Murton (East Morton)

Murton (East Morton)

Available Parish Registers at Durham Record Office

St. Andrew’s, Dalton-le-Dale, Baptisms 1653-1917
St. Andrew’s, Dalton-le-Dale, Marriages 1653-1971
St. Andrew’s, Dalton-le-Dale, Burials 1653-1893
Holy Trinity, Murton, Baptisms 1888-1968
Holy Trinity, Murton, Marriages 1907-1971
Holy Trinity, Murton, Burials 1893-1966
Murton Albion Street Methodists, Marriages 1922-55.

For other Murton records before and after the opening of Holy Trinity in 1875, consult the parish records for Dalton-le-Dale.

Population changes to Murton in the 19th.Century were:

1801 1811 1821 1831 1841 1851 1861 1871 1881 1891 1901
East Morton (Murton) 75 71 72 98 521 1387 2104 3017 4710 5052 6514

The above census records for 1841-1901 are transcribed and available on this site.

Historically Murton was one of the four constabularies of the parish of St. Andrew at  Dalton-le-Dale. A hamlet of half a dozen houses and farmsteads on the road from Dalton-le-Dale to Durham until 1838, it was also known as East Morton or Morton-in-the-Whins. Morton or Murton is a very common English place name, being a corruption of Moor-town. The village was known as East Morton to differentiate it from several others in the county and especially from Morton, near Fencehouses, which also had a colliery, called Morton Grange.

Centuries of rural tranquility came to an abrupt end for Murton in 1831 when the Sunderland Dock Company pushed through a passenger and freight line in the direction of Durham, with a branch line to the new pit at South Hetton and the projected new colliery at Haswell. This passed just west of Murton which was given its own station, Murton Junction. Completed by 1835 the directors of the new line were unconvinced by the early locomotives produced by George Stephenson and others and instead opted for fixed engines which could manage steep gradients far better. Later locomotives had the power to cope with gradients but by then it was too late and the company was stuck with the archaic method of transport until it was taken over by the giant North Eastern Railway in 1854.

The advantage of fixed engines was that they overcame the necessity for much of the excavation work required to make a railway line as level as possible. Consequently, for reasons of economy, the Sunderland to Durham (Shincliffe) & Haswell ended up with some of the steepest gradients in the British railway network and was later used to test the power and brakes on new models of locomotives. From Ryhope to Haswell via Seaton, Murton Junction and South Hetton was a continuous upslope. One night in the 1890s the brakes on a downtrack loco failed at Murton and the runaway train raced past Seaton before derailing itself on the curve ahead. Several people were killed.

The disadvantage to fixed engines was that they made a journey tortuous in the extreme due to the need to change haulage equipment for each leg of a journey. From Sunderland to Ryhope, which was flat, the trains were hauled by a locomotive. There the loco was replaced by a chain connected to the fixed engine house at Murton Junction. The coaches were than pulled uphill, stopping at Seaton on the way. At Murton the chain was changed for another one connected to Haswell fixed engine house. To get to Durham was even more complicated. It was necessary to change trains at Murton Junction and gravity brought the coaches (still connected by a chain) downhill to Hetton. From there to Durham (Shincliffe) via Pittington, Broomside and Sherburn House was comparatively flat but there were several more fixed engines to attatch to en route. It was barely quicker than walking but this method of transport was still being used some 20 years after the development of powerful locos which could do the entire journey on their own regardless of the gradients.

From 1835 onwards therefore, a very early date in railway history, Murton was directly connected to the outside world. Sunderland was now just 30 minutes away and London could be reached within a day. The busiest day of the year after 1871 was always the Durham Miners Gala when tens of thousands of East Durham mining folk would travel on the line to the county town. Murton miners and their bands would march in procession to the Junction station to board the special trains provided. Though hundreds of thousands of people must have used Murton station in its heyday few photos of it are known to have survived.

