Mining at Escomb
Travelling to Work
Village Life Through the Ages (Timeline)
The Horse Trough
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7th Century Saxon Church
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|The Village of Escomb
Escomb (probably a derivative of "Eddis Combe" or "Idas Combe"), is the modern-day name given to the community situated on the south bank of the river Wear west of Bishop Auckland, the home of the Lord Bishop(s)of Durham.
We can only speculate as to the reasons for the origins of Escomb village but the fact that it is on a hillside may account for it's earliest existence. There are five springs on the hillside and this would have made it a sacred place. A local holy man, druid, soothsayer or healer would be all that was required to attract a number of followers and thus form a small community.
Having explored the Wear valley, the Romans built a large fort at “Vinovium” (modern-day Binchester) some four miles down river. What appears to be a Roman track passes through the village on the way to the river crossing at Witton-le-Wear and, from there, to the upper dales and the former lead mines. Many years later the Bishop's coach followed the same route to the dales, and there is evidence to be found in the records that the people of Escomb were required to build the temporary shelters and chapels when the Prince Bishops went on organised hunts - On one occasion, the reward was a barrel of beer! This connection with the Bishop of Durham goes back at least to the Norman times. Once, to buy off the invading Vikings, the community was given to a Viking King as part of the cost of peace. A later bishop regained the village.
The village reached it's maximum population in the latter part of Queen Victoria's reign, when the iron production at Witton Park demanded coal from the mines of Escomb and surrounding villages. Not until 1870 did Witton Park have it's own church and a graveyard, so, prior to that date, all burials took place in the parish of Escomb.
The population increase led to the hurried building of small houses, and the establishing of a school, by the owner of the coal-mine in the village. Later the school was transferred to the top of the hill leading into the village. At this time there were numerous plum orchards and each year the people held a Plum Fair. Records do not show whether the fruit was fermented, preserved or sold, but they were happy occasions.
By the turn of the century unemployment was starting to have an effect. The Escomb pit had closed during World War 1, and work was transferred to a pit across the river at the neighboring village called “Toronto”. (please see “Escomb Suspension Bridge”). This necessitated a rope bridge being slung across from trees on either side of the river to afford a direct route to Toronto instead of a five mile walk through Bishop Auckland. The bridge eventually became unusable and has not been replaced.
The Poem of Escomb
My wife's grandfather, John William Pattison, born in Escomb on 26th April 1870, worked at the George Pit and lost a leg as a result of an accident at work. He wrote a poem, circa 1903, about Escomb as it was at the turn of the 19th Century.
An appeal was printed in the Northern Echo on 27th July 1990 for memorabilia of Escomb for a heritage exhibition. A lady from Spennymoor came forward with the original poem found, yellow with age, in the drawer of a sewing machine bought at an auction in Bishop Auckland.
This amazing find is further enhanced by the fact that Ormston Pattison, son of John William, had a letter published in the Northern Echo in 1965, 25 years before the article mentioned above, with a plea for any remaining copies of this poem, written by his father, to which there was no response.
This poem chronicles the village as it was at the end of the 19th Century and gives a personal insight into the lives of the residents of Escomb.
THE VILLAGE 0F ESCOMB.
Two miles to the west of Bishop Auckland,
Close by the river Wear, Iittle Escomb doth stand , this ancient little place was once noted for its plum fair,
Where the lads and lasses did go to enjoy themselves there.
Small as this village is, I am proud to say,
We have two South African heroes living in it today,
Then we have some more, far over the sea,
Serving with their regiment, wherever it may be.
Also we have some old Soldiers, Volunteers, and Militiamen living here,
Who are ever ready to do duty for their country when danger is near:
Then there is the old Church which has stood twelve centuries or more,
Its walls are good, though built in old yore. Its roof it decayed and was much broken in,
And quite open laid for the birds to dwell in; For years it was in ruin, and mouldering away,
While our friends in their graves all round it did lay.
But visitors came from far and from near,
To see the old Church so ancient and dear,
And subscriptions were given to have it restored,
And paid to the late Vicar - the Rev. T Lord.
On the 4th October 1880, ‘twas re-opened again
By the Bishop of Durham, a man of great fame.
On the east of the church, you may see a small cot-
A nice little garden and hot-house they’ve got
Close by this little cot, before you come to the stack-yard,
A Policeman you’ll find, the village to guard.
