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Charlotte Mason

Northumberland and Durham

I. The Border

The two northern counties of Northumberland and Durham are alike in many points. They are both marked by hill and dale, both are rich in coal and lead, and both have many busy ports on their eastern coast. They have, also, much of their history in common, for Northumberland is a border county, and Durham has shared with it in the fortunes of war.

The title of "border county" has no meaning for us now; because, for nearly three centuries, Scotland has had the same sovereign as England. But before that time, if you had been a borderer, that is, had lived in a border county on either side of the Cheviots, you might, any night, have had your cattle and growing crops carried off, and your house burnt over your head.

Three of our kings, the first three Edwards, carried on a long war with Scotland, which they hoped to conquer and add to the English crown. They did not succeed; but, during the two hundred years which followed the attempt, this war led to constant feuds between the two countries.

In the first place, Scotland was never sure that some other English king would not covet the Scottish crown. Therefore, she always tried to secure France as her friend, so that if the English king should invade Scotland, France would come to her aid. The consequence of this alliance was, that Scotland had in return to fight for France against England, and this led to frequent wars between the two countries.

In the second place, the great border families, English and Scotch, learned to hate one another, and were always seeking cause for quarrels. And as the Scotch Douglases and the English Percies, Earls of Northumberland, were both great barons, with many noble friends and many thousands of followers, a quarrel between the two families might at any time lead to a general war.

Thus, while our Edward III. was fighting his French battles, David of Scotland thought he could help France by marching down into England, and, possibly, conquering the country in the king's absence. He marched through Northumberland and Cumberland, burning and slaying as he went. But everybody was not at the wars. The brave Queen Philippa and the lords Percy and Neville, helped by three or four bishops, raised the north-country folk; a battle was fought on some hills close by the city of Durham; the Scots were beaten, and their king taken prisoner. A beautiful cross, named after the Lord Neville, was built on the spot in memory of the fight, which has since been known as the battle of Neville's Cross.

Three places in Northumberland became famous in these early "border" wars, Otterburn, in the pleasant valley of the Rede; Humbledown Hill, in the bleak moors to the north; and Flodden Field, near the Cheviot Hills. In 1388 the battle of Otterburn, or "Chevy Chase," was fought, in which the Earl Percy was killed, whose death was avenged twenty years after at Humbledown.

"This fight did last from break of day

Till setting of the sun,

For when they rung the evening bell,

The battle scarce was done.

* * * *

"Of fifteen hundred Englishmen,

Went home but fifty-three;

The rest in Chevy Chase were slam,

Under the greenwood tree."

Another far more terrible border fight took place upon Flodden Field, near the Cheviots.

It was in the reign of the eighth king Henry (1513); England was at war with France; and James of Scotland, in order to help his French allies, gathered all the best men of his kingdom, in number 50,000, crossed the Tweed, and laid waste Northumberland all about the river.

The king of England sent a much smaller army against him under the Earl of Surrey. The armies met at Flodden, and the fight lasted until it grew too dark for the men to see one another. Nobody knew that night on which side the victory lay; but the sun rose on a day of heavy mourning for Scotland. The "Flowers of the Forest," the bravest and noblest of her sons, lay by hundreds dead upon the field; and, amongst the rest, was the king, so mangled that his friends failed to recognise the body.

It is indeed a good thing for both countries that Scotland and England are now united under one crown. Even in the earliest days of English history, when thİ Romans ruled, the Picts, that is the savage tribes who inhabited Scotland, were constantly breaking over the border. Agricola, the Roman general who completed the conquest of Britain, built eighteen forts, or towers, between the Solway Firth and the Tyne, so that the Roman soldiers who manned them might keep these barbarians back. A later emperor, Hadrian, built a stone wall nearly in the same place,—a great wall, parts of which are still to be seen, a hundred miles long, and nearly wide enough for a carriage road on the top.

The border land, this "debatable land," where the "rank reivers and moss troopers" used to "gallop over moss and moorland, is now marked by the richest meadows, the fairest fields. The tract which used to lie between the two countries—a blasted and desolate region, ravaged with fire and sword, drenched with blood, and peopled only with horrible memories—is now turned into a garden. Large corn farms extend up to the very ridges of the Cheviots."

