UK Genealogy Archives logo
DISCLOSURE: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning when you click the links and make a purchase, we may receive a commission.

Gateshead, Durham

Historical Description

Gateshead, a municipal, county, and parliamentary borough in the county of Durham, situated on the south bank of the Tyne, immediately opposite to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon geat, "a road," and heafod, " a head.'' The Roman road from Chester-le-Street to the bridge built over the Tyne by Hadrian terminated at Gateshead. Bede evidently thought the name meant " the head of the goat," the Anglo-Saxon word for ,goat being pronounced like that for road, and he translated it into Latin as "Ad caput caprse." According to this ancient writer there was, in 653, a monastery at Gateshead, the abbot of which was a priest of renown named Utta.

On the 14th of May, 1080, Gateshead was the scene of a tragic event of some historical importance. Walcher, the Norman bishop of Durham, was endeavouring to pacify an assembly of the subjects of the Palatinate, incensed at the tyranny of two of the bishop's officers who had just murdered Liulph, a Saxon lord, founder of the noble family of Lumley, when the cry was raised of " Short red, good red, slay ye the bishop," and the unhappy prelate fell pierced with many wounds. In 1164 Bishop Hugh Pudsey granted a charter to the burgesses of Gateshead, the chief privileges of which were liberty of the forest,, freedom from toll within the Palatinate, and,' in general words, all such advantages as were enjoyed by the burgesses of Newcastle. About the end of the 12th century a chapel and hospital, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, existed at Gateshead; it was afterwards (1244-49) joined to the hospital of St Edmund, bishop and confessor. There was, at the beginning of the 14th century, another hospital dedicated to St Edmund, king and martyr, probably founded in the 13th century. Gateshead had, in 1336, a market twice a week and a fair at the Feast of St Peter ad Vincula. Like North and South Shields, Gateshead suffered from the mercantile jealousy and exclusiveness of the burgesses of Newcastle.

In the year 1552 an Act of Parliament was passed which separated Gateshead from the county of Durham and united it to Newcastle-an Act repealed, however, by Queen Mary in 1554. A second attempt was made, in 1575, by the burgesses of Newcastle to gain possession of the neighbouring borough, but without success. The population of Gateshead, in 1576, was about 3000. The town at an early period was governed by a bailiff appointed by the Bishop of Durham, to whom the manor belonged, but from 1695 till the passing of the Municipal Eeform Bill in 1835, the corporate authority was exercised by two stewards elected annually by the borough-holders and freemen. The most memorable events which have occurred at Gateshead in recent times were the cholera visitations of 1831 and 1853, and the great explosion of Oct. 6,1854, resulting from a fire in a large warehouse containing chemicals, by which not only was the conflagration extended in Gates-head, but burning materials were thrown across the river and a number of the houses along the quayside set on fire. No less than 53 lives were lost, and the property destroyed has been estimated at nearly a million sterling.

Of old Gateshead there are but few memorials. These consist of (1) the parish church of St Mary, which, in spite of the damage done to it by the fire of 1854 and the restoration of 1875, retains some ancient work-Norman in the north wall of the chancel, Transitional in the south porch, Decorated in the arcades of the nave, and Perpendicular in the north transept and roof; (2) the chapel of the Hospital of St Edmund the Confessor, a beautiful example of the Early English style, built by Bishop Nicholas de Farnham (between 1244 and 1249), now a part of Holy Trinity Church; (3) a half-timbered house of the 16th century on the Bankwell Stairs, a few houses of the 17th century in High Street, and the Bottle Bank.

Modern Gateshead has little to recommend it from the picturesque point of view. There are some handsome streets and terraces, several fine villas in the upper part of the town and an the suburb of Bensham; but in the lower part, near the river, the streets are narrow and squalid, and the buildings in manycases disrooted and dilapidated. The two principal thoroughfares are High Street and West Street, the former connected l>y the Bottle Bank (Anglo-Saxon Boti, a house or habitation)with the Swing Bridge, the latter by Wellington Street with the High Level Bridge. The town-hall in West Street, an edifice of stone in the Italian style, containing a large assembly room, council chamber, police court, &c., was erected in 1870 at a cost of £13,000. Near to it, in Swinburn Street, is the public library, built in 1884 in the Romanesque style, containing between 9000 and 10,000 books. The lending .department was opened on the 9th of November, 1885. A school of science and art in connection with the Government department at South Kensington is conducted in the building. Adjoining the Library on the west is the post office. The Mechanics' Institution, first established in 1837, now occupies a building in West Street erected in 1848. There are 10 churches in the town and its suburbs, 9 belonging to' the Established Church-viz., St Mary's in Church Street, Holy Trinity in High Street, St James' in Park Road (1865), Christ Church in Bewick Koad (1871), Church of the Venerable Bede in Sunderland Road (1885), St Edmund's in St Edmund's Place (1865), St Cuthbert's in Bensham Road <1844), St Colnmba's District Church in Burt Terrace <1892), St Paul's in Askew Road West (1885), and one belonging to the Roman Catholic Church-St Joseph's, at the (top of West Street (1858). There are also 20 to 30 chapels, meeting-houses, &c., in, the town belonging to the various other religious bodies. The principal benevolent institutions are-the Dispensary in Nelson Street, established in 1822; the Children's Hospital in Durham Road, erected in 1887; King James' Hospital (for poor Brethren) in St Edmund's iPlace, rebuilt in 1811; and Powell's Almshouse, 77 High Street, built in 1731.