As you come along a house you can see,
Which at one time was a public and a jerry
Further down there is a farmyard row, in it doth dwell
A family of sons, whose names I’l1 not tell.
As you go down, you’ll come to the Waterside row,
Where the people in summer time pass to and fro.
At the end of this road, you’ll come to a bridge instead,
Where the workmen go, to earn their bread.
Close by are the gardens, once noted for fruit,
Now damaged by the smoke, and coal working out
As you come back a family you’ll find, and you can trace
their name further back than any in this place.
Further up the Angel Inn doth stand, on the right sidewhere an ex-policeman and his family reside.
This house belongs to a noted brewery-Cameron and Co
And you’ll get a good glass of beer if you happen to go;
Close by is the Post Office, as neat as any you’ll find;
On the opposite side is a house and shop combined
Now you go round to Bowmans yard, which has a good record,
In it you’ll find the Saxon of the burial board.
Then there’s the old Bay Horse, now a shop so fine,
Where many a poor iron worker spent his leisure time.
As you leave the old Bay Horse, a small chapel doth stand,
Where the Primitive Methodist join hand in hand.
Close by is the Royal Oak, for many years it has stood,
And it belongs to a well-known man of this neighbourhood.
This house went on wheels at one time, and did some trade
But since Witton Park works stopped, what a difference it has made.
If you look to the south, you see the highway -
The only way in, and out the same way.
Now the Councillors of this Parish, thought they would,
Instead of letting the men stand about, get them a seat if they could;
Now these seats were got, and placed in front of the turnpike,
Where the men can spend their leisure moments and enjoy their pipe.
As you go a little further up, then you’ll see
An old row of houses commonly called the key;
On the other side you come to a shop where a man and wife doth dwell,
With a neat little window, decorated with meat to sell.
Close by here the Wesleyan Chapel doth stand,
Where the Wesleyan Methodist join hand in hand.
On the opposite side to the Wesleyan Terrace youll find,
Then you come to Parkins Yard, close in behind.
Now you pass the Hawthorne Lodge, on the same side;
Further up the Masterman coke-burner and his family reside.
Then you come to a shop, which is kept by a hard working man,
Who always does his best to oblige his customers if he can.
As you go up the bank, you come to the Wear View,
On the other side there’s Primrose House in front of you.
In front of the Wear view a blacksmiths shop once stood,
A very useful shop though erected with wood.
Now the owners of this place, their names I’11 not tell,
Tho’ some of you might know who in Escomb doth dwell.
On the opposite side you’ll see Block-yard Row and in it doth dwell,
An Overman, two Deputies, a Master Shifter and Brakesman as well.
A brick oven once stood in front of this row
For the neighbours to bake in their turns you know;
Further up then the Overseers house youll see,
Where the people go to pay the burial fee.
Across the road there’s a Reading Room stands back,
Where members go to enjoy themselves and get a bit crack;
Now this place was rather small, so they got it enlarged on some spare ground. And bought a billiard table, then they got the room seated round.
As you go across the bridge a well-known family you’ll find.
With a nice big building and garden behind.
Close by there’s a house and a wash house in the yard,
Where a policemen! You’ll find the colliery to guard.
Further up then you come to the Bridge Row,
Where an old friend of mine keeps a shop you know. As you go on, before you leave this row,
An Overman, and Engineer you’l find for Stobart & Co.
As you go further up the Vicarage stands on the hillside Where the Vicar of Escomb and his family reside.
If you look to the left the new Church you’ll see,
A neat little place, and a fine cemetery.
As you go further up the Moresby House doth stand
With a beautiful front, and garden so grand;
Farther up on the other side, a lemonade shade once stood,
It was kept by a well-known family of the neighbourhood.
Then you cross the road, the Blue Bell Inn you’ll find here,
Which is well-noted for its fine spirits, and West Auckland beer;
Further up one the other side the School-masters house youll find,
Then you have the day Schools close in behind.
What spoils this village, I am sorry to say,
Is that fiery heap, smoking and burning away.
Since in this village I first did roam, Many changes I’ve seen, and many old resident has gone to their long home.
If Escomb and its suburbs you wish for to see,
Stand on the hillside and view it with me;
And now I’ll conclude with my little rhyme
And may write again at some future time.
