NEIMME: papers

The Montagu Family of East Denton Hall

By Les Turnbull

A background paper for the conference on Elizabeth Montagu held at the University of Swansea in June 2011 by Les Turnbull B.A.(Hons), M.Ed - a member of the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers.


The Montagu family were at the centre of political and social life during the eighteenth century and were noted for the strength of character of their womenfolk as well as the political and military achievements of their men. Admiral Sir Edward Montagu, the Earl of Sandwich, was the brother-in-law of Lord Crewe, the Bishop of Durham. He had six sons and two of them, Sidney and Charles, played an important role in the coal trade of North East England. Sidney married the daughter of Sir Francis Wortley, a large coalowner in Yorkshire, and assumed the title Wortley when his wife inherited her father’s estate. In 1712 his son, Edward Wortley Montagu, married Mary Pierrepont, a lady with a very independent mind. While living in Constantinople with her husband, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, she appreciated the importance of inoculation as a preventative to smallpox and had her own children treated many years before Jenner championed inoculation as the solution to this devastating disease. The admiral’s younger son, Charles, married Sarah Rogers, the daughter of John Rogers, the owner of several collieries in Northumberland and Durham. Their son, Edward Montagu, married Elizabeth Robinson who, as Mrs Montagu, became a distinguished lady of letters and earned the title ‘Queen of the bluestockings’. In 1758, Edward Montagu inherited East Denton Hall, once the home of John Rogers, on the western outskirts of Newcastle upon Tyne. Elizabeth died childless in 1800 and was succeeded by her nephew Matthew Robinson who had in 1776 adopted the surname Montagu. In 1800, he inherited the title Lord Rokeby upon the death of his eccentric uncle also called Matthew Robinson. Today, the Montagu and Rokeby families are remembered in the names of streets and public houses in Newcastle.


Sir Edward Montagu, Earl of Sandwich




                                   |                                                                                                                                |

                Sidney Montagu                                                                                                 Charles Montagu                                

                     (1650 – 1727)                                                                                                              (c1658 – 1721)


        married Ann Newcomen                                                                                                         married Sarah Rogers

        daughter of Sir Francis Wortley                                                                                       daughter of John Rogers

        assumed name of Wortley                                                                                                  coalowner in the North East

                                |                                                                                                                       |

                                |                                                                                                                       |


                Edward Wortley Montagu                                                                                               Edward Montagu

                        (1678 – 1761)                                                                                                                 (1692 – 1775)


                                                                                                                                                    1742 married Elizabeth Robinson  

                                                                                                                                                    Elizabeth Montagu of Denton Hall   



      Their daughter Mary married  John 3rd Earl of Bute                                            Matthew Robinson (nephew)

      and their son John, the 4th Earl of Bute married                                                             adopted the title Montagu and

      Charlotte Jane the daughter of Viscount Windsor                                                 later became 3rd Lord Rokeby



Unpalatable as it may be for an audience in the great coal port of Swansea to accept, but it is nevertheless necessary to understand that the Northumberland and Durham coalfield was the most important coal mining area in the world during the eighteenth century: for this reason the region was known as the Great Northern Coalfield and the city of Newcastle upon Tyne was seen as an Eldorado trading in black diamonds. Local landowners and London capitalist alike believed that opportunities existed for vast fortunes to be made; but as Gray, the author of the first history book about Newcastle, observed in 1649, mining was not without risks and ‘many…hath consumed and spent great estates and dyed beggars’.


Although the weather in the north could be inclement in the eighteenth century and the River Tyne was regularly frozen over in winter, Newcastle was not an uncivilised wilderness within the Arctic Circle as one of Elizabeth Montagu’s friends believed. Indeed, John Wesley observed that ‘I know no place in Great Britain comparable to it for pleasantness’. Nor was the city a cultural wilderness: Newcastle could claim to be at the centre of scientific, medical and mathematical studies, a focal point for engineers and craftsmen, and the home of noteworthy musicians, poets and artists. Men of the calibre of the composer Charles Avison walked its streets; as did the poet Mark Akenside and the artist Thomas Bewick. The eminent mathematician Charles Hutton was the son of the deputy overman at Longbenton Colliery, his brothers were all miners and he worked down the pit in his youth. Furthermore, Newcastle housed ladies whose academic achievements were unusual for the age: the feminist writer Mary Astell, the distinguished Anglo-Saxon scholar, Elizabeth Elstob, and Anne Slack, the author and publisher of school books, unwittingly contributed to the early stirrings of the feminist movement. It is not without significance that one of the country’s first provincial literary and philosophical societies should have been founded here in 1793; and the Newcastle Lit. and Phil. was the first such society in the country to admit lady members.     


Newcastle’s significance as a regional commercial and cultural centre was founded on the development of the coal trade. Coal seams are distributed widely throughout Britain but not in the area of London and the South East, where in the eighteenth century, as in Britain today, most of the population lived. Because coal is heavy, before the development of the railway, it was costly to transport by land: after about two miles the cost of road transport exceeded the cost of production making it too expensive for the market. However, in the North East of England, the coal seams providing good quality household fuel were near to the major rivers, which give access to the sea. Therefore, this region was uniquely placed to transport coal by water to the developing market for domestic fuel in the South East of England. This trade was known as the seacole trade to distinguish it from the landsale trade which supplied local markets: the seacole trade was by far the most lucrative business, achieving prices often five times higher than those offered in the locality. The export trade to foreign countries was never large in the eighteenth century: in the 1770’s it was less than 3% of total production. The problems of carrying low value bulk cargo in small ships, the imposition of high export duties and the intermittent wars of the century, all conspired to keep this element of the business small.


