Tag Archives: industrial heritage

Old railway truck - flanged wheels

Industrial inspirations for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge

We humans have proved to be quite adept at harnessing energy to assist us in our daily lives. Wind and water powered our mills before we learned the ‘magic’ of steam engines and then electricity. Where would we be now without electricity? Just looking here around my kitchen, I would be in the dark, it would be cold and I would not be drafting this post on the computer! For Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week, our photo theme is Industrial and I decided to seek out some shots that feature energy production in some format.

Whitburn Windmill

Industrial inspiration - windmill and solar panels
Whitburn Windmill and domestic solar panels

My first shot reminds me of a wonderful sunny Summer day out we had at the seaside. This magnificently restored windmill was originally built in 1790 and stands overlooking the North Sea at Whitburn on the north east coast of England. In its day, the mill would have been used to grind corn for the nearby village. You perhaps also noticed another rather more modern form of ‘green energy’ in this photo, the solar panels on the roof of one of the houses behind. We spotted quite a number of houses sporting solar panels during our visit to sunny South Tyneside.

Here in the UK, home owners can opt to fit solar panels to their roofs whilst also remaining attached to the National Power Grid. This allows them to provide for their own electricity needs when there is sufficient sunshine and even sell any surplus electricity to the National Power Grid, but also enables them to draw electricity from the national mains supply if they need to. Whilst the UK isn’t always the sunniest of countries, solar power is very much a viable sustainable energy source here and I think a lot more could be done to support it.

Old Coal truck – a relic and reminder

Industrial inspirations - coal truck on the old railway footpath
The old coal truck in our woods

The form of energy most associated with the north east of England is coal. Our valleys and coasts were mined for coal for hundreds of years. Our Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries was powered by coal. Coal has played a huge part in the history and culture of our region. It was for the transportation of coal that railways were first invented. This old coal truck stands on its short stretch of track beside the old railway footpath in our woods, a reminder of the industrial history of our area.

The dust and smoke no longer cloak our lungs and lives, but coal mining, iron and steel working and the railways to transport the products of these industries have all left their legacies in our landscape. In its heyday at the turn of the 20th century, about 3000 tons of coal a day rattled their way along this railway en route to the River Tyne where the coal was loaded onto steam-driven collier ships to continue its journey. By the mid-20th century, much of our local coal was being transported only a few miles further down our valley where it was ‘cooked’ at the coke works to make coking coal (coke). The benefit of coke over coal was that it burned hotter and more efficiently and was therefore more suitable for industrial uses such as powering the furnaces for steel making and at power stations for electricity generation.

Old mine entrance

Industrial inspirations - coal mine entrance
Cream brickwork marks the old coal mine entrance

All of this industrial power came out of the ground beneath our feet, dug from coal mines that are now long gone … well, almost. In our woods it is possible to still find traces of old coal mining activity. In this photo you can see some cream coloured brickwork. This is a closed-up entrance to a coal mine that was operational until the around the mid-20th century.

Along the miners path

Industrial inspirations - Nature has reclaimed the miners path
Levelled path from the mine to the colliery yard

The coal would have been brought out of the mine in wooden waggons that rode along wooden rails, drawn by pit ponies. Now largely reclaimed by Nature, this levelled track in the wood suggests the waggonway continued from the mine entrance along to the colliery yard (approximately 300 metres away).

A bridge to the colliery yard

Industrial inspirations - bridge to the old colliery yard
Green mounds mark the brick bases of the bridge arch

To reach the colliery yard, the laden waggons also needed to cross the steep-sided stream. We discovered the remains of an old brick-built bridge. The two green mounds you can see in the photo are, I think, the bases of the arch that would have supported the bridge over the stream. However, we also found further brickwork to suggest the bridge itself was built up to a higher level, around two metres, to allow a level approach from the path from the mine on one side to the level of the colliery yard on the other.

A LILY brick

Industrial inspirations - Lily brick in stream bed
Distinctive cream LILY brick

Brick-making was another industry very much associated with coal mining in our area, as the clay from which the bricks were manufactured formed another strata in the same geological deposits as the coal seams. The brick clay in our valley was a cream colour rather than the red colour we more generally associate with bricks. I recall as a young child going on a school visit to the brick works where this LILY brick was made. For some reason, I remember this visit quite clearly although it is over forty years ago.

The Lilley Brick Works with its landmark tall brick chimney stood only a few yards along the road from the school. When we arrived we were each given a small extruded piece of the greyish white brick clay. Then we saw how the clay was placed into wooden moulds which were in turn encased in what I guess now must have been fire-proof clay. The moulds were then pressed and placed on racks in a large oven and fired – ‘cooked’ – into bricks. You probably noticed a difference in the spelling between the brick itself and the brickworks name! My guess is that only four letters would fit on the brick mould! I remember there were large stacks of these bricks on wooden pallets in the yard of the brick works. I wonder if this early insight into brick-making fired my interest in industrial history in our landscape!