John W Pattison
Village Life in the 19th Century
A Description of the Church & Village in the 19th Century by Curry,s who were parish clerks of Escomb
The Service in Escombe church was held once a month and holy communion once ln three months.During the service the Parson's horse was stabled at Peacock Farm (now known as Vicarage Farm). The clergyman rode on horseback from Bishop Auckland by the bridle path along the riverside. It was thought a dreadful thing if there were three funerals in one year.Baptisms were saved up until he came but often took place at the same time as a funeral. The Church bell was rung at midnight on New Years Eve.
There was a low wall round the churchyard which was old and had never been known to have been broken, Inside the wall there was an unbroken elder hedge which when in bloom, made the Church look beautiful. There were two gates, one for those who crossed the river.
The vestry meetings were held in the Church porch.
The churchyard grass belonged to the vicar, Escombe village formed a circle around the church and it was very pretty,lovely gardens and orchards. Escombe was famous for its plums and there was a Plum Fair held every year on the village green. My father remembered these-the plums were damsons and there are still trees about in the orchard.
From the Three Lane Ends there was a narrow green lane(grass coverd)with trees on each side which led into Escombe, there was a bridle path from Etherly Moor.
The first Methodists meetings were held in an orchard at the back of the Old Hall and the preacher stood on the stone steps leading to the barn. Meetings were also held in an orchard at Woodside (Johnsons). The first Methodist chapel was built in 1838, the second chapel was built in 1860. The Primitive Methodist chapel
is of a later date.
There was an old inn called the Bay Horse, another two - The Royal Oak and the Angel Inn and another joined to Peacock Farm. There were Beautiful oak trees in front of the Royal Oak. The village school was held by a lady in a cottage at the foot of the bank in 1836. The first Sunday School was held in the old church in 1836, it was afterwards held in the Reading Room, then in The Three Lane Ends School. The first tea for the Sunday School Children was held on Easter Monday 1867, the weather was very cold and it was decided to alter the date to Whit Monday in 1868. With the exception of one year,1897,when the vicar died (Mr T Lord) there has been a tea on Whit Monday until now. The Rev,H Robinson was the clergyman who began the tea.The trees which are in the Old Churchyard were all planted by William Kirby in 1881 and 1888. The elder bushes spring from roots of old elders.
Escombe has its own quarry, many of the houses are built from the stones.There was a pinfold (an enclosure for cattle).
The nursery gardens are old and were famous at one time. A row of cottages (The Poor Houses) stood on the village green in front of the Royal Oak Inn facing the Church.
Escomb Chatter (Jack Scales)
I was born in Etherley Dene (1911),behind the little Chapel there, before the Estate was built.
I always remember this, it has always lived with me for years, about Mother getting us up one night and putting us under the table because a Zeppelin was coming over. I have got an idea that it was heading to Fishburn Coke Ovens, probably attracted by the lights. I know there was one shot down, I was very young, but I can remember that
We moved from Etherley Dene to Bridge Row(Escomb). This has always confused a me a bit, I always thought we lived in the 4th house up from you, or would it be the 6th one up (Talking to his friend Mrs Gladys Roe).We lived there for a while and then we moved into Parkins Yard, now that was a place to move-lets face it, Bridge Row was a king to this down here but of course we had more room. It was just before you get to the bottom of the bank, you used to go up a little rise turn right through an archway(where Raisbecks lived,turn to the left and the earth closets were there, and just at this side was our house
During the time we lived in Parkins Yard there was four of us in the family, my sister,she has died since-she was about two years old, then me then there was my other sister and then my younger brother-he was all right but three of us got Scarlet Fever and we had to stay in one bedroom for three weeks, we were isolated in there, if you looked out of the window all you saw was the toilets. There was a fever hospital at Tindale Crescent but they thought the three of us were better at home. It was strange that 4 or 5 years later my brother got it and they took him to Tindale Crescent Hospital
The main work for the men in the village at that time-my father worked at the Slag Works, but when I was a lad just before I left school, just over the bridge towards Witton Park on the left hand side you will see quite a heap there, My father and an uncle and someone else, I sometimes took their teas up,and go down the drift mine and watch them working. Nothing came of it very much because I don't think it was completed. You remember the Slag Works they used the waste from the the old Iron Works and produced tarmacadam and all sorts of things.