From the reign of Elizabeth I, coal owners in the North East seized their opportunity and the coal trade from the River Tyne increased from about 35,000 tons in 1550 to 400,000 in 1625. By the time Charles Montagu became involved in mining ventures in the Great Northern Coalfield at the end of the seventeenth century, the seacole trade was about half a million tons; and by the death of Elizabeth Montagu in 1800, it had increased to over a million and a quarter tons. Coal was also shipped from the River Wear, Seaton Sluice, the River Blyth and the River Wansbeck but the trade from Newcastle upon Tyne was always the most important. Although coal was used as a fuel by industry, until the nineteenth century most of it was used for fuel in the home; and the diminishing supply of wood, together with the steady increase in population, were the two principal factors to explain the expansion of the trade. After 1760, as the steam engine changed the nature of industry and transport, coal was used increasingly as a source of power. Consequently, as the progress of the industrial revolution in Britain gathered pace, a massive expansion of coal mining took place during the nineteenth century, principally generated by the demand for steam power, reaching a peak in 1911 when 56.4 million tons were mined and 227,000 men were employed in the coalmining industry in Northumberland and Durham. Ironically, the development of both the railway and the steam locomotive by colliery engineers in the North East of England, enabled competitors from elsewhere in Britain to challenge the supremacy of the Great Northern Coalfield, by providing them with the means to market their coals to London and the South East.


The principal coal seams outcrop on the escarpments to the west of Newcastle and Gateshead, in the area between Hadrian’s Wall in the north and the road from Gateshead, westwards through Whickham, to Ryton in the south. This area provided the coal for the seacole trade during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, the upper seams in this part of the coalfield were becoming exhausted; and until the development of better pumping equipment to drain the deeper seams in the older areas of mining, entrepreneurs were forced to look for coal in the hinterland of the Tyne Valley. The principal mining area at this time was the tongue of land between the tributary rivers Team and Derwent shown below on Gibson’s map. Three wooden waggonways were built to carry the coal to market – the

Northbanks Way, the Western Way and the Tanfield Railway. The Montagu family played a significant role in these developments: Charles was responsible for building the Northbanks Way to Dunston and, as a member of the Grand Allies, he was a partner in the Tanfield Way.


John Gibson’s map of 1787 shows the landscape of Tyneside as it would have been in Elizabeth Montagu’s time. Newcastle, the regional capital, was still largely confined within the medieval city walls and was surrounded by villages, such as Denton, which are now part of the suburbs of the modern city. The Montagu’s residence was at East Denton Hall, to the west of Newcastle, and interestingly John Gibson designates ownership to Mr. Montagu, Elizabeth’s nephew and heir. A waggonway to the east of the hall linked the Caroline Pit, the principal shaft of the Montagu Colliery in 1787, with the staiths on the north bank of the River Tyne at Scotswood. The coal was ferried from Scotswood in small vessels, known as keel boats, to the sea-going ships, known as colliers, which were berthed at the mouth of the river. The map also provides a statement of the principal landed families in the area who, as coalowners, were the main figures in the coal trade at that time. The Montagu’s neighbours were the Ord family in Fenham. John Ord was a partner with Edward Wortley Montagu in a colliery in the adjacent royalty of Elswick; but his family’s principal source of income was as lawyer to the Liddells and their associates in the coal trade. To the south, across the River Tyne, was Gibside Hall belonging to the Bowes family; Axwell Park, the home of the Claverings; and Ravensworth Castle, the seat of the Liddell family, the driving force behind the Grand Alliance. This mock medieval structure dominating the western slopes of the Team Valley is both a statement of the wealth that was made from the coal trade and a comment upon the important position of the coalowners in Tyneside society. When compared to Ravensworth Castle, East Denton Hall is a modest structure.


Gibson's map of Great Northern Coalfield 1787


Extract from Gibson’s Map of the Great Northern Coalfield 1787



Ravensworth Castle


Ravensworth Castle looking north east towards Newcastle.


East Denton Hall circa 1786


East Denton Hall circa 1786

When the first Earl of Sandwich, Admiral Edward Montagu, was looking for suitable positions for his younger sons, he turned for help to his brother-in-law Nathaniel Crewe, Bishop of Durham, who used his extensive powers of patronage to secure the appointment of John Montagu D.D. to the position of Dean of Durham and his fifth son, Charles Montagu, to the posts of Constable of Durham Castle, High Sheriff of County Durham and M.P. for the city. After the death of his first wife, Elizabeth Forster, in about 1688, Charles Montagu married Sarah Rogers, the daughter of John Rogers I, a leading member of the Newcastle coal trade, who held mining leases in both Northumberland and Durham. John Rogers I had died in 1671 and his extensive interests were developed by his son, John Rogers II (1656 – 1709), and his grandson, John Rogers III (1685 – 1758). This second marriage gave Charles Montagu entry into the coal trade and doubtless through the influence of his uncle Nathaniel Crewe, a friend of Sir Francis Blakiston of Gibside, he was able to secure a lease of Northbanks and Hutton collieries near Marley Hill in 1690. The following year, in 1691, Sir Francis’ daughter Elizabeth was granted the Gibside estate as her dowry for her marriage to Sir William Bowes but the coal remained leased to Charles Montagu.


During the next decade, in partnership with George Baker, with whom Charles Montagu was connected through his first marriage, he developed Northbanks into one of the leading collieries on Tyneside. Although the coal was at first carried by wains (carts drawn by two oxen and two horses), the new system of transport by rail was soon adopted, and by 1699, a waggonway had been built to the River Tyne at Dunston at a cost of 5,740 – an enormous sum at that time. In 1698, Charles Montagu took a lease for 31 years of Benwell royalty to the west of Newcastle in partnership with George Baker and redeveloped the old colliery. This included building a waggonway, about two miles long, from the vicinity of Benwell Roman fort to the rebuilt staiths on the River Tyne at a cost of 2,686, which also represented a considerable investment. In both these enterprises Charles was probably the principal provider of the capital needed. For most of the time parliamentary duties kept Charles in London, while George Baker was the man resident in the North East, responsible for the management of the business. He was assisted by Timothy Rawlings, who Montagu referred to as ‘my servant, fitter, partner and dear friend’; (fitter was the local term used to describe the man responsible for the sale of the coal). This combination of London capital and native expertise was a feature of other partnerships in the coalfield. In the early eighteenth century, Montagu’s collieries at Northbanks and Benwell provided the bulk of the coal for the seacole trade from Newcastle earning annual profits in the region of 4,000.


