Thornley is a very large colliery village situated 6 ½ miles east of Durham City, 12 miles northwest of Hartlepool, and about 14 miles south-west of Sunderland. At the same time, its history is in the main centred on Thornlaw (Thornley Hall) from which the surrounding estates were controlled for nearly a thousand years. Thornley, with a population of about 6,000, with coal mining as its basic industry has its own parish council, sends two councilors to the Easington Rural District Council and is in the Easington Parliamentary constituency. Approached from the west it appears as a modern well-built clean village, but from the east gives rather a poor impression, as in the early days it was here that the real mining village began, and today we are left with a legacy of abandoned housing sites, older houses and the remains of what was at one time the busiest street in the whole area.

While life in the past was lived around the ancient families who owned Thornley Hall, present day life is dependent on the production of coal at a large colliery, producing somewhere in the region of 9,000 tons of coal weekly.

Over a thousand years ago the area was lonely, desolate moorland, apart from the valley, which stretches from present day Thornley to Church Kelloe, in which area lived most of the people whose sole living was on the land. This valley, wooded on the slopes, must at one time, before the days of human habitation, have provided the course for rather a large stream, and prior to that, have been scoured by glacial movement. The surface soil consists in the main of unfertile clay which appears to cover the greater parts of the East-Durham plateau, although the escarpment to the West is actually a Permian outcrop. The magnesium limestone, up to 200 feet thick, overlays sandstone, sand, and various shale’s, which deep down are the coal measures, which are the source of the people’s living. Traces of the other rocks are present and these include galena, iron pyrites, copper pyrites, traces of various calcites, sandstones of differing types, shale’s, and in the actual coal specimens of many types of fossils.

There are no traces of early man in Thornley. The nearest discoveries have been at Castle Eden (an urn), near Trimdon (a cist) and Bishop Middleham Quarries (a burial place). Nor are there actual traces of the Romans although it is know that a road from Great Stainton passed on the East side of Durham.

What, however, of the early inhabitants of Thornlaw? Those who long ago lived in what appears as just a typical mining village.

The Manor of Thornlaw, or Thornley Hall was mentioned in an Anglo-Saxon record still preserved in the archives of Durham Cathedral dated 1071 A.D. The record grants the land of “Thornlawa” to a lady named Ealdyyth. The payment to be made was as follows: - “That if she leave it needfully, be it in death, or in life, the payment is 8 oxen, 12 cows and 4 men”. She was expected to render “Plenum servitum”, (i.e. full service) to the congregation of St. Cuthbert.

In 1144 the township and the Hall were in the hands of Hugh, son of Pinton, who was the steward of William-de-Santa Barbara, Prince Bishop of Durham, who was engaged in a struggle with William Cumyn, the Scottish usurper to the See of Durham. Hugh deserted his Lord Bishop and took up the cause of William Cumyn by surrendering to him the Castle of Thornlaw, upon the agreement that his daughter should marry one of Cumyn’s nephews. However, Cumyn was finally defeated by Bishop de-Santa Barbara who re-entered the city of Durham on St. Luke’s Day, October 18th, 1144. There, Hugh was forced to hand over his manor and fortress to Hugh Burel.

Hugh Burel did not hold the fortress long because we know that by 1194 it was held by Peter Arpin or Peter Harpyn to give his English name. His name Harpyn means “sea raider” from which it is reasonable to infer that he was a surviving representative of the Vikings who once descended upon the coasts of Durham and settled there.

Situated about 100 yards West of the ancient Hartlepool to Durham Road, old Thornley Hall is typical Norman structure. Between the old road and the new, still remain foundations of what seem to be a strong rampart or barrier. On the South side of the Hall lies a deep ravine, probably at some time the bed of a river. On the West side of the Hall and about 100 yards away, used to be the remains of the Old Moat Bridge and it is believed that this was the site of the prison of the Prince Bishop.

While the Hall was in the hands of the Harpyns, its function seems to have changed. What is now a modern highway was at that time a mere track through wild and thinly populated country used by wayfaring pilgrims passing from or to the shrines of St.Cuthbert and St. Hild of Hartlepool. The Hall or Tower (as it is sometimes described at this time) provided refreshment for the pilgrim wayfarers, or to give lodging to those who might be storm stayed or benighted. Further proof that this was an ancient pilgrim way is afforded by the place name Sylam (Saelam) Bank, the steep hill which is the highest point North of Thornley Manor. Historians describe it as “Signing” or “Singing” Hill, for it was from that spot that pilgrims had their first view of the shrine of St. Cuthbert. It is interesting to remember that about 50 years ago the name commonly in use locally was “Sylam Bank”, but it is now very rarely used. It is now more often called Signing Bank – this supporting the assumption that the monks traveling from Hartlepool to Durham would make the sign of the Cross on sighting the Cathedral Shrine.

Eight hundred years ago the links between landowners and the Church were very strong; the holders of Thornley Hall were very closely concerned (until the formation of the new village) with their parish church at Kelloe. Along with Coxhoe, Quarrington, Cassop, Tursdale, Wheatley Hill, Wingate, part of Deaf Hill, Greenhills and Hurworth, Thornley belonged to the Parish of St. Helen Kelloe.

