Gallowgate Lead Works

The granite mill stones that you see today are the legacy of an industry that dominated this site for almost 150 years. when it closed in 1933, the Gallowgate Lead Works occupied all the land from this point to almost the end of the town wall near the top of Darn Crook. It was a major feature of the area, and produced lead products for the paint and munitions industries.

Established in the late 18th century, the lead works was one of various commercial premises in the area. The 1863 ordnance survey shows timber yards and tanneries close by, together with a large slaughter house complex at the end of Dispensary Lane.

The white lead trade made pigments for the paint industry, and their production involved a process that changed very little since its introduction in the late 1780s. This was the Dutch Stack method of corroding sheets of lead by placing upon a bed of earthenware pots containing concentrated ascetic acid, one stack of pots and lead upon another. Insulated by leather or wood bark, the acid evaporated and turned the lead into a blue paste.

This paste was then dried in large ovens to create a dry white carbonate that could be ground into a fine powder for mixing with oil to form the finished pigment. The heavy granite mill stones found on the site when it was landscaped in 2006, were used in this process.

Another product of the lead works was lead shot. This was made by pouring molten lead through colanders and allowing the sieved lead to fall down a 200ft shaft where it cooled in water and formed the spherical lead shot used by artillery and shot guns. A description of the Gallowgate site, published in the Penny Magazine in August 1844 tells us that “when two tons weight of shot have thus fallen”. The site of this shaft is marked on the ground.

Lead shot is made from a mixture of lead and arsenic, and the Penny Magazine published a drawing of a man ladling the molten mixture from a furnace pit into the top of a colander or sieve. Other drawings illustrate the white lead process and a female worker separating finished lead shot.

The lead trade was an important industry in 19th century Newcastle. This site was owned by the Locke Blackett Company. Other sites of former white lead works were in the Ouseburn, Elswick and Walker Riverside.

The plan of the site dates from 1930, not long before the last works was closed, it shows the location of the Shot House at the south east corner of the site, near to the Mordon Tower.

Location: Western Walls, behind Stowell St, NCL

West Walls
West Walls

Lead Leather and Gas

Lead works have stood on the site east of the gas works since the eighteen century. The works were built by Walkers, Fishwick and Ward in 1778. For many years the works housed one of Tyneside’s most notable landmarks, the Elswick Shot Tower. In 1795 the Tower was used for the manufacture of lead shot, when it was pulled down in 1960, it was only one of three shot towers left in the country. One of the most famous paintings which features the shot tower (in the background above the Tyne Bridge) is that by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) in London’s Tate Gallery.

In 1795 the Tower was used for the manufacture of lead shot, when it was pulled down in 1960, it was only one of three shot towers left in the country. One of the most famous paintings which features the shot tower (in the background above the Tyne Bridge) is that by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) in London’s Tate Gallery.

Elswick Lead Works
Elswick Lead Works

Between the mighty Armstrong Works and the Skinner Burn, the historical boundary between Elswick and the City, lay a number of long standing industrial concerns. Richardson’s Tannery also know as the ”Leather Works” was located between Water Street and Dunn Street. Richardson’s moved from Whitby to Tyneside in 1766 and opened the Elswick Works in 1863. The firm became one of the areas leading concerns and the works continued in use until 1971.

East of Richardson’s stood the Gas Works. The Works were brought into use in 1859 following the closure of two smaller works, Manors and Sandgate. Although the new works were substantial, there were still supply problems in parts of Newcastle, and many complaints about the smell from the site. Further complaints about the site, dating from 1871, were that abnormal stench was coming from the Gas Works. Despite the problems the invention of a mantle in 1880, saw gas used for lighting and heating in houses until the second world war. However the increasing availability of electricity in the 1940s brought about the closure of man of the works, including that of Elswick.

SINE Project, Structure Details for Richardson's Tannery

SINE Project, Structure Details for Richardson’s Tanneryhttp://sine.ncl.ac.uk/view_structure_information.asp?struct_id=1140The information displayed in this page has been derived from authoritative sources, including any referenced above. Although substantial efforts were made to verify this…

SINE Project, Structure Details for Low Elswick Gas Works

SINE Project, Structure Details for Low Elswick Gas Workshttp://sine.ncl.ac.uk/view_structure_information.asp?struct_id=826The information displayed in this page has been derived from authoritative sources, including any referenced above. Although substantial efforts were made to verify this…

SINE Project, Structure Details for Elswick Lead Works

SINE Project, Structure Details for Elswick Lead Workshttp://www.sine.ncl.ac.uk/view_structure_information.asp?struct_id=1674The information displayed in this page has been derived from authoritative sources, including any referenced above. Although substantial efforts were made to verify this…

Northumberland Lead Works

Lead Works Ouseburn Farm
Lead Works Ouseburn Farm

The sandstone ruin, inscribed ‘Northumberland Lead Works’, is easy to miss, standing in the middle of a garden surrounded by vegetables and plants, in the middle of the Ouseburn Farm

The sandstone ruin is one of many reminders of Ouseburn’s harsh industrial past. It once housed a steam engine that drove the spinning machines of a nineteenth century flax mill. In 1871, the site was taken over by the Northumberland Lead Works, and the engine was used to power heavy grinders that crushed white lead into a fine powder. White lead is a toxic but once common pigment in paint and varnish. A significant number of the workers employed here became ill or died, and the land was contaminated for many years.

For centuries white lead was mixed with oil to create an opaque paint that easily covered over marks and mistakes. Demand and therefore production increased throughout the second half of the nineteenth century. Newcastle was a major centre of white lead production in Britain and this site was one of several lead works in the city.

The process of creating white lead was surprisingly primitive. This sheets of white lead were laid between up to twelve layers of earthenware bowls insulated with wood bark. The bowls contained ascetic acid, which evaporated over time and corroded the lead to produce a blue paste This lead paste was then dried in large stoves to create a dry white carbonate that could be ground into a fine powder and packed for distribution.

‘Some of them gets lead-poisoned soon and some of them gets lead-poisoned later, and some, but not many, niver, and tis’ according to the constitooshuns is strong and some is weak’. Charles Dickens, the Unconstitutional Traveller, Ch34.

Lead-poisoning develops through exposure, as blood levels become too high. Factory workers constantly breathed in the deadly dust which drifted in the air like fine snow. Sufferers often developed headaches, anemia, ‘wrist drop’ – a weakness of the muscles , and a tell tale bluish line around their gums.

Victorians were aware of the dangers of lead poisoning , but it was just one of the countless causes of premature death. Women like eighteen year old Lizzie Dawson, unskilled and with family to support, were grateful for work that paid relatively well and included meals. They often worked for short stretches of time and many took little notice of the recommended health and safety measures.

Lizzie died at her home in Lime Street in 1891. The inquest confirmed that she had lead poisoning. The press at the time reported dozens of similar deaths which provoked a popular campaign to address the problem. In 1900, working conditions were improved, the old drying stones were abolished and the lead works were banned from employing women.

The Northumberland Lead Works continued as Elder Walker Paint Works until the 1960s. Today, this site is part of the Ouseburn Farm, an environmental education and training centre.