Although by far the most important, Northbanks and Benwell were not the only mining interests of the Montagu family. Through family ties with the Cocks (his mother-in-law’s family), the Creaghs (his sister-in-law Margaret was married to William Creagh), and the Ellison’s (his brother-in-law had married Elizabeth the daughter of the Newcastle merchant Benjamin Ellison), Charles Montagu had shares in a partnership developing Bensham royalty belonging to the Ellisons; and through his links with the Liddells he had interests in Stella Grand Lease on Ryton Moor to the west. Later, through his connections with the Rogers family, his son Edward was to inherit shares in mines at Monkseaton, Chirton, the lower Team Valley and Denton. These examples serve as a reminder that family connections were all important, not only in eighteenth century politics, but also in the coal industry. Family ties secured access to coal royalties and assisted in gaining wayleave rights through estates which were vital for building waggonways to lead the coal to market and also for constructing watercourses to drain the mines.


In the early years of the eighteenth century, Charles Montagu suffered increasingly from bouts of manic-depression, which was to cause his gradual withdrawal from political and business life, culminating in a commission of lunacy being awarded to his wife in 1716. In these circumstances, because both his sons were underage, the usual practice would have been for the business interests to be taken over by his wife Sarah. However, probably on account of the debts that Charles had incurred through developing his collieries, after 1703, the Benwell and Northbanks partnership was changed; subsequent accounts are in the names of his son James and his older brother, Sydney Wortley Montagu, who each had a half share. Sydney, the second son of the Earl of Sandwich, had married Anne Wortley, who was heir to extensive coalmining interests in South Yorkshire. Their son Edward Wortley Montagu, born in 1678, was introduced into the partnership in 1710. After a term as ambassador to Istanbul, he returned to the north to manage the family’s coalmining interests.


When the accessible coal in Benwell royalty became exhausted, the Wortleys began to develop the neighbouring estate at Elswick, in partnership with John Ord. In 1724, this partnership purchased a pumping engine to re-win the drowned colliery, which was in business until 1740. The Wortley’s were also in partnership with the Liddell family during the 1720’s in the development of Heaton Banks Colliery to the east of Newcastle. This colliery was to become one of the great coalmines of the mid eighteenth century, principally because of the successful application of the new steam pumping technology. However, the developments on the south side of the river were more important. Charles Montagu’s lease of the Hutton and Northbanks collieries ended in 1723 and Lady Elizabeth Bowes refused to renew the contract for the benefit of his relatives, Sydney and Edward Wortley. Fortunately, the Wortley’s had acquired leases on Blackburn Fell nearby and, by an agreement with Sir Henry Liddell, they built a branch line to the Dunston Waggonway re-using the timber rails from the link to Northbanks Colliery. However, this new venture was thwarted by the owner of two separate parcels of land who, being in the pay of the ladies Bowes and Clavering, refused to renew the wayleaves through his property. This act severed Wortley’s route to the staiths and killed off the Dunston Way.


This dispute drew Liddell and the Wortleys into close alliance against the Claverings, the Bowes and their associates who were developing another major waggonway in the Derwent Valley – the Western Way from Pontop to Derwenthaugh; and the conflict over wayleaves rights ultimately resulted in the building of the famous Tanfield Way (depicted below in a painting by R.S.Turner) and the creation of the powerful cartel known as the Grand Allies. In 1722, George Liddell offered Sydney Wortley a waggonway route to Dunston in return for a half share in his coal leases on Tanfield Moor which was the foundation of the partnership and the railway. Later George Bowes was persuaded to join the alliance which was formerly established in June 1726. Attempts were made to entice Lady Jane Clavering into the partnership thus giving the Grand Allies control over most of the major coal producing area of the early eighteenth century. Her determination to remain independent resulted in the diversion of the Western Way to avoid both the Gibside and Axwell estates: the new route from Burnopfield, ran down Busty Bank, and onto the western flank of the River Derwent. This is the route shown on Gibson’s map.


          The Tanfield Arch


The Tanfield Arch


Grand Alliance


The formal agreement known as the Grand Alliance was drawn up by Sydney Wortley, Sir Henry Liddell and George Bowes who agreed to share wayleave rights and to co-operate over the development of collieries for their mutual benefit. They hoped, by controlling the principal collieries in the region, to be able to dominate the seacole trade from the River Tyne to London; and in this respect they were very successful for most of the eighteenth century. A copy of the agreement which had a significant influence upon the development of the coalfield is housed in the North of England Mining Institute.


A statement of the seacole trade (known as the vend) for the year 1736 names the principal collieries supplying the market. The dominance of the Grand Allies (Liddell, Wortley and Bowes) at this time, when their collieries produced 68% of the coal for the seacole trade, is clearly shown. The figures also reveal the important position held by the Wortley branch of the Montagu family whose collieries at Tanfield and Heaton were supplying 20% of the coal. These figures in the table below represent the production agreed for each colliery. The records of John Buddle show that the actual production was 297,346 chaldrons (787,967 tons) and about 60% of this coal was for the London market.


            Sir Henry Liddell                    Tanfield                       36,000                       

                                                            Team                           26,000

                                                            Heaton                    18,000

Mr Wortley                             Tanfield                       36,000

                                                Heaton                    18,000

Mr Bowes                               Tanfield                       36,000

                                                Hutton                           8,000


Miss Clavering                        Derwent                      23,000

Mr Ridley                                Byker                          28,000

                                                Western                       14,000

Mr White                                 Jesmond                      18,000


                                                                   Total       261,000


The Great Northern Coalfield dominated the London market until the coming of the railways opened up competition from collieries nearer to the capital. In 1830 the north east ports supplied 96% of the coal imports into London. The estimates of national production also show the dominance of the northern coalfield. In 1750, the total production in the United Kingdom was estimated to be 5,230,000 tons; the North East collieries produced 1,955,000 tons (37%); and the collieries of South Wales 140,000 tons (2.6%).


