Sunday, April 17, 2011


The features marked on this aerial photo are based on a sketch plan of Cowpen Township, which in turn is based on a tithe map. The map shows those features from around the 1840s period when the Isabella Colliery was first sunk.
click image to enlarge
The boundary of Cowpen Township is shown in blue. This enclosed an area of some 1,707 acres [Whellan 1854 trade directory]. A township was an administrative division of a parish. The boundaries of these townships were often well established before written records began in this area. A township was the lands farmed and used by a settlement, which was usually at the townships centre. By 1840 the land of Cowpen Township had, for some time, been divided and enclosed into individual holdings.

The development around Cowpen Square, although in Cowpen Township, was considered as part of the industrial activities emerging in South Blyth. The tenure by which property was held in Cowpen was felt to be more preferable than in South Blyth/Newsham and accounts for the growth of the Township from 853 persons in 1801 to 4045 by 1851 [Parson and White directory 1857].

Original sketch map of Cowpen Township. Click to enlarge.
The major landholder in Cowpen by 1840 was Marlow John F Sydney esq. This was a recent acquirement. This family were resident in Cowpen House and Cowpen Hall (formerly occupied by Mr Watson in 1823) and in 1840 erected and endowed St Cuthbert's catholic church [Whellan Trade Directory 1854]. Pevsner in his architectural guides of England describes many fine 18th century buildings of note in Cowpen all of which except the King's Head have been demolished in the 20th century. The Blyth Urban District Council brochure of 1912 had this listing from 1823:
"Cowpen district also comprised Crofton and Cowpen colliery and contiguous to the latter was the handsome mansion of Mr E H Watts, father of E H Watts who was better known as the partner in the firm of Watts, Milburn and Co. The house is more familiarly known as Watt's Farm or Malvin's Close."
This was the holding used by the Cowpen Coal Co on which to site the Isabella Colliery.

The first pits of the Cowpen Coal Company were sunk in 1794. In 1813 negotiations between Sir Matthew White Ridley, the holder and developer of South Blyth/Newsham, and the Cowpen Coal Company resulted in the former becoming a partner in the company. This ended the stifling competition between the two and allowed for greater development.

The development and opening up for coal traffic in 1847 of the Blyth and Tyne Railway meant the feasibility of the sinking of the Isabella Pit, which happened in 1848. A short spur joined this colliery to the main line which took coals to the Tyne, at Percy Main, for export. Blyth harbour was not developed on a large scale until the 1850s.

It was many years before the Isabella became a community in its own right. The Ordnance Survey 1st edition plan of c1860 does not show any housing at the colliery, except for the small North Row which was probably erected to house those workers essential to the maintenance of the colliery and the sinkers.
Isabella Colliery 1922. Click image to enlarge
If you are familiar with the operation of Google Earth you could upload this file where you can view these images from any angle, adjust transparency, view a map of Blyth from the 1890s and all the other functions associated with a geograhical browser.
Isabella Google Maps

1 comment:

  1. Superb local history material - a delightful surprise...