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Explore Whickham Sunniside Swalwell Dunston Blaydon NE16
Blaydon Burn Nature Reserve


Map of Blaydon Burn

            

Once the heart of the industrial revolution in Gateshead, Blaydon Burn is a wonderful example of what happens when industry moves away and nature returns. Over one mile long and covering over 50 hectares of woodland, grassland and wetland, Blaydon Burn is a treasure trove of industrial archaeology and wildlife waiting to be discovered.

Recognising Blaydon Burn's unique historical, wildlife and recreational importance Gateshead Council began a major project in 2007 to conserve and improve Blaydon Burn for people and wildlife. The aim of this three year long Blaydon Burn Project was to record the areas of archaeological interest, to conserve and improve opportunities for wildlife and to encourage local people to enjoy, learn about and care for Blaydon Burn.

History

We know from archaeological evidence that Bronze Age people lived at nearby Summer Hill and that people have been living and working in Blaydon Burn since the Middle Ages.

Initially the key to the industrial development at Blaydon Burn was water power and by the 18th century at least eight corn mills were operating along the stretch of Blaydon Burn described below and in the attached PDF.

Industry at Blaydon Burn
From the 19th century industrial development expanded rapidly to include a number of industries related to the processing of coal. The supply of cheap local fuel and good transport links led to the development of coke works, steelworks, iron foundries and brickworks making Blaydon Burn one of the most industrialised parts of the region.

However, from the 1950s advances in technology, declining local raw materials and overseas competition saw the decline and closure of the industries in Blaydon Burn. In the 70s and 80s reclamation schemes were carried out to treat and 'make safe' the most derelict areas of the Burn. The Ottovale Works were reclaimed, Cowen's Lower Yard was cleared, the Blaydon Burn Waggonway was taken up and the Burn was largely left to return to nature.

Today, the remnants of the area's industrial history can still be seen in the 108 different stone and brick-built features which are scattered throughout the nature reserve and in the historical records which make Blaydon Burn one of the most important sites for the study of industrial archaeology in the north east.


The Cowens

No story of Blaydon Burn would be complete without mentioning the two most influential characters in its history.

Sir Joseph Cowen
Sir Joseph Cowen (1800-1873) and his eldest son, also Joseph Cowen (1829-1900) made their money from mining and making firebricks and clay products in Blaydon Burn.

Both Cowens were radical politicians, who campaigned for democratic reforms such as voting by secret ballot - a freedom we take for granted today.

Sir Joseph Cowen was the Liberal Member of Parliament for Newcastle from 1865 - 1873. He was knighted in 1871 for his work for the River Tyne Commission.

Joseph Cowen
Joseph Cowen junior fought for free education and the rights of the working classes, especially of miners and was regarded as a very fair employer.

He befriended many influential continental revolutionaries, including Garibaldi and Marx making Blaydon Burn famous throughout Europe.

He was allegedly under surveillance from foreign spies for smuggling revolutionary texts abroad in shipments of bricks.

The 'Blaydon Brick' followed his father as MP for Newcastle but retired from parliament in 1886 after professing his disgust at the intrigues of politics. But he still continued to influence public opinion until his death in 1900 through his ownership of the 'Newcastle Daily Chronicle'.


Blaydon Burn Today

Blaydon Burn Meadows
Blaydon Burn is a unique Nature Reserve where wildlife thrives amongst the remains of our industrial past. The Nature Reserve contains a wide range of habitats and wildlife including areas of ancient semi-natural woodland, flourishing wetlands and colourful wildflower meadows.

Pockets of oak and birch woodland survived all the years of industrial activity and later acted as seed banks for reclaiming the abandoned industrial areas.

Five small leaved lime trees also survived the industrial revolution and are now over 300 years old. This tree reaches its northern limit in Gateshead and there are only about 300 small leaved lime trees in north east England.

Green Woodpecker at Blaydon Burn
A wide range of birds also live in the woodland including, green woodpecker, tawny owl, woodcock, willow warbler and sparrowhawk.

The Blaydon Burn Project brought areas of woodland back into a system of traditional woodland management. This work involved thinning and removing trees to ensure that the woodland continues to regenerate itself. Works have also been carried out to safeguard the many ancient 'veteran' trees.