No mention is made of Edward Montagu, the son of Charles Montagu, either in the formal agreement or in the minutes of the Grand Allies which would suggest that the legacy of Charles was managed or acquired entirely by the Wortley branch of the family. However, Charles Montagu’s in-laws, the Rogers, are mentioned for Mrs Elizabeth Rogers and her son John Rogers III held a half share of Parkhead Colliery with George Bowes; and they held shares in collieries at Ravensworth, Lamesley and Kibblesworth in Liddell’s homeland. They also had interests in a small estate of 198 acres to the west of Chester-le-Street adjoining Pelton Moor where they owned three eighths of the coal. Their interest in East Denton originated with the purchase of the estate by John Rogers II from James Clavering in 1706. However, by the mid eighteenth century the family’s fortunes were on the wane and John Rogers III of Denton Hall was a minor player in politics of Tyneside coal. Since the death of his wife Anne (a member of the Delaval family of Seaton Delaval Hall) in 1723, John Rogers III had suffered from a mental illness and appears to have withdrawn from public and business life from September of that year. In 1746, his friends secured a commission of lunacy and his affairs were left in the charge of his cousin Edward Montagu. John died in June 1758 at his house in Pilgrim Street, Newcastle, and by the terms of his will half the estate was inherited by Edward Montagu and the other half by William Archdeacon and Anthony Isaacson, the sons of his cousins Margaret and Mary Creagh. This other half came into the position of Edward Montagu through purchase and deposition. The organisation of the funeral was the reason for Elizabeth Montagu’s first visit to the area but on that occasion she stayed at Carville Hall, Wallsend, some three miles to the east of the city, rather than Denton Hall where she noted ‘the rats and ghosts are in full possession’.


Mrs Montagu’s next visit to Newcastle was in September 1760 when the death of George Bowes of Gibside, a leading member of the Grand Allies, was the cause of another funeral. Dr. Alexander Carlyle commented that in Newcastle ‘where there was no audience for such an actress as she was, her natural character was displayed, which was that of an active manager of her affairs, a crafty chaperon, and a keen pursuer of her interest, not to be outdone by the sharpest coal-dealer on Tyne’. Mrs Montagu made brief visits in the autumn of 1763 and 1764 but she was absent in 1765 when major events where taking place. The partition of the estate was agreed and William Archdeacon’s share of Denton Colliery was leased to Edward Montagu for the customary term of 21 years. The exploration to find the Beaumont seam was successful and the coal was considered to be equal in quality to that of the High Main seam at the Grand Allies major colliery at Longbenton to the north east of Newcastle. The Beaumont seam had been won and worked in West Denton by John Blackett with whom Edward Montagu was in conflict to a point where legal action was threatened. The flooded waste of  Blackett’s colliery was to the rise of East Denton and Edward’s advisers pointed out that ‘without the Engines…in West Denton your Honour’s Colliery…will labour for many years under the inconvenience of wet Coals and we shall lie constantly under the apprehensions of being irrecoverably drowned out by Mr Blackett who has it in his power to turn the River Tyne or west Denton Burn into his colliery all of which water would unavoidably fall upon East Denton Engines and over power them’. If such actions were contemplated, it is an interesting comment upon the business tactics of coalowners at the time. Edward Montagu was advised to abandon his action in the Court of Chancery and to hire Blackett’s ‘Engines at West Denton together with the privilege of making Cutts and Drains in his Ground’ since ‘If a Chancery Bill is to be preferred it…would be productive of such ill consequences as might render the winning utterly impossible’. The matter seems to have been resolved in 1766 by John Baker’s purchase of West Denton – the Baker family having been associated with the Montagus since Charles Montagu’s arrival in the area.


John Blackett was not the only problem confronting Edward Montagu for he had to wrestle with a major industrial dispute which was affecting the coalfield in 1765. After the ending of the Seven Years War, there was a boom in trade and a shortage of skilled labour which had resulted in a large increase in the binding money paid to the hewers. Like agricultural workers, the pitmen were required to sign a bond which tied them to their employer for one year. Some observers regard the bond as an instrument of slavery; others consider it a perfectly reasonable attempt to define the conditions of employment and to protect the business from losing the key elements of its workforce, which was particularly important at a time of expansion when skilled labour was in short supply. This instrument of management was also understandable in an industry where a large outlay of capital was needed before returns were forthcoming and bankruptcies were frequent. It is interesting to note that the earliest surviving bond was that drawn up by Charles Montagu to enlist miners for Benwell Colliery. Although the Benwell bond ran from November 1703 to November 1704, a date in October had become the custom during the first half of the eighteenth century. The binding date was important: busy times for the trade, such as October, would favour the miners and slack times the owners. In 1765 the owners decided to change the date to January, a slack period for the trade since it was difficult for the fleet of colliers to sail during the winter months, and this action caused a strike throughout the coalfield involving about 4,000 men. The owners also attempted to introduce a clause requiring miners to produce a certificate of discharge from their previous owners before they could be enlisted. The men believed – probably with justification – that no owner would grant such a discharge certificate and the clause would amount to ‘a binding during the will of the master’. Ultimately, the owners capitulated but the issue of the date of binding was to re-emerge in 1809 sparking off another major strike in the coalfield. This was a protracted and violent affair resulting in almost 300 arrests before a compromise was effected and the binding date moved to April.


The Benwell Bond of 1703


The Benwell Bond of 1703


In 1766, Mrs Montagu arrived at Denton in the last week of May and spent most of the year in the north taking part in a tour of Scotland during the summer. On 12th July a party was held to celebrate the winning of the colliery during which large quantities of food and ale were consumed, as was the custom of the coalfield. The Newcastle Journal recorded the event:


‘All the workmen with their wives, walked in procession to the great court before the hall, with colours flying and a band of music: from whence, after a general salute of three huzzas, they proceeded to a field east of the house, where several long tables were placed sufficient to contain all the company, consisting of 377 men and women, the tenants and workmen upon the estate. These tables were each furnished with a large piece of beef, mutton, or veal, to which were added twice as  many fruit puddings, the size of which may be guessed at by the quantity of flour used for them and the pies, which was less than two sacks; the rest of the dinner consisted of two sheep of 144 lbs. each, and several hundredweight of beef. One of the sheep was roasted whole, and the other, with the beef, boiled in a large brewing vessel. Abundance of ale, strong beer, and punch was consumed. Dinner being ended, the company again returned to the great court, and being drawn up in a circle, with Mr Montagu and his lady in the centre, they toasted the royal family, the donors, the coal trade, etc., accompanied with loud huzzas, after which they concluded the evening with country dances and other diversions’.


