By The Sea Heritage Trail
by the Sea is a fascinating place. It may appear at first
to be a strange mixture of buildings, but on closer inspection,
it is a wonderful reflection of changing lifestyles and industry.
Although coal mining may have been responsible for Newbiggin
growing to the size it is today, there were centuries of maritime
activity before that. It was also a thriving holiday destination
at one time in the days before package holidays to the sun
became the norm. This trail will highlight only
some of the towns features and history, but perhaps
it will help you understand Newbiggin and its people.
The Ancient Port
Looking at this quiet bay today with its small fleet of traditional
Northumbrian fishing cobles and occasional sailing boat, it
is hard to imagine the busy port it once was: ships loading
and unloading their wares, and all of the associated services.
is evidence of shipping activities dating back to the early
fourteenth century. In 1316, Edward II granted the town the
authority to collect tolls from any ship using the quay for
loading or unloading goods. Twenty years later, and the port
must have been important, as an order was issued summoning
all Newbiggin ships belonging to the Kings service to
muster off Suffolk. To assist and protect those ships, there
are records of the village having a pier on the north side
of the bay at that time. It was in need of repair however,
and in 1352, Thomas Hatfield, Bishop of Durham, granted a
40 day indulgence to any person within the diocese who would
contribute to the repair, for the security of the shipping
was a major port for the shipping of grain at one time. It
is said that it was third only in importance after London
and Hull. Occasional reminders of that time can still be found
around the village, including grindstones that were used for
seem that Newbiggin by the Sea has always had a fishing industry.
The first recorded reference to fishing was in the twelfth
century when a home and fishing boat were linked to the monks
of Newminster Abbey. This association with the church lasted
for hundreds of years and in fact continued
in Newbiggin by the Sea for many years after the feudal system
St Bartholomew's Church (Church Point)
At this point it would be appropriate to draw attention to
the fine church which sits on The Point of land
at the north end of the bay. St Bartholomews Church
was founded as a chapel of ease to St. Marys Parish
Church at Woodhorn. It is reckoned that a small church occupied
this site before 1174, but by the 14th century it had become
a larger and more important building. Its development over
the centuries has resulted in a fascinating
mixture of architectural styles, and it is well worth a visit.
The Lifeboat Station
The tragic loss of 10 young fishermen in March 1851 when a
storm suddenly arose was the calalyst for the establishment
of the Lifeboat Station in Newbiggin by the Sea. Colleagues
had risked their own lives to save the crews of four capsized
cobles, but only two men were saved.
village was numb with grief, but determined to be better prepared
in future for such an emergency, a Lifeboat Station was established.
It was only months after that the Rear Admiral His Grace the
Duke of Northumberland accepted the office of President of
the RNLI contributing 100 guineas to general funds as well
as undertaking to complete the coast of Northumberland with
lifeboats, including a boat for Newbiggin, all at his own
expense. More than 150 years on and many lives saved, the
Station is now the oldest operational boathouse in the country.
The same family names as served on the very first lifeboat
operate the twelfth boat - an Atlantic 75 class boat named
CSMA 75th Anniversary which arrived on 5 August
should be paid to the men of the village for their lifesaving
service, but also to the women who not only raised funds and
supported their menfolk, but who on many occasions hauled
the boat in and out of the water. Their role was critical
in the rescue of the Eminent on 4 February 1940.
Unable to reach the ship from the bay, the lifeboat was landed
and relaunched on the other side of the point having
been dragged through the wind and snow by 60 helpers. This
episode was later to be the inspiration for a rescue in the
Jack Higgins novel, Storm Warning.
The Cable House
Newbiggin by the Sea was at the forefront of early telecommunications
when in 1868 the first telegraph cable from Scandanavia came
ashore at The Point. Cables were floated by tar barrels, towed
ashore by Danish seamen in longboats, then pulled up the beach
by horses and placed in trenches cut by local fishermen. They
terminated in the Cable House. The Freeholders
received rent for wayleave until 1960 when the Great Northern
Telegraph Company ceased to operate from Newbiggin.
According to the national press in the early 1930s, Newbiggin
by the Sea was fast becoming a fashionable watering-place
having undergone something of a transformation. No doubt the
new promenade with its three fine bathing shelters and bandstand
played a significant part in this positive view.
begun on the promenade in September of 1929, and it was officially
opened by Sir Charles Trevelyan on 26 May 1932. Newbiggin
had been a popular seaside destination before the new promenade
was built, but now visitors flocked to the village by bus
and train to enjoy the new facilities, the boat trips around
the bay, the Pierot shows and other entertainments, and the
changes in the bay in recent decades, believed to have been
largely caused by mining subsidence, have resulted in a shifting
of sand away from the centre. The promenade itself has also
been altered and reinforced in an effort to protect the seafront
properties from the ravages of the North Sea.
are many attractive properties around the bay. One such house,
The Haven, was built in 1862 for a member of the
Trevelyan family. It was later used as the Newbiggin Colliery
managers home, but is now in private ownership. The
present owner has incorporated a piece of local history in
the garden. Look out for the wall which features a number
of circular grindstones. These were brought to the village
in ships collecting grain - they were used as ballast.
are a number of other large properties on the front from the
late 1800s which provided fine homes and summer houses for
rich business people and ship owners from
Tyneside. Seabank Cottage was home to John Mailing of the
famous Tyneside based Mailing pottery company.
This street was named after a stonemason who came to Newbiggin
by the Sea from deep within the Northumberland countryside.