There is still a pine wood on Flodden Ridge where King James and his brave Scots rested before the fatal battle; but the field of "red Flodden," itself, is marked off by hedges, its heather has given place to corn, and there is little in the aspect of the country to remind us

"Of the stem strife and carnage drear

Of Flodden's fatal field."

II. The Dales and Vales

Northumberland and Durham are both mountainous in the west. The Cheviot Hills are in Northumberland, and divide it from Scotland. These are a range of moorland hills, cold and bare, except for peat and heather and the short turf of the lower hills, which feeds the nimble Cheviot sheep. Here and there, rather high, pointed peaks rise above the rest, such as Cheviot Top, Carter Fell, and Peel Fell.

The hills of Durham are the Pennines, the great central moorland chain, which begins at the Cheviots, ends at the Peak in Derbyshire, and divides the rivers that flow east from those flowing west in all the northern counties; in other words, these mountains form the watershed  of this part of England.

These hills, too, are high, wild moorlands, with deep bogs, patches of heather, and great crags scattered about, where scarcely any plant taller than the low-growing mountain bilberry is to be seen. Sheep and even cows feed on the short grass of the lower slopes. The most desolate part of this moorland country is where the four counties of Northumberland, Cumberland, Durham, and Yorkshire almost join. Here—at Coaleleugh, the highest village in England; at Allendale, Allenhead, and other villages in Northumberland ; at St. John's, in the Dale of the Wear; and at Middleton and Eggleston, in that of Tees—the steady, kindly lead-miners have their homes. This is /the great lead-mining country, where veins of lead ore run, often at a great depth, in the mountain limestone.

These western mountains send out spurs towards the east—three or four in Northumberland, two great spurs in Durham—which look as if the land swelled up into high ridges or waves of rugged moorland, leaving deep valleys between them. The moors get higher and more barren towards the west; they are generally let out to farmers for sheep pastures, and are divided into patches by rough stone walls.

Towards the west, where the mountains are high, there are beautiful dales between the spurs, like those in Yorkshire; dales, where mountain streams roar over stony beds, and cut their way through rocky glens, or among deep woods; and these glens open suddenly into quite broad, green valleys, shut in by the moors. The rivers, wide and full with the waters of many streams, leave their narrow picturesque dales, and flow through these beautiful valleys, and across the open country to the sea. These rivers are bordered by green pastures, where the short-horned Durham ox feeds—a broad, thick beast, fattest of any that make beef for the Christmas markets.

The northern farmers know how to make the best of their land, and the valleys are covered with cornfields,— wheat, and, farther to the north, with barley and oats. The low land by the coast does best for growing potatoes and turnips.

In the east is a coal-field, reaching from the Coquet in Northumberland to the south of Durham, where all the mining villages are, and where there is the smoke of many blast furnaces; for iron, as well as coal, is found in this locality.

The bonny rivers of Northumberland—the Aln, the Coquet, and the Tyne—all flow in nearly the same direction towards the sea. The Tweed, which is partly a Scotch river, divides Northumberland from Scotland on the north, as the Tyne divides it from Durham on the south.

The Tweed has Berwick at its mouth—a town to which many a tale of border warfare belongs. It is a trading town now, and a fishing town, for the Tweed, like all the Northumbrian rivers, is famous for its fish—splendid salmon and trout. Alnwick is the chief town on the Aln. The Coquet has Warkworth, a busy little port, at its mouth; Coquet Island, with its lighthouse, lies off the coast. The Wansbeck flows nearly round Morpeth, a busy town, where iron farm implements, such as ploughs and harrows, are made. Leather and flannel are also made here.

III. Rivers and Trading Towns

The Tyne is the chief river of Northumberland. It is formed by two streams, North Tyne and South Tyne, each of which flows through its own beautiful dale. The two join above the old town of Hexham, where a battle was fought in a war we have not yet spoken of.

Towards Newcastle, the Tyne becomes a busy river; and its bed has been deepened thence to the sea. Along the sides of the river are ship-building yards, and factories and stores are crowded on its banks. Newcastle is an important port, which sends coal, iron goods, and lead, with glass bottles and other things made in the town, to the countries about the Baltic to the Mediterranean, and to America; getting in return timber, pitch, and tar from the Baltic, sugar and tobacco from America, fruits and wines from the Mediterranean coasts.

Newcastle is joined by bridges to Gateshead, a town on the opposite side of the Tyne.