The Kelloe Church was evidently founded in the 12th century, and it is believed that neighbouring farmers and their hinds brought the large irregular stones to form the nave and tower of the church. When the old chancel was being taken down in 1858 prior to rebuilding, there was found embedded in the chancel wall a fine sculptured cross broken in six places, which had been used as building material. Similar to some in Durham Cathedral it was probably made in the time of Bishop de Santa Barbara or Bishop Pudsey (1153-59). It consists of 3 panels – one shows the finding of the Cross of Calvary by Empress Helena, (St. Helen, mother of Constantine the Great), to whom the church is dedicated. On the transverse arms of the cross are the words “In hoc vince”, alluding to the well-know story of Constantine’s conversion, when he saw in a vision the outline of the Cross, above the words “By this conquer”.

To the church of St. Helen then, journeyed master and servant to worship. Today in Kelloe church can be found several references to one family, which occupied Thornley Hall with varying and somewhat tragic fortune for about 350 years, until 1862. The Hall came into the Trollop family through the marriage of Margaret Lumly (grand-daughter of Peter Harpyn) to Thomas Trollop. This lady survived her husband, but died sometime before April 8th, 1412, leaving John Trollop, her son and heir. In 1448 this John Trollop contracted a marriage between his son John and one of the daughters of Ralph Pudsey of Burforth, gaining in this transaction 85 marks, and in return, promising lands presently owned by father Trollop, and any that he should inherit, to his son. If John, the son, were to die without an heir the land would revert to his father. The bridegroom was finally committed to his father’s jurisdiction until he was considered of reasonable age to govern himself. The penalty for breaking these conditions was £40. Would that we knew the thoughts of the bridegroom.

He was obviously a very practical fellow, this John thus contracted in his minority, as his will dated 30th October 1476, proves he bequeathed his soul to the Virgin, St. John the Baptist, St. Cuthbert, and the saints and asked to be buried with the Friars Minor at Hartlepool. He left to them ten shillings to sing 30 masses for his soul. His younger sons, Thomas and Andrew, and his brother Robert received annuities, while his three daughters were left £20 each to get their husbands. To his son and heir (John), along with silver spoons and a bed with hangings he also bequeathed a large brass pot called “Old Thornlaw”.

Another John Trollop, son and heir of the last named, married Catherine Sayer of Worsall on 21st July 1473, the bride’s father bearing the cost of the wedding, and paying 100 marks to the ‘grooms’ father in return for settlement of land on the son. Thus did father ensure security for their daughters. Andrew Trollop, mentioned in the will above, was a soldier of fortune who distinguished himself in the Wars of the Roses, serving with the Yorkists under the White Rose. Later his allegiance moved from the Duke of York and he became a zealous partisan of Lancaster. The Lancastians were badly beaten at the battle of Towton in 1461 and among the dead was one of their chief commanders, Andrew Trollop of Thornley.

Still another John, son of John Trollop and Catherine Sayer, bears mention. His will dated 1522 contains the instruction the “Thornley Pot and the Great Harry Pot” were to be family heirlooms.

Much of the information gleaned about the Trollop family comes from wills. However, concerning the next John Trollop who died in 1555, there is no testamentary evidence, but his son Thomas died in 1558 did express that wish that he should be buried in his own Porch in Kelloe Church.

The next in line was yet another John Trollop, who, when he died left numerous legacies of small amounts to a numerous progeny of young children. Being only middling gentry the Trollops possessed only a few personal and hereditary trinkets.

The Trollop family became concerned in the rebellion of the Earl of Northumberland and Durham against Elizabeth I (1569). John Trollop, the then owner, lost his inheritance through the Act of Attainder. His life was spared but his property and land in Thornley and Morden became vested in the Crown, and by the Crown was granted away to a Londoner.

When the Granter came to take possession old Trollop and several of his kinfolk (disguised as countrymen) met the Londoner on the verge of the estate; they received him with marks of great respect as their new landlord, conducted him into the house, feasted him and made him drunk.

When the contents of “Old Thornlaw”* and the “Great Harry Pot”* had taken full effect, and the landlord was reduced to a state of insensibility his “obsequious tenants” bound him hand and foot, placed him on horseback and carried him to Hartlepool. Their friends were waiting for them and he was immediately carried on board a light skiff.

* Drinking Vessels

The next morning he had bull time to ruminate on the baleful effects of the Thornley Pot under the pangs of a fit of seasickness, on his voyage to Flanders whither he was actually transported.

In the absence of this landlord Elizabeth I granted the Manor of Thornley and half the Manor of Little Eden to Ralph Bowes, who, however, came to an understanding with the Trollop’s, which allowed them still to remain holders of the lease on nine closes in Thornley.

These included Hanton Garthes?, The Gore, the Milne Field, Browne’s Close, Medowsfield, and 3 corn fields. Thus, by means of one ruse or another did John Trollop keep his hold on his estate throughout the reign of Elizabeth.

In James’ I reign the Manor was granted to Edward Bee and John Lavie of Camber who gave information against John Trollop for intrusion into the lands and Manor of Thornley, but because of his great age, Trollop was granted a case for life.

He died in 1611, when his grandson John succeeded him as heir of entail and establish his right against the Crown by a trial at a Bar before a Jury in Berkshire. He had recovered legal possession of the estate but scars of 40 years of struggle over it never healed.

Part of the Manor was immediately mortgaged to George Maynell of West Dalton, another mortgage was executed to Robert Hildyard, and yet a third, in 1615 to John Bainbridge of Wheatley Hill.

In 1621 the North part of the Milne Field was alienated to George Reed, in 1623 the remaining part was sold to Mr. Busby, and in 1625 the Gore, which was the best and principle part of the estate was transferred to Alexander Davison.