The first attempt by Colonel Thomas Braddyll’s South Hetton Coal Company to sink a new colliery at East Morton or Murton took place in 1838 but this collapsed after just a few months due to serious flooding problems. Sinking began again at another site in 1840 but coal was not finally drawn until 1843. It was the most expensive coal sinking yet to have taken place in Great Britain. The effort and money involved finished its owner as a major player in the Durham coalfield. The pit, originally called Dalton New Winning, was linked up to the South Hetton (Braddyll) Railway and the new port and town of Seaham Harbour. Braddyll, principal shareholder of the South Hetton Coal Company, went bankrupt in 1846 and his stock went to, among others, the Pemberton family of The Barnes, Sunderland, later owners of Hawthorn Towers, who had almost ruined themselves in the sinking of Monkwearmouth Colliery (originally called Pemberton Main).

The census of June 6 1841, the first to record any personal details, was taken about half way through the sinking phase, so only ‘sinkers’ were mentioned, not proper coal miners. The real miners did not arrive until the pit was ready for production in 1843. Everything was described by the enumerator of 1841 as ‘Murton (or Morton) New Winning’ so we have few clues as to which were the first streets.

One of the residents, an 8 year old girl, a certain Mary Ann Robson, was destined to become known nationwide when she was in her 40th. year. She probably arrived with her parents Michael and Margaret (nee Lonsdale) Robson and her brother Robert from Hazard Pit at East Rainton in c. 1838 when she was about 5 and so to her Murton would always have seemed like her home village. History knows her best as Mary Ann Cotton (her fourth, last and bigamous husband was Frederick Cotton), allegedly Great Britain’s most prolific murderer, who was accused of as many as 21 murders but was convicted of only one, that of her stepson, one of the three Cotton boys she may have disposed of. Her usual motivation it seems was insurance money but some of her victims may simply have gotten in her way. She was hanged at Durham Gaol in March 1873. Her father Michael Robson declared himself to be a ‘sinker’ in the 1841 census. The family probably lived in the Durham Place area of Murton, demolished in the 1950s. Michael Robson succeeded in falling down one of the (still shallow, a mere 300 feet or so) pits of the projected mine in 1842 and his mangled body was brought to his home on a wheelbarrow inside a sack enscribed with the legend ‘Property of the South Hetton Coal Company’. Inside a year his widow, who otherwise would have had to give up the colliery house, married another miner and fellow Methodist, George Stott, who hailed from nearby South Hetton. He would later claim to have raised Mary Ann and her brother. The Robson/Stott clan were present in Murton throughout the troublesome 1840s and were recorded again there in the 1851 census.

Hardly had coal-drawing begun at ‘Dalton New Winning’ in 1843 when a total strike commenced across the Great Northern Coalfield on April 5 1844. A few days later the first general meeting of miners took place at Shadon Hill on Gateshead Fell. Over 40,000 people attended. It was rumoured beforehand that the men from the new super-pit at Dalton/Murton had declined to join their brothers in industrial action. When it was announced to the great crowd that the Murton men were indeed present the whole mass rose to their feet and cheered till they were exhausted. The Murton men joined the uprising but this could not prevent the eventual crushing of the miners and their union. Even the workhouses were closed to the strikers. Magistrates and clergymen alike gave their sanction and protection to this policy. Shopkeepers were threatened with ruin by the coalowners and authorities if they helped the miners with credit. At least 72 collieries in Northumberland & Durham were affected by this costly dispute. The strike collapsed after 20 weeks.