When I first started work it was across where the old coke and brick ovens were. We used to dig bricks-seconds, clean them then put them in to the trucks, there was a siding down there.I was there for about18 months,then it fizzled out, it was owned by the same people as the Slag Works, we were transferred to Witton Park .When I first started work after leaving school, I always remember ,I brought home 10s 9p.
When I left the Slag Works,I was about 20, I applied to join the Police Force. Mind I put some work in before that, I used to go to evening classes twice a week. I used to cycle to Bp. Auckland Grammear School and I had about four subjects-Shorthand, Typing, Economics... The shorthand came in very useful later on, I did a bit of office work later on and you could be an authorised shorthand writer and get paid for it, but I said no You could get called out anytime
to meetings and they were not very pleasant so as long as I wasnt authorised, I could please myself.
Mrs Gladys Roe,
I lived in the last house in Bridge Row going down the hill-number 19.My father was a miner at Toronto and we used to go over the old rope bridge, We had relatives in Toronto and we used to go over there regularly.
There were two Chapels in the village, and there was a butchers shop,Pattersons next to the Wesleyan Chapel. Further down was the Chapel we attended.The old Primitive Methodist which the Salvation Army took over,it was before I went away when I was 15 or 16, must have been 1920? We did go to quite a few Socials at the Wesleyan Chapel.(Mr Scales-when she went to the Salvation Army she had to go there-not the Chapel)The Salvation Army had a great following because all the people at the bottom of the village, Bowmans Yard and places like that, all went there because it was nearer and they all had large families. During the General Strike(1926) at the time the Salvation Army fed a lot of people for free, although there were farthing breakfasts all the kids came, and at night they had pies and peas and everything. We had a great following the Hall was always packed, getting all this food free
Do you remember a family called Grey (?)Jackie about the same age as me, we used to go to school together, They made the first reclamation-for a pair of boots for a free meal. It was a pit heap,very dirty, it was here we had what we called the tattie gardens. They were allotments really, they gradually dwindled and between time my father and Mr Dixon took it over and they had hens and hen houses, it was like that when I went away, I dont remember them moving them.
There used to be tennis courts over here, that was before the the first recreation ground, it was lovley. They had Reading Rooms, before the railway line where the community Centre is now, there was billiards and reading room,they played cards, not much gambling because people did not have the money.They played quoits, they had a football team as well, they played in that field the other side of the railway, that was where we had the shows, and roundabouts.
Was there a brass band in Escomb? a friend of mine
has a photograph of it-a relative of Lena Dowsons. They did have a brass band because my grandfather was in that-Evans.(Mr Scales)I can"t remember it might have been before I came or after I went away in 1931. Do you know anyone who played?
My Grandfather, Mike used to play the piccolo, what about Norman Inman he played the piano accordion and the concertina.
Round the bottom of the hill was a Chapel on the right hand side and round there was the Stack yard which led up to Vicarage Farm, my uncle had that farm,Uncle Will.Thats where I spent a lot of my time even when I was working.The one thing I am upset about is that the council took away the trough from the front of the old Saxon Church,where the horses used to drink,that was a landmark and now it"s gone, It was a natural spring.
My uncle used to supply sand to Joe Pye the builder,He led it in a coup cart .I used to go down to the river and help him load the cart from the Gravel Works.He had two horses, one in the shaft and one in the tracer,to get it up the bank,they were two heavy horses mind you-the old draught horses.We had one who used to jump all over the place and he used to do the tracing.We used to take him right up to the three lane ends and would loosen him,fasten his traces up ,turn him round and he used to walk back to the farm.the kids would shout at him as he went past he took not one bit of notice and would trudge away back into his stable.Fancy,going all the way down there with just a coup cart with maybe a ton, or a ton and a half in,they weren"t that big and lets face it sand is heavy you know. Even the colliery carts,the one they put the coals in for the miners were only 15cwt.