And so in spite of his legal battle to regain his hold on the Manor, John Trollop had to let it go. His family life, too, was marred by tragedy. On December 4th 1636 his eldest son John killed William Selby of Newcastle in a duel at Whitshall-Dyke-Beck, and immediately fled. At the Assizes at Durham on 7th August 1637 he was declared an outlaw. By fighting in the Civil War (1641) Trollop shattered all hopes of recovering his fortune and lost two younger sons, Colonel Michael Trollop (who had been granted lease of 99 years on his brother’s estate) and Captain William Trollop. After the restoration (1660) the Trollops were reduced to the possession of the family mansion and one third of the family estate.

In 1668 the death of the elder John Trollop reduced the family to two – his son and grandson. They hung on to the estate till the death of John Trollop, the younger, in 1678 and on that sad event his father sold the Manor and remaining lands to John Spearman and retired to West Herrington where he died in 1682. He was buried, however, in the Thornley Porch at Kelloe Church, at the charge of Mr. Spearman.

John Spearman, the first in the line of Spearmans, purchased the manor of Thornley in 1678, but died in 1703, leaving six sons and two daughters. The sixth son succeeded to the Thornley Estate. A barrister, he died in 1738. This eldest son Robert married Ann Stare of York and had three sons and daughters. He died in 1747 to be succeeded by Charles, his eldest son, who married twice, having two sons and daughters by his first marriage. Charles died in 1763 and his eldest son Robert Irvin Spearman died unmarried and was succeeded by his brother Charles Spearman (a Justice of the Peace for the County Palatine). He married and had four sons and three daughters, the eldest son, however was killed at Waterloo. The second son, Henry John Spearman, born in December 1794, became the successor and died in 1866. The Gore and Milnefield were eventually re-united to the Manor by the ownership of the first wife of Gilbert Spearman, but by 17?2 the ownership was conveyed to Gilbert Spearman.

In 1801 the population of Thornley was 56, by 1820 60 and in 1831 it had decreased to 50. In 1841, however, it was 2730. This was largely due to the sinking of the mine, the first sod being lifted on January 29th 1834 according to an old record in the Colliery offices. The following were the seams of coal at the beginning of the working of the mine under the Thornley Coal Company.










1st Seam 216 ft 3’ 2” Not named, never worked
¾ x ¾ 505 ft 7’ 2 ½ “ Worked
Low Main 748 ft 3’ 3” Worked
Top Hutton 820 ft 1’ 11” Training face only
Hutton 865 ft 3’ 0” Worked
Harvey 994 ft 3’ 0” Worked
Busty 1032 ft 3’ 0” Worked
Brockwell 1098 ft --------- Not worked


The seams being worked at Vesting Day in 1947 when the N.C.B. took over from the Weardale Steel, Coal and Coke Co. were as follows: -


Main Coal

Low Main





Low Main provides excellent house coal while most of the other coal is used in steel works, apart from the Busty coal which is used for gas production.


By 1948 the number of men employed at the Colliery numbered 1,526 and the population had increased to 4,600.


Some prices for coal between 1866 to 1876 make interesting reading.


  1. 8/3 ½ d per ton

  2. 8/7 ½ d per ton

  3. 8/2 d per ton

  4. 7/5 d per ton

  5. 7/6 d per ton

  6. 7/6 d per ton

  7. 10/11 ½ d per ton

  8. 15/10 ½ d per ton

  9. 12/2 d per ton

  10. 10/3 d per ton

1877 -------- 9d below any on the above prices


By the year 1837 the year of Queen Victoria’s accession, there was a great need of housing and Thornley was being pegged out as a building site for houses, cottages and shops. Women as well as men carried the stones from the limestone quarry to the site. This quarry was situated to the North of the Colliery and adjacent to all the building that was now going on. (This quarry is now filled in, the site being redeveloped with a doctor’s surgery, 2 bungalows, a fish shop and a church drill hall). The very first houses were built for the shaft sinkers and these became known as Church Street (after the church was built). These shaft sinkers came largely from Cornwall, with a few Germans to help them. Colliery workers were later recruited from Ireland and this was a source of trouble later in the village.

The building of the houses seems to have been done by a contractor named Thomas Dunlop, a mason of Thornley. He left behind a memorandum of the price of many of the houses he built. Here is an example: -


1837 The Thornley Coal Co.


To: Thos. Dunlop for building cottages


To Bal. of A/C 1837 for 55 houses………………………………………………..£124. 0. 0.


1857 Feb. 28th. To building 8 single houses at end of stables @ £20 …….£160. 0. 0.


To building 3 houses in Quarry Row @ £36 …………….£75. 0. 0.


To building 12 single houses at back of stables…………..£300. 0. 0.


Total…………£659. 0. 0.


This memorandum also contains reference to the building of a school room, costing £132. 0. 0.


The street nearest to the quarry took the name (obviously) Quarry Street. This was re-named High Street after the single storey limestone cottages were partially pulled down and rebuilt as 2 storey dwellings.

This century has seen much housing development by the Rural District Council. The first council houses to be built in the village are still know as Thornlaw North – and among these are some know locally as “gray houses” – for obvious reasons. These were possibly one of the earliest attempts at pre-fabrication, being constructed of steel frames filled with concrete.

