History

Fourstones

The fourth Fourstones’ stone appears just south of the freestone rock faces, and has an old quarry site of its own. Ganister is an extremely hard rock with very few natural fracture lines and with a distinctive orangey yellow colour. It was ground up and used to line kilns and furnaces.

St Aidan’s, green, wooden, Mission Church sits in the centre of the village. It is unusual in that it is not owned by the diocese, but by the parochial church council. It is an ‘off-the-peg’ Victorian church built for £350 in 1892 at the expense of the Rev. George Cruddas. It is said that it was built so that the bulk of his parishioners did not need to trek to Warden to attend services.

Butt Bank is where Warden Parish ends and Newbrough Parish begins. It was from here that W. P. Collier took his postcard view showing how Fourstones and Frankham cowered under the quarries in the 1920s.

Hardhaugh & The Paper Mill

Travelling west towards Fourstones from the bridge, a range of cottages on the left is Hardhaugh. The area was sufficiently populous in 1829 for a school to be built here and with an attendance of ninety in 1850 it had to be extended. There had been a previous school in the area because in 1822 Thomas Bewick was producing a woodcut for a pirated version of Markham’s ‘Introduction to Spelling and Grammar’ for Mr Robert Donkin of Warden School. The master added another string to his bow in 1826 by setting up ‘The Chain Bridge Quill and Pen Manufactory for Home Consumption and Exportation’. It was in the same year that the new bridge opened half a mile away. Donkin was having his books produced by Mr Rumney Crawford at his paper mill – that is where Bewick’s bill went. The Warden (now Fourstones) Paper Mill was founded in 1763 and was once forging banknotes to undermine Bonaparte’s revolutionary, French economy. The buildings on the north side of the road are Grade II listed.

Quarrying & Mining

The most extensive quarry was the Frankham limestone quarry a little to the north of Fourstones village. It would be difficult to put a starting date to limestone extraction as the stone has been widely burned to produce agricultural lime since the late eighteenth century and there are two extant, small lime kilns within a mile of the main site. When in full production the rock was transported by gravity fed trucks down a line to the nine kilns near the railway line. The line of the quarry rail can still be seen going up the hedgerow from Kiln Cottages (just past the Garage) and to the east of Frankham Farm. At its peak the limeworks were shipping as much as 150 tons of lime per day by rail. Fourstones had extensive goods yards in those days The station lives on in the name of Fourstones’ pub – the Railway Inn, formerly the Victoria and now casually referred to by some as ‘doon the bank’.

Coal from Fourstones Colliery was used to roast the limestone. The colliery covered the site currently occupied by St Aidan’s Park – a modern housing estate. In the 1920s there were plans to drive new shafts, and equipment and materials were on site when the 1926 General Strike occurred. During the closure the mine flooded and when the strike ended it wasn’t considered worthwhile to re-open it. The gear was taken away to be used at Montagu Main Colliery, another of Messrs. Bensons’ pits.

During the Strike the local miners kept their families warm by abseiling down the quarry face at the Prudhamstone freestone quarry to reach the thin coal seams interleaved in the sandstone strata. The freestone was an extremely important product and being of very high quality and after the opening of the railway to Newcastle and Carlisle was used in buildings as diverse as Newcastle Central Station, Princes Street, Edinburgh and for some reason, government buildings in Hawaii! In about 1968 the quarry was briefly reopened to provide matching stone for repairs to Waverly Station. Iron rails from a waggonway beside the old quarry can be seen peeping out of the herbage even ninety years after the site closed.

Warden

Warden takes its name from the Old English weard-dun – watch hill. The Iron Age fort on a hill top overlooks the meeting of the North and South Tynes and provides extensive all-round views. Fourstones lies just over a mile to the west. Its name is the subject of debate. There were, supposedly four boundary marker stones one of which was reputedly used as a post box by little Jacobite messengers clad in green or blue. Could it be from the Scots ‘faw’, yellow describing the colour of the rocks? Another possibility is that it enumerates the four kinds of stone found in the vicinity – coal, limestone, sandstone (freestone) and ganister. Fourstones sits astride the Roman Stanegate which parallels and pre-dates Hadrian’s Wall and was a very important east- west route. Other historic settlements in the parish are Walwick, Hardhaugh and Frankham.

After being abandoned by the Ancient Britons it is likely that Warden Hill was used as a look-out to give early warning of marauding Romans, Vikings, Scots and reivers but the focus of life shifted down the slopes to the river. There are tales of the site of St Michael’s Church being used as a retreat by early Christians but all we know for certain is that the base of the tower is Saxon (eleventh century). The style is Early English but the building was extensively re-modelled in 1765. Warden was an important river crossing, first by ferry – hence the Boatside Inn and West Boat settlement- and then by bridge. A fine suspension bridge was built in 1826 but in 1877 it collapsed under the weight of a steam threshing machine. The present bridge was opened in 1903.

A minor road connecting Warden with Walwick is Homers Lane which has gained notoriety from being the locus of Joe the Quilter’s cottage. Widower Joe Hedley made quilts of outstanding quality and lived a lonely, uneventful life. He was not rich, having at one stage claimed Parish Relief. But in January 1826 Joe was brutally stabbed to death. The assassin, or assassins, was never found.