Plan of Denton Estate circa 1766


Plan of Denton Estate circa 1766


The estate plan of Denton shows the two parts of Edward Montagu’s lands, namely East Denton comprising 448 acres and Lemington comprising 59 acres. West Denton, which had recently been purchased by John Baker from the Blackett family, was a separate enterprise. A major geological feature of the coalfield – the Downcast Dyke or Ninety Fathom Fault – is clearly shown bisecting the estate. This fault cast the strata five hundred feet down to the north west and for this reason the coal seams in the southern part of the estate were more easily accessible. Fortuitously, the upheaval which created the dyke also had the effect of making all the seams in the vicinity of the fault good household coal. The diagram below shows the coal seams on either side of the Ninety Fathom Dyke. Elizabeth Montagu was mining the Beaumont seam in the southern part of Montagu Colliery.



                    Diagram showing the position of the coal seams in Denton


Diagram showing the position of the coal seams in Denton


North of the Ninety Fathom Fault, the first significant seam of coal was the High Main or Kenton Main seam which had been mined by the Blacketts in the seventeenth century. Mining in the High Main seam was abandoned in 1690 when the colliery flooded. In the late eighteenth century the Montagus erected a new pumping engine beyond the fault and worked this seam from three pits. They also worked the seam below – the Newbiggin Stone Coal seam – from another eleven pits at a depth of about 32 fathoms. The deeper seams, the Low Main seam (84 fathoms deep) and the Beaumont seam (110 fathoms), were not mined north of the fault until later in the nineteenth century. In the southern part of Denton estate, the High Main and Newbiggin Stone Coal seams were not present. However, near the river the Low Main seam was only about four fathoms from the surface and coal had been mined from this seam since medieval times when the royalty belonged to the priory of Tynemouth. By the mid eighteenth century, the Low Main seam was exhausted and the workings flooded; and the winning of the lower Beaumont seam was only possible after the development of steam pumping engines which were adopted first by John Blackett in West Denton and later by Edward Montagu in East Denton. The ‘proposed place for an Engine’ became the site of the Engine Pit of the Montagu Colliery where the Beaumont seam was won at a depth of 36 fathoms.                    


The plan below shows the pillar and bord workings at the southern end of the colliery and it is typical of collieries in the Great Northern Coalfield. The black areas are the pillars, twenty yards long and five yards wide, left to support the roof; the long white areas in between are the wide bords, where the coal has been extracted working with the cleat; the narrow bords or walls were worked at right angles against the grain of the coal to form the pillars. After the initial working, most of the coal remained in the colliery as pillars: these pillars were subsequently re-worked in the later stages of mining. Because of the inadequate method of ventilating the colliery at this time many shafts were needed: each pit had a working life of about five years after which a new shaft was sunk as the winning progressed. Fourteen pits mining the Beaumont seam are named on the map. Thirty fathoms below the Beaumont seam was the Brockwell seam which was mined in the early nineteenth century.


Plan of workings in the Beaumont Seam


Plan of workings in the Beaumont Seam


In 1767, Mrs Montagu arrived at the end of August. On 17th September her friend Elizabeth Carter wrote ‘God grant you long life…to enjoy this new-found treasure and…every assistance to enable you to discharge so important a stewardship’. The following month, on 17th October, the Newcastle Journal recorded that Mrs Montagu had founded a school for the children of pitmen employed in Denton Colliery. All was not good news however. On Boxing Day, Ralph Allison, the viewer at East Denton Colliery, was attacked by footpads near Benwell village, on the road from Newcastle, and was lucky to escape with his life. The viewer performed the roles of principal engineer and managing director of the colliery: he was responsible for hiring the workforce, directing the operations at the colliery and negotiating wayleave rights. The viewer’s job would include responsibility for the farms which supplied feed for the horses used by the colliery as the principal source of power both above and below ground. He would also have oversight of the ancillary industries – ‘the bricks, tiles, the tar manufactory ect. going on at the waterside’. In all likelihood it was the technical skills of this man, in developing the colliery and building the railway to the River Tyne at Scotswood, which had enabled the enterprise to succeed. Unfortunately, he died in July 1770 as the Newcastle Journal recorded: ‘Friday, died at the house of William Archdeacon, Esq., in Newcastle, aged 39, Mr Ralph Allison, viewer of the collieries to the Hon. Edward Montagu, Esq., in which station he acted with the most indefatigable care and strictest integrity…his humane behaviour to the men under him gained their esteem and love’.  This laudable testimony to a viewer, who was clearly the employer’s representative, was not unusual: because these men shared the dangers of the mine with the workers, and often championed their cause, they were not infrequently regarded with respect and even affection.  Unfortunately, it is not known who succeeded Ralph Allison but by the mid 1770’s Christopher Bedlington, the assistant to the eminent viewer and engine builder, William Brown, appears to have been in charge at East Denton.


Edward Montagu retained an interest in two other areas where his wife’s family, the Rogers, had a long standing association – Tynemouthshire in Northumberland and the area to the west of Chester-le-Street in County Durham. John Rogers II and his partners John Carr and Henry Hudson had established collieries at Whitley Bay and Monkseaton in 1676 which supplied the seasale trade through the port of Cullercoats; but by 1722 problems with water led to these collieries being abandoned. Later, Monkseaton was re-opened as a landsale colliery in which Mrs Montagu had a 20% share; and doubtless the affairs of this colliery were the reason for her visits to the Duke of Northumberland at Alnwick. Rogers and Hudson were also interested to develop the neighbouring royalty of Chirton. However, this colliery was not won until 1754; and it became an important seacole colliery which supplied 10,000 chaldrons (26,500 tons) for the vend in 1773. Mrs Montagu was a partner in this enterprise holding a 6.25% share. John Rogers had also worked Flatts Colliery to the west of Chester-le-Street and in 1771 Edward Montagu secured a lease from the Bishop of Durham of ‘All the Coalmines in his Lordshops territories’ in that part of County Durham. Whether he was successful in mining coal in that region is not known. However, part of the franchise, the Whitehall estate, was leased out to a partnership led by Robert Shafto in 1772.


