Burnhope is a product of the coal industry. It was developed in the 1840s by the sons of the famous industrialist William Hedley. Hedley was best known for the Puffing Billy locomotive. In his later life he lived at Burnhopeside Hall near Lanchester.

His four sons developed a pit initially called Ibbotson’s Sike Pit, but later renamed the Fortune Pit. One of the other drivers for the development of the village was the opening of a wagonway to link Burnhope to Craghead and South Moor. In 1845, a stationary engine was built on the wagonway which could simultaneously raise and lower wagons to and from Craghead.

The Hedleys built much of the colliery housing in Burnhope, the first school in 1855 and St. John’s Church in 1865.

The Hedleys later sold the pits and they eventually came to be owned by Utrick Ritson. He was not the stereotypical pit owner, but had a reputation as a philanthropist and gave Burnhope a reading room, cricket field and a polo pitch and finally an impressive war memorial, built in 1919 to commemorate the dead of First World War. I have visited Burnhope many times to visit family and I have to say that I never heard mention of a polo field, pigeon lofts certainly, but no polo field. I would guess that the average inhabitant of Burnhope in the late 19th century did not play polo.

It seems that the polo field was was no longer used by the start of the twentieth century as the clubhouse of the Whickham Golf Club, which was founded in 1911 was a wooden pavilion with verandah, which had been the clubhouse of the Polo Club located at The White House, Burnhope. Presumably this had been dismantled in Burnhope and moved to the new site.

One of the things which Burnhope is most famous for, is that the Durham Miners’ Gala was held there in 1926 during the General Strike. It is the only time it has been held outside Durham. The organisers cancelled the event in Durham because they thought that people would not be able to travel to the Gala because of the transport strike. The Burnhope miners had other ideas and on 23rd July 1926 40,000 people came to Burnhope and were addressed by the miners’ leader A J Cook.

For those who know the area, Burnhope is also more recently known for a 750′ television mast built in 1959. Burnhope is situated on one of the highest points in West Durham and so made an ideal site for the mast.



The Northern Echo
Polo Club


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