Tynemouth, North Shields, and South Shields are all trading towns. Close to South Shields is Jarrow. Gateshead, Jarrow, and South Shields, being south of the Tyne, are in Durham. Sunderland, at the mouth of the Wear, is the principal port of Durham, and the largest town in the county; it is a shipbuilding and coal-shipping place. Bishop Wearmouth and Monk Wearmouth both join Sunderland, and make, with it, one large town. Monk Wearmouth is named from the monks who at one time dwelt at the mouth of the Wear.

Further up the valley is Chester-le-Street, where, in Alfred's days, monks and bishop came to live when the Danes drove them out of Lindisfarne.

Going up the river, we pass nearly round Durham, which is an ancient city, with a very noble cathedral. Paper, carpets, and mustard are made here. Close by Durham is Neville's Cross, where Queen Philippa defeated the Scots. Shortly after passing Bishop Auckland, we get into Wear-dale and among the leadworks.

The winding Tees divides Durham from Yorkshire. High up in Teesdale the river tumbles, all in a white foam, over a great cliff sixty feet high. Down it comes with a rush and a roar, to be heard far off, and you stand, until you grow giddy, watching the waters pour in endless stream down the face of the rock. This Tees waterfall is called High Force, Force  being the north-country name for a waterfall. The river makes its way onward,—

"Condemned to mine a channelled way

O'er solid sheets of marble grey,"—

and these grey rocks often rise in high and broken cliffs, with trees growing in every niche, and bending from the top. Teesdale is truly very beautiful. The river passes by Darlington, where there are the tall chimneys of wool and flax mills, and of ironworks. Stockton stands by the wide mouth of the Tees. It, also, is a ship-building and coaling place; yet it is a bright, handsome town, standing in a fertile district

IV. The Coal-Field.

What should we do without coal? We cook, we travel, wo light our streets and our rooms, we work our great mills, and warm our houses—all by means of coal.

There are layers or beds of coal in many parts of the country, called coal-fields, though they certainly are not much like green fields. A well-stocked coal-cellar underground is one of the good treasures our God has laid up for English people.

In these fields, the coal lies in a number of layers, or strata, separated from one another by layers of slaty clay, called shale, and of coarse hard sandstone, called grit. These form what are known as coal-measures, where beds of sandstone, shale, clay, and coal lie, one below another, to a great depth.

The layers of coal, called seams, are usually very thin. They are wide enough, stretching under a large tract of country, but are often only a few inches deep and (with a single exception) never more than six or eight feet. There is a seam in Staffordshire thirty feet in thickness. The beds of grit and shale between the coal seams are a great deal thicker than the coal itself; many different seams of coal, however, lie, one under another, at the same spot.

The great northern coal-field of Northumberland and Durham supplies London, and all the east and south coast towns with coal, as well as a good deal of the continent. It reaohes from the Tees to the Coquet; there it ceases, and re-appears further north, having a length of eighty miles in all, and a breadth of from ten to twenty.

Bishop Auckland, Brancepeth, Durham, and Chester-le-Street are the centres of the coal-mining in Durham, and they all have mining villages round them.

Newcastle, Warkworth, Morpeth, Throckley, Walls-end, whence the famous Wallsend coal comes, Hartley, Willington, and many other villages and towns in Northumberland, are the homes of the pitmen who work in the neighbouring mines. From the Tweed to the Tyne, the coal extends along the coast, and even dips below the German Ocean; the miners at work in some of these pits may hear the sea rolling over-head.

V. The Pit

Geologists can tell, by the sort of rock which appears at the surface, whether coal is likely to be found underground.

Let us suppose a Coal Master is going to open a new pit: he ohooses a likely spot for coal, but at present, perhaps, sees nothing but a grass field or a furzy common.

The first thing to be done is to bore a hole deep down into the earth, with a sort of chisel at the end of an iron rod; as the hole is not large enough for a man to follow the chisel, it is driven by a machine. If the boring tool passes through many coal seams, the Coal Master knows that he has found the right place for his pit.

Then a shaft  is sunk; that is, a hole deep enough to reach a good thick coal seam, and wide enough to allow men and horses and carts to be lowered to the ooal. The shaft is a round opening, which is sometimes carried down to a depth of five hundred yards before it touches a ooal seam.

