2000

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