The next large-scale house building was for private owners, viz. Dunelm Road. This is the long street at the West end of the village. Further council development took place at Thornlaw South, and between 1927 and 1936 240 houses were built. Most of these are now being modernized. A further large estate completed between 1937 and 1939 on the land between Gore Hall and the Villas, then a road of private houses, now part shopping center. These council houses were named Ruskin and Shinwell Crescent. Building curtailed by the war and then in 1947 the council redeveloped old sites with bungalow type pre-fabs, and made a new estate alongside Gore Hall Farm of large well-designed steel houses, known as Hillsyde Crescent. The most recent building done by the local authority was a very pleasant estate called Eastlea, situated adjacent to the schools. All further building is in abeyance at the moment since authority has decreed that those to be rehoused must go to Peterlee. An edict not readily acceptable to many – and fraught with possible future uproar.

In the main street we find several public houses. Adjacent to the Market Square and facing the Colliery is the oldest public house, the Colliery Inn. When first built this was a single storey building and one entered by descending several steps. It has been improved several times since until now it is a large two-storeyed building, the exterior pebble-dashed, thus disguising any traces of the limestone used in the building. Other public houses still in existence have names connected in some manner or form with their location e.g. The Station Hotel, built near what was once Thornley’s Good’s Station, the Railway Tavern, standing near to the weigh cabin on the railway; or even connections with history e.g. The Spearman’s Arms, the Queen’s Head (Queen Victoria). At the extreme West of the village stands the Barrel and Grapes Inn, which is much, more commonly know as the Halfway House.

A directory of 1865 listed those names of public houses. The Black Bull, The Board Inn, The Engine Tavern, King’s Head, The New Inn, Robin Hood, Traveler’s Rest, Standish Arms, The Grapes, The Dun Cow (named after the Cathedral legend) and the Three Horse Shoes. At the last three-named business is still carried on. The Black Horse was also named. Stanley Holloway’s mother died here and her husband, who was proprietor of Holloway’s Traveling Theatre at the time of her death, insisted, true to tradition, that the show must go on and so the week’s repertoire went on without interruption. Mrs. Holloway is buried at Thornley. There was also the Edinburgh Arms, which was called the Duke of Edinburgh.

Licensing laws allowed these public houses to open at 6 o’clock and remain open until 11 o’clock at night. The landlords successfully exploited this situation by supplying salty sandwiches, pickles and broth to their customers. Arising out of the heavy dinking vicious sports were followed such as rabbit coursing, cock fighting and even bare knuckle fighting. Less harmful sports were popular such as pigeon racing, quoits, fives, foot racing and pot-share bowling.

George Wallace of Thornley won the sprint championship of England at Sheffield in 1873. He held it till 1879 when he was defeated by the great Hutchens, still said to be the fastest runner of all times.

Tom Nicholson, grandfather of the present District Councilor Jim Nicholson was champion pot-share bowler of England. True evidence of the latter sport having been popular was gained when a pot-share bowl was found by builders when digging foundations for the new Eastlea estate in 1952.

At the turn of the century, we find evidence of other sources of entertainment; there were weekly dances in “The Albert Hall”, “The Catholic Club Hall” and “Swinburne’s Long Room”.

A notable character of Thornley was “Toby Connoly” the village strong man and carrier. He rolled the barrels of beer from the goods station to the various public houses. On one occasion he carried the coffin, single-handed, of a friendless pauper who died in one of the Thornley lodging houses.

Another notable character was “John the Bum”; he ran plays in the “Old Gaff”. This was situated near the present site of the Welfare Hall. It was a wooden building, capable of seating 500 – 600 people. The orchestra stalls were high in price for those days, namely sixpence, while the pit stalls were fourpence, and the “gods” or gallery threepence. The entertainments “Maria Martin” or “The Murder in the Red Barn” and other similar melodrama.

The players stayed in the “Station Hotel”, “Dun Cow Inn” or in lodging houses in Bow Street.

An occasional circus visited the village, while for about six months of every year Barney Berriman’s Portable Theatre entertained with a Shakespearean piece every Wednesday night.

The Hippodrome Picture House opened in 1912 on 13th September and flourished until the new invention, television, reduced the attendances with the result that the cinema had to close in 1959.

The “Ritz”, another cinema in Thornley was opened in 1938, but unfortunately, on March 13th, 1944, fire partly destroyed this building; however, it was reopened.

In 1926 the Miner’s Welfare Hall was opened. This was certainly a great addition to the social life of the village. But on November 12th 1944 fire completely destroyed this Welfare Hall. This was a great loss to the village, and not until 1951 was this building replaced.

In the last five years, to cater for the large council house estates situated in the West and South West of the village, several houses in the Villas and Stanley Terrace have been converted into shops, which meet the demands of the housewife in every respect.

Some of these shops are either a branch of an old established business or a transfer from the old shopping centre.

Now at the end of 1959, the Town and Country Planning Authority have scheduled a new shopping centre in School Square to replace old shop buildings, due for demolition at the East end of the village.

Parallel with the development of Thornley Village, the Northumberland and Durham Miner’s Association came into being.

Early attempts to organize any workers’ groups were crushed out of existence by the employers who were scared of anything which had a tendency to make the men more self-reliant. About 1830 miners began to understand the value of public sympathy, and to lay their grievances before the public and agitate for the establishment of a union of the miners of Durham and Northumberland. In 1831, having formed a strong union the whole of the miners of the two counties came out on strike for higher wages and shorter hours. The Colliery owners broke the strike, and the Union, by refusing to bind members and by turning them out of their houses.

