The Parish and Mining

St. John’s was a mining parish. The land was owned largely by the Duke of Norhumberland,the Earl of Carlisle and Balliol College, Oxford. They leased the coal workings to a range of operators prior to nationalisation in 1947.

Collieries

Foremost amongst the workings was Killingworth Colliery with its shafts sunk in 1810 east of the village and at Westmooor in 1802. The workers associated with the colliery lived largely in the ‘rows’ at Westmoor and in rows of miners cottages in Killingworth Village at Hillside and to the east along the road to Backworth.

The first shaft was sunk by the’ Grand Allies’ but by the time the church was opened in 1869 the High Pit was being used mostly for ventilation and the colliery was nearing closure in 1882.

The miners were then largely employed in Burradon Colliery sunk in 1819 and at Dinnington.They also worked at the Lizzie Pit, Weetslade, opened in 1903, and other nearby collieries.

The connections are clear in the family names common to Westmoor and Burradon as well as Forest Hall, to where families were rehoused from the miners rows.

An 1877 report to the Earl of Carlisle stated that ‘As compared with competing collieries,the expenses of working at Killingworth are for several reasons very high.....The machinery is too old and far behind the requirements of the present day. We have reason to believe....that the aggregate balance sheet shows a very considerable loss’. The colliery closed but its neighbour, Burradon, was to go on to be the longest working colliery at its closure in 1975.

George Stephenson and mining in Killingworth

Mining put Killingworth on the world map. In 1819 at 1200ft it was the deepest mine in the world and was considered one of the most technically advanced. George Stephenson came from Willington Colliery, with his young son Robert, to be ‘brakesman’operating the winder at the Engine Pit and then to become the colliery ‘engineman’ living in ‘Dial Cottage’.

George was to improve the pumping and winding engines but is famous for his work on steam locomotives which was to revolutionise the transport of not just coal but all materials, goods and people across the world.

In 1814,his first engine,’Blucher’ was to operate on the Killingworth waggonway which ran from Burradon to the coal loading staithes on the Tyne.

With Robert, he went on to play the key part in developing the railway network across Britain, parts of Europe and further afield. His most famous engine, ’Rocket’, was tested on the local waggonway before the trials for the Manchester and Liverpool Railway in 1829.

With the support of Nicholas Wood, who was to become one of the foremost mining experts, in 1815, he was responsible for the invention of the ‘miners safety lamp’ – just weeks before Sir Humphrey Davy. This was to become the cause of wide controversy. It is said by some to be the origin of the term ‘Geordies’, the name given to the locals who supported George’s claim for the invention against a national lobby in favour of Davy, the renowned scientist.

Across the parish ran the first products of Stephenson's genius for railways and beneath it the gassy conditions in the colliery saw the invention of the lamp that was to play such an important role in miners safety although mining deaths were to continue with at least 60 recorded by Durham Mining Museum for Killingworth Colliery and some 260 in Burradon and Dudley.

Latterly the first chairman of the National Coal Board, Sir James Bowman, lived in the parish.

Mining history at St John's

The building of the church shows the links with mining.

The Secretary of the Building Committee and one of the first Churchwardens was Stephen Campbell Crone, the colliery viewer/manager who came to manage Killingworth and Gosforth Collieries in 1857 and lived in Killingworth House.

Two of the sons of Nicholas Wood contributed to the funds for the church along with the coal owners, the Duke of Northumberland, Earl of Carlisle and Balliol College, and colliery owners Lord Ravensworth, John Bowes, Joseph Straker and Nicholas Lambert.

Robert Wight,the colliery engineman and a successor to Stephenson, who lived in Paradise Row, possibly in Dial Cottage, was on the building committee.

Further information

For  more details, check out these downloads:

Miners Buried in St John’s Churchyard from 1870

Lives lost in Collieries linked to Killingworth Parish