We spent Easter visiting the NorthEast. Whilst many schools seem to be cutting the Industrial Revolution from their KS3 curriculum, perhaps they find it dull, for me it is the opposite. I was born here in the North. This is my cultural background and my rich and proud heritage, amongst the dark hills and moors, the deep valleys whipped by wind and rain. My families ancestors toiled and worked to create a brave new industrial nation. Many of them came from Ireland, places like Tipperary and settled along coal and mill routes of the great northern counties. They worked as navvies, labourers, mill workers, spinners, seamstresses and my husbands family moved north working as a stationmaster on the railroad. I felt compelled to visit Tanfield on this journey and post-industrial pilgrimage to the north-east.
It is believed that there has been some form of railways connecting the Tyneside coal to the ports of Blyth and the Tyne since the 1600’s. At first the tracks would have been wooden and the carts/wagons would have been pulled by horses. There may actually have been tracks and a railway at Tanfield during this period. However, it is believed that the Tanfield main railway line was first built around 1725 and therefore almost 100 years before the first steam locomotive.
It was sleeting and Good Friday, there were folks in Victorian clothing carrying Birds of Prey and local clog-dancers performing in one of the sheds, it was a very typical country affair, we donned decent walking shoes to brave the mud and went in search of some interesting pieces of history and of course to see, hear and smell the beautiful steam train, chug-chugging in and out of the station to the sound of a couple with an accordion and a fiddle- with no doubt frozen fingers.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable hour and we were able to wander down the derelict sidings and see the workhorses of the past in their final resting places. There were engines being maintained and preserved in sheds along the way, and everywhere scattered haphazardly remnants of the great industrial past and the steam-train era.
I wondered how many souls had travelled aboard these carriages and whether their journey had been pleasant and if they had reached their destinations safely. We take so much for granted in our lives and being here reminds me that in those early days of locomotive travel, lives were particularly hard, it wasn’t just the coal and steam, but every aspect of working-class lives, and yet the locomotives went on to give us greater freedom to move at will and were clearly instrumental in enabling working people to travel to growing seaside resorts like Tynemouth, South Shields and Whitley Bay. By 1871, with the passing of the Bank Holidays Act thousands had begun to use the rail network to travel to the seaside. You see all of our history is entwined, the grimy bits, the bits we sometimes choose to forget but it is all part of the same story that has given us what we have now, and made us what we are now. The Industrial revolution is a significant part of our history and heritage and it is important to acknowledge all that went with it to do justice to all of those souls who came before us, the ones that lived, loved and died, often under dark skies in order that we might enjoy the fruits of thier labours and I stand proudly on their shoulders.
Own photos of Tanfield and Tynemouth.
©Alison Jean Hankinson