Later was formed “The Miners’ Association of Great Britain and Ireland”. This made little progress till 1842 and 1843. It was in this unsatisfactory labour situation that Thornley Colliery came into being. In 1845 Thornley, one of the largest collieries in the County came out on strike. Warrants were issued (on November 24th) against 68 persons for being absent without leave. Mr. Marshall of Durham appeared for the owners and Mr. Roberts, the miners’ advocate, for the prisoners. At this time the resident viewer was a Mr. Heckles, working for the Thornley Coal Company, whose decisions concerning a weighing machine and the men’s bond, and fines for petty and sometimes non-existent offences. The trial of these miners clearly shows the petty tyranny exercised over them until the Great Strike of 1844.

By 1844 the many grievances brought about a cry for redress. The Miners’ Association sent an address to the coal owners urging that a price be charged for coal that would bring in reasonable profit for the owners and permit a decent wage to be paid to those who dug coal. They opined that the coal owner’s policy of undercutting each other’s prices and then reducing wages would be ruinous to an industry on which the country depended. This address, though mildly respectful and conciliatory, met with a silent contempt. After several meetings and an appeal to Parliament the Association decided to withdraw labour.

Many were the hours spent in Thornley discussing the grievances and the injustices. These miners fully supported the demand that child workers (drivers and trappers) should only work 10 hours a day, and that the wage asked should be 1/- per day. They complained about the use of fly doors and clout doors, the injustice of “great tubs”, and the danger of Shetland ponies. (Miners were often fined because of damage to ponies – usually caused by accident) (These ponies too, were much bigger than those used later and were terrifying beasts to the youngsters who had to handle them). Another source of unrest in Thornley was the poor accommodation provided by the coal owners. Families with up to 7 or 8 children lived in one-roomed houses, the whole room being 4 yards x 5 yards, with a small pantry attached.

At a public meeting in Newcastle on 7th Mary, an attempt to educate the public as to the real grievances, a Mr. Clough of Thornley addressed those present. His theme was that the men had been forced to strike, for the masters refused conciliation of conditions under which miners could not earn a living wage. The best hewers in 8 hours in most favourable seams could not earn more than 2/6 per day. After deductions for fines (Excessive in his view), doctor, coals, picks, and other equipment the wage was as low as 11/- per week. In Thornley at that time was still remembered the explosion of 1841 when 9 lives were lost and many injured. There was no compensation and bereaved families depended absolutely upon the contributions of the victims’ workmates and how difficult it was made for them to help.

That Thornley miners were very much alive to the need for unity among the workers is evident, because when the inaugural meeting of the Durham Miners’ Association was held it was in the Thornley Halfway House field, on September 23rd, 1869 and Mr. A. Cairns represented Thornley. In 1870 a committee was formed and Thornley’s representative was John Jackson. By May 7th 1870 Thornley had 230 members (the second highest in the Association) and Mr. Cairns became the Association’s Secretary. In March 1871 an incident arose concerning the Secretary and Mr. Jackson (then on Executive Committee), which was put to arbitration; this is the first recorded occasion of men offering to apply arbitration.

The first Big Meeting of the D.M.A. was held in 1871 on 12th August. The men went “to get their rights”. Thornley was the premier lodge, their banner adorning the platform with the inscription, “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work”. (Although the Big Meeting is now the Gala Day and the character of the event has changed somewhat with the times, Thornley Lodge still jealously guards the honour of decoration Platform 1 with their banner, their third).

However, on May 8th, 1875 another terrible disaster took place. A great fire completely destroyed the whole heap-stead. No lives were lost fortunately but the distress caused by loss of work was pitiful. Men went from Thornley to surrounding collieries gathering food and clothing for needy families, and soup kitchens were set up.

Three years later a boiler explosion killed 5 men and injured 7. After this disaster a monument was erected in the Churchyard by public subscription and it is there still. This was not the last disaster at the colliery.

On Pay Friday (alternate weeks) April 4th 1884, the Thornley Coal Co. was found bankrupt, and there were no wages for the men. This was the second time this had happened and since only half the amount owing from the previous occasion had been paid there was great alarm, and calls for an agent. The treasurer found the people ready to riot. Mr. Ramsey the agent, wanting to satisfy in part the wants of the people, sold a Branch engine but when the N.E.R. engine came to take it away men, women and children pulled up the rails, thus having both engines in “pound”. The Treasurer hoped to persuade the men, at a meeting the following day, to allow the sale to proceed, and accept the money as an installment of their wages. The Treasurers eloquence was cut short by the arrival of a pigeon involved in a race from Newcastle to Thornley. The orator being asked to keep quiet until the bird had landed, he was told to go on once it had done so. The speaker was lost – rhetoric and reason were useless. However, the Executive Committee of the D.M.A. put in men as bailiffs at each colliery in the area to prevent anything being taken away. After a year of litigation the wages were handed over to the Treasurer and wages were paid in full. Each non-union member had to pay 7/- towards the cost (£1,000) of getting the money. Five years later the last man claimed his money.

After this “Putt Pay” Mr. Spearman became owner of the collieries in the neighbourhood.

