Picture of George Head

George Head

places mentioned

Newcastle upon Tyne

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AMONG other municipal privileges in the city of Newcastle, every freeman claims property, as far as it goes, in, the town moors; that is to say, he is entitled to the pasturage of two cows—not upon brown, sour, unhealthy herbage, such as characterizes the ordinary description of common, where geese, having walked and fed," consumed all before them, and poisoned all behind them," the rest of the grass may be had for nothing—but over an extent of several hundred acres of excellent, rich meadow land, immediately contiguous to the town.

To ensure regularity amid the diversity of private interests consequent upon the clashing of ownership, two herdsmen are appointed by the corporation, to collect the herd twice a day, at milking time, and drive them into the precincts of the town, where they are met on their return, or find their way of themselves to their several owners. At the periods above stated, five or six hundred, or more, of these matronly animals may be seen daily on their march homeward, in two grand divisions, the one of which enters the town by Percy-street, and the other by Gallowgate.

It was on the occasion of a morning's walk on the northern outskirts, that I first became acquainted with these particulars; my attention was then led to what I conceived an unusual number of cows on the open land in question: and not only was the herd remarkable as to numbers, but a restless, uneasy spirit prevailed among them, which, in order to understand, required explanation. The herdsman was at that time engaged in the duties of his station, diligently threading the extremity of his line, and compelling every loitering and wandering cow to join her companions. Thus he cantered along, mounted on his galloway, while, at a distance, farther than the eye could reach, the eccentricities of his course were marked by the short, sharp barkings of a dog, his faithful attendant and aid-de-camp.

The sagacious leaders of the herd in the foreground, those whose disposition I had remarked, aware of the well-known sound, urged by their swelling udders towards their homes, yet restrained by a sense of propriety to await the word of command, were patiently, or rather impatiently, lowing; and not only testifying, by their various looks and actions, their extreme eagerness to proceed on their way, but exemplifying the difficulties that always exist in the path of duty, when opposed by natural inclination. Sometimes they hastily caught a bite of grass, and tossed it pettishly into the air at the bite of a fly, then wistfully stretched their necks across the moor to see if their refractory sisters were coming; and then again they would butt at each other in disappointment and sheer vexation. It really was extraordinary perfection of discipline, by dint of which these cows collected together of their own accord in the front, and remained in a state of moral restraint full twenty minutes, under pressing anxiety to march, yet not one daring to set foot on the adjacent turnpike road, although unrestricted by fence of any sort, without a boy to guard them, or any other kind of let or hinderance whatever.

In the mean time, as the ground to be traversed was of considerable extent, the herdsman was not without his share of trouble; nevertheless, having settled his affairs on the frontier, on he came galloping along with his dog: he had left behind him many of the herd, and the foremost, as if by intuitive knowledge or mutual understanding, already began to divide, pairing off into the two grand divisions before mentioned, and falling naturally, as it were, into their respective lines of march. I accompanied the eastern division homeward, therefore know not the proceedings of the others; they no doubt conducted themselves precisely the same as these. It was extraordinary to see how all, nearly two hundred in number, immediately on their arrival in the town, instinctively broke off into detachments, each departing through the cross streets as occasion required, and these again subdividing into twos and threes; sometimes one single cow, unattended, might be seen stepping leisurely along, unmolested by men or boys, quietly chewing the cud, placing her feet tenderly on the uneven paving stones, and daintily picking her way through intricate streets and lanes, to her place of abode.


Sixteen miles of the Newcastle and Carlisle Railroad are already completed; and carriages attendant upon the trains daily apply to the small village of Bleadon, on the south bank of the Tyne, four miles from Newcastle; from Bleadon passengers are conveyed by steam to Hexham. Those to whose lot it has previously fallen to travel this mountainous road, can appreciate the agreeable change between the former laborious journey up one steep hill and down the next, and a level plane; to form an adequate idea of the beautiful scenery on the way, the traveller must be at the pains of gliding through it himself.