At Denton in that year, a panel of viewers expressed concern about the future of the colliery because the workings in the Beaumont seam beneath the southern part of the estate were nearing exhaustion. At this time the Montagu Colliery was a major enterprise: in 1773 it supplied 16,000 chaldrons (42,400 tons) for the vend placing it amongst the top rank collieries. The viewers calculated that there was only fifteen months work remaining and stressed ‘the immediate necessity to make a compleat new winning’.  They proposed two solutions: the sinking of a new shaft west of Denton bridge to win the seam in the northern part of the estate, south of the fault; and extending the existing workings eastwards into Benwell estate, where William Archdeacon had been leased ninety acres of the Beaumont seam by Robert Shafto. In 1773, William Archdeacon granted this land in Benwell to Edward Montagu for a period of 25 years from May 1774. This was probably Edward Montagu’s last important contribution to the enterprise at Denton for in May 1775 he died at his London home in Hill Street, aged 82, leaving the estate to his wife.


Contemporaries believed that Elizabeth Montagu was more than capable of managing the business. In a letter to Lord Lyttelton in July 1765, when writing about the winning of Denton Colliery, she had shown a grasp of the essential economics of mining: ‘I believe we have open’d a noble source of future plenty but it is present poverty. We are at present the poorer a great deal, for a mine at first opening has a prodigious swallow; when it begins to disgorge it makes noble amends….Some who have begun without a fund have by the malice of their fellow traders been obliged to lay aside their project before the time that the profits were to come in, but as we are not in any danger of bankruptcy, we can hardly fail of being very great gainers’. These were to prove prophetic words and in June 1775, Mrs Montagu set out for the north to inspect her inheritance. She described Denton in rather colourful language as having ‘the air of an ant-hill; a vast army of black animals for ever busy’; and explained that ‘near fourscore families are employ’d on my concerns here’. She noted that the ‘boys work in the colliery from seven years of age’ which was common practice in the Northumberland and Durham coalfield. Besides the benefit of additional income for the family, pitmen believed that it was important to familiarise children, at an early age, with the workings of the coalmine to enable them to acquire that sixth sense which was the mark of a good pitman and an essential skill to ensure his safety. In Mrs Montagu’s correspondence there is no mention of girls at work in the pits: unlike colliery districts elsewhere, female labour was not used in the Great Northern Coalfield. She lists her charitable deeds at Denton and emphasises the importance of kind behaviour towards the workforce as a management tool: ‘our pitmen are afraid of being turned off, and that fear keeps an order and regularity amongst them that is very uncommon’. Although her colliery was thriving, she had concerns about ‘seeing my fellow creatures descend into the dark regions of the earth; tho’, to my great comfort I hear them singing in the pits’.


On 31st May 1776, Elizabeth Montagu wrote a letter to Mrs Carter which contains a very graphic description of the mining community at Denton. ‘The people here are little better than savages, and their Countenances bear the marks of hard labour and total ignorance. Our Pittmen are literally as black as coal; they earn much more than labourers, their children get a shilling a day at 9 or 10 years old, but they are so barbarous and uncultivated they know no use of money but to buy much meat and liquor with it. They eat as well as the substantial tradesmen in great Towns, but they are ragged and dirty, and their wives are idle and drunken so that while they live in plenty they present to your view an air of misery, poverty and oppression. These Pitmen marry and multiply in order to be rich, for their children add to their prosperity. They are useful persons to the general common wealth, but considered separately a strange set of barbarians. As the Children are so early sent into the mines I am afraid it will be impossible ever to civilise them’.   Mrs Montagu’s description has parallels elsewhere in, for example, Edward Chicken’s poem ‘The Collier’s Wedding’. Chicken was curate of the parish church of St. John’s in Newcastle and he relates an account of the courtship and marriage of a miner from Benwell, the estate to the east of Denton, which includes the following lines:

                        ‘Dead drunk, some tumble on the floor,

                        And swim in what they’d drunk before.

                        ‘Hiccup’, cries one. ‘Reach me out your hand’.

                        ‘The house turns round. I cannot stand’.

Excessive eating, drinking and gambling were features of the mining communities well into the nineteenth century as the early histories of Methodism in the region

testify.  However, this was not the full picture for there were many intelligent men from these communities who rose to positions of prominence. The distinguished mathematician Dr. Charles Hutton was born in Newcastle and worked with his brothers at Longbenton Colliery, where his father was deputy overman; George Stephenson, the railway engineer, worked at another colliery belonging to the Grand Allies, Killingworth; and arguably the greatest colliery engineer of the nineteenth century, John Buddle Junior, was introduced to work underground at the age of six by his father. Intellectually, all three men were a match for the bluestockings.


Increasingly the burden of running Denton Colliery in the last quarter of the century appears to have fallen upon the shoulders of Mrs Montagu’s nephew and heir Matthew Robinson who assumed the name of Montagu in 1776. Mrs Montagu observed ‘with great pleasure that Montagu has a happy turn for business, and applies himself to learning the science of coal-mine-working, of which many coal-owners are ignorant entirely, but none ought to be so’. Doubtless this was a result of her tutelage. The colliery continued to prosper and expand. West Kenton estate to the north of Denton, where the upper seam had been worked by the Blacketts until the colliery was drowned in 1715, was purchased in 1779. In 1787, Mrs Montagu wrote that Matthew had ‘set out for Denton…to give his attention to the opening of a new seam of coal’. This was almost certainly the Newbiggin Stone Coal seam which was won at a depth of over 35 fathoms in the north west part of East Denton, north of the Ninety Fathom Fault.


