Borders Ancestry currently sponsors the live shows on digital radio station EGH Radio, broadcast from 9.00pm - 10.30pm every Monday & Wednesday night. It was David Mossman, the father of Monday’s Rock Show host Anne Jobling that posed this question last summer. “Ask your woman what she knows about Biteabout Colliery and my grandfather David Brown who fell down the pit”. Well I have to confess at the time of asking I hadn’t actually heard of “Biteabout” Colliery but figured that it must have been one of the numerous drift mines that littered the area of North Northumberland West from Berwick to Cornhill and South to Eglingham, in their heyday during the 19th century.
As I was to find out there is quite a bit about “Biteabout”!, so this blog is dedicated to you David. I hope you enjoy the discoveries I made when I went digging for your family, and the connections with coal mining in the area around Lowick.
LINK - A downloadable map of the area showing the old coal mines to print out and have to hand whilst reading this article. You will find it most useful!
The Mossman Miners
By the beginning of the 20th century many of the smaller mines in North Northumberland became unviable and began to close. Mining families moved south to the larger collieries of Mid and South Northumberland, or even further to the coalfields of Tyne & Wear and Durham. By the time of the 1911 census, John Mossman and his family are living at 43 Hedgehope Tce, Drift, Acklington in Northumberland. David’s older brother Robert John now aged 15 was already working below ground. David was the fourth child and the second son of John Mossman and his wife Barbara Ellen Brown. The Brown connection now potentially established I was interested to follow the Mossman line back a bit further to see where it would lead.
Robert Mossman b. 5th January 1837 in Ford, Northumberland, occupation Coal Miner son of -
John Mossman b. Grindon Ridge (Rigg) Norham, baptised Etal Presbytery 1808, occupation Coal Miner son of –
John & Sarah Mossman of Grindon Ridge (Rigg)
Tracing the Brown Family
Now to the Brown Family. Barbara Ellen Brown was born in Newcastle in 1877 to parents David Brown and Jane Seaton. David’s occupation is Joiner (Coal Mine). In 1911 census he and his unmarried family are living at 9 Cement Row, Widdrington. Two of his son’s John David and George are Bricklayers in a Coal Mine and youngest son James is a Coal Miner.
David Brown was born in Barmoor, Lowick in 1853, the tenth child, and seventh son of David Brown and his wife Margaret Fish. He was the second child to be named David, his older brother of the same name having died in infancy. His father’s occupation is Coal Miner
David Brown was born circa 1804 at Lickar Colliery, Lowick (from census) and here the trail cools off. (See research notes)
Mining in North Northumberland in the early
19th Century – Strike of 1820
The miners were the first to take action when on 3rd January 1820 the workers at Ford, Greenlawalls, Thornton, Shoreswood, Murton, Lickar, and Berwick Hill downed tools and made their way to the colliery at Scremerston gathering others en route. Magistrates from the district convened a meeting for the following day to include a deputation from each pit. No agreement could be found and the mines remained at a standstill.
By the 15th January, nine of the principle strike leaders had been arrested and taken to Durham Gaol, the pits of Ford, Felkington & Shoreswood having reached an agreement with their coal owners had returned to work on the 12th and seven men had returned to work at Scremerston under the protection of an armed guard.
The Rise & Fall of the Early Unions
The mining community which had previously been close-knit became closer still. As disturbances and grumblings rumbled on the miners closed ranks in support of each other and the solidarity for which they would became renowned was beginning to take shape. The first regional union was established in Newcastle in 1830 under the leadership of Thomas Hepburn, but strike action in 1832 had ended in victory for the coal owners.
As a result no man who was a member of a union would be employed by them and the union collapsed. The first national union was established in 1840 and again set about achieving it’s aims for reform.
The CAse of the "Biteabout" Miners
In due course the incident came to the attention of the Union, who mustered financial support from amongst its members. Newspaper reports throughout the ensuing months of March, April and May give regular updates on the cause, and detail the numerous pledges received to help the miners pay for the legal representation necessary to fight their case.
The last report to appear in the press on the 13th June states the date set for the hearing as the 3rd of July 1846 in Ford and then ……. nothing! Nowhere can I uncover a report or account of the trial, or whether Mr Jackson received his comeuppance! More annoying still is that although the names of the protagonists are meticulously recorded, nowhere can I find the names of the affected miners. As such, alas, I have no way of knowing if David Brown was amongst them.
David Brown, coal miner 1804 – 1873 & His Family
Was David in the right place at the right time? The answer is a resounding yes. According to the 1841 census he was living at Lowick South Moor. In fact, throughout his entire working life he hardly moves, if in fact at all. Although the subsequent census records list his place of residence under slightly different names, when viewed on the map I believe these to be one and the same:-
1851 Lowick Pit Houses, Barmoor Red House
1861 Lowick South Moor, Redhouses
1871 Kemping Moss, Barmoor Redhouse
His eldest son William, also a coal miner had married by this time, and had moved with his family to the colliery at West Dryburn. Son Robert was also married but was living with his young family next door to his parents. Sons John, James and George as yet unmarried were living and working alongside their father, who by 1871, was now the “Overman” or manager of the Biteabout colliery. Nephew James Fairbairn who had become a permanent family addition, and also a coal miner, is now married and living next door.