When they reach a good seam, the miners drive a broad passage through it, from top to bottom, from roof to floor. This is called the mother-gate:  gate is the north-country word for a road or way; and this is the mother-gate because many passages are driven from it on either side. When all the gates  have been driven, the coal-mine is a little like a town with many streets, some wide, and some narrow, with great pillars of coal here and there, like buildings.

The men who hew the coal are lowered into this underground town, where the darkness is so black, that it would make the darkest night seem bright; and all the light they have is from the little candle or lamp which each man carries in his hat. Every man has his own place in the mine, and each sets to work with his pick to hew out the walls of coal. The coal is thrown into baskets, or into trucks, which horses draw along tramways to the great shaft: there it is put into wagons, and these are raised to the surface by an engine. Large underground stables are often to be seen in a coal-pit.

The collier often works in galleries so low and narrow that he cannot stand upright, or even sit. He labours in a stooping posture, sometimes lying on hie side, for—save for a short interval—eight or ten hours together. His work is done by the glimmer of a small candle, five or six hundred yards down in the bowels of the earth. Often he must make his way through two or three miles of underground passages to get to his work.

Nor is this all; the roof of his gloomy workshop may break in and crush him; and often does so when he is careless and does not put in a prop of wood from time to time to uphold it. Then again, the earth's crust is always more or less full of water, and, though engines are kept at work, pumping, to keep the pits dry, a sudden rush of water may burst in at any time, fill the galleries, and drown the hewers. The air, too, is close and bad in these deep pits; often bad enough to poison a man, though great pains are taken to make a constant draught  through the mine.

There is another more terrible danger. A great fire may break out suddenly and fill the pit with death, and, in the most fearful manner, the miner may be scorched and shrivelled to a blackened mass, or shattered to pieces against the sides of the mine.

We all know that the gas with which our houses are lighted is made from coal, and that, if this gas be allowed to escape so as to fill a room, a lighted candle taken into such a room would cause an explosion.

Coal, especially Newcastle coal, gives off a great deal of this inflammable gas in the pit. The gas mixes with the air, and moves along with the current, or draught, of air towards the shaft. Every now and then, the collier lays open with his pick a hole in the coal which is quite full of this gas, or, as the workmen call it, fire-damp, which rushes out with a blowing noise.

If a hewer with his lighted candle come in the way of such a blower  sending out a torrent of gas, the gas blazes up, the flame spreads like lightning to other gas all over the mine, and, battered by the explosion, and shrivelled in the fierce heat, horses and men come to a terrible end.

The only way of preventing these disasters seems to be to keep the mines well ventilated; that is to say, to keep the air that is in a mine always moving towards one shaft, and to get in a supply of fresh air by another. In this way, the fire-damp, instead of lodging in holes and corners about the roof, is swept out through the mine, and goes up the shaft as up a chimney.

VI. The Story of a Piece of Coal

Adapted from Dr. Taylor's 'Geological Stories'

Many long ages ago, this piece of coal was part of a waving forest of tree-ferns and gigantic club-mosses. The climate of England was very different then from what it is now—never too hot nor too cold, and very soft and balmy.

This great forest grew by the seaside, and the land was slowly, slowly sinking. Every now and then the tide came in among the trees and went out again, leaving much sand behind. In faot, many of the forests were actually buried thus, and their strong trunks are now met with, standing upright, in solid sandstone rock.

After a forest had been buried in this way, other trees could not grow very well on sandbanks; but as ages went on, soil gathered on the sand, and another forest grew in the place of the first, to be buried up in its turn.

During countless ages, this growth and covering up went on, until, in some places, as in the South Wales coal-field, there are no fewer than one hundred different seams of coal, under each of which you may see a clay full of the roots of those ancient forests.

After the trees had been long buried and pressed down in the depths of the earth, changes began to take place. The mass heated, and turned black, just as a stack of hay does when it has been packed in a damp state. By-and-by, it was changed into a sort of pulp, so that you could not tell leaves from branches; and, at last, it became hard, and black, and bright—the very coal you all know so well.

These ancient forests grew by means of the ligljt and heat of the sun, so that a piece of coal is really so much fossil sunshine! And when you warm yourselves by the fire, you are really enjoying the heat of the sun, which was poured down on some forest of those old, old days, and was stored away by its leaves.