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Home > The development of Crook > Local history

Some background history

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  • Crook lies about ten miles to the south west of Durham City in the county of Durham. Until the mid-nineteenth century it was just a tiny hamlet that was part of Brancepeth parish. The surrounding area was mainly rural and it is likely that most people living in Crook (less than 200 in 1801) were employed in agriculture.
  • This all changed in 1844 when the first pit was opened by Messrs Pease & Partners. The coal around Crook is very close to the surface, which meant that the mines were not very deep in comparison to other mines in the region, particularly those close to the North-East coast, and was, therefore, easier to mine. More coal mines were opened in the area in the 1850s and 1860s. At one time there were a total of 26 mines in and around the area of Crook.
  • The impact of the development of the coal mining industry on Crook is obvious from the growth in population, as can be seen from the following statistics taken from the Census.
1801 - 193 1861 - 5,800
1811 - 176 1871 - 8,260
1821 - 228 1881 - 11,098
1831 - 200 1891 - 11,430
1841 - 538 1901 - 11,471
1851 - 3,946  
  • Today there are probably about 15,000 people living in Crook.
  • Most of these people would have been employed by the mines. However, a number of supporting industries also grew up in Crook and the surrounding area. The coal mined in the Crook area was particularly suitable for turning into coke and most collieries had a number of coke ovens. In order to build the coke ovens, a factory that made fire-bricks was opened in Crook and this employed a large number of men. Making coke produces a number of by-products, including gas, coal tar, benzol oil and sulphate of ammonia and people were employed to deal with these. And, of course, as the town grew so did the number of people providing necessary services such as shopkeepers, innkeepers, teachers, etc.
  • Although some of the coal and coke mined in the Crook area was used locally, the majority was sent outside of the region through ports on the North East coast, especially Hartlepool. It was transported to these ports by rail. The first railway that served Crook was an extension of the Clarence railway but this followed a difficult and awkward route and was soon replaced by a new railway that followed a local river valley. The ease of transporting coal and coke by railway undoubtedly assisted in the development of Crook.
  • By the end of the nineteenth century Crook had been transformed. It was no longer a tiny hamlet but a thriving town. Shops and public houses had increased dramatically in numbers; there were churches for Anglicans, Catholics, Wesleyans, Methodists, Moravians, and Baptists; the area had 3 schools catering for over 1700 children; and there was both a Miners' Institute and a Mechanics' Institute which provided recreational facilities, reading rooms and libraries.
  • Crook has suffered mixed fortunes in the 20th century. It continued to prosper in the early part of the century but was badly affected by the worldwide depression of the 1930s. By 1936 34% of the adult population was classed as unemployed and nearly three-quarters of these had been out of work for over five years. There was a revival in the 1940s and early 1950s, prompted by the increased demand for coal during the Second World War and in the post-war reconstruction, but this soon fizzled out and the area went into serious decline. The 1960s saw the closure of the remaining pits and the railway and there is now little evidence of Crook's rich industrial past. Today Crook continues as a small market town but, with little industry in the area, most of its residents work elsewhere in the North East.


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