Flake white …

A couple of years ago with a one-time girlfriend I visited Ouseburn Farm in Newcastle upon Tyne, (near Heaton) the latter an area I regularly visit, ‘I’m known’ so to speak, people ask how I am, enquire to my health – this is appreciated. At the farm (a newly contrived enterprise, however I applaud all the same) theres some surviving stone/ brickwork from an earlier age, a lead works, a once common activity in many towns and cities. The burn itself having been previously underground (filled in) for a full half mile, I also know its earlier life as it flows through Brunton Park where I once gardened and just before its submergance was the place a George Stephenson observed Newcomens sub-atmospheric engines draining water from Heaton Pit and I reckon George wondering “There has to be a better way than this ” … history indeed!

GS had the idea to turn from creating a vacuum … something any engineer abhors to utilising actual steam PRESSURE a force that if a sufficient boiler supply is in hand can overcome leakages and inefficiencies ie the basis of much of the nineteenth century and quite easily become a prime mover many times that achievable by vacuum. Clever man George and likewise Mr Trevithick.

Anyway, the flake white workers referred to their place of work as ‘the white cemetery’ as these poor compromised individuals processed rolled lead sheet into flake white, this being a near universal basis for the paint industry a century or more ago.

A few weeks ago I googled and found an image of this former lead works from say 140 years ago, it struck me very hard and the image has remained for many weeks in my mind, of people driven by poverty, the need to provide, the lack of any (whatsoever) Welfare State. They knew it would kill them, but if they could get a few years out of it and support their family, then “oh well’.

I am sickened by this exploitation, by this reinforcement of the raw nature of ‘capitalism’. I refuse upper case for such exploitation.

Perhaps this is why this explains forty five years ago having read the excellent and harrowing essays from Paul Foot (nephew of Michael the PM) I readily joined the Socialist Workers Party … and perhaps I need to re-enrol.

You see, on the Alston Moors and Nenthead (pron. Nent – Head) there was significant lead ore and I assume this raw material came already smelted and rolled into sheet product ready for conversion into flake white in the Ouseburn Works. I even now here in this house have some of my Aunties art materials and lo-and-behold, theres a couple of tubes of flake white from seventy years ago.

Poor things, this image has been with me all this winter, heres other links ….



I would have thought this should be Heaton news not Heddon news surely at the the other end of town, anyway … http://heddonhistory.weebly.com/blog/life-in-the-ouseburn-at-the-end-of-the-1800s

Lets get some idea of the area i write of …

Note the high rise flats, therefore a recent photo. I suspect to the left is the waste land associated with earlier dirtier industries. I’ve walked there.

These are interesting pics (note the motor car) but i want to capture earlier times, the lead works.


Theres more but i cannot find the pic of inside the lead works, it seemed so sad.



And y’know, activists get so enflamed re black exploitation etc but wasn’t the white man so likewise exploited? It was no other than slavery. But at least the black man mostly luckily endured a more pleasant clime, imagine poor and bloody freezing …

postscript …. I am quite drawn to those houses, their completeness and snug embodiment within that landscape, certainly a landscape not lacking in interest. But what of each morning an acrid bitter taste in the mouth, and maybe a continual realisation ‘theres nothing lives in this burn/ stream/ river’. We all I suspect suffer in one way or another, yet are programmed to not question. There will have been many happy christmases, holidays and birthdays celebrated and met along that burn. God rest in peace.


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