Mrs Montagu probably paid her last visit to Denton in the autumn of 1789, although she continued to interest herself in the business. It is likely that William Thomas moved into Denton Hall about this time and, at the age of thirty one, became the principal viewer of the colliery. He probably succeeded Christopher Bedlington who was fully engaged as both viewer and part owner in developing the neighbouring colliery in East Kenton. William Thomas was a distinguished figure in the intellectual life of Newcastle at the end of the eighteenth century. He was a founder member of the prestigious Literary and Philosophical Society where he presented several papers to fellow members two of which have more than local significance. After the drowning of six miners in 1796, when men working in East Denton Colliery broke into the flooded workings in the Seven Quarters seam of an old mine at Slatyford, William Thomas suggested that plans of abandoned workings should be housed with the Justices of the Peace to avoid such tragedies. Unfortunately, his request fell on deaf ears and seventy five miners were killed at Heaton Colliery in 1815, when water from the Grand Allies old colliery burst in and flooded the workings. The men died of suffocation while awaiting rescue. After this accident two great engineers of the day, William Chapman and John Buddle, championed William Thomas’ idea but again without success. The Mines Act of 1850 made it compulsory for managers to keep a working plan of the colliery and make it available to visiting inspectors but there was no requirement to deposit plans of workings when mines were abandoned until 1872.

The legislation was not retrospective and in March 1925, miners at the View Pit in Montagu Colliery broke into the flooded workings of the Brockwell seam in Benwell Colliery, which had been abandoned in 1848, resulting in the deaths of 38 men. His second paper concerned railways. Wooden waggonways for mineral traffic have a history stretching back to the early seventeenth century in the North East of England but William Thomas was one of the early advocates of railways for passenger traffic. In 1805, he proposed the building of a double line metal railway between Newcastle and Hexham with passing places every half mile to accommodate private carriages. By this time his employer, Matthew Montagu, had joined the Lit. and Phil.

 William Thomas

William Thomas

Wayleave payments for the passage of both water and coals through the estate, were a useful source of additional income to the Montagu family. Wooden waggonways from Kenton and Brunton to the north had passed overland through Denton but, in 1790, Christopher Bedlington secured a wayleave from Mrs Montagu for an underground waggonway from East Kenton to Scotswood, which was intended both to drain the two collieries and to provide a means of transporting the coals to the riverside staith. Unfortunately, he miscalculated the depth of the Great Fault and the drift ran above the High Main seam in East Kenton. This waggonway is sometimes regarded as the world’s first underground railway, which is nonsense, since much longer drifts than Kitty’s Drift were common place in the mineral mines of the northern Pennines. However, the line beneath East Denton does have a claim to fame as the world’s first passenger railway: Kitty’s Drift became a tourist attraction in the early nineteenth century offering members of the public a means of visiting a coalmine without the inconvenience of descending a shaft precariously suspended on the end of a rope.


The Montagu waggonway ran from the Caroline Pit, past the eastern side of Denton Hall, down to the staiths at Scotswood where the coal was loaded onto keelboats. The engraving of the staith for Hollywell Colliery at Lemington is shown below with a keel boat alongside. The large wooden structure was to protect the coal from weathering which reduced its price at market. The coal was then ferried by keel boats, which each carried eight chaldron (about 20 ton), from the staith to the sea-going ships moored at Shields near the mouth of the river. These larger vessels – generally between two and three hundred tons burthen – were unable to pass beyond the bridge at Newcastle; and most captains preferred to moor at Shields rather than tackle the moving sandbanks in the river. The keelmen were hired by the fitters who owned the keels and were responsible for the sale of coal to the captains of the colliers. Like other coalowners, the Montagus signed an annual contract with a fitter. In 1775, Elizabeth Montagu’s fitter was a man called Atkinson who had recently built a collier ship named ‘The Montagu’ for the coal trade to the Thames.


Holywell Staiths at Lemington


The journey down the east coast to London took about four to five weeks. About 40% of the coal was sold at Kings Lynn in East Anglia and ports along the south coast, but London accounted for the lion’s share of the seacole trade. The colliers often travelled in convoy sometimes escorted by a naval vessel in times of unrest. At the London end of the business the coalowners had agents, known as factors, to advance their business. There were about dozen factors at the Coal Exchange and their job was to arrange lighters to offload the colliers in mid-stream and ferry the coal to a riverside wharf; to arrange the paperwork including the payment of taxes; and to negotiate with a buyer for the sale of the cargo. The buyer was a wholesaler who sold on portions of the cargo to smaller distributors.  


It is instructive to compare Denton with other major collieries in the Tyneside area at the end of the eighteenth century. Amongst the collieries supplying the vend in 1773, Denton was in the top rank with an allocation of 42,400 tons. However, a table in the view book of John Buddle Senior, which lists the output of the collieries supplying the seacole trade from the River Tyne in 1788, and records the capital invested in each colliery, indicates that, although Denton shared in the increased production of the coalfield, Denton Colliery had fallen into the second class. Within that list of 25 major collieries Denton ranks as number nine. The first class collieries further east, such as Wallsend, were producing in the region of 80,000 tons per annum with capital invested amounting to 25,000; East Denton was producing about 53,000 tons with an investment of 12,000.


Although precise figures do not exist for the late eighteenth century, some understanding of the size and nature of the community at Denton can be gained from the early census records and documents created following the lease of the colliery to a new partnership, Cookson and Cuthbert, in 1807. A colliery of the size of East Denton would need about forty hewers. The seacole trade required large coal and the hewers needed considerable skill when extracting the coal from the seam to prevent breakages. Inevitably, small coals were produced and since these coals were of little value they were either left underground, sold to the local glassworks or used in the brick and tiles kilns on the estate. The hewers were supported by about the same number of putters to move the coal to the base of the shaft. With the addition of overmen, onsetters, wastemen, trapper boys and others, the total underground workforce would be in the region of 150 men and boys. Mrs Montagu’s claim that ‘I have now above 500 men at work below ground in the pits’ is difficult to understand: the total number at work in East Denton both above and below ground was probably no more than 250. Elsewhere, she referred to there being four score families of miners on the estate which is more credible.


