From Cornwall to Northumberland

They moved 400 miles for a better life but were met by hatred and death.

As I was growing up in County Durham one of my aunts used to tell me that my paternal grandfather was Cornish. Her story was that his parents had taken their young family by horse and cart all the way from Cornwall to Durham. I hadn’t taken much notice of this at the time, thinking it was imagination.

It wasn’t until I decided to start researching my family that I found out there was some truth in the story but a lot of imagination too. While researching I found some interesting information about the migration of Cornish miners to the Northumbrian and Durham coal fields and in particular when and why my great grandparents migrated.

William NORTHEY was my great grandfather. He was born at St Austell, Cornwall in 1824 to John NORTHEY and Agnes née COX. William married Mary Ann JOHNS in November 1847 at St Blazey Parish Church, Cornwall. The family moved to a number of areas in Cornwall and also Devon looking for work in the tin and copper mines. However in December 1865 they travelled by specially chartered train, with other Devon and Cornwall families, to work at the Amelia Pit Cramlington. Northumberland. William and Mary Ann had 5 living children and Mary Ann was expecting another baby at that time.

When the families arrived at Cramlington they found that the mine owners had not been honest with them and the work that was offered was to take the place of men who had gone on strike for better pay and conditions and not to man a newly sunk mine.

The local men and their families had been turned out of their homes and sacked from their jobs to make way for the men and families from Devon and Cornwall.

Newcastle Weekly Chronicle ~ Saturday, 20th January 1866

More Cornish and Devon Pitmen for Cramlington

On Wednesday another instalment of men from Cornwall and Devon arrived by special train at Cramlington. The newcomers were thus composed, 51 men, 69 boys from 14-17 years of age and 222 women, girls and young children, making in total 342. This batch makes up the full compliment of workmen required by the colliery. There being upwards of 1,000 men, women and children settled at Cramlington.

It is interesting to note that there is still a street named Cornish Street at Cramlington.

The local people made life total misery for the newcomers. They would stand outside the houses at night shouting obscenities and abuse and banging fire pokers onto the bleezers. A bleezer was a flat piece of metal with a handle in the centre that was used to put in front of a coal fire to encourage it to burn brightly when first lit. This perhaps is understandable, when you consider that those families who lost their homes had no place to go and at least one family is known to have camped under their dining table in the snow.

For many years after, any local person marrying into a Cornish/Devonian family were ostracised from their own families. I now believe this is why my grandparents went to Sunderland to marry and my grandmother gave false information about her age and father’s name.

Three weeks after arriving in Cramlington with his family William was killed in an accident in the mine from a fall of Blue Stone.

Newcastle Daily Chronicle ~ Thursday, 11th January 1866

Alleged fatal accident at Cramlington Colliery

We are informed that yesterday afternoon about 3 o’clock one of the Cornishmen brought down to supply the place of men on strike at Cramlington Colliery, was struck by a quantity of coal which fell in the Shankhouse Pit and killed him.

The inquest was reported in the daily newspaper.

Newcastle Daily Chronicle ~ Saturday, 13th January 1866

The fatal accident at Cramlington Colliery

Yesterday morning Mr L. M. Cockcroft, coroner, held an inquest at the Colliery Office Cramlington, upon the body of William Northey age 41, who died in consequence of the injuries he sustained by a stone falling upon him while he was employed in the workings of the “Amelia” or Shankhouse pit, at Cramlington, on Wednesday afternoon last.

By John Stead, coal miner, deposed to having known the deceased: They had come up from Cornwall about three weeks ago, and on Wednesday they went to work in Shankhouse pit, Cramlington about 9 o’clock in the morning. Witness was working at the opposite side to that which the deceased was hewing, and at a distance of about five yards from him. It would be between three and four o’clock in the afternoon when a blue stone fell from the roof of the seam upon the deceased’s head.

He was severely injured and died about ten minutes afterwards. They never thought of sounding the stone, as they considered it perfectly safe. There were no props at that particular place, as there was no room for them. There was however, plenty of timber lying about if they thought it had been required. Witness had not been accustomed to that kind of work, but to tin and copper mining.

By Mr. Dunn, Government Inspector of Mine: The accident took place in the Pillar workings. Witness did not call the deputy’s attention to the stone, as he considered nothing dangerous. He had no complaint to make against any of the deputies for non-attendance to their duties.

Henry Dunn one of the deputies at the “Amelia” pit, said, that at about a quarter of an hour before the accident he saw the stone. At nine o’clock, previous to the deceased and the last witness going in, he “jowled” the large stone at the top of the roof, and it sounded firm. The men had shortly before that fired a shot, which he thought might possibly have caused the stone to loosen, but when he examined it he saw nothing to make him believe that it would come down. He had frequently cautioned the men to be careful.

By A Juryman: The stone was close up to the coal, and some of the latter also fell.

By Mr. Dunn: The men had not complained to him about the state of the roof.

This was the whole of the evidence adduced, and the jury returned a verdict to the effect that the occurrence had been an accident.

The poor unfortunate man leaves a widow about to be confined and six children to mourn his loss.

After William was killed, his widow Mary Ann stayed in Cramlington with her children who were aged between 8 and 17 years old. She gave birth to a daughter who was named Clara. Clara died from Smallpox aged 5 years. William and Mary Ann had already had at least 2 other children that I know of, a daughter Anna Maria and a son John who both died in 1851 of Scarlet Fever; Anna Maria was 18 months old and John was 6 weeks old. They then used the same names for later children.

During the 1870s the older children started to marry and slowly moved away from Northumberland into County Durham.

In 1871 Mary Jane married Nicholas DOWN whose family had come from Tavistock in Devon.

In 1874 William married Mary Emma BOLT whose family had come from Devon.

In 1875 Anna Maria married Joseph MITCHELL whose family had come from St. Cleer in Devon.

In 1881 Richard married Catherine JOBES whose family were Northumbrian for generations. These are my paternal grandparents.

In 1883 Mary Ann departed this life at the home of her daughter Mary Jane.

In 1885 John married Margaret Emmerson. By this time Mary Jane, Anna Maria and William had all emigrated to Reynoldsville, Pennsylvania, USA with their spouses and children. John and Margaret followed them shortly after their wedding. Richard and Catherine stayed in County Durham and raised their family.


© Geordiegirl


Cramlington Colliery

National Coal Mining Museum