On the morning of Tuesday August 15 1848 fourteen men and boys were killed by an explosion at Murton Colliery. Twelve of these actually lived in South Hetton, sister colliery and community to Murton. These were:

  • Matthew Besom, 16 (No Trace in 1841 census of SH (South Hetton) & M (Murton)
  • John Dickenson, 12 (No Tace at SH & M 1841)
  • Edward Noble, 23 (Resident at South Hetton 1841)
  • Edward Haddick or Haddock (No Trace at SH & M in 1841)
  • William Raffell or Raffle, 32 (Family present at South Hetton 1851)
  • Christopher Raffell or Raffle, 10 (Family present at SH in 1851)
  • William Baldwin, 25 (No trace at SH & M)
  • James Hall, 40 (Resident at South Hetton 1841)
  • Thomas Stubbs, 27 (Resident at South Hetton 1841)
  • Joseph Tones, 66 (No Trace at SH & M)
  • Richard Bloomfield, 20 (His family were at South Hetton in 1841 ?)
  • David Rumley, 12 (Resident at South Hetton in 1841)
  • John Robson, a boy (Age not specified in newspapers) (Resident at South Hetton 1841)
  • Thomas Lawson senior, 41 (Resident at South Hetton 1841)
  • Thomas Lawson junior, 14, was badly burnt and for days he hovered between life and death at his home in South Hetton. At last he pulled through.

The Durham Chronicle covered the inquest at which the following were called as witnesses:

  • Henry Pace, Overman (Resident at South Hetton 1841)
  • Anthony Gray (Resident at South Hetton 1841)
  • John Robinson (At least four men and boys with this name were resident at South Hetton & Murton in 1841)
  • John Teasdale (Resident at South Hetton in 1841)
  • James Dixon, a boy (Resident at South Hetton 1841)
  • William Armstrong, Viewer at Wingate Grange Colliery
  • Thomas Jones of Murton (Not present at South Hetton or Murton in 1841 & 1851)
  • Thomas Graydon of Murton (Resident at Murton 1841)
  • Edward Potter, Viewer of Murton Colliery (Resident at South Hetton as manager of that concern in 1841).

The verdict of the jury was ‘Accidental Death. No blame attributable to anyone’ So none of the dependents could claim a penny from the South Hetton Coal Company. The Employers’ Liability Act was far in the future.

As had happened in 1841, the 1851 census enumerator for the embryonic community described all of the streets as ‘Murton Colliery’ so we are once more deprived priceless clues about the township’s early development. The Victoria, Colliery Inn and Travellers Rest pubs were all mentioned so at least we have something to chew on. Mary Ann Robson (Cotton), now 18, was mentioned again. She was still living with her mother, stepfather and brother, probably still in the Durham Place area. By the summer of the following year she was pregnant by a newcomer to Murton, a young miner called William Mowbray, and was quietly married to him at Newcastle Register Office. They went from there to Cornwall where he had landed a job as a storeman with a railway construction company. They returned with a child to the northeast in 1857. They can be found in the census at South Hetton in 1861. Mary’s Ann’s ‘career’ may have started with the child she brought back from Cornwall or even with some of the other children she had and ‘lost’ there. Some authorities credit her with as many as 21 murders but the evidence for any of them before 1865 is very weak or non-existent. She was hanged for one she definitely did do at Durham Gaol in March 1873.

At last in 1861 the census enumerator gave some clues as to the streets of early Murton. He repeated the errors of the 1841 and 1851 enumerators and described the first large section of housing he dealt with as simply ‘Murton Colliery’. But for the next section of his stint he mentioned: Surgery Row (not mentioned in later censuses), Coke Row (which became East Street), New House Row or Sinkers Row (which later became part of Durham Place), North Plantation Row (which became Shipperdson Street), South Plantation Row (which later became South Street), Cross Row (not mentioned in later censuses), Tile Row (which later became Railway Street), Chapel Row (which later became another part of Durham Place), Cottage Row and Sandgate Row (which later merged and became Owen Street), Double Row (which later became Lancaster Street), Smokey Row (which later merged with Front Row to become Green Street) & Back Houses (which were not mentioned in later censuses). In fact, though the names of many streets would change, the village was now almost complete apart from the area which would become known as ‘Cornwall’.

