The Society's seal and three photographs

Wylam Walk 14 Mar 2020

The last walk for the Antiquaries before the Coronavirus Era; Wylam, Ryton and Newburn

Sadly, owing to fears of impending doom, only a few people were able to make it for this last walk on March 14, five members plus three locals. The theme of the walk was Man(kind)’s effect on nature. What would have been a wide braided river channel bounded by wet lands and oak woods has for a brief moment in the immensity of time been transformed into an organised landscape. Even now, however, Nature is in many areas reclaiming it. Running through this is the tidal Water of Tyne and many routes of communication from the now derelict medieval Carlisle to Tynemouth Road, an eighteenth-century waggonway (with two ‘gg’s indicating that the wagons were horse drawn) and two railway lines, one still functioning, but about to fall into the river.

We started with a short visit to the Wylam Railway Museum, housed in the Old Council School, which is also under threat. We then followed the route of the 1876 railway and eighteenth-century waggonway to High Street House, better known as George Stephenson’s cottage where we discussed the reasons for its location and function at the junction of the waggonway and the road. We then proceeded along the river through the Wildlife Nature Reserve. This contains some unique plants which tolerate the heavy metal contamination from waste from the now defunct Allendale Lead Mines, as well as a remarkable regeneration of oak trees.

Our next point of interest was the Tide Stone, erected in 1783. Although seven miles from Newcastle, it marked the limit of Newcastle’s claim to the Tyne and the then river high tide mark. Traditionally on Rogation Sunday the Mayor and entourage sailed in the Mayoral barge to beat the bounds of his jurisdiction and he would jump ashore and kiss a pretty girl (nothing has changed) at this location. In the nineteenth century the Tyne Commission dredged the river to this point lowering the river bed by twelve feet. This has had the effect of eroding the bed of the river as far as Wylam Bridge, to which the highest spring tides now flow. It has had a detrimental effect on the river banks which have collapsed in several places with much loss of land.

We continued past what was once Ryton Island, with its row of colliery houses. They now stand on dry land north of the dredged Tyne. At Blayney Row there were more colliery houses, and behind them the remains of coke ovens from the long closed Isabella Pit. This pit employed at times almost a thousand men and could be reached from the south by the Ryton Ferry.

We had lunch at the Keelmen Pub, a former pumping station established to supply Newcastle with water following the cholera outbreaks in the midde of the nineteenth century. After lunch we stopped at the display relating to the Battle on Newburn Fords in 1640 and the now closed Boathouse Pub. This displays the heights of all the floods since the big one of 1771. That was almost equalled in 2005 and 2015, even though the river bed is now twelve feet lower.

We crossed Newburn Bridge and entered Ryton Willows a popular leisure area between the wars with boat landings, railway station and shuggy boats (fairground swing boats to the rest of the country). The Willows contains numerous old river channels some water filled as ponds including the Gut and Curling Pond. Curling, the winter game in which players slide stones around on a sheet of ice, took place not on the pond itself but in shallow brick structures with wooden floors. These were flooded by a shallow covering of water, which froze to give the smooth surface required. Between the wars this was a popular sport, and local clubs played in the Caledonian league. We passed the ferry house, with the last of the boats slowly disintegrating on the bank, remains of a fishing industry killed off by the river pollution of the mid-twentieth entury. The next stop was to examine Ryton’s ‘Fiery Fields’, not a volcano but burning brush wood on an old colliery spoil heap. This has now been burning for around seven years and is slowly moving into the golf course.

Finally, we checked out the recent severe river erosion east of Wylam Railway Station, which threatens the railway, before the members who had come by rail felt safe to return to Newcastle.




Denis Peel

(who also took the photos)


In the future, don’t forget your past