CARRIER WAS THE ONLY LINK TO ASHINGTON
That Ashington was very little known on Tyneside in 1883 is exemplified by the story of a man who asked at Hordon Station how he could get there. The booking clerk, ignorant of Ashington’s whereabouts, could do no better than give him a ticket to Morpeth and tell him to find his way from there as best he could.
The only link with Newcastle was through W. Nichol, carrier, who on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays who left the Old George Hotel, 46 Cloth Market, Newcastle, for Ashington.But the town was growing. In addition to the two Co-operative Societies, there were many varied businesses being conducted from colliery houses, and the first High Market shops were being opened out.
The most important of the latter was the Post Office, the postmaster of which was Thomas Soulsby. Letters arrived via Morpeth by mail gig at 8.30 a.m., and were dispatched at 4.20 p.m. Mr. Soulsby was also a draper and milliner, and acted as overseer for the Ashington and Sheepwash township.
Newsagents were Alex Charlton, Fifth Row, George Fairley, Third Row, Andrew Hay [also cart owner] 57 Third Row, and William Thompson, 15 Eighth Row. Alex Duncanson and A. R. G. Leitch, surgeons, lived at 24 First Row and 3 Sixth Row, respectively. This was before Dr. Goldie built his house which is now the Universal Club.
George Thomas Marshall had a chemist’s shop at 29 Ninth Row, with Frank Nicholson as his manager. Hugh Singer, 14 Fifth Row, and Mark Hedley, Ashington Colliery, were boot and shoe makers, and Adam Robson Lockhart, 37 Fourth Row, was a watch and clock repairer.
A private school at Ashington Old Pit was presided over by Mrs. Curtis. Mrs. Margaret Purdy, 30 Fourth Row, ran the Ashington Colliery Accommodation Dairy. Her husband was agent for the Powder Magazine.
In 1891 the colliery was equipped with it’s first electrical installations, and for underground haulage endless ropes were introduced, the haulage engines being on the surface, with the ropes running down the sides of the shafts. Four locomotives were in use, and the yearly output was 726,023 tons.
By 1893 Ashington Colliery was one of the largest coal producers in Northumberland, with a daily output varying from 4,000 to 4,400 tons.
Bothal and Carl Yard Seam [51 fathoms] was worked by longwall, the thickness of this coal being 2ft. 10. Inches. The main gateway, or mother-gate, was made in the goaf throughout; on each side of this and parallel to it there were six or minor gateways about 10 yards apart, which, as they advanced were cut off every 60 to 70 yards. The gateways as a rule were driven uphill and against the cleavage. The waste between the pack walls was filled up entirely by debris, the pack walls being built with the top ribbing.
In 1884 the output was 967,280 tons. Longhirst had been worked in a modest way since 1887, but the first major group extensions began with the sinkings at Woodhorn and Linton on May 15th and November 6th respectively.
Fifth Row Blaze.
In 1896 a serious fire occurred in the Fifth Row, six houses being gutted. The cause was presumed to be an oil lamp suspended from the ceiling setting fire to a down-hanging piece of paper.
The colliery fire-fighters, a four man team under the captaincy of William Tait, foreman enginewright, ran their portable pump along the two-foot way to the scene of the fire, and after a long and arduous fight succeeded in conquering the flames.
A local football team travelling home in a horse-brake saw the flames from afar, and at first thought it was the pit heap, but on drawing close to Ashington, they saw the whole area illuminated.
THE MEN WITH A PORTABLE PUMP ENGINE
Among the many interesting articles on the history of Ashington has got to be the reference to the members of the old fire brigade whose apparatus, it is understood, consisted of a portable pump which ran along the two foot railways in the colliery rows and was operated by four men.
The captain of the brigade was Mr. Alexander Wood, then district surveyor, and Mr. William Tait, formerly foreman enginewright at Ashington was foreman. The key to the fire station was kept at Mr. Tait’s house, and the members of the brigade being spare time amateurs lived in their own homes in various parts of the town. It may well be imagined that an outbreak of fire in those days would occasion an exciting mustering of scattered forces.
The names and addresses of the firemen were:- Henry Turnull, of 39 Tenth Row; James Brown, 106 Chestnut Street; John Taylor, 41 Eleventh Row; Frank Crocker of Third Row; John Andrews, 17 Ninth Row, Thomas Kings, 40 Ninth Row; James Hardy, 1 Fifth Row; Charles Thompson, 96 Poplar Street, Hirst; William Rutter, 5 Fifth Row; John Shiell, 100 Tenth Row; Ben Clavering, 60 Tenth Row; The Cartman was Mr. A. Davison of Station Road.
Some of these men mentioned would have probably been called upon to cope with the famous Fifth Row fire in 1896, which started in the house of a Mrs. Elliot at number 14 and spread with such rapidity and obstinacy that it became necessary to break a gap in it’s path at Number 10, this effectively stopping it’s further progress.
Half a dozen houses were gutted by the outbreak, the origin of which was said to be due to an oil-lamp accident or a flying cinder from the fire lodging in loose paper on the ceiling, papered ceilings being the fashion in those days.