Quebec, County Durham

revival in the 1870s among pitmen

From the 1830s efforts were made to attract families from all over Britain to the North of England, and great numbers of people moved there, especially from Wales, even though many fell victim to cholera. The Durham and Northumberland coalfield offered some of the worst housing, with cottages often as bad as the worst in South Wales. It was the only coalfield in England or Wales where the coal owners provided the housing free.

We do not know why, but in about 1874 the Youngs once more uprooted themselves, and moved to the village of Quebec in County Durham .

Rapid growth and changes in the population, which was drawn from a wide area, along with hard working conditions and an initial lack of housing and cultural facilities, made this period in Quebec and the other villages of the Deerness Valley into a period of some social dislocation. The relative prosperity coupled with the lack of facilities formed the right conditions for the rise of drinking, gambling, fighting and violence.

A correspondent with the Durham Chronicle of 1872 said that Quebec was a blackguard’s drunken village. There was poor housing and no sanitation. In 1873 the publican at Quebec was fined for allowing drunkenness, the magistrate adding the comment that “Quebec was the most demoralising village in the neighbourhood.” From September 1874 the Lanchester Division Police had proceeded against 3512 offenders: there were 1587 cases of drunkenness, 440 common assault, 49 assaults on police officers and 101 poaching cases.

In June 1875 the Durham Chronicle reported a speech by Archdeacon Prest, in which he said there were 5000 prisoners in Durham jail the previous year, including 1954 women, and that their downfall could nearly always be traced to alcohol.

Drift mining began in Esh Winning and Waterhouses in the 1850s. Until the 1860s enough miners had been able to walk there to work from local hamlets. In 1857 the railway from Durham to Waterhouses was opened, which led to the expansion of the pits. Quebec and Hamsteels – quarter of a mile from Quebec but regarded as one village – were associated with one of the main pits developed in the valley bottom at that period. Known as Hamsteels Colliery, it was opened in 1867, and housing was provided by the colliery company, Johnson & Reay.

From the 1860s the population of the area grew, as the coal and coke trade increased between 185l and 1871 County Durham gained 130,000 persons.

In the 1860s there were only a handful of Methodists in the villages, Meeting in private houses and colliery lofts, but between 1870 and 1890, fourteen chapels were built, including in 1875 the Wesleyan chapel in Quebec.

Here, on 15th February, 1876, my grandfather Philip Young was born to Samuel and Martha; and on 29th September, 1877, Letitia Young was buried at Esh parish church, aged 59. By 1881, Samuel and Martha and their seven children were living at Quality Row, Quebec. Samuel is described in the census as a coal miner. His daughter Elizabeth was born in Blaenavon in 1873 and died aged 15 months on 9.9.1874 in Quebec – which gives us an approximate date for their move.

It seems that there was something of a family migration to Blaenavon and then to this area: at Quality Row was a James Young, born in Somerset; at Dyke Row was Philip Young, born in Hadspen, and his wife Rachel, born in Blaenavon: this Philip was another son of John and Elizabeth Young, and was christened in Pitcombe in October 1834. There was also a George James Young, whose children were christened at Esh in 1876 and 1877.

My grandfather Philip’s eldest son was also called Philip (born 1901). In May 1979 his widow Fan told me that Samuel and his family had become Methodists whilst in County Durham, and had attended the Wesleyan Chapel in Quebec.

A search among the Anglican christenings for Quebec 1873-1896 revealed that none of Samuel’s children was christened there.

Although, as mentioned above, Samuel and Martha were already Wesleyan Methodists by 1864, it would seem from Aunt Fan’s words, and from a knowledge of the fervent character of Methodism in the Deerness Valley in the 1870s, that the Youngs’ continued adherence to Methodism during their time in Quebec played a significant part in their ongoing spiritual experience.

Perhaps, after the conception out of wedlock of their first child, their Methodism in the 1860s was a matter of nominal respectability, and maybe in Quebec they came to real faith.

Something of the flavour of Methodism in the Deerness Valley at that time may be found in a diary which records 31 sermons preached in 1878, including nine at a mission held at Waterhouses. The preaching during the mission included a sermon stressing the need to seek a change of heart leading to new life, not an outward change only. Another drew attention to the need for divine mercy. Other themes are the fact that whoever believes in Christ’s death shall have eternal life through faith; that death, man’s last enemy, has been conquered; that salvation sets us free from Hell; that unbelief leads to everlasting death.

Other records show that this kind of evangelism continued into the opening years of the 20th century.

In the months after the 1878 mission, another sermon reminds the hearers that Christ is our hope of Glory, and warns that those whose names are not in the book of life shall be cast into the lake of fire. Others point out that Christians are a small flock, who know the voice of their Shepherd; that this world is only a stage in our experience; that our eternal hope is secure and permanent.

There are reports of the services which tell of converts leaping over the pews to come to the front.

Prayer meetings followed the Sunday evening services. From accounts given it seems that the prayer meetings of the 1870s and 1880s matched the services for fervour in the atmosphere of revival and conversion, singing, preaching and calls to be saved.

One form of evangelism was that Methodists would ask non-members if weeknight meetings could be held in their homes.

Class meetings were held, at which members gave an account of their conversion and growth in the Christian life, and recounted other experiences. Members would live from day to day in the consciousness of the need to give account of their daily lives, the use of their talents, etc..

Methodism was an evangelistic faith, offering the simple alternatives of eternal life or eternal death.

Such religion was expected to affect the outward lives of its adherents, and the pivotal issues were drink, gambling, debt, thrift and the use of Sunday.

The above information about Methodism and the Deerness Valley is taken from “Pitmen, Preachers and Politics” by Prof. R. S. Moore (1974).

Further insights into life in that place and time may been gained from:

“True Stories of Durham Pit Life” by G. Parkinson, dealing with Sherborne, mainly 1850-1860

  • “Peter Mackenzie – his Life and Labours”, by J. Dawson


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