Mentioned in the 1861 census of Murton were a few Irish and Welsh families but not one from Devon or Cornwall. The Cornish and Devonian tin and copper industry collapsed in the early 1860s in the face of overseas competition and many of the workers migrated to the northeast and other coalmining areas. By the time of the 1871 census there were some 25 families all living in the same part of Murton, a brand new block of 12 rows which had not existed ten years earlier. This was the origin of the name ‘Cornwall’ for that area, officially known as ‘Greenhill’. There is still a Cornwall Estate in Murton today, a council estate, but ‘Old Cornwall’ is long gone, demolished in the 1950s and 1960s.

The first of these migrants were merely the scouts, the vanguard, of far more who would appear in time for the censuses of 1881 and 1891. The same phenomenon can be observed in the rest of Easington District in the censuses of 1861-91 inclusive, especially at New Seaham and Wingate Grange collieries. A row was named Cornish Street at New Seaham, an entire district at Murton. The immigrants came from such places as Collumpton, Horrabridge, Egbuckland, Beerferris, Tavistock, Whitechurch, Walkhampton, Oakhampton, Mary Tavy and Inwardleigh in Devon and Calstock, Beeralstone, Callington, Liskeard, Stoke Climsland, St. Germans, Northill, St. Ives and St. Just in Cornwall. The following southwestern surnames appeared in Murton and Easington District for the first time in the 1860s and are still present today:

Blackmore, Newcombe, Tremaine, Colville, Bolt, Cornish, Hampton, Milford, Nancarrow, Peardon, Main, Pascoe, Trewicke, Tilley, Hemphill, Bray, Spry, Lavis, Dashper, Beer, Henwood, Hocking, Vine, Blackwell, Pine and Jane.

The 12 rows of ‘Cornwall’ may all have been completed by the time of the 1871 census but the enumerator of that year mentioned only 4th. and 5th. rows specifically. He gave the other rows different names which proved to be shortlasting, like Back Road, High Row and Mechanics Row. Also in 1871 Hart Bushes Row (later called Johnsons Row and then Murton Street) and Wood Row appeared (later called Villiers Street). In 1875 Murton at last received its own Anglican church, Holy Trinity. The Miners’ Hall was erected in the same year. In 1879 Murton, like many other Durham mining villages, was ruined by the 6 week county-wide strike from April 5 to May 16, the first serious confrontation between men and ‘Masters’ since 1844.

In the 1881 census Woods Terrace, Church Street, Back Church Street and Church Road all appeared for the first time. Fortunately for posterity and local historians the enumerators of that year thoughtfully explained the changes in street names which had occurred since the last census:

Wood Row became Villiers Street
High Row + High Tile Row + Overmans Row became Church Street
1st. & 2nd. Rows at Greenhill became Pilgrim Street
3rd. Row at Greenhill became Model Street
4th. & 5th. Rows at Greenhill became Albion Street
6th. Row at Greenhill now became one side of Princess Street
7th. Row at Greenhill now became the other side of Princess Street
8th. & 9th. Rows at Greenhill became Silver Street
10th. & 11th. Rows at Greenhill became Alfred Street
12th. Row at Greenhill became Talbot Street
Part of Sinkers Row + All of Chapel Row became Durham Place
Tile Row became Railway Street
Front Row + Smokey Row became Green Street
Double Row became Lancaster Street
Cottage Row + Sandgate Row became Owen Street
Johnsons Row became Murton Street
North Plantation Row became Shipperdson Street
Coke Row + Coke House became East Street
South Plantation Row became South Street
NB: North Street and New Albion Street were constructed between 1881and 1891 to complete ‘Cornwall’ (Greenhill).

Murton was complete by the time of the 1897 map. Council housing arrived only in the 1920s. A further colliery estate, with just four rows, nicknamed ‘Wembley’, opened on the same day as the Empire Stadium in north London in 1923. Four men were killed in an explosion at Murton on December 21 1937. Thirteen died in an explosion on June 26 1942 during World War Two. Since the war much of old Murton, including ‘Cornwall’ has been demolished to make way for council housing. Murton Colliery and Hawthorn Shaft combine were closed and demolished in 1991. Now a great empty site stands in its place and the nearest coalmine is over a hundred miles away.

