The Company of Quakers
Entrance to Haggs Level, Nentsberry Mine. (Beamish Museum)
the problems of expanding mining operations in an area where there were
no services or accommodation - except for a few remote farms - the company
set about designing and building an entire new village called Nent
Head, about 5 miles south east of Alston at a height of 1450ft above
sea level. As most of the miners lodged at small farms and cottages scattered
around the Moor the village was at first small, with a few solidly built
houses, for smelters and mine officials, attached to the mine buildings.
Nearby a small estate, Cherry Tree Hill, was bought from the Alston Brewery
Company and a house was built for the company agent. Considerable effort
was put into enlarging and improving many of the local farms, making room
for the lodging of miners as well as farm hands, and providing for the
care of the miners' children in both day and Sunday schools. However by
I820 it was apparent thst these arrangements were inadequate. With an
estimated 4000 people in the area dependent on the company for their livelihood
a more extensive and co-ordinated plan was needed if all the Companys
workforce were to be housed comfortably. In I825 a new and larger village
was planned, with thirty-five cottages, clock tower, market hall, school
and chapel set in a large acreage of fields, gardens and plantations.
The old inn of the village, the Miners' Arms, was purchased and on several
occasions its rent was reduced as its trade was diminishing, "the
miners preferring books to drink".
the Company's mining leases lay between Nent Head and the South Tyne valley,
and from an early date the Company took an interest in the hamlet of Garrigill.
Experimenting with smallholdings, they built cottages with up to six acres
of land attached, and further rights to fifty-acres of pasture. Improvements
were made to pasture land by draining and liming, with many experiments
on the high level moors up to 2,000 feet above sea level. In an attempt
to utilise and improve some of the high level moorland over 650 acres
were planted with Scots pine and larch, A nursery was established for
young trees, and by I840 all the timber needed for the mines was being
cut in their own woods. In Westmorland, at Dufton and Hilton, a similar
pattern was followed - land was purchased, old cottages pulled down and
new ones built in their place.
At Middleton-in-Teesdale the second largest estate of the Company was purchased and built in I815. The situation at Middleton was different from Nent Head. Middleton-in-Teesdale was an old established village and the 'new town' built by the Company was never more than a suburb of the old village. The Company, however, followed its by now customary procedure providing first cottages and gardens, then baths, Company schools, chapels, and all the social amenities that the old village did not possess. After I880 Middleton became the head office of the Company and the residence of the agent and general manager. A contemporary writer described the part of Middleton built by the Company: 'Masterman Place or as it is sometimes called, New-Middleton, was erected in 1833 by the London Lead Company from the chaste and appropriate design of Mr. Bonomi, and under the direction of Robert Stagg. It consists of several uniform rows of neat and convenient cottages, situated in a spacious garden, a portion of which was appropriated to each dwelling. The increasing population of Middleton had considerably enhanced the rents of dwelling houses there, and it was to diminish this burden that the Company built Masterman Place, in which, as vacancies occur, they place their most deserving workmen, thus combining general utility with the reward of personal merit. The first occupiers took possession of their new abodes in May 1824, accompanied by bands of music, etc.
Coronation procession Nenthead 1902
the 19th Century the Company continued to improve the facilities in the
villages. In 1833 what was in fact the first free public library in the
country was built at Nent Head. Back in 1800 the Company had begun to
give regular grants for the purchase of books to loan to the men, and
also to subscribe to several small libraries based in the Company's offices.
In I820, libraries were established at first in the schools, then later
in purpose built reading rooms at Garrigill, Stanhope, Dufton, Hilton,
Lunehead, Egglestone, Harewood, Lune Forest, and Tyne Head. By I850 the
Company were subscribing to sixteen libraries throughout the area.
land was donated in Nent Head for a Church of England and a house built
for the vicar, a post office was built in I848, a proper water supply
laid on in I850, baths and a public wash house provided in I865, and about
the same time the old 1750-60 cottages rebuilt. In Garrigill they provided
for a Girls' School, two chapels and a Parsonage, provided the curate's
salary , and presented a harmonium to the church. The Company was interested
in encouraging the miners to supplement their incomes by growing food
as an insurance against hard times. Every cottage that they built was
provided with a garden adjoining. At an early date Horticultural Societies
were formed at Nent Head, and Middleton. Later, similar societies were
founded at Garrigill, Dufton and Hilton. Prizes were offered each year
by the Company for the two best-cultivated gardens on each estate. At
the annual shows everyone from manager down to the horse boys showed some
fruit, flowers or vegetables. Demand for land in addition to the cottage
gardens increased and under instructions from the Company the agents purchased
small plots of ground from half an acre to three acres and let them out
to the miners in allotments. Due to the remote location in times of food
shortages grain would be purchased by the company and delivered to the
villages to keep the price down. This arrangement worked fine until the
famine conditions of the 1840s when although wages had been repeatedly
advanced to meet the higher cost of food, etc., there was still widespread
suffering. The Company urged the miners to form their own Corn Associations.
Financed by the advance of a month's wages the miners, through their own
committee, purchased corn in bulk at Newcastle market, and with the co-operation
of the Company's excellent system of carriers were able to transport it
to Nent Head or Garrigill at minimum cost. The mill at Tynebottom was
handed over to the corn association and everyone was able to get corn
ground there at cost. The Corn Associations were in effect pioneer Co-operative
Societies. The company agents reported that the effect of the Associations
was to create a closer bond between the men and the Company, and also
gave the men a sense of responsibility in running their own concern.
traders preyed on the miners and their families. They would advance goods
at ruinous prices on credit to be cleared by the next month's wages. This
way many of the families lived constantly in debt. To counteract this
and in an attempt to drive the moneylenders out of the villages the company
helped finance Ready Money Shops. These were shops built by the Company,
and leased to a shopkeeper who was held by a bond not to allow any goods
to leave the shop except for cash payment. Provided with ample warehousing
and supplied via the Companies transport system the shops were able to
carry large stocks, and keep prices stable. With the success of the Ready
Money Shops the credit traders practically disappeared. As a result of
the Company's polices the people in all their mining localities were well
housed, and were fully provided with social and educational amenities.
Time after time the agents reported that the miners were content at a
time when rioting and striking in other parts of the same mining field
were common and they ascribe this in part to the care the Company shows
for the wellbeing of their workmen.
The Company realised that maximum benefit would be gained, and antagonism avoided, if the whole population of the district had access to Company facilities and from the beginning the Ready Money Shop and the Corn Association, and also the schools, were open to all residents of the area. This policy was fully justified, and was responsible for the tremendous respect in which the "Quaker Company " was held in the district by farmers and miners, alike, even years after the Company left the area.
Middleton Hall: Company Headquaters built 1819 (Beamish Museum)
From 1895 onwards the Company slowly scaled down its whole mining enterprise, partly due to the age of the main members of the board, or court, but mainly due to the rapidly shrinking lead market at the time. The Company finally wound up in 1905 - selling the mines to the Vieille Montagne Company who worked them for zinc up until the second world war.
'They were far in advance of the age not only in provision of day schools for all the children of the district, but in their recognition of the value and necessity for recreations of divers types-bands, cricket clubs, libraries, lectures, gardens, allotments, etc. etc., and the inevitable provision of work times that would enable miners to enjoy all these recreational facilities. There is a very modern flavour about their " welfare " work. They were seriously concerned for the health of their workpeople and their families, and besides providing medical staff and workman's fund, etc., realized that health must be based on good housing, good and adequate water supply, sanitation, and the provision of baths and wash houses.' Arthur Raistrick.
story of the Quaker Company is told in :