Hetton Lyons Country Park
Landscape In Houghton-le-Spring, Tyne And Wear
A country park with an important history, a massive lake, wildlife and fauna, fine views, loads of recreational and sport things. Bonus it has a cafe!
If you are looking for a pleasant stroll around Houghton-le-Spring then Hetton Lyons Country Park is a great find. It's not just a few trees and a lake to stretch your legs, there is interesting artwork and industrial titbits.
Hetton Lyons was named after the owner of the land Mr John Lyon. He was actually the Great-Great-Great Grandfather of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, mother of the late Queen Elizabeth II.
The lake takes center stage and invites you to have a stroll around it.
I contacted Friends of Hetton Lyons Country Park (FHLCP) and am grateful to their Secretary Shirley Carr for the insights and information.
The park used to be a rich mining area, which I'll explain more about later along with the reclaimation.
First, let's explore some of the installations.
You may notice there is some Corten steel art that on my first visit I dismissed as obscure. On the next visit, I found out more. It is called Greenheart (Tree) by William Pym (born in 1965 and of Dahlia fame at Horden Wellie). This is part of 5 similar installations in areas of regeneration, especially coal mines. They are Rainton; Greenheart (Egg), and at Herrington; Greenheart (Bridge). Others are at Watergate Forest Park and Monkton.
What got my attention was when it is referenced as being a rib cage. I get it now! It has a Beech tree growing out of it in the middle in contrast to the weathered Corten steel which represents railways and paths.
This installation dates around 2001/2002 and involved local schools and groups.
There is a mural wall worth seeking out on the Stephenson Trail Bridleway called Into the Light.
Lewis Hobson AKA Durham Spray Paints is the inspired artist.
Lewis was in collaboration with FHLCP and Shirley explains:
'I was successful with a funding bid to turn an old heavily graffitied wall some dating back to the 1990's into a much more inviting area via our “Into the Light“ project. We engaged Lewis Hobson (AKA Durham Spray Paints) to paint one permanent section of the wall dedicated to the history of the area and its return to nature and forward to renewable power.
We enlisted the free services of experienced budding graffiti artists to create a Legal Graffiti wall (Conditions on content were made) in return for a place for them to display their skills and free spray paint. At least two graffiti Fests were held with some amazing results.
During our BiCentennial Celebration event, we asked the local primary school children what type of historical scenes they would like to see on the mural. To appeal to all sections of the community we decided to mix heritage and nature which included the very lifelike Fox, Hare, and a Red Kite as one had been seen in and around the park. Once the work was completed Lewis attended our Science and History day, it was then he asked the children what they would like him to draw. Always good to involve children from an early age so that they appreciate what the park has to offer and protect it in the future.'
There are a couple of nods to the mining past and railway line.
There is also a rural scene with wind turbines, after all, it was partly sponsored by RWE Windpower High Haswell Community Benefits Fund. County Durham Community Foundation also helped.
As the sign says the gallery has an area for freelance artists to use.
Did you know there are many types of graffiti such as Throw ups, Scribble, Blockbusters, and Wildstyle?
Further round there were some other installations that I thought could be artworks, so I went to investigate. I am short-sighted and did not have my glasses, so when I got closer, I had to laugh to myself as it was outdoor gym equipment. Sport meets art!
I do need to explain some history and then you will see why the park is historic, how much work went into the reclaimation and what it can offer today.
Coal mining here was the first to involve deep mine shafts underneath the Magnesium Limestone. It was a gamble for Hetton Colliery Company as they hadn't got rock-solid proof!
Pits were sunk at 650 and 900 feet and they found a rich coal seam of over 6 feet in height. This was unusual for County Durham to have such a rich vein.
Business boomed. In 1801 the population was 254 in 1831 it had increased to 5,887.
There is nothing here now to make you think it was a rich mining industry. Shirley commented:
'In 1987 when I moved to Hetton I used to ride my horses over the spoil heaps as they joined two bridleways. The planting of the trees, layout of the cycle-cross route and horse cross country jumping course transformed a lunar landscape with old metal left from the mining days into and area of nature beauty from the public and wildlife. The football pitches were once a spoil heap and a refuse tip, not that you would know it now.'
What was it like working at the colliery? At the bottom of the shaft, temperatures could be 19 degrees Celius and in the workings 21 degrees Celius. Although that sounds rather comfortable, it was not when you were doing physical hard graft.
