Crowtrees Colliery, Quarrington Hill, County Durham: Archaeological Building Recording (OASIS ID: archaeoe1-76298)

Penny Middleton, 2019

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Penny Middleton (2019) Crowtrees Colliery, Quarrington Hill, County Durham: Archaeological Building Recording (OASIS ID: archaeoe1-76298) [data-set]. York: Archaeology Data Service [distributor]


Crowtrees Colliery, Quarrington Hill, County Durham: Archaeological Building Recording (OASIS ID: archaeoe1-76298)

Archaeo-Environment Ltd (AE) were commissioned by the Crowtrees Heritage Group (CHG) to undertake an Archaeological Buildings Survey of the standing remains associated with the former Crowtrees colliery, now part of the Crowtrees Local Nature Reserve (NZ 33540 37720). These predominantly comprised a large stone and concrete structure at the south western end of the site, believed to be the remains of the former colliery winding-engine house, as well as a smaller masonry structure to the north east of the capped pit head. The building recording work followed on from a phase of Archaeological Documentary Assessment and Wide Area Survey undertaken by Archaeo- Environment earlier in the year (AE 2009a). This study looked at the origins and development of the colliery, as well as identifying any surviving features on the ground.

In many ways, the history of Crowtrees Colliery exemplifies the range of issues and factors influencing the development of the East Durham mining industry. It began as a relatively small landsale mine in the latter half of the 18th century, producing coal largely for local consumption, but its fortunes changed in the early 19th century when it was purchased by William Hedley. Hedley, a key figure in the development of locomotive transport, invested a large sum of money in constructing a new pit in the vale to the east of the Phase I colliery. An early painting of the site would indicate that this was a ‘showcase ’ colliery. It featured a number of fine stone buildings and appears to have been ‘planned ’ from the very beginning rather than growing up in a piecemeal fashion as many other mines in the region. However, the Phase II colliery was relatively short lived and had largely been demolished by the late 1860s. In 1866 the colliery was purchased by J.W. Morrison to provide coal for use at his nearby iron works in West Cornforth. This marked the final phase in the mine ’s history (Phase III). The surviving winding-engine base and associated structures, all date to this period.

Following the closure of the Phase II colliery Morrison sunk a new shaft to the south west which would allow him to transport coal directly down the Crow Trees line and from there to West Cornforth and his other local ventures. As such, the Phase III colliery was very different in form and function to Hedley ’s earlier venture. This colliery was intended as a ‘workhorse ’ solely to provide coal to fire the huge furnaces at West Cornforth and not for shipment. This change of nature is reflected in the surviving Phase III buildings which appear far more utilitarian in construction than their predecessors as shown in the Crowtrees painting.

Today, only the engine platform survives of the original winding-engine house, the majority of the outer façade and the entirety of the roof structure having been lost. Originally, the engine house would have been much taller and the platform encased in rubble built outer shell. This can clearly be seen standing in earlier photographs of the site taken in by Don Wilcox in the 1970s, although only small fragments now survive in-situ above ground.

The monolithic engine platform is constructed of large masonry blocks interspersed with layers of shuttered concrete. This form of construction may have been used to absorb and redistribute some of the vibration from the engine which would have originally been mounted on top of the platform. Apertures to accommodate the massive iron bolts securing the engine can be found across the structure. The engine is likely to have been a single cylinder horizontal engine coupled directly onto a winding drum by a crank-arm which would have moved within the large slot to the north of the main platform. The associated headgear lay directly east of the surviving structure, located above the former pit head. The shaft head was capped in the 1960s, although the size of the structure can still be clearly discerned. To the east of the capped pit head stands the remains of a second stone structure. This rectangular platform is believed to be the base of a vertical pumping engine.

The standing building remains at Crowtrees are considered to be of regional, if not national, significance as a rare example of a 19th century winding-engine house and associated features. These iconic buildings, which were once so closely identified with coal production in the region, have now all but disappeared. Crowtrees is one of only five extant winding-engine houses in the North East and the only example listed outside a museum, the other surviving examples being preserved at Beamish and Woodhorn. The site is also of considerable significance in terms of its importance to the local community, many of whom remember when the mines were still in production, and a number of whom are ex-miners themselves. It provides a valuable link with this key phase in the region’ s history and stands as a visual reminder of Durham ’s industrial past.

Plate 1: a painting of Crowtrees colliery by the artist J. Wood (c. 1840) held in the Beamish Museum collection. This painting clearly illustrates the high standard of the mine buildings, stone from which may have been used in the construction of the Phase III winding-engine house.