In the 1950s passenger services ended on the old Sunderland to Durham & Hartlepool (via Haswell) line. The track stayed in place between South Hetton (and the projected Hawthorn Shaft which would raise coal from Eppleton, Elemore and Murton collieries) and the coast railway at Ryhope. Thus coal could still be transported from the few surviving collieries to Sunderland for export. In 1991 Murton and Hawthorn were closed and the last section of line was dismantled. One unlucky driver, travelling on the Seaham to Houghton road at Seaton, was dazzled by the morning sunshine and failed to see the warning lights flashing at the railway crossing. He was killed by one of the last trains to pass through, whose job was to take up the railway behind it. The entire trackbed of this beautiful old railway from Ryhope (A19 Flyover) to the former Hart Station (some 11 miles) has now been turned into a continuous walkway which parallels the western border of Easington District and passes the sites of several defunct collieries.

Murton Colliery Strikes

  • 1883 (August 20-25), both Murton and South Hetton collieries struck on behalf of two sacked hewers.
  • 1891 (June 13 to August 17), ‘Lowes’ strike (local)
  • 1892 (January 10 to March 12), 3 month County strike
  • 1910 (January 1 to April 5), the ‘8 Hours’ strike (The Pea-Heap Strike, see below)
  • 1912 (March 1 to April 6), ‘Minimum Wage’ strike (first national mining strike)
  • 1920 (October 18 to November 3) 2 week strike
  • 1921 (April 1 to July 1), National Lockout
  • 1926 (May 1 to November 30), General Strike, then miners on their own.
  • 1973-74, National strike, which effectively brought down the Tory government.
  • 1985-85, Last, longest and most bitter of all. Miners led by Arthur Scargill. Resulted in the destruction of the rump Durham Coalfield.

Etched deep in Murton’s memory is the ‘8 Hours’ strike of 1910, known locally as the ‘Pea-Heap Strike’. In that bitterly cold winter Murtonians rapidly ran out of coal and were obliged to pillage the colliery ‘Pea-Heap’, a mountain of pea-sized pieces of coal considered unsuitable for sale and unwanted by anyone except as ballast or as the nucleus for railway embankments. It would burn however and there was nothing else. Eventually the rate of pilfering became so bad that the South Hetton Coal Company called in security men. These were soon intimidated by the local people, especially the women. They breed them tough in Murton. Then police were introduced, not only from other parts of the kingdom but also and especially from Ireland. The usual British Empire trick of divide and conquer. Local police would have turned a blind eye but the Irish constabulary relished the opportuunity of being given free licence to beat up English people, any English people. Ancient racial scores could be settled and no questions asked. The situation eventually deteriorated into a cat and mouse game for the police could not guard all of the vast colliery complex at the same time. On one occasion a pitched battle was fought between the two sides, with the Murtonians almost succeeding in outflanking the Irish police with a cunning pincer movement. Fortunately for all sides the thaw came and the strike petered out. Murton soon got back to normality, which meant the production of coal for a country about to go to war.

Some Murton Street & Building Names

Cornwall House: Built about 1879, possibly for manager Bailes
Lady Adeline Terrace (1899): After Ethel Adeline Pottinger (later Baroness Knaresborough), granddaughter of Reverend E.H. Shipperdson (Shipperdson Street), owner of most of Murton. Her son Claude (Claude Terrace) Henry (Henry Street), born in 1887, was killed in the Great War.

J.H.B. Forster (Forster Avenue) was chairman of the South Heton Coal Company in 1923 when ‘Wembley’ was constructed.

Ada and Ellen streets were named after the daughters of the constructors of the streets, Benjamin & Temple. Lancaster Street was named after Joseph Lancaster, founder of the schools ‘Monitorial’ system. Owen Street was named after Robert Owen, the pioneer of infant schools and the cooperative movement. Villiers Street was named after Charles Pelham Villiers, M.P., ardent advocate for free trade and Poor Law reform.

— by Tony Whitehead