The shaft needed water pumped out and a pump engine house was built. Ventilation was provided by furnaces and boiler fires. There were numerous buildings such as brickworks, blacksmiths, wagon sheds, stables and engine repair sheds. There are few signs of this now.
Areas of the pits were given female names such as Isabella shaft, Blossom pit, and Lady Hetton seam. Sounds so charming which they were not.
In 1950 the Hetton Lyons Colliery closed after 128 years of mining here.
If you are interested in how Hetton le Hole got its name please see Da said “Men Don't Cry”
Hetton Lyons is also the place where George Stephenson designed the first purpose-built steam railway line, serving 3 collieries in the area: Hetton Lyons (opened in 1822), Eppleton and Elemore.
On 9th June 2022, The Friends of Hetton Lyons Country Park (FHLCP) were proud to unveil the installation Loco #1 beside the Wildlife Meadow. The day was significant as it was the 241st birthday of George Stephenson.
The heritage locomotion and tender stands at 3 meters high and 5 meters long, this was made from weathered Corten steel and is the fine work of father and son Ray and Sam Lonsdale.
George Stephenson planned the colliery and was responsible for the 8-mile stretch of railway line. Seven shareholders decided that 900 feet of limestone, water, quicksand, and a large hill (Warden Law) blocking the way to Sunderland were not insurmountable obstacles.
There were two locomotives, six stationary engines, and 5 brake arrangements. There were specially built haulage engines especially for Warden Law with ropes and brakes everywhere.
There are information boards for you to study and you can find more information about the trains on the post for the Locomotion Museum.
Notice the 'secret' information!
Of course, other coal merchants jumped on the 'coal' wagon including Lords Londonderry, Lambton, Howden and Colonel Thomas Braddyll of Haswell. There is more information about this at the Haswell Colliery Engine House.
Another eye-catching installation is the top wheel which is a part of the headstock from Eppleton Colliery. The mine was started in 1825 but due to flooding, it opened eventually in 1833. It too had female names such as Jane and Caroline which were engine houses. This wheel now acts as a memorial.
Eppleton Colliery closed in 1986.
Would you like to know how this park developed into the beauty it is today?
It was in 1986 that four phases of reclamation started.
The first phase involved the clearance of an area known as Ritchie's land which was the old site and the Hetton Beck which was full of rubbish due to other industrial uses in this area.
Phase two and three involved the clearance of derelict structures from the former Lyons Colliery, the gas works, and part of the Murton to Pittington railway line.
Regarding the water Shirley Carr wrote:
'There was only a small pond known as the “Bull Wells”, cattle drank from it. The water apparently was warmed by the nearby shale heap. It is still there although the reeds have taken most of it over.'
Rough grassland was improved and 85,000m³ of clay was removed to form the glorious Lyons Lake. This is the equivalent of 5,630 Luton transit vans (other vans are available). 225,000m³ of shale was used for the lake. This is 204 public swimming pools. 8000 metres of drainage that's 20 times around an athletics running track. The lake is a great asset for fish, wildfowl and swans.
Fishing is permitted at certain times and is stocked with Carp, Bream, Gudgeon, Perch, Roach, Rudd, and Tench (I've just increased my knowledge of fish names!)
There is a water sports lake for those homo sapiens wishing to splash about a bit.
There was more demolition, clearance, and earthworks for phase Four which caters for cyclists as it is part of the Walney to Wear and Whitby (W2W). It's only 248.5 miles long and covers some of the North East finest scenery.
Those who wish to be mucky can use the mountain bike section.
Horse riding is allowed on the bridleways and for walkers there are glimpses of the Hetton Burn.
So there should be something for everyone here. Oh, there is another royal connection to the area too. The Duchess of Cambridge/Princess of Wales' maternal great great grandfather was a miner living in the old colliery terraces - Nicholson Street Hetton Downs.
How To Find Hetton Lyons Country Park
Contributed by Rosalind Parker
Thanks for reading through and getting to the end of this post. I enjoy exploring the Fabulous North (Especially as a Southerner residing up North). I like 'snippets' of information, and more so, if they are obscure, amusing or meaningful. The photographs are taken on a mobile phone, without any enhancements.More Places from Rosalind
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