Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Ferryhill is a town in south-central County Durham, England with a population of around 12,000 people. It is in the borough of Sedgefield. The town grew in the nineteenth century and very rapidly in the 1900s around the coal mining industry, although the last mine closed in 1966.
Ferryhill sits on the western edge of the Ferryhill Gap, a natural gateway in the Limestone Escarpment that outcrops on the Eastern Durham Plateau. The main settlement lies along the SW-NE ridge, with later development to the south of the ridge. Ferryhill lies on the medieval Great North Road, now the A167, which leads to Durham City and Newcastle-upon-Tyne to the North, and to Darlington in the south.
The town grew dramatically as a mining town in the early 20th Century but before that it was an agricultural village. There was an agricultural settlement here in medieval times and maybe much earlier than that. Before the Reformation, Ferryhill belonged to the Priory of Durham and was a thriving agricultural concern. In 1539, the properties and rights were transferred to the Dean and Chapter of Durham. This did not affect the people of Ferryhill very much, but some Yeoman families became quite prosperous and it is recorded that in 1615 a Lawrence Wilkinson was granted a personal Coat of Arms.
During the English Civil War between Charles I and Parliament (1642-1648), Ferryhill was split, some men supporting the Royalists whilst others backed the Parliamentarians. The people of the Village suffered from plundering and persecution as troops passed through.
In 1599, the scourge of The Plague reached Ferryhill and during August and September of that year, 26 people are recorded to have died. This figure was probably around 5 to 10% of the population at that time. The village water supply was clean enough to ensure that no further outbreaks of The Plague occurred in nearby villages, although a small farming community near the Bunny Banks and two houses in Kirk Merrington were affected.
In 1683 there was a well known murder in Ferryhill at the Old Mill where Andrew Mills killed the three children of his employer John Brass whilst their parents were out visiting friends. He was tried, found guilty and hanged in a gibbet to the north of the village.
Very little changed in the way of life in Ferryhill right up to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when a railway was laid (1840) and a blast furnace was constructed. The population of Ferryhill in 1841 was 854 souls and in 1901 had grown to only just over 1,000, but by the time the two main collieries (Dean and Chapter Colliery and Mainsforth Colliery) opened this had swelled ten-fold to 10,133 in 1911. Lots of new terraced houses were built to accommodate the great influx of labour that came to work in the North East Coalfields. A lot of these houses are still occupied today. In 1941, over 5,000 men were working at the two pits to produce coal to keep the Country going during the war effort. Both Collieries closed during the 1960's and the great pit heaps are now unrecognisable, landscaping has hidden much of the evidence that this was a village driven by coal.
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