The Butterfly Bridge – Crossing the Generations

Introduction

The research project called ‘The Butterfly Bridge – Crossing the Generations’ focused on the area surrounding the Butterfly Bridge, old Winlaton Mill, Crowley’s Iron Works and the Derwenthaugh Coke Works. Supported by The National Lottery, with additional support from Gateshead Council, and with the help of local people, a fantastic resource has been created that tells the story of the area and the work that went on there. Now a picturesque beauty spot, the area surrounding the historic Butterfly Bridge in the lower Derwent Valley was once the home of a huge iron forging industry that predated the industrial revolution. Later in the 20th century the area was the site of an important coke works which was in continuous production for 56 years.

Victorian times – Butterfly Bridge

The Butterfly Bridge’s iconic local reputation is based partly upon on its name, indicating the highly regarded environmental status of the lower Derwent Valley since Victorian times. The bridge is named because of the rich wildlife of the Derwent Valley; a haunt of Victorian naturalists and in particular, butterfly collectors. The great flood of 2008 destroyed the bridge and the central stone pier built in 1842 by local ‘strongman’ and stonemason John English better known a ‘Lang Jack’. The present bridge was constructed in 2011.

Crowley’s Iron works and Old Winlaton Mill (the village that moved)

By the late 17th century, Crowley, from a Quaker family of forgers and blacksmiths, had established a number of forges in other parts of the country, including one at Sunderland. In 1690, he relocated to Winlaton, establishing workshops and his northern headquarters there. This was followed by a further move when in 1691 he established what was to become his most famous works at Winlaton Mill. At the time, a hamlet of six or seven dwellings with a disused corn/fulling mill occupied the site which became dominated by the substantial buildings housing the machinery and the dams and sluices delivering water power. The remains of some of the structures can be seen a little way up river, particularly the high dam. The picturesque 18th century village continued in occupation until 1937, it had been condemned in 1933, but a few of them were still occupied into the 1950. The majority of the inhabitants, many of them by then employed in the Derwenthaugh Coke Works, were relocated to the new village of Winlaton Mill, giving rise to the lore ‘the village that moved’.

Derwenthaugh Coke Works

Through much of the 20th century, the Derwenthaugh Coke Works dominated the lower Derwent Valley’s landscape, producing coke, a fuel derived from coal, mainly used in blast furnaces making steel. The site, developed by the Consett Iron Company, about three quarters of a mile downstream of the Butterfly Bridge. The planning for the construction of the works started in 1927, and a ‘state of the art’ plant was ordered from a German manufacturer who supplied this and many of the technicians to build and commission it by 1929. Coke produced from these works were internationally marketed as ‘Consett Coke Nuts’. The plant was closed in 1985.