The Burn itself flows underground through much of the site, emerging for only short stretches. Despite Blaydon Burn's industrial past, the water itself is very clean, containing a variety of invertebrates such as mayfly and freshwater shrimps. In turn, these creatures support birds such as dipper and grey wagtail.

Kingfisher at Blaydon Burn
As part of the Blaydon Burn Project, the ponds have been restored and improved to control the level of water and encourage wildlife. The wetlands are proving particularly attractive for a range of animals including palmate newts, emperor dragonflies, azure damselflies, water shrews, willow tits, grasshopper warblers and kingfisher.

The Nature Reserve also includes a number of meadows. Surprisingly the thin, poor and 'contaminated' soils left behind after the demolition of the former industries make the meadows ideal for a number of interesting wildflowers including common spotted orchid, and rare butterflies such as the dingy skipper.

Even the archaeological structures provide shelter for wildlife including pipistrelle bats, which use the cracks in walls as roosting sites.

Some of the adjoining meadows have been re-seeded with wildflower meadow seed mixes. These areas are grazed by cattle to help the wildflowers and birds such as grey partridge and skylark to thrive.

The Blaydon Burn Project also sought to reduce problems associated with anti-social behaviour such as fly-tipping and illegal motorbike riding, and to make the Burn a pleasant and attractive place to visit.

Paths, steps, stiles and footbridges have been repaired and cleared and a wide range of events held to celebrate the wildlife and history of the Burn.

The Project also worked with the local community and especially the Friends of Blaydon Burn, a dedicated group of local people who have worked tirelessly to raise awareness of and improve Blaydon Burn for everyone.


Get Involved!

You can get involved in learning about and caring for Blaydon Burn by
  • Becoming a Friend of Blaydon Burn
  • Joining the Gateshead Volunteer Countryside Rangers
  • Taking part in our events
For further information, please contact:

Thornley Woodlands Centre
Rowlands Gill
Tyne & Wear
NE39 1AU

Telephone: 01207 545212 or Email: countryside@gateshead.gov.uk

For information on public transport:
Visit Traveline North East at www.travelinenortheast.info



   Blaydon Burn Nature Reserve   Information:
Address:     
For more information on Blaydon Burn, contact:
Thornley Woodlands Centre
Rowlands Gill
Tyne and Wear
NE39 1AU
Phone:     
Thornley Woodlands Centre (0191 433 5767)
Website:     
Brochure:     
Blaydon Burn Trail - Shown below and in the attched PDF brochure (available via the link in the right column) is a circular two and a quarter mile moderate walk, taking in the best of Blaydon Burn's rich archaeological heritage and abundant wildlife. Along the way you will encounter some stiles and moderate slopes. The path may also be muddy in places so please wear footwear suitable for walking in the countryside.

Alternatively follow the gently sloping path along the bottom of the valley along the old Blaydon Burn Waggonway and back again.

Cowen's Lower Yard Firebrick Manufactory

Cowen's Lower Yard Firebrick Manufactury - Blaydon Burn Trail

The factory, which opened in 1838, made 6 million firebricks a year. At that time a good hand moulder could make 2,400 bricks per day! The factory closed in 1975 and the walls you can still see near the bridge are part of a kiln back. Today this area is a wildflower meadow supporting dingy skipper butterflies.

Blaydon Burn Waggonway

Blaydon Burn Waggonway - Blaydon Burn Trail

From here the path up the valley follows the line of the Blaydon Burn Waggonway. This was built in 1840 to link Cowen's High Yard, pits and mills with the Lower Yard and the Newcastle-Carlisle railway which transported goods away.

Massey's Forge

Built in the 18th century this water-powered corn mill was converted to a forge in the 19th century. The waterfall provided power for the 'overshot' water wheel. The site was subject to a major archaeological excavation in 1982 and two community digs in 2007 and 2009. Along the burn look out for dippers bobbing amongst the remains.
Masseys Forge - Blaydon Burn Trail
Stands of Elm Trees

These trees support white letter hairstreak butterflies. These butterflies are particularly rare as they only lay their eggs in flowering elm trees and therefore suffered serious declines following the introduction of Dutch elm disease.
White Letter Hairstreak Butterfly - Blaydon Burn Trail

Hobby's Mill

Hobby's Mill began operating in 1767 as a corn mill and some of the walls still survive. This site was part of a community archaeological dig in 2006.

