Rising Sun Colliery Branch Line

The Rising Sun Colliery opened in 1908. Employing 1,800 men, it became one of the largest deep mines in Europe, with 60 miles of underground tunnels stretching as far as the River Tyne.  At first coal was transported to the surface by pit ponies pulling trucks.  Rising Sun Colliery used about 80 pit ponies. Housed in, underground stables, they rarely came above ground.  The site of the colliery now forms part of the Rising Sun Country Park.

The Rising Sun Colliery Branch Line, completed in 1942, linked the Rising Sun Colliery to the Cramlington Waggonway and simplified the running of the coal from the colliery to the coal staiths on the River Tyne.  This stretch is known locally as the Black Path because of the build up of coal dust that spilled from the waggons on their journey to the staith.

Rising Sun Branch Line
Rising Sun Branch Line

Middle Engine Waggonway


This is the site of the Middle Engine, which was one of the engines used on the Seaton Burn Waggonway. This stationary steam engine hauled the coal trucks up and down the lines between the High Winding Engine located at Hillheads, Killingworth and the third or Low Engine near the River Tyne at Northumberland Dock in North Shields. The natural fall of the land from the High Engine down the the Low Engine saved locomotive power on the downward journeys of the coal waggons.

Middle Engine Lane was linked to the Blyth & Tyne Line, the Cramlington, Seaton Burn and Seghill waggonways. These routes were built by individual coal companies and were only shared following the establishment of the National Coal Board in 1947. The track at the nearby Stephenson Railway Museum is on the original line of the Seaton Burn Waggonway. This track was also the original test track for the Tyne and Wear Metro.

Biodiversity
The waggonways are important corridors for wildlife and are home to a wide variety of birds, mammals and insects. Plant life is also abundant, with many species found synonymous to the waggonways due to the rich mineral content of the soil

Tall hawthorn hedges interspersed with oak, willow and dog rose, line the pathways, providing good habitat for feeding and nestling birds such as dunnock, song thrush, sparrows, blue tit and great tit. Rosebay willow herb, a plant which rapidly colonises bare or waste ground and is often found on railway embankments, can also be seen along the path.

Leading up to Silverfox Way there are mixed woodland plantations of benefit to numerous bird species and small mammals. In springtime look out for cowslips along the edges of the path. Ditches also run along the waggonway with numerous small wetland areas filled with aquatic plants such as soft rush, reedmace, lesser spearwort and marsh marigold. These are important areas for breeding amphibians, as well as damselflies and dragonflies.

Victorian Waggonway

Path of Victoria Tunnel
Path of Victoria Tunnel

Many people will have walked the streets of Newcastle without ever knowing what lies a few feet beneath them.  The Victoria Tunnel runs beneath Newcastle from the Town Moor down to the Tyne. It was built in 1842 to transport coal from Leazes Main Colliery to riverside staithes ready for loading onto ships.

When it opened in 1835, the Leazes Main or Spital Tongues Colliery was one of the many coal mines around Newcastle. The industrial revolution was in full steam; demand for coal was high and the competition was great.

Initially, the coal was carried on carts from the colliery through the streets of Newcastle to the river, ready for shipping.  This was slow and because of the annual charges involved expensive.  Porter and Latimer, the colliery owners, therefore employed a local engineer, William E. Gilhespie, to construct an underground waggonway.

Permission to build the Tunnel was granted in 1838 and work started the following year.  The Tunnel was probably dug in sections.  The engineers would have excavated a shaft down to the right level, then tunnelled out to link up with the next section.  The walls of the Tunnel were lined in stone and a double brick arch supported the roof.  It is approximately 7ft 5in (2.3m) high and 1.9m wide.  This was just large enough to accommodate custom built chaldron waggons.

Tynemouth Walk

Hightlights of the walk include; North Shields Fish Quay, Cliffords Fort, Tynemouth Station, Collingwoods Monument and Northumberland Park

Tynemouth Walk
Tynemouth Walk

Hollywell Dene Walk

The ‘Avenue Branch’ Railway Line is so called as it crossed The Avenue. a grand tree lined approach to Delaval Hall. The line built in 1860 and operating until 1964, ran from Hartley Junction and linked into the Blyth and Tyne Railway, which played an integral part unlinking Newcastle to the Coast. The tracks of the modern Metro system follow part of the course of the former Blyth and Tyne Railway.

Although not a true waggonway, the Avenue Branch Line is, nevertheless, regarded locally as part of the waggonway system. The raised embankment marks the line of one of the region’s oldest sections of waggonway.