William Gibson belonged to a family of stonemasons, and he
was responsible for building many of the attractive stone
properties on Front Street.
not confirmed, it is believed that he also built the large
homes on Windsor Terrace. Some of these properties were undoubtedly
for rich and well-to do families; few ordinary folk could
afford homes with between eight and fifteen bedrooms!
must have felt at home in Newbiggin for he married a local
lass, Isabella Armstrong who came from a large fishing family,
at Woodhorn on 23 May 1846. Their son, Ralph,
was born four years later. In 1868, St Marks Presbyterian
Church was built by Gibson, or perhaps it was Gibsons, as
his son too became a stonemason.
1, 3 and 5 Front Street are said to be the oldest properties
in the town geographically south of the Woodhorn Road junction.
Although private homes now, they housed the Johnson and Company
brewery in the years prior to 1850. It is difficult to say
when this vital production work began in Newbiggin by the
Sea, but in St Bartholomews cemetery, one headstone
records the death, in 1812, of a brewer who fell off his horse.
Perish the thought that he might have been sampling the product
before his fatal accident.
is well served with public drinking houses, but this was a
major concern of one local presbyterian minister who had strong
views on the sale of alcohol. It is said that he deplored
the great amount of public house drinking...especially at
weekends. Its effect was marked in the early years of
the twentieth century, with one in seven men
absenting themselves from the local colliery each Monday.
The pubs would have been happy even if the pit owners were
Site of Newbiggin Colliery
The building on the right was at one time the offices of Newbiggin Colliery. It later became The Hunter's Lodge Public House and finally burned down in 2005.
The Colliery was sunk in 1908, but it is said that many difficulties
were experienced by the engineers. The first coal was drawn
two years later, but in the early days there were many disputes
about the royalties between the Freeholders and Mr Waddilove
who owned part of Woodhorn Estates. The Freeholders won the
battle in 1913 and so in 1947 when coal mining was nationalised,
they received payment.
first manager was a gentleman from Durham, a Mr R Kellet,
and it would seem that quite a number of Durham folk made
their home in the town following his arrival. Some of the
colliery managers had the good fortune to find that their
official residence was The Haven (right), located
on the seafront. One manager reputedly communicated his availability
by raising a flag on the flag pole. If there was no flag he
was not to be disturbed.
closed in 1967, but at its peak in the 1920s, almost 1300
men were employed here . Later, Sir John Hall, local businessman
and former Chairman of Newcastle United spent some of his
early working life in these very offices. Sadly 41 men lost
their lives in this pit. The workings of the Colliery have
been blamed for the changes which have taken place in the
bay in recent decades. The collapse of some of the tunnels
would seem to be responsible in part (at least) for
the greater quantities of water contained in the bay, and
therefore the increased power of the sea. New sea defences
have been the only way to protect the heart of the village.
The Mechanics Institute
The building housing the local bookmakers and Newbiggin by
the Sea Sailing Club bears little resemblance today to the
way it looked when it was first built back in 1891. Originally
a small two storey building, it provided reading, smoking
and billiard rooms for working class men in the town, not
just specifically mechanics. Membership
grew quickly, and within 5 years 150 men were listed as members.
A local artist Elizabeth Mary Frazer, must have believed the
Institute was a worthy cause, because 1000 books were donated
upon her death. The building was altered significantly in
Club, which occupies the upper floors of the building today,
was founded by local residents in 1961. Social and changing
facilities are provided, but the Club has ambitious plans
to extend creating even better facilities with improved access.
Newbiggin Library & John Braine
John Gerard Braine was born in Bradford in 1922, but in the
early 1950s he found himself working in this building (now
sadly demolished, replaced by a small car park) as a librarian.
Having left school in 1938 with no clear direction in life,
he moved from job to job until 1940 when he became an assistant
librarian in Bingley. His
National Service in the Royal Navy was cut short when he developed
TB and after his convalescence, he spent a year in London
trying to earn a living as a writer. It was then he returned
north, to Newbiggin, and here he met his wife.
novel, Room at the Top (click
here for Amazon link to buy book) was published in 1957
shortly after he left the village, but it is more than likely
that he would have been working on it whilst living in Newbiggin
by the Sea. The book was a major success selling 5,000 copies
in the first week, and over half a million copies by the end
of the 1950s. It reached even greater audiences when it was
made into a film starring Laurence Harvey and Simone Signoret
here for film info). This was regarded as the first
British film to take sex seriously and the
first to show the industrial north as it really was.
The film won 2 Oscars. John Braine wrote 11 other novels before
his death in October 1986 in London.
Newbiggin Golf Course
Golf has been played in Newbiggin by the Sea for well over
a century. The game was introduced to the village by a Scot,
Mr Laing, who created the first 9 holes. Permission to play
golf on the moor was granted in 1884 by the Freeholders for
an annual payment of £2.
were two clubs on the site at one time; the original club
for the more well to do folk, and Newbiggin Work-mens
Golf Club (Eastcliff) which held its inaugural meeting in
January 1885. By 1908 the course with its two clubs had a
combined membership of 327. Plans for the first club house
were submitted in 1905 with work underway by May of the following
struck in 1921 however, when the wooden building was completely
destroyed by fire. Insurance of £1250 was paid, and
a fine new club house was designed by S H Lawson of Newcastle.
It opened on 31 March 1923 and its members enjoyed a bar,
lounge and games room. Sadly lighting can strike twice, and
the building was once again destroyed by fire in December
1977. Members were not to be beaten, and work began on a new
club house in 1983.
Wansbeck District Council 2003
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