Thornley had been in the Ecclesiastical Parish of Kelloe but on June 20th, 1842, the foundations of a new Church, dedicated to St. Bartholomew were laid by the Rev. C. Abbott, Curate of Kelloe. An acre of ground had been given by Mr. N. J. Spearman of Thornley, for the erection of the Church and the formation of a burial ground. On the 8th August 1845 it was finally dedicated. The building in the early English style in stone consisted of a chancel, nave, western porch and a bell turret. In 1885 the interior was restored and a chancel screen erected, whilst in 1895 this nave was reseated and a new organ provided. In the Church there is a stained glass memorial window bearing the Spearman coat-of-arms and motto “Dum Spero, Spiro” and a further memorial window to George Wilkinson, Oswald House, Thornley. The present seating accommodation of the Church is 500. The architecture is not good, although the Church is said to have cost £900. The acoustics however, are quite good. The first Vicar was Rev. W. Shute. Mention must be made of the Rev. W. Mayor, J.P., a virile clergyman of 1870 and 1880’s. He presided over Thornley Police Court and on at least two occasions read the riot act. He was the complete autocrat of Thornley for these two decades and was responsible for the founding and erection of Wheatley Hill Church, which was included in Thornley Parish.

It is fitting also to mention here, the Rev. W. Lathean, who was awarded the M.B.E. whilst Vicar of Thornley for his work as a Chaplain in the last war in a prison camp in Germany. Although he was offered repatriation, he refused to return until the last of the men under his care had been sent home. Mr. Lathean left Thornley to take charge of a larger parish at St. Michael’s, Westoe, South Shields. The present incumbent of St. Bartholomew’s is the Rev. P. Mold.

Thornley Church has a close connection with Sherburn House Foundation, which provides scholarships and owns the almshouse. It has always made a contribution to the stipend of the Vicar of Thornley.

Thornley was now a Parish with a Vicar and all the benefits and troubles accruing therefrom. The incumbent and overseer were the chief persons responsible for looking after the poor and those people certainly had a tremendous responsibility with the rise of Thornley Colliery.

The site of the present Roman Catholic Church of the English Martyrs (named after the priest who took refuge in Thornley Hall in the early times, about the 16th century) was purchased in 1897 by the Rev. Michael Haggerty. In 1800 the first Roman Catholic School and Chapel was in Hartlepool Street, the Priest’s house being in Bowes Street. The Rev. Michael Haggerty proceeded with the building of the new Church and Priest’s house. In 1909 the Church was opened. By 1933 it was necessary to enlarge it by addition of a new sanctuary, side aisle and entrance porch. The re-opening took place in July 1933, the whole of the enlarging having been undertaken by the Rev. A. Dent. Since then the Church has flourished and continues to do so under the present Priest, the Rev. Dr. H. McNeill. In the 1940’s one of the Priests in charge at Thornley was Monsignor G. Jeffreys, former Headmaster of St. Cuthbert’s Grammar School, Newcastle. He was buried in Thornley cemetery about 1948 and his funeral was attended by many fully robed high-church dignitaries.

There are Wesley and Primitive Methodist Chapels, the latter (with a Sunday School attached) is a brick building built in 1871 and can seat 700 people. The last five years (1954 – 1959) have brought changes to this building. By voluntary workmanship, anterooms have been added and he interior of the Chapel has been modernized. Each year a flourishing choir renders an excellent oratorio.

The Wesley Chapel (Waterloo Street, formerly named Princess Street) was commenced in 1838 but in 1865 it was rebuilt and considerably enlarged and took the form in main outline as it is today. The new Chapel was built to seat 500 and according to an old schedule each person was allowed 18 inches seating space. One wonders how they managed with crinolines and bustles with this so-called calculation. In 1874 this chapel was licensed for the solemnization of marriages. In 1910, after some years of planning and negotiation, a Sunday School and Institute were opened. This Institute with billiard room and reading room functioned until the Welfare Hall was built. In 1923 a new organ was dedicated and since then plans have been formulated from the building of a new Chapel but so far these have not materialized.

The Salvationists have their own brick building and though small in numbers have continued in regular worship throughout the years since.

Schools in Thornley have grown since the early days of the Thornley Colliery School. This School originally faced the Colliery and was patronized and partly supported by the Coal Company. There were about 120 children of both sexes attending. When the Board of Education came into being, the Thornley Boys, and “Girls and Infants” departments were open in 1877. Unfortunately there are no early records of Thornley Girls and Infants Schools but records of the Boys’ School say that it opened with 150 boys. In 1885 the School became mixed, Infants, Boys and Girls, but in 1889 it became two departments again, Thornley Boys and “Girls and Infants”. From 1900 onwards there were three departments.

Mr. Daniel Hogan was Headmaster of the School. He was a real character, a ruler in the village whose influence extended far beyond the School. An expert gardener and botanist he had some knowledge of herbs and his cure for ringworm was unique. He organized all types of functions and his long service in the School (about 40 years) is best illustrated by the experience of one teacher who checked a boy who in return said that he would fetch his father. Mr. Hogan met the father at the school gate and wanted him in turn to fetch his father to receive the rest of what he should have had when he was at school.

Headmistress of the Girls’ School was Miss Smith, and associated in her work was Miss Wood, now Mrs. Arthur Kirk of Stanhope Street, Wheatley Hill. The Infants’ School Headmistress was Miss E. Hill who retired about 1928 and died only a few years ago. This dainty little lady with a liking for hats was loved by the local people, gave fully of her time to various activities even when about 80 years old was regularly traveling to address Women’s Institutes. She was succeeded as Headmistress by Mrs. Temple.

Reorganization again followed in 1938, the School becoming a Junior Mixed. In the meantime a new infants’ school had been built and opened in 1924. The Seniors now had to travel to Wheatley Hill Secondary Modern Schools. Except for the addition of three extra classrooms the Junior School building is still the same.