The undulating pattern of medieval ’ridge and furrow’ farming can still be seen in adjoining fields, where medieval farmers planted crops on ridges of land and dug drainage furrows to carry away excess water.

Also, evidence of early ‘bell pits’ can be seen in these neighbouring fields.’Bell pits’ were used for shallow deposits a few metres below the surface

Hollywell Dene Walk
Hollywell Dene Walk

Avenue Branch Line

The ‘Avenue Branch’ Railway Line is so called as it crossed The Avenue, the grand tree lined approach to Delaval Hall. The line built in 1860 and operating until 1964, ran from Hartley Junction and linked into the Blyth and Tyne Railway, which played an integral part unlinking Newcastle to the Coast. The tracks of the modern Metro system follow part of the course of the former Blyth and Tyne Railway.

Although not a true waggonway, the Avenue Branch Line is, nevertheless, regarded locally as part of the waggonway system. The raised embankment marks the line of one of the region’s oldest sections of waggonway.

The undulating pattern of medieval ’ridge and furrow’ farming can still be seen in adjoining fields, where medieval farmers planted crops on ridges of land and dug drainage furrows to carry away excess water.

Also, evidence of early ‘bell pits’ can be seen in these neighbouring fields.’Bell pits’ were used for shallow deposits a few metres below the surface

Cobble Dene Waggonway


Albert Edward Dock (formerly Coble Dene Dock)
The building of Coble dene dock (later to became Albert Edward Dock) began in 1873, but because of financial difficulties, work was suspended in 1876. The loss of employment for the workmen caused great problems and suffering for them and their families. An Act of Parliament in 1877 supported the completion of the works. Five million tonnes of materials were excavated, most of it removed by dredgers and dumped at sea. The Prince and Priness of Wales opened the dock in 1884, when it was officially named Albert Edward Dock.

The purpose of the Dock was to provide a valuable import and export facility. For example millions of pit props were imported from Scandinavia, unloaded and stored in a wood yard that is now part of the Royal Quays estate. The pit props helped support roofs of the coal seams as the miners dug out the coal.

Coal was moved from the pits to the river and the docks along waggonways or railways. A number of staiths were sited between Albert Edward and Northumberland docks. Staiths were elevated stages for discharging coal from wagons into ships. Coal arrived here from pits in Northumberland along the Seaton Burn Waggonway, the Backworth Waggonway, the Cramlington Waggonway and the Blyth and Tyne Railway for export to all parts of the world.

In 1928, the deep water Tyne Commission Quay was constructed, improving ship and cargo handling facilities, complementing a direct rail link to Newcastle.

Royal Quays Waggonway Walk

Royal Quays Walk
Royal Quays Walk

This path forms part of the old Seaton Burn Waggonway, formerly known as the Brunton and Shields Railroad. It was originally built to take coal from old Brunton Colliery to the Seaton Burn staiths at Northumberland Dock.

The Backworth Waggonway originated with the sinking of the Backworth A Pit and the transporting of the first Backworth coals on the Tyne in September 1818. It was originally built as a horse-drawn waggonway and was gradually converted to rope-haulage in stages. It took coal down to the West Cramlington staiths at Northumberland Dock and Whitehill Point.

Waggonway Redburn Dene
Waggonway Redburn Dene
Coble Dene Waggonway
Coble Dene Waggonway
Royal Quays
Royal Quays

Burradon Waggonway Walk

Burradon Walk
Burradon Walk

Burradon Colliery (1837-1975) was served by a mineral line which linked the colliery with the Killingworth Waggonway West Moor, eventually terminating at the staiths in Wallsend, where the coal was unloaded.  The colliery is particularly famous for the 1860 mining disaster, which claimed 76 lives.

The 16th Century pele tower (Burradon Tower) is a scheduled ancient monument used as a fortified farm house during the borders reivers era.  It was Burradon’s main land mark and later became the home and offices of local tenant farmers.

2006 ‘Drill head’ sculpture
2006 ‘Drill head’ sculpture

Rising Sun Walk

This bridleway follows the course of the former eighteenth century wooden wooden waggonway, which once linked a small pit at Holystone to a staith at Wallsend.  This is the Killingworth Waggonway one of the most historically significant colliery railways due to its role as a testing ground for the early locomotive experiments of George Stephenson from 1814 to 1818.

The Rising Sun Colliery, opened in 1908, was connected to the Killingworth Waggonway and the North Eastern Railway by a laborius route. The Rising Sun Colliery branch line, completed in 1942, simplified the running of coal from the Rising Sun Colliery.  Remains of a former level crossing can be seen here where the former railway line crosses Kings Road North.