In the 1870’s the lives of the Brown family begin a period of radical change. Son James whose occupation at the time of the 1871 census had been a coal miner was Tailor and Clothier in Alnwick at the time of his marriage to Ellen Augusta Hagar, a clergyman’s daughter, in Jedburgh on the 28th October 1873.
Just eleven days later on the 8th November, father David died as the result of an accident. He had tragically fallen down a pit shaft at the Biteabout mine.
The following year son John had succeeded his father as collliery “Overman”. In July 1874 he presented a silver cup to a William Kilvington Jackson on behalf of the miners of Biteabout Colliery as a mark of respect on his retirement. Fortunately if any relationship existed it was somewhat distant to the somewhat unscrupulous Henry Jackson referred to earlier!
In September 1874 John married Sarah Tarbet . At the time of the 1881 census the couple were living in what may possibly have been John’s childhood home at Redhouses, Lowick South Moor. In a strange twist of fate by 1891 John is now the tenant farmer at Barmoor Red House, and a coal owner, presumably of the very same Biteabout Colliery. His cousin James Fairbairn is also living at Barmoor still a coal miner (In 1901 he is now a Green Grocer but living at the same address), and at Kemping Moss in the pit cottages we have Robert Mossman and family, including John who would subsequently marry Barbara Ellen Brown.
The Fairbairns – A tragic tale with a happy ending.
James had been born the fourth child and second son to James Fairbairn, originally a shoemaker by trade and Isabella Fish his wife. Isabella was sister to Margaret Fish the wife of David Brown. By the time of his birth, the Fairbairn family had moved to the Lamb Inn near Lowick and his two older sisters had died in infancy. A brother George was born in 1841 and in December 1844 they were joined by another brother Robert. By the time of Robert’s baptism in February 1845 their mother Isabella had died. Baby Robert was soon to follow.
Infant mortality was high in those times, and mothers often perished after a difficult childbirth but what thoroughly tugged at my heartstrings was a note in the baptism register. It had probably been taken from the parish minute book and notes that “Father, mother and sons are tenants in the Lamb Inn, sleeping in the dust”.
What could easily have ended like a ghastly chapter from a novel by Charles Dickens in the Parish Workhouse was averted by the kindness and support of members of the Fish family who rallied round and raised the three boys as their own. Although the boys grew up separately, they obviously remained close as can be seen in later census records. They had a tragic start in life, but with the love and support of their mother’s family they went on to lead happy and fulfilled lives. John the eldest named one of his daughters Margaret Brown Fairbairn I feel sure this was out of respect and affection for his aunt.
There a host of online family trees which have attributed his parentage to a David Brown & Isobel Mossman of Tweedmouth Square and linked him to a baptism in Spittal in August 1800. I find no evidence to support this parentage for a number of reasons;
The eldest son of David Brown (born 1804) is named William born 1831in Lowick. Although there was a child named David who died in infancy with no known birth or death date, if he had been the first born, he had passed away before the census in 1841 and it is unlikely the couple would have waited until the birth of their seventh son to re-use the name. Therefore if the family follows the traditional naming pattern, evident in later generations, I would expect his father’s name to be William.
Thirdly in every census David is clear on his birthplace and age.
The family followed the Presbyterian religion and as such were viewed by the established church as “Dissenters”. This makes research potentially more problematic as there are far fewer records. I believe what has happened in this case is that a record has been found on the internet, for a Presbyterian baptism of a David Brown in 1800 at Spittal and it has been made to fit, rather than consulting the records of the Scotch Presbyterian Church at Lowick, not available on the internet but which contain the baptismal records of several children born to a William & Margaret Brown of Lowick from 1808 to 1817. The Church register begins in 1804. There is also an irregular marriage at Coldstream Bridge in 1796 between a William Brown of Ancroft and Margaret Hume of Lowick. These records too are unproven as to a relationship, if any to David Brown born at Lickar Colliery circa 1804, but to mind at least, they seem far more likely candidates.
Intro to The Coal Industry in the North East
A detailed look into the 1844 Miners Strike in Northumberland & Durham
A Glossary of Terms commonly in use in the North Eastern Coalfields
This site is not the easiest to navigate, but persist & you'll be amazed at what you'll discover
My Favourite online research tool "The British Newspaper Archive"
A very special mention and my thanks also go to "Lady Waterford Hall" in Ford Village,
Not only is it very beautiful, it is packed with information useful to researchers with ancestors from the area.
A true hidden gem!