The first census of 1801 noted that there was a population of 809 living in East Denton which had increased marginally to 824 by the time of the second census in 1811. A list of the workmen’s houses in Denton Colliery, together with the householder’s name and occupation, was drawn up on January 12th 1808 by the new owners and this provides a more detailed record. The document lists 117 properties including the school house and the colliery office; five houses were empty and 110 occupied. Allowing for the possibility that the houses associated with the six farms on the estate were not included, the figures suggest an occupation level of about seven people to a dwelling which was not unusual for the period. The dwellings were scattered throughout the estate in fourteen different locations the main concentrations being at Denton Square (15 houses), Slatyford (26 houses), Denton Burn (15 houses) and Scotswood (18 houses). The occupations listed are all associated with the colliery except the country blacksmith and the five hinds. However, it is important to remember that the farms were an important adjunct to the colliery since they produced the feed for the horses which were the principal source of power both above and below ground. By 1808 the output from East Denton Colliery was greatly reduced and the nature of the business had changed: in that year the colliery produced 33,000 tons of which 62% was sold to the local glasshouses and only 9,000 tons to the seacole trade. The value of the colliery was only 2,051 in 1808 by which time the Beaumont seam was exhausted and the new owners were working the Brockwell seam below. This was a smaller enterprise than Elizabeth Montagu’s colliery: indeed, a large proportion of the workforce, including nearly all those living at Slatyford, is recorded as working at Kenton. Interestingly, 13% of the households are headed by widows which is a reminder that mining was (and still is) a dangerous occupation. 


Although the coal trade was dominated by men on Tyneside and in London, it would be wrong to assume that women were excluded from business circles. Ladies of the calibre of Elizabeth Bowes, who had refused to renew Montagu’s contract for Northbanks Colliery, and Jane Clavering, who defied the might of the Grand Allies, were not submissive wallflowers in the drawing rooms of their male counterparts – the Liddells, the Blacketts, the Ridleys and others. Edward Wortley’s daughter Mary, who eloped to marry the Earl of Bute, was a staunch defender of the family’s coalmining interests, particularly after the death of her mother from cancer in 1762. Jane Clavering’s daughter, Alice Windsor, managed Pontop Colliery which was one of the largest of the period with an output twice the size of Denton. Any assessment of Mrs Montagu’s role in the coal trade must be seen in this context: Elizabeth was doubtless a match for Walter Blackett, Henry Liddell, Thomas Clavering and their ilk; but she was neither the first nor the only lady to confront the captains of Newcastle’s coal trade. From her first visit to Denton in 1758 to her death in 1800, Mrs Montagu spent in total no more than two years in the north, but she was served by a very able set of viewers. Furthermore, her absence should not be overemphasised since the major coalowners all had residences in London, where many represented the region as Members of Parliament. The drawing rooms of Hill Street and Portman Square, where Elizabeth Montagu could entertain her business associates Mary Bowes, Alice Windsor and Mary Stewart, were more influential than Denton Hall.


In 1783, Mrs Montagu wrote ‘I live in a great beehive, and tho’ as the queen bee, I do not work myself, yet like her Majesty, I have care of the collected treasures’ describing her life at Denton. The eighteenth century was a time when the collieries were largely financed from the personal wealth of landed families and their ability to raise money from the mortgage of their estates. Mrs Montagu understood that a large outlay of capital was needed to win the colliery before a return was received through the sale of the coal and that continuous injections of capital were needed to maintain output. Acting in the role of chief executive of the enterprise, she would have made the strategic financial decisions. As part of the management of her treasurers, Elizabeth Montagu’s role was to establish and protect the brand name of Montagu Colliery for coals – like wine – were marketed under the name of the estate. This is why in December 1766, shortly after the winning of Montagu Colliery, she was relieved to receive a letter from Billingsgate reporting ‘that the first ships which were then arrived were much approved’ and ‘at Lynne they have also succeeded and these are the two great coal markets’. Whether she participated in the haggling at the Coal Exchange in London is not known; but certainly she would have negotiated Denton’s share of the vend from Newcastle with her fellow owners.


East Denton Hall was surrounded by pits but there is no evidence that Mrs Montagu ever went near the workplaces of her miners. Although she showed a maternal interest in the welfare of the workforce, she had little real contact with the men who made her fortune, whom she regarded as savages. The viewer was the person responsible for the hiring and direction of the workforce with whom he was in regular contact both above and below ground. It was men such as Ralph Allison, Christopher Bedlington and William Thomas who established the ethos of the colliery and directed its operation. The technical aspects of mining, including the operation of the waggonway and the staith, were their responsibility. These viewers would have been appointed by Mrs Montagu to whom they made regular reports concerning the technical operation of the business and they provided information upon which financial and commercial decisions could be made. Her fitter in Newcastle and her factor in London would also contribute to this process. During the next century the role of the mining engineer was to increase in importance, while that of the coalowner was to diminish, as joint stock mining companies increasingly provided the finance for mining operations. In the board rooms of these companies there was no place for the female entrepreneur.





The primary sources upon which this account is based are principally to be found in the Watson and Buddle collections in the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers at Newcastle upon Tyne. The principal secondary sources are:


Bennett, Clavering, Rounding: A Fighting Trade: Gateshead 1990.

Blunt, R. ed.: Mrs Montagu ‘Queen of the Blues’: Constable 1923.

Climenson E.J.: Elizabeth Montagu – The Queen of the Bluestockings: London 1906

Colls and Lancaster ed.: Newcastle upon Tyne: A Modern History: Phillimore 2001

Doran: Lady of the Last Century: London 1873.

Flynn M.W.: The History of the British Coal Industry Vol.2: Oxford 1984.  

Horsley P.M.: Eighteenth Century Newcastle: Newcastle upon Tyne 1971.

Hughes E.: North Country Life in the Eighteenth Century: Durham 1952.

Thomlinson W.W.: Denton Hall and its Associations: London 1894.

Turnbull L.: Coals from Newcastle: Newcastle upon Tyne 2010.


I am grateful to Jennifer Kelly, Alan Thompson and Dr Eric Wade for reading the draft of this document and providing valuable comments.


East Denton Hall, the residence of the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, in 2010.


East Denton Hall, the residence of the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, in 2010.