Ferryhill is a small town in south-central County Durham, in North-East England, with a population of around 11,500 people. Ferryhill itself is in the borough of Sedgefield, which is now well known as the consituency of Tony Blair (The British Labour Prime Minister from 2nd May 1997 to 27th June 2007). It straddles the main London-Edinburgh East coast railway line as it passes through the Ferryhill Gap.
Ferryhill's population first grew noticeably in the nineteenth century and then very rapidly in the 1900s around the establishment of the coal mining industry in the North East of England. The mining industry brought people to the region from all counties of England, Scotland and Ireland. Coal mining was the primary living for Ferryhill men through the first half of the 20th century, but the last two mines in Ferryhill had been closed by 1966. The effect of the mine closures (and the closure of Ferryhill Station under Dr. Beeching) on the town's employment rate was devastating, but slowly it has recovered as different businesses set up in the area, providing more jobs. Black and Decker at Thinford, Courtaulds and Thorn Lighting at Spennymoor, and firms on Aycliffe Industrial Estate have provided Ferryhill people with employment.
Ferryhill History Pictures (Google)
A History of Coal Mining in Ferryhill
Ferryhill sits on the western edge of the Ferryhill Gap, a natural gateway in the Limestone Escarpment that outcrops on the Eastern Durham Plateau. The main settlement lies along the SW-NE ridge, with later development to the south of the ridge. Ferryhill lies on the medieval Great North Road which formerly was the A1, now the A167, which leads to Durham City and Newcastle-upon-Tyne to the North, and to Darlington in the south. Chilton, Bishop Middleham and Spennymoor are the closest villages.
The town grew dramatically in the early 20th Century because of coal mining, but before that it was an agricultural village. There was an agricultural settlement at Ferryhill in medieval times and maybe much earlier than that. Before the Reformation, Ferryhill belonged to the Priory of Durham and was a thriving agricultural concern. In 1539, the properties and rights were transferred to the Dean and Chapter of Durham. This did not affect the ordinary people of very much, but some Yeoman families became quite prosperous and it is recorded that in 1615 a Lawrence Wilkinson was granted a personal Coat of Arms.
During the English Civil War between Charles I and Parliament (1642 - 1648), Ferryhill had divided loyalties, with some men supporting the Royalists whilst others backed the Parliamentarians. The people of the Village suffered from plundering and persecution as the troops passed through Ferryhill. In 1599, the scourge of The Great Plague reached Ferryhill and during August and September of that year (old calendar), 26 people are recorded to have died from it's deadly effects. This figure probably represented around 5 to 10% of the population of Ferryhill at that time. The village water supply (various springs) was clean enough to ensure that no further outbreaks of The Great Plague occurred in nearby villages, although a small farming community near the Bunny Banks and two houses in Kirk Merrington were affected by it. Compared to other towns in England that were decimated, the Great Plague let Ferryhill off quite lightly in comparison.
In 1683 there was an now infamous murder in Ferryhill at Brass Farm (High Hill House Farm, which is now behind Ferryhill Business and Enterprise College) where Andrew Mills, a servant, killed the three children of his employer John Brass, whilst their parents were out visiting friends. The story goes that he tried to blame the murders on robbers, but he was tried for their murders himself, found guilty and was hanged in a gibbet to the north of Ferryhill, near to where Thinford is now.
Very little had changed in the way of life in Ferryhill right up to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when a railway was laid nearby (1840) and a blast furnace was built. The population of Ferryhill in 1841 was only 854 and by 1901 it had grown to just over 1,000, but by the time the two main collieries (Dean and Chapter Colliery and Mainsforth Colliery) opened, this had been swollen tenfold to just over 10,000 (1911). Nearly a thousand new terraced houses were constructed to accommodate the great influx of men and families that came from all around to work in the North East Coalfields. A lot of these houses are still standing and are occupied even today. In 1941, there were over 5,000 men working at the two Ferryhill pits to produce coal to keep the country going during the War effort. Both Mainsforth and Ferryhill Dean and Chapter Collieries closed during the 1960s and the great pit heaps are now unrecognisable to most. New landscaping has hidden much of the evidence that for over 100 years, Ferryhill was a village driven by coal.
A noteable recent scheme, and one which may have a long term positive affect on Ferryhill is the DURHAMGATE development. This will hopefully provide jobs, housing and retail outlets to the communities of Ferryhill and Spennymoor. DURHAMGATE is the largest mixed-use regeneration scheme in the North East of England, incorporating commercial, living and leisure opportunities. The developer is investing over 100m UKP and the site is recognised as having key, strategic importance for the region.
DURHAMGATE has received strong support from Durham County Council, ONE NorthEast, the Homes and Communities Agency and County Durham Development Company. Major opportunities exist for Headquarter commercial occupiers, residential developers, retail, leisure and hotel operators.
Eric Gates (footballer for Ipswich Town, Sunderland and Carlisle Utd)
Phill Nixon (darts player)
John McManners (religious historian)
Pauline Murray (singer in punk band Penetration)
Stan Cummins (footballer for Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Crystal Palace, Minnesota Strikers and Kansas City Comets)
Alan White (musician, drummer in the Alan Price Set, Yes and The Plastic One Band)
Charlie Spedding (athlete, Olympic bronze medallist at Los Angeles 1984)
Jack Scott (TV weatherman for BBC, ITV and Channel 4)
Click on the links below, or the map to begin exploring Ferryhill...
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The North East Forum
The Ferryhill and Chilton Chapter - Our Free Newspaper
The North East Forum - Ferryhill Section
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Ordnance Survey for the map of Ferryhill and the surrounding area.
Anquet Maps for the Aerial Photograph of Ferryhill.
My dad for his thoughts on Ferryhill's infamous Cinemas and 'Dens of iniquity'
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