We rere married in St John"s Church (the victorion Church).I think it was a shame that was taken down,it was very nice.They used to have the Sunday services in the summer down at the Saxon Church,but all the other services up there. It had a lovley church hall, it was the centre of the village then. Concerts,dancing,everything in there. The Salvation Army was doing well, then there was the Chapel and the Church.I think there was more children then ,people had big families,there was no television or radio like there is now.There were about 1300 in population in Escomb in 1911 (now there about 800 to 900). Families were much bigger,my grandparents had about 12 children. It has changed a lot now. Games we used to play ,All the bath tins used to hang outside Bridge Row and as kidswe used to start at the top and come right down and bang every one,we were little horrors. The Vicarage had these apple trees,wouldn!t darego over the wall, but we used to shake the branches with a stick to get the apples.
There were some sad occasions as well,I always remember being in bed one night it was in the middle of the night,we were all in bed and there was a voice outside shouting "Charlie",that was my fethers name,he says what!s the matter?Georgie Douthwaite"s been killed in the pit.Do you remember at school one day when Keith Owen "Is there anyone here related to John Brown? and do you remember in a coup cart from Newton Cap bank.(What"s a coup cart?)They"ve got a large wheel and they are like a box with a door at the back and it could be tipped up.That's what there used to clean out the middens with,Isn't it? How many lavatories were there for each house?.
We weren't to bad,There about six toilet's there-Mrs Duffin, we were next, Mrs Hewitt,who was it who lived in that just round the arch-Mrs Hewitt,then then was my grandmother in the house we took over,then the Raisbeck's they had one there.Over the road there was a big sink,quit enormous,and four of us shared it and every fourth week we had to swill out the sink.There was only cold water in houses.
In this yard-Parkins Yard-I dont no why they they called it Parkin's Yard I think it was after some pit. owner. They had a communal wash house,one person used it one day then another the next.They had those down Bowmans Yard as well.they took turns to use it.
What did they call the streets, closes etc?
One was Parkin's Yard,Then there was Bowman's Yard,Wear Terrace down towards the river.New Row right at the edge of the field and then their was Cross Row, the one at the top Bridge Row,And there was Wesley Terrace just two houses
How many houses were there behind the Church?
You now where the houses start now,just before you get there,was the old Post Office then there was the Angel Pub, Dixons fruit shop was at the other end.Wasn't there a Farley's Yard? That was at Etherly Moor. After the Pub there would be about four or five houses then the Fuit Shop.Threre was a gap tillyou got to William Blades farm,so it wasn't really built up right round. Two houses had been knocked down.Going down the river opposite Wear terrace was the old Hall it was in a dilapidated state I was once told they destroyed a marvellous fireplace in there,Who lived in the Hall was it May......'s sister.When I was at School they told us there was a tunnel from the Hall that led to the old Church ,and to Binchester Roman Fort,We used to go down the step's at the Chuch to see the bricked up doorway.
Going down to the river past the Hall near the plaground was a big house with a swing in the garden,not many people had a swing and we all used to congregate in there. Fruit tree'where all round this house.Blades'cottage had plum trees which were coverd every year,and an orchard which went right down to the river.Another big orchard belonged to Harry Hamlin next door to orchard House.
Remember Dabbleduck-Who was that women who used to live there? Polly on the sands. She was a ..... women. There were two cottages there.Dabbleduck was like a triangle behind Blades' farm . It was frozen over in the winter time and we used to go skating there.River over flowed and it froze as well. We were playing football there and Bill Blades prosecuted us. It was reported in the Gazette, headline was Escomb Youths Again!"- just for playing football.
There were two houses were Lincolns live, but there but there was also a little street with four or five houses. I can remember Stainbrown(my uncle)Matthens, then there was Widdes's, they were the gentry,He was a sidesman at the Church.
There was a public footpath through there.(Jack talking to Gladys)Do you remember when we went to Witton Park on the bus and we would walk back along the fields,wegot down Nab Hill all right and then we came to that little beck,we couldn't get across so we went bown to the corner and scrambled under the barb wire then the cows sterted to chase us.You can walk all the way down to the river. Just by the river you came to a wood,we used to call it little wood. There was a lot of ariam lilies,bluebells,primroses, but they tell me there isn't any now.
What do you think of Escomb now compared with 50 or 60 years ago?.
Very different, but a great improvement. I think it's a pretty village now.Bridge Row looks lovly ,they got those houses for next to nothing, those that bought them, got them for £150
Down the village the river used to flood right up to the houses,I remerber my Grandfether having to move upstairs. There was a sewage works and all the fish used to be dead in the river we didn't swim then. We called part of the river further along the backwater were we swam.
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