Time to transition from coal to sustainable energy sources

Coal has certainly played its part in fuelling the growth of UK industry over the past two centuries. However, we now recognise that, as well as fuelling significant developments in science and engineering in their support of industry over those historic years, fossil fuels have contributed significantly to climate change and this is something we can no longer afford to ignore. Those natural and ever-giving sources of power are still there – the sun and the wind.

Industrial inspirations - wind turbines
Modern wind turbines

The wind turbines in my above image are now part of our everyday valley landscape, though rather more distant from us than in my photograph. The curious foreground in this image is due to the fact I shot it from a moving bus – I just waited for a suitable gap in the hedge! Modern wind turbines look rather different to the windmills of old, but their underlying function is the same – to harness the power of the wind to provide for one of our basic needs, now via the production of electricity rather than to directly grind the corn for our bread.

Personally, I believe that a lot more of our energy should be produced locally, close to where we need to use it. I have had some crazy ideas on how we could perhaps make better use of roofs on schools or supermarkets as well as thinking that more of us should be enabled to generate electricity for our own use. Sometimes I get a little bogged down in the science that needs to underpin my mad ideas – I’m working on that! – but I still retain an ambition to build a wind-up toaster 😀

Do take a look at what others have found on the theme of Industrial for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week.

J Peggy Taylor

Old rail trails and a bear hunt for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge

Whenever I look out across our green and wooded valley it seems hard to believe that around a century ago it was a major coal mining area with pits in every village and an extensive network of railways with steam trains carrying tons of coal every day to the staithes on the River Tyne.

This industrial heritage has left us the legacy of miles and miles of old railway paths, many of which have now been ‘upcycled’ into trails for walking, cycling and horse riding. As Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week is “Ground:rocks, sand, dirt, paths, walks, trails”, I thought I share some photos of some of our local old rail trails.

The old railway path and railway bridge in the woods where we often walk. I think in this misty shot it looks like something from a Victorian mystery story!
The old railway path and railway bridge in the woods where we often walk. This railway was a mineral line carrying coal from local mines. I think in this misty shot it looks like something from a Victorian mystery story!

Some of our local railway paths form part of a particularly popular long distance cycle route, enjoyed by 15,000 people every year. It’s called the C2C, and it is celebrating its 20th anniversary this weekend. The route travels 79 miles right across Northern England, literally from sea to sea, hence the trail’s name! I can’t say I’ve ever covered the whole distance, though we have walked several sections of it at different times.

The Derwent Walk railway path forms part of the C2C cycle route through Gateshead. This 9 arched viaduct was built to carry the railway over the River Derwent.
The Derwent Walk Railway Path forms part of the C2C cycle route through Gateshead. This 9 arched viaduct was built to carry the railway over the River Derwent. Built originally in 1867, the Derwent Valley Line carried goods and passengers.
The Nine Arches viaduct that carried the Derwent Valley Railway. The C2C cycle route follows the Derwent Valley Railway Path through this part of Gateshead's countryside.
The Nine Arches viaduct that carried the Derwent Valley Railway. The C2C cycle route follows the Derwent Valley Railway Path through this part of Gateshead’s countryside.
The Waskerley Way is an old railway path in County Durham that forms part of the C2C cycle route. The Stanhope and Tyne Railway was also a mineral line but this one carried limestone for use in the local iron and steel industry.
The Waskerley Way is an old railway path in County Durham that forms part of the C2C cycle route. The Stanhope and Tyne Railway was also a mineral line but this one carried limestone for use in the local iron and steel industry.

Whilst I was looking for my challenge photos for this week I also came across one I took whilst out with my youngest son recently. This one involves a muddy trail and a muddy tale!

Our walk took us along one of our favourite muddy paths where we spotted a trail of deer tracks in the squelchy mud. We observed from the tracks that the deer had been running in the same direction as we were walking but though the tracks were quite fresh there was no other sign of the roe deer that had left them.

Tracks in the mud - is it a bear chasing a deer?
Tracks in the mud – is it a bear chasing a deer?

After we’d followed the tracks for about a hundred metres or so my son spotted another set of tracks that seemed to be punctuating the deer tracks every now and then. We observed these tracks were from the paws of a large carnivore … and so the story soon became jovially embellished! We decided that, obviously, the tracks we were following were those of a bear chasing after the deer! … I should perhaps add that we don’t have bears here in the north of England of course … but, in storytelling, dogs could become bears, I’m sure 😉

J Peggy Taylor