Land to the west of Woodland bears evidence of a medieval farmstead and
field boundaries. This would seem to be the earliest evidence of population
in an area then predominately consisting of rough grassland and deciduous
woodland. If we take a leap through time to the Enclosure Act of 1761 the
area that was to become Woodland consisted of a scattering of isolated houses
and coal mines. It was the presence of coal that laid the foundations for
a population explosion.
Coal mining and the birth of Woodland
The 19th Century saw an incredible period of growth due to widespread mining
of coal which was used to fuel developing heavy industry on Teesside as well
as being transported to Lancashire. The population rocketed from a small
scattering of families to its peak of about 700 in the middle of the 19th
Century. Extra housing was built to house migrant workers, many from Ireland.
A school was built, paid for by the colliery, a miner's welfare hall was
erected, funded by the men themselves, and a tin mission church was built
with the bell cast by local men in the neighbouring pit. Woodland Colliery
ran four locomotives and at the turn of the century fuelled 196 coke ovens.
This photo, dating from the early 1900s,
shows the old tub track leading to Woodland Colliery. Tubs were small rail
running vehicles that were used to transport coal short distances. In this
case coal was transported from a colliery slightly south of the village,
up the hill and through a tunnel underneath the village, to Woodland Colliery
where Woodland Branch Railway Line was located. The tunnel entrance can
be clearly seen to the left of the picture. Its remains are still visible
today in the field opposite The Royal public house.
The mines brought jobs and wealth but the price to pay was danger and frequent
loss of life. Many tragedies occurred caused by rockfalls, bad air or explosions.
The miners worked day after day, many feet under the ground in a space often
only big enough to crawl in, a lifestyle incomprehensible to most of us
today. In 1857 Woodland and the neighbouring villages of Copley, Butterknowle
and Cockfield, which collectively make up an area known as The Upper (River)
Gaunless Valley, laid claim to 549 collieries, drifts and shafts, many of
which were small, privately owned concerns employing small numbers of men.
By the beginning of the 20th Century the growth of the coal industry was
slowing rapidly as demand for coal fluctuated. By 1921 Woodland Colliery
was in the process of being closed, its railway dismantled, its chimneys
and coke ovens levelled. The last colliery closed in 1953. The boom times
were over and the population began to decline.
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