The Roman Catholic School in Hartlepool Street served the first educational needs of the Roman Catholic population of Thornley but in 1909 St. Godric’s School near Wheatley Hill was opened to meet the needs of the growing population. This is the present School but much modernization has taken place in 1959 so bringing the school up to date. The Infants’ Headmistress, Miss Bridget O’Hara, served for 38 years and she was succeeded by Miss. M.B. Kevany who retired in 1958. Both returned to their native Ireland after 50 and 40 years devoted service respectively in Thornley.

In 1946 the old school building in Hartlepool Street was opened as a Men’s Club after have been used as a British Restaurant during the war. In 1959 it became a garage and it is now a timber supply depot. So the original Roman Catholic School has served many needs in its time.

So much for the schools and churches in Thornley, but how did the residents fare with regard to travel and transport?



In the 19th and 20th centuries the working of coal from the deep mine at Thornley resulted in an influx of people from impoverished agricultural areas, South Wales and Cornwall and railways developed apace, national travel became easier.

The products of the mine were sent off by the Hartlepool Junction Railway, which provide an easy outlet through the new port of West Hartlepool. This railway, later the North Eastern, eventually provided passenger services to Sunderland, the Hartlepools, Stockton and via Murton to Durham. The railway had been extended from Thornley Junction three miles away to take the coal from Thornley and Ludworth Collieries. This was joined at Thornley by the “Cut”, once the route of a railway serving the collieries in the Cassop, Quarrington and Whitwell areas.

Outside contact was maintained by the railway already mentioned together with various carriers, waggonettes, traps and farm vehicles. This period saw some of the first traveling shops carrying just about everything (e.g. Mr. Gillett at Quarrington Hill) and the packman (e.g. Mr. J.T. Scott) (Both founders of good businesses). Regular supplies of goods were brought by the North Eastern Railway to their extensive Goods Station sited at the eastern end of the village, which was a busy centre. Nearly all-local traders had their own horses and especially after the opening about 1913 of the new road to Wheatley Hill.

Passenger contact with the railways was maintained by men like Mr. Bulmer, Mr. Durkin and later Mr. Harris. In 1913 the railway company operated a motorbus to the Station and later United Auto Services Ltd. commenced operations. Apart from buses with gasbags on the top, there was little change before the end of the 1914 – 1918 War. The earliest real bus service was No 8 United, which operated a service (with lengthy intervals) between Easington Lane – Wheatley Hill – Thornley – Coxhoe and Durham. The return of peace gave impetus to road transport. Motor Lorries and buses with solid wheels became commonplace. Many of the early United buses were bodies built on to ex Army Lorries (mainly Daimlers). This firm also ran open topped double deckers (formerly belonging to London General) and anyone who experienced a journey on the open top deck in the middle of winter had something to remember especially if the warning to beware of overhanging trees was ignored.

Messrs. Page and Taylor joined forces and operated a bus service to the Station but the death knell of this service and local rail passenger travel came by about 1925. By this time road transport was expanding rapidly. In addition to open charabanc trips to town and seaside operated by the large companies new firms were starting. In 1923 or thereabouts, Messrs. Arthur Gillett Jr. and his brother Albert H. Gillett operated their one bus for parties to the cinema as well as to Durham and Spennymoor. Mr. J. J. Baker operated a service to the Trimdons and the C.W.S. at Wheatley Hill on Mondays and Tuesdays with a small Ford and later “The Quarrington Queen”. Meanwhile United Auto Services introduced Service 13 to West Hartlepool (2 hourly each day) and 13A to Wingate and Blackhall on Saturday s. In 1925 after purchasing new buses Gillett Bros. commenced to operate daily services (2 hourly) between Quarrington Hill, Thornley and West Hartlepool. After a period when they formed part of “Unity” (a private transport organization which covered central and southern Durham) they joined forces with Mr. J. J. Baker in an association called “G&B” which commenced operations as such in January 1926. During 1926 the new road to Ludworth was opened, United Auto Services introduced Service 9 via Ludworth to Durham, and the Northern General Transport Company commenced operations with a new service via Haswell, Easington Lane and Murton to Sunderland. In 1930 Mr. D.T.Todd of Darlington with his “Triumph” service brought direct connection with Darlington, the Trimdons, Sedgefield, Easington and Sunderland. During this early period there was intense competition between the firms. The large companies with their “chasers” did everything possible to oust rival competitors. Control came with the 1930 Traffic Act. There has been little change since then in basic operation but great improvement has been made in regularity, frequency, quality of rolling stock and general efficiency. Present day services are: -


“G & B “ Services


Durham District

United Auto Services

Sunderland District Omn.


In addition regular “tours” services are operated during the summer by Messrs. Roberts and Durham District Services.



Thornley 100 years ago consisted of the pit clustered round by big engine houses, and further surrounded by dwelling houses, for so they were called, although by present standards they were appalling, even in their day and age they were miserable places.

These houses had a bare earth floor, one step down from street level. Round the fire was wall, which provided seating accommodation for the occupants, if they were not the fortunate possessors of a form. The bed would probably be placed in a corner away from the fireplace – the bed might even be two planks laid on boxes.

Artificial light came from candles; the water supply had to be drawn from a well at Gore Hall or bought from a water cart. There were two open middens where refuse and filth were deposited, and these were cleaned out very intermittently.

In spite of these terrible conditions women succeeded in keeping their houses and families clean, but what drudgery it must have been.