Gateshead is well supplied with educational institutions. There are sixteen schools in the borough, providing accommodation for 10,900 scholars, under the control of the Gateshead School Board. There are also the High School for Girls on the Windmill Hills, the High School for Boys, Durham Road, the Higher Grade Board School, Whitehall Road, the Rochester Street Day School, two National Schools-St Cnthbert's, Derwentwater Road, and St Mary's, Edison Street, West; two Roman Catholic Schools-St Joseph's, Bensham Road, and St Wilfred's, Park Road; a Congregational School, High West Street, a Wesleyan School, High West Street, the Certified Day Industrial School, Freeman's Terrace, Windmill Hills, and the Abbot Memorial Schools in Durham Road, founded in 1868 by Mrs Abbot for 100 boys and 50 girls of the destitute and unfortunate class. The boys are taught various trades, andthe girls sewing, knitting, and domestic work.

The public baths and laundries in Oakwellgate were opened in 1885, and some large swimming baths erected near Mulgrave Terrace by the corporation in 1890. A red-brick building, between Half-Moon Lane and Hudson Street, contains the North-Eastern Railway Literary Institution and Provident Society, and the dining-rooms of the workmen employed in the N.E.R. locomotive department. The 5th Durham Rifle Volunteers, the 1st Newcastle Artillery Volunteers, and the 1st Durham Engineer Volunteers have drill-lialls in the town in' Burt Terrace, Park Road, and Sun-derland Road respectively. Messrs. Lambton & Co., the National Provincial Bank of England, and the North-Eastern Banking Co., have branch establishments at Gateshead. The town is lighted with gas from works situated at Red-lieugh, belonging to the Newcastle-on-Tyne and Gateshead 'Gas Co., and is supplied with water by the Newcastle and Gateshead Water Co. The town possesses in Saltwell Park, which lies on the south side of it, a large and beautiful pleasure resort, about 35 acres in extent. It was opened in 1874, and contains a quickwood maze. A recreation ground of 3 acres, near the Sunderland road, was also opened in 1889.

There are two railway stations in the town, one situated in. Wellington Street, the other in Half-Moon Lane. The Gates½ 44* head and District Tramways Co. (incorporated 1880) have lines laid from the east end of the High Level Bridge to Salt-well and Low Fell and to the Teams, and from Sunderland Road end to Felling. Gateshead is connected with Newcastle-upon-Tyne by three bridges: (1) the High Level Bridge, built 1846-49, from the designs of Robert Stephenson and Thomas E. Harrison, for railway and foot passenger traffic; (2) the Swing Bridge, built 1868-76, on the site of the Roman, mediaeval, and eighteenth century bridges; and (3) the Red-heugh Bridge, a high-level viaduct for passengers and the carrying across of gas-pipes, built 1868-71, from the designs of Sir Thomas Bonch.

Since 1832, when the borough was enfranchised, Gateshead has returned one representative to Parliament. The population of the municipal borough-co-extensive with the parliamentary borough-which in 1831 was 15,177, and in 1881 65,803, in 1891 was 85,692. It is divided into 10 municipal wards, and is governed by 24 magistrates, 10 aldermen, and 30 councillors. Under the Local Government Act (1888) it was made a county borough. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners are lords of the manor of Gateshead.

The ecclesiastical parishes of Gateshead are St Mary (population, 13,268), St Aidan (population, 7097), Christ Church (population, 11,231), Sfc Cuthbert, .Bensham (population, 9642), St Edmund (population, 7609), Holy Trinity (population, 7301), Sfc James the Less (population, 10,545), St Paul, Low Team (population, 6934), and the Venerable Bede (population, 4650). All the parishes are in the diocese of Durham, the patron of the whole being the Bishop of Durham-with the exception of St Helen, which is under trustees. St Mary and St James are rectories, the others being vicarages.

Gateshead is an important manufacturing town, and its principal iron and engineering works have a world-wide reputation. There are also in the town extensive chemical, glass, and cement works, wire-rope manufactories, &c. The stores department and the locomotive engine shops of the 1 N.E.R. are located at Gateshead. Thomas Bewick, the celebrated engraver, lived for many years at 19 West Street, and there he died on the 8th of November, 1828. The early scenes of Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre'' are laid at "Gates-head Hall," presumably Gateshead Park House, a man&ion built by the Coatsworths about 1723.

Welford's History of Newcastle and Gateshead, 3 vols.; Vestiges of Old Newcastle and Gateshead, by Knowles and Boyle; Boyle's Guide to Durham; and the county histories of Durham, &c.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyCounty Durham 
Ecclesiastical parishGateshead St. Mary 
Poor Law unionGateshead 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Gateshead from the following:

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for County Durham is available to browse.


Online maps of Gateshead are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following newspapers covering county Durham online:

RegionNorth East
Postal districtNE8
Post TownGateshead