On passing through Newcastle, I took occasion, by way of an evening excursion, to pursue this picturesque route—a spot celebrated by Goldsmith as the abode of his Angelina:—

"My father lived beside the Tyne,
A wealthy lord was he," &c.

I proceeded half the distance to Hexham, and returned by the homeward train, which stopped, for the exchange of passengers, midway. The curiosity of the townspeople was still in full force, but arrangements for the auxiliary wheel carriages to and from Bleadon were insufficient to meet the demand: the few engaged in the service were loaded without moderation, not being subject, as far as I could perceive, to any sort of regulation.

The first four miles of the railroad were not hitherto completed, the line of its continuation to the westward not yet being decided on; proposals have since been made, and are about being carried into execution, to extend it along the south bank of the Tyne to South Shields; thence along the line of coast to Sunderland.

Besides the aforesaid sixteen miles of ground, already finished, the whole work, though slowly, is steadily progressing: the last twenty miles, from Haltwhistle to Carlisle, are in a forward state; the sixteen miles in the middle laid out, and on the point of being taken in hand.

In the future progress of this work, commenced in spite of inequalities of ground, and other local disadvantages, with the expectation of as moderate a return as any similar speculation, now that the chief opposing difficulties are surmounted, it will be most interesting, by-and-by, to watch the gradual course of improvement in the neighbourhood, were it only to observe the benefit resulting to land owners on this desert track, by the increased facilities of obtaining manure and transport for their produce. There are few instances whereby one general result, arising from railroad communications, will be more strikingly developed, namely, the equalization in value of land, the consequence of a stimulus imparted to agriculture, bringing all sites and situations, in point of natural advantages, nearer to a level. In the mean time, local improvements and changes are so various and important, that, while it is evident an effective blow has already been struck at the root of the monopoly of commerce hitherto exclusively enjoyed by a few thickly populated manufacturing towns, it is not easy to determine, either in extent, number, or position, those future rival establishments which will inevitably sooner or later spring up in other parts of the country. On arriving at Bleadon, the train being ready, we immediately departed: several farmers' carts composed part of our cargo; the horses of which were accommodated with standing room on a large railed platform, constructed on purpose. Besides seats in covered and open carriages, disposed in the usual manner, benches were fixed aloft, on the top of the covered vehicles, on which those who preferred airy travelling were at liberty to sit, back to back, and look about them; curiosity, however, once gratified in this respect, he certainly consults economy rather than taste who repeats the experiment; for it is impossible, owing to the rapid motion, and the smoke and cinders which fly backward from the engine, to open more than a quarter of an eye at any one instant of time during a whole journey.


A VOYAGE from Newcastle to Shields by the regular steam packets, which depart every half hour throughout the day, is cheap and disagreeable. For the charge of sixpence, although the ordinary time of the passage is an hour and a half, it sometimes happens that the traveller is accommodated with quarters on board, in regions of dirt and smoke, for a couple of hours more; nay, not unfrequently, little pains being taken by the authorities to clear the channel, half a dozen of these small vessels may be seen together in the middle of the river, quietly reposing on a sand bank. In the latter predicament I had the misfortune to remain for more than an hour, and was indeed truly glad when, after having landed, I found myself, bag and baggage, with a porter at my heels, on the very excellent raft, float, ferry boat, or whatever may be its proper denomination, which plies between North and South Shields.

I never met with a more commodious vehicle of transport across a river than this, into which a person might literally canter on horseback, or drive in his gig or his carriage, without the slightest danger or inconvenience to man or beast. It is, in fact, a double steamer or twin boat, carrying her paddles out of sight in the middle, having two engines, and two funnels, and being in every respect the same as two steamers lashed together. On each of the landing places on the north and south side of the river a machine is contrived to form a level platform from the shore to the vessel: it is moveable on castors, and slides up and down an inclined plane into the water, according to the height of the tide; to make accommodation more commodious, cross pieces of thick matted rope are laid across, which effectually prevent cattle from slipping. Embarkation and disembarkation are thus rendered as easy as such a process can be; the machine plies at as frequent intervals as possible throughout the day, and the passage money for one individual is no more than a penny.