Hobby's Mill Pond & Dam

Named after an 18th century miller, this pond was created after 1713 to power Hobby's Mill. By 1914 the pond was a reservoir used by Priestman Collieries to supply water to the worker's houses at Ottovale Terrace. As part of the Blaydon Burn Project, the pond was re-excavated and now provides a home for wildlife such as the tiny water shrew.

Edward Pit and Tar Tunnel

Edward Pit and Tar Tunnel - Blaydon Burn Trail

A brick archway marks the entrance to the Edward Pit, where coal was mined from the 1850s to 1896. The site was re-used around 1900 by Priestman Collieries as the entrance to a tunnel connecting the tar works at Ottovale above the valley, with the railway to the Tyne below.
Mature oak trees

Purple Hairstreak Butterfly - Blaydon Burn Trail

These mature oak trees support rare purple hairstreak butterflies and the shy green woodpecker.

Herd's House Pond

In the spring time, look out for amphibians such as frogs, toads and newts, whilst over the summer months iridescent dragonflies and damselflies can be seen flashing across the surface of the pond. Sightings of the illusive water shrew have also been made here.
Smooth Newt - Blaydon Burn Trail

Blaydon Burn Meadows

These have been re-seeded with a wild flower seed mix, and at certain times of the year are grazed with cattle or horses. Large flocks of curlew spend the winter here, feeding on abundant earthworms in the sandy soil.
Curlew - Blaydon Burn Trail

Reservoir

Now redundant, this early 20th century reservoir supplied water for quenching coke, burned in ovens in the valley below or as a general supply for Blaydon Burn Colliery. Birds such as nuthatch and treecreeper can often be seen clinging to the bark of surrounding trees, searching for insects and spiders.
Nuthatch - Blaydon Burn Trail
Bessie Drift Mine

Bessie Drift Mine - Blaydon Burn Trail

This pit was part of Cowen's Blaydon Burn Colliery. Most of the mines in Blaydon Burn were worked for fireclay for Cowen's Firebrick Manufactory.

The actual entrance to the mine was through the shallow sandstone bay spanned by a steel girder now blocked with bricks. The cracks and crevices in the crumbling retaining walls now provide the ideal home for pipistrelle bats, which feed on insects by night.


Coal Drop at Bessie Pit

Along this southern section of the trail are a long series of retaining walls. These were related to spoil heaps, coal screens, railways, waggonways, pit heads and other buildings. The four openings here were coal drops. Coal was carried from the Bessie Drift Mine to the drops on an elevated platform and transferred to waggons below.

Wintrip's Mill

Wintrip's Mill - Blaydon Burn Trail

Wintrip's Mill was a water-powered flint mill. Flint milling was a significant industry along Blaydon Burn. Ground flint was usually used in the production of porcelain but in Blaydon Burn was used to make firebricks. By 1914 Wintrip's Mill had been demolished and replaced with coke ovens.
Coke Cutting Platform

From 1900 Priestman Collieries operated a 230m long battery of coke ovens. This brick laid 'path' was used as a coke cutting platform in the early 20th century. Bricks from the demolished coke ovens were laid flat forming a platform on which to grade and cut the coke into 'nuts'.
Coke Cutting Platform - Blaydon Burn Trail

Priestman 'Ottovale' Coke Works and Newcastle Tar Works

The Priestman coke ovens became known as the 'German Ovens' or 'Ottovale' after their German manufacturer, Otto Hilgenstock. The ovens produced coke, while the nearby Newcastle Tar Works refined crude tar, a by-product of coke production. The Newcastle Benzol Works was the first place in the world where petrol, known as Blaydon Benzole, was produced from coal. An Electricity Power Supply Station also ran on the heat and gas produced by the Coke Ovens. Reclamation of the site began in the 1970s and the area has now been returned to grassland.

Blaydon Burn Site of Nature Conservation Importance

These fields were fenced to enable grazing by native breed ponies. This 'conservation grazing' creates the perfect conditions for rare flowers to flourish. During spring and summer, vivid pinks and purples splash the meadows, as common spotted orchids and self heal bloom.
Common Spotted Orchid - Blaydon Burn Trail

Blaydon Burn Trail Map

Whickham
Swalwell
Sunniside
Dunston
Blaydon
Marley Hill
NE16