Originally sunk in 1906, the colliery produced coal up until 1969.  In the early 1960s is was Europe’s largest deep coal mine employing 1500 people.

Rising Sun Walk
Rising Sun Walk

Victoria Tunnel Overground

The overground route of the Victoria Tunnel makes for a fascinating walk of between 1.5-2 hours, starting on Claremont Road, opposite Exhibition Park and finishing on Newcastle’s Quayside.

Many people will have walked the streets of Newcastle without ever knowing what lies a few feet beneath them. The Victoria Tunnel runs beneath Newcastle from the Town Moor down to the Tyne. It was built in 1842 to transport coal from Leazes Main Colliery to riverside staithes ready for loading onto ships.

When it opened in 1835, the Leazes Main or Spital Tongues Colliery was one of the many coal mines around Newcastle. The industrial revolution was in full steam; demand for coal was high and the competition was great.

Initially, the coal was carried on carts from the colliery through the streets of Newcastle to the river, ready for shipping. This was slow and because of the annual charges involved expensive. Porter and Latimer, the colliery owners, therefore employed a local engineer, William E. Gilhespie, to construct an underground waggonway.

Permission to build the Tunnel was granted in 1838 and work started the following year. The Tunnel was probably dug in sections. The engineers would have excavated a shaft down to the right level, then tunneled out to link up with the next section. The walls of the Tunnel were lined in stone and a double brick arch supported the roof. It is approximately 7ft 5in (2.3m) high and 1.9m wide. This was just large enough to accommodate custom built chaldron waggons.

In 1939, it was converted into an air-raid shelter to protect hundreds of Newcastle citizens during World War II. A programme of repairs in 2007-8 was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the TyneWear Partnership, and part of the Tunnel is now open to the public.

Sirens and Shrapnel
Sirens and Shrapnel

What you will see on this walk

Victoria Tunnel Heritage Panel

Heritage Panel Civic Centre
Heritage Panel Civic Centre

Near here in St Thomas’ Churchyard, and close by at Ridley Place, were two of the entrances to the Victoria Tunnel World War 2 air-raid shelter. Originally built by Victorian Mine owners, this masterpiece of engineering was used to transport coal to Newcastle’s Quayside. The tunnel is 2.5 miles long and is a Grade 2 Listed structure. At its deepest point, it is 26 metres below the surface.

Newcastle was a cradle for the coal-powered industrial revolution and by mid-19th century demand for coal was high.

Porter and Latimer, the owners of the Spital Tongues Colliery, needed to find a way to efficiently transport coal from their colliery to the Tyne where it could be loaded onto collier ships and distributed to their customers, far and wide.

They originally applied to build an overland wagon way that ran across the Town Moor, but the plan was strongly contested by the Freemen due to its potential impact. As an alternative the engineer in charge proposed an underground tunnel running from the Town Moor under the town to the Tyne. This was approved and building work began in 1839 with work completed in 1842. Once opened, loaded coal wagons went down the incline of the tunnel under their own weight and were drawn back to the colliery by a wire rope pulled by a 40 horse-power stationary steam engine sited near the pit head. The tunnel culminated at staiths near the mouth of the Ouseburn.

The tunnel was used as a means of coal transport for just eighteen years before it was closed in 1860.

From 1860 the tunnel remained disused until World War 2 when it was adapted for use as air-raid shelters. In 1939, Britain prepared for war. People were instructed to practise “Air Raid Precautions” to protect themselves from Nazi bombing raids. Initially it had been intended that there would be eighteen entrances to ease the crowds of people that would scamper for safety every time the sirens sounded warning or ariel attack. However, because of time constraints and engineering difficulties, only seven were completed. These entrances were situated at Claremont Road, Great North Museum, St Thomas’ Churchyard, Ridley Place, Shieldfield Green, Crawhall Road and Ouse Street.

To make the tunnel more habitable during air-raids adaptations were undertaken.
* A new concreted floor was laid with a drainage channel
* Electric lighting fittings were added
* The tunnel was stocked with hurricane lamps at various points in case the electricity failed
* Benches to seat up to 9,000 people
* Bunk-beds for at least 500 occupants
* Chemical toilets were installed in cubicles constructed form a wooden frame and covered by hessian.
* Parts of the tunnel were cleaned and whitewashed so that light could reflect.

Since World War 2 a section of the tunnel, running from Ellison Place to Queen Victoria Road, was converted into a sewer, whilst the section from the Great North Museum up to Spital Tongues was blocked off and remains unused. However one section, from an opening in Ouse Street through to New Bridge Street, has been preserved and is now open to visit through regular weekly tours or by pre-arranged special tours for groups of six or more.