A traveller in England at the present day, without considering geographical points in the world, has quite enough to understand if he studies topography: especially in this region of coal it is quite as difficult to define and become acquainted with the innumerable railroads, leading in curves and straight lines over private property in various directions, as to trace the flight of a pigeon through the air. The Stanhope and Tyne Company at South Shields have recently completed a railroad from Stanhope, on the banks of the Wear, in the county of Durham, to the Tyne, thus opening a steam communication across the country between these two rivers. They have also already erected coal staiths of unusual magnitude, which have eclipsed those at Middleborough, and which may now, instead of the latter, claim the merit of being superior to any in England. The number of drops, however, hitherto erected is only three, which number, it is said, is to be completed to as many more. Hence many pits will be enabled to discharge that coal, which was previously sent to the banks of the Tyne, several miles higher up; and these staiths, as an additional point of shipment, will add one to the numerous new communications and outpourings which are daily creating important changes throughout the whole range of the coal districts.

Their site, at a short distance from the mouth of the Tyne, is elevated so considerably above the river, that the main beam, or jib of the drop, is fifty-five feet in length; the pivot, instead of being in the middle of the jib, as is the case at Middleborough, where the balancing weights act upon the opposite extremity, is here at the bottom, therefore it is raised and lowered after the manner of a ladder. An engine house is built above the drop, from which flat ropes are fixed to a crossbar at the top of the jib. The machinery within the engine house consists of a cast-iron fly wheel, sixteen feet in diameter, appended to the axis on which the ropes are wound: the laden wagon swings on the crossbar, and as it descends the balancing weight of five tons ascends from a shaft dug in the ground several feet deep, in the rear of the engine house. As the empty wagon ascends to the summit of the drop, the balancing weight sinks again into the shaft, of which, by-the-way, the latter being partly filled with water, the action must be attended with diminished effect; however, no doubt it is adjusted accordingly. The peculiar description of this weight is admirably calculated to act equably, so as to avoid any jar or jerk, which might otherwise injure or break the machinery, and at all events be attended with bad effect; the identical principle is here applied, as in the tail of a boy's kite; a great part consisting of enormous rings or links of iron, which being raised from the ground one after another, destroy the effect of oscillation, without diminishing the power of gravity. I was informed that each circular link of this massive chain, of which there are a score or more, weighed two and a half hundredweight; I hastily measured one, and found it to be sixteen inches in circumference, and eleven inches and a half across the inner diameter.

The effect is grand, standing in a convenient position, to see and hear this enormous mechanical power in action: first, the wagon, weighing, together with its load, four tons, not reckoning the frame or cradle on which it stands, and two men beside it, altogether slowly descending from a height of upward of fifty feet, down upon the deck of the vessel below; and with the sweep of a radius of fifty-five feet, describing its graceful periphery in the air, as the stupendous bulk of the counterbalancing chain is dragged upward, as it were reluctantly, with a writhing motion. The creaking and groaning of timber, the stress on the machinery, the grating of the brake, the rattling of the huge links, the clash of the hammer against iron bolts, and the thundering crash of the coal falling through the bottom of the wagon into the hold of the vessel, are all sounds that excite the senses and rivet the attention; while a farther source of contemplation arises by thinking that the same operation is repeated over and over again during every working day throughout the year, and yet, after all that, the whole establishment altogether is but as a speck in the balance, compared with the vast, incessant shipments that cross the bar of the Tyne, whose banks on either side, the whole distance from Newcastle, are studded with chimneys. These vomit into the air a dense mass of smoke, till nature herself seems, as it were, forced to take again under her special charge, in the form of one huge, black, unbroken cloud, the noxious particles and effluvia rejected by the saturated atmosphere.

George Head, A Home Tour through the Manufacturing Districts of England in the Summer of 1835 (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1836) Conversion to HTML and placename mark-up by Humphrey Southall, 2009.

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