NORTHUMBRIA-L ArchivesArchiver > NORTHUMBRIA > 2000-05 > 0958006256
From: Brian Pears <>
Subject: Re: [NMB] South View
Date: Thu, 11 May 2000 01:50:56 +0100
>I have an address of South View, Highfield, Rowlands Gill. Can anyone tell
>me if this still exists and if it is different from the Annfield Plain street?
It certainly does exist, I know it well - and yes, it is quite
some distance from Annfield Plain. It is 8 miles SW of Newcastle
upon Tyne (OS grid reference NZ149586).
"Highfield" is a sort of suburb of the village of Rowlands Gill.
It all began in 1861 when the owners of Victoria Garesfield
Colliery decided to build coke ovens to process their coal. They
couldn't build them in the village of Victoria Garesfield (grid
ref NZ146578) as it was surrounded by Chopwell Wood, so they
built them half a mile along the railway track which took their
coal to the Tyne. 193 "bee-hive" coke ovens were built and over
the next 20 years another little village, initially called
"Whinfield", grew up near the ovens (grid ref NZ152582).
By the turn of the century Whinfield was bigger than Victoria
Garesfield so in 1908 they built new schools beside the "High
Field" at Whinfield and they called them "Highfield County
Mixed School" and "Highfield County Infants School". All the
staff and kids from Victoria Garesfield School moved there and
the old school at Victoria Garesfield was converted into
The owners of the colliery weren't finished - they had a small
power station which used waste heat from the coke ovens to
generate electricity for the colliery and to light the streets
at Victoria Garesfield, Whinfield and nearby Rowlands Gill.
There was still surplus electricity so they experimented with
electric furnaces to produce ferro-alloys, and by 1907 they had
a small plant beside the coke ovens producing these alloys
commercially for use in the production of special steels. This
was locally called "The Alloy" (with the emphasis on the second
On the outbreak of WW1 this little plant assumed a national
importance. One of the alloys they made was ferro-chrome, an
essential ingredient of armoured steel! Most of the ferro-chrome
in use in the UK had been imported from Scandinavia - but the
start of the war ended the trade. So suddenly, when Britain
needed armour more than ever, its principle source of
ferro-chrome was gone! "The Alloy" was in fact the ONLY source
in the country.
With government backing in wartime it's amazing what can be
done. In a few months the size of the plant was increased
8-fold, a large new power station was built which rivalled any
commercial power station in the country - and this was
supplemented by a 7-mile 20 Kv underground cable from Dunston
Power Station. Along with this came a veil of secrecy which is
still difficult to penetrate. Even the local council were kept
in the dark - when they were "told" to move a sewer to make way
for a new boiler-house, the instruction came from the Ministry
of Aircraft Production, which actually had nothing to do with
the plant at all. A "cover" company was set up to disguise the
source of the alloy - it was named the "Newcastle Alloy
Company" though the plant was 8 miles from the city.
The colliery railway line carried many hundreds of tons of
ferro-chrome from The Alloy to the main rail network and thence
to steel-works throughout the UK.
The plant prospered and employed nearly 1000 people during the
war, but the end of the war brought disaster - suddenly nobody
wanted ferro-chrome!! So the colliery company was left with a
huge plant and a huge workforce and no customers! They attempted
to use the furnaces to make steel itself, but they couldn't
compete with the steel works, so by about 1922 the alloy plant
closed. Only the power station remained and they cleverly used
the cable to Dunston in reverse - Whinfield Power Station
supplied Tyneside for the next 10 years until its plant became
obsolete in 1932.
The increased workforce at The Alloy during the war had required
housing - some houses were built in Rowlands Gill, but this was
also when South View and North View were built beside what is
now the B6315 road from Rowlands Gill to High Spen - just
opposite Highfield School. In the early 20s a large number of
"council" houses were built along the same road. You can get some
idea of the political orientation of the council at the time from
the names of these streets - Keir Hardie St, Engels St, William
Morris Ave etc. - names which they still bear.
This large building exercise meant that there was more housing at
the "High Field" than at adjacent Whinfield, so the whole place
became "Highfield". This occurred in 1925 - at least that's when
the local Primitive Methodist Chapel changed its name from
"Whinfield PM Chapel" to "Highfield PM Chapel".
A massive house-building programme in the 10 years after WW2
resulted in Highfield being joined with the much larger village
of Rowlands Gill, and for all official purposes it is now part
of Rowlands Gill - though you risk a black eye if you say that
to a resident. :-)
Back to South View after that little digression. South View
consists of two adjacent terraces, now called South View East
and South View West, which are separated by a lane. Two of the
houses on South View East have shops on the ground floor -
the easternmost one is a butcher's shop and one in the centre
of the block is a sweet (candy) shop though it calls itself a
"general dealer". This is the shop I visited almost every day
to buy sweets when I attended Highfield School from 1951-1957,
and later visited every day to buy a cigarette (note the
singular) when on my way to Hookergate Grammar School.
To conclude the story of Victoria Garesfield Colliery. The 1861
coke ovens continued in production until May 1958 - 5 ovens (nos
108-110 and 192-193) are preserved as an "historic monument"
(grid ref NZ151581). Another plant there, "The Oxide", which
made cuprous oxide using an electrolytic process, also closed at
the same time, though the staff and plant were moved to the
"International Paints" factory at Felling. (The paint company
was their main customer - they used the cuprous oxide to make
paint for the underside of ships - apparently it protected the
ships from barnacles etc). The colliery itself closed in July
1962 and with it went the entire village of Victoria Garesfield
- it was levelled and has since been reclaimed by the
surrounding woodland. The only surviving buildings were on the
outskirts of the village-proper - the old (1883) school (which
became houses in 1908) and a single house which had been a shop.
There are also a couple of streets surviving some distance away
beside the former Coronation Drift entrance. These look quite
incongruous today - two completely isolated rows of pit houses
right on the edge of the large Chopwell Wood.
There is one quite amazing survival. Remember the 7-mile 20 Kv
cable which was laid during WW1 to augment the supply to The
Alloy - the cable which was used 1922-1932 to take power from
the village to Tyneside? Quite incredibly this cable is still in
use!! Since 1932 it has brought power to Rowlands Gill and it
normally carries the entire "load" of Rowlands Gill and
Highfield - though the electricity company do have two
alternative "back-up" routes into the village for use in
What of the old coke-oven site? It is now the Whinfield
Industrial Estate - the former Alloy plant remained standing
until c1985 and was latterly used to make concrete building
blocks. A new purpose-built plant took its place. Another
survivor, a sub-station associated with the large 1914 power
station, also remained standing until the same date and was
used as offices by the building-block company - but they now
have offices in their new plant.
Brian Pears Home page: http://www.swinhope.demon.co.uk/
Gateshead, UK Fax: 0870 1600865 (Charged at National Rate)