By 1909 (the accession of King George V) conditions were beginning to improve and the whole country prospered, not least Thornley.

This prosperity, however, was halted with the interruption of World War I. May men served in the field of battle and some paid the supreme sacrifice. This was portrayed in the War Memorial erected in the first Miners’ Welfare Hall. Here it is fitting to mention John Scott Youll, the young V. C. of Thornley (brother of one of the founder members of the Thornley W.I.) who gave his life for his country along with others for a better and brighter world for us. After the war at the first local Government election in 1919, the County and District parish councils returned a solid mass of working men. Peter Lee (from whom the new town takes its name) of the Thornley County Council area was made Chairman. In Peter Lee they found a man with a wealth of insight and a depth of vision for the good of the area.

The great strike of 1921 interrupted the social work but as previously mentioned, at this time a great stride was made in the building of council houses. Old houses were being equipped wit electric light and water. History was being made from candles to electric light, from the old well and hogger to the back yard. Streets and footpaths were being made up and private houses erected in unplanned spots.

By 1922 a reservoir was opened by Frank Quin, thus improving the water situation. On the 23rd April 1927, Mr. John Petrie, opened a new road between Haswell and Thornley, which opened up the way out of the east end of the village.

Easington Rural District Council and Sedgefield Rural District Council between them built an Isolation Hospital for smallpox patients at Thornley and this was opened in 1928. It is unique if only for the fact that it never had a patient proper from 1928 until its closure in 1954, although it was kept in full readiness with cook and ambulance driver – caretaker. For a short time in the last war it was used as an army convalescent centre, but it has now become a pig farm.

In 1931 Councilor Mrs. Bessie Bosomworth (an active worker for the interests of Thornley throughout her life ) made her first efforts for a Child Welfare Clinic. However, not until 1933 were her efforts rewarded when the Child Welfare Clinic was opened in the Old Literary Institute, originally the Old Colliery School.

In January 1933 a great stride towards more hygienic conditions was made with the opening of the Pit Head Baths. This was certainly an improvement on the old tin baths before the fire, which the miner had to use.

In 1934, after much agitation by members of the Parish council a new cemetery was opened. The sanitation of the village by now had greatly improved with the great sanitary conversion scheme, and a large grant from the Government helped many poor Thornley landlords to carry out this work.

In 1935, the Silver Jubilee year of King George V and Queen Mary, each child in the village was given a memento, and a tea while the Parish Council also presented the County School with a suitably inscribed radiogram and a donation for a radio to St. Godric’s R.C. School.

In 1937, a clock was erected in the Market Place to mark the coronation of King George VI by the Coronation Committee. Thornley W. I. made efforts to beautify the surrounding area by planting flowerbeds but alas the effort did not meet with success.

The Second World War overtook us in 1939 – 45 and the bombing of Dunelm Road, Thornley, on August 15th will live in the memory of Thornley people.

With the signing of peace, which was very welcome, Thornley residents, like the rest of the country, were very thankful. Again there was time to turn to peaceful activities such as the Thornley Male Voice Choir, the Drama Group and the Discussion and Debating Group. Unfortunately after fluctuating for some years the new invention Television began to take its toll of these activities and membership dwindled.

When in 1944 The Miners’ Welfare Hall was destroyed by fire the War Memorial was lost as well but this was replaced as recently as one year ago on the site of the Old Literary Institute (see photograph opposite).

The Colliery now is quite up-to-date and the miners are proud that they took first place for general tidiness in the area. The photograph opposite no doubt bears witness to this fact.

Since 1931 effort had been made to have a library in Thornley, and now we have a library open for two days per week, perhaps in the near future this may be increased to more that two days, at least we hope so.

In 1953 Princess Elizabeth succeeded to the Throne on the death of her father and the 1953 Thornley Coronation Committee presented each child with a memento of the occasion. Since 1958, school children in Thornley have had annual Sport’s Days while a procession of Tableaux has also taken place. These activities have taken place under the auspices of the Miners’ Federation Board, and by their donations each week of the year they have been able to give each child a substantial gift of sweets at the same time.

In 1952, Thornley residents were very proud when one of their younger residents, Miss Charmian Welsh, was chosen to represent Great Britain at the Olympic Games in the 30 metre Board Diving Championships.

To mark this occasion the residents presented her with a suitably inscribed gift and in 1956 when Miss Charmian Welsh again represented Great Britain in a similar contest Thornley people presented her with gifts.


Thornley, like many villages in County Durham, had old customs.


Firstly, there is the charmer; he or she “charmed away” the scourge of erysipelas. This charm to be effective had to be passed from male to female and to prove this one of our “W.I.” grandmothers husbands has recollections of his grandfather using this “charm”. He in turn passed it onto a female relative.

Then there was the bread and cheese handed out at christenings in years gone by and which now has developed into a piece of rich fruit cake with a silver coin also enclosed.

In years gone by, there was no rich fruit cake, it was a plain loaf with the addition of a few currants. This was handed to the first person the baby passed on its way to the christening.

Many times have we heard of the dose of Laudenum used to keep the infants of Thornley quiet while the mother got on with the wash in the olden days. Our elder inhabitants of the village tell us that this was truly so.

Thornley, like other villages in Durham, celebrates Carling Sunday, by having free Carlings in the public houses for those who wish to enjoy them.

As you will see Thornley has made strides towards the betterment of the amenities of the village. Perhaps they are not great but at least they are much improved from 100 years ago, thanks to the initiative and far seeing vision of men like Peter Lee.