Local Historical Stories


Early in 1996 Alastair Robertson - one of our local historians was asked if he would write a couple of historical articles for the Alston Moor Newsletter. He thought he could manage three or four but in the event, over 20 years later, they were still going. Once, and only once, he received an unsolicited article from an outside source, this was the reminiscence of a school for wartime evacuees at Nent Hall that came from Mr. Michael Dickinson and it was gratefully included in the series.

They’re a real mixed bag, too random to put into a book, but they’re still worth keeping in a more permanent form, so the Historical Society website seemed the perfect place to have them.

Material for the articles came largely from local sources, from the Alston Moor Historical Society Archives, St. Augustine’s Church Records, Alston Library, the Cumbria County Records Office in Carlisle and the County Records Office Northumberland.

There has been editing in some cases that will be noted at the beginning of each item, otherwise the articles have been left as they were written, complete with occasional references to such things as cement lorries, the millennium, and foot and mouth disease, which are themselves now things of the past (?).
Read on …

Story No 33: J. Coulthard Walton - Colliery Manager

Jonathan Coulthard Walton Manager Of The Writhlington Collieries, Radstock, West Somerset

Stacks Image 309311
This article was originally published in Issue 51, Winter 2004, of “Five Arches”, the magazine of the Radstock, Midsomer Norton & District Museum Society.


After the collapse of the lead industry, the main export from Alston Moor was its workforce - people. A nephew of Jacob Walton, of memorial fame, is a successful example.

J. Coulthard Walton managed the Writhlington group of collieries at Radstock in West Somerset from 1883 to 1914, but he was not a native of the west country, he came from Nenthead on Alston Moor.

Jonathan Coulthard was born the ninth of ten children of Jonathan and Jane Walton and named after his father and after his grandmother’s maiden name. By religion, the family were Primitive Methodists, Coulthard’s father, Jonathan, was one of founders of the Sunday School in Nenthead and acted as its superintendent for 25 years.

Tragedy struck the family twice, the first time was nine years before Coulthard was born. In 1849, his parents suffered the loss of their three eldest children who died within days of each other in January and February that year. Then, when Coulthard was less than two years old, his mother, Jane, died on the 18th May 1860 shortly after the birth of the youngest child, Isabella.

Coulthard was born into a wealthy lead mining family. His grandfather, Jacob Walton, had taken a gamble on a mine lease in 1816, which had paid off handsomely and provided the family fortune for over half a century. His father, Jonathan, was the eleventh of fourteen children of eight brothers and six sisters. Six of the brothers went into lead mining, becoming agents or smelt mill owners, and one them, Coulthard’s uncle, another Jacob, was so influential and highly respected in the region that on his death in 1863 a memorial was erected to him in Alston. Jonathan himself was agent only for the family-owned Dowgang lead mine at Nenthead.

Although at the time there was prosperity in the lead mines, soon after Coulthard was born, all the lead veins of the northern Pennines were assessed and found to be finite, the best veins had been discovered and well worked and the industry was soon to be in decline. When Coulthard reached manhood it was in definite decline, the smaller lead companies had folded and the larger ones, including that of his own family, survived in a shrinking market with competition from cheaper imports.

The family had the nous to diversify into other minerals, coal in particular. Coulthard was aged 22 when, on the death of a cousin, Thomas, who was twenty-eight years older than him, his father Jonathan expressed concern for the future of a family-owned coal mine at Brough near Appleby in Westmorland. He wrote a letter to a nephew from their home in Nenthead, and after writing about some financial matters regarding the lead mine at Dowgang, Jonathan went on …

Donks Villa,
8th July 1880

Have you got any statement of accounts from the Brough Colliery for last year? If the colliery is worth any thing why not work it in a more extensive way as the coal is there and require to bring it out and open out some new market for it. Their are lots of villages in the neighbourhood which requires coal from some place with proper management. I think it is a nice colliery.
You say something about Thomas making a request that colliery should be for his son. When do you think he would be in a position manage it. If the Law requires certificated managers it would require 8 or 10 years to prepare Thomas son for the place, he being only 14 years.
The act won’t allow any one to manage a colliery if more than 25 tons of coals a day which is a very small quantity. If the other shareholders think the management should be left to strangers and no check upon them, I no from past we don’t work the
place in a business like way. Intimations has been given out by others of the shareholders to this effect.
Don’t come to conclusion that I want it for my son Coulthard to manage and wrong Thomas family. It is true my son has no situation yet, nor does it appear that any of my sons shall have a situation in any of our concerns. I only want what is reasonable and what others of the family has got. You may say I got Dowgang, that I know, but it never was worth any body spending their time over Salery £50 a year as a general thing.
Your affect
J. Walton

This episode unfortunately led to bad feeling in the family, but Coulthard was not affected. There were indeed no prospects for the younger generation in lead mines, Coulthard’s only surviving brother, Friend, had moved to Nottingham to become a greengrocer, and with no future in the lead industry but with his mining background, Coulthard had gone to Newcastle-upon-Tyne to train as a colliery manager.
For some unknown reason he did not obtain employment locally, in the most productive coalfield in the country, but instead he went to Somerset to gain a position, which he found at the Writhlington group of collieries, which comprised Upper and Lower Writhlington, Huish, Foxcote and Kilmersdon. This proved to be the start of a successful career, for in March 1883, soon after his move south, he became colliery manager at the age of 25, succeeding James Wilkins, who had been manager for almost twenty years. In fact, this appointment may have been the reason for Coulthard’s move.
By 1887 Coulthard was living at Huish House, Radstock. In March that year his father died at Nenthead and by the terms of the will, he was one of the executors with his stepmother and a friend of his father, so Coulthard journeyed north to prove the will in Carlisle. For years afterwards he kept the ownership of Donks Villa, the family home.

Very little information has survived from J. Coulthard Walton’s tenure as colliery manager at Writhlington, but there is a letter on file in the Radstock Museum near Bath about a certain Joseph Downs, an employee who sought to improve himself by acquiring further qualifications. Coulthard wrote a favourable reference on his behalf from Radstock on September 4th 1894.

To the Board of Examiners for the South Western District,

Joseph Downs having informed me of his intention of qualifying for a 2nd Class Certificate under the Coal Mine Act, I have pleasure in stating that he has been employed on these works for over twenty years. Prior to 1886 he passed through the different classes of work connected with coal felling, branching and shaftwork. In 1886 he was appointed under bailiff at our Huish Pit, which position he now holds, and during that time he has given me every satisfaction with his sobriety & good conduct. I have found him painstaking, industrious, persevering and careful in carrying out the duties entrusted to him.
I am Gentlemen
Your obedient Servant
J. C. Walton

In the 1890s, some of his cousins in the north were still involved in mineral extraction but by now they had diversified into coal, stone quarrying and brick making in addition to lead mining. Although he was several hundred miles distant, Coulthard was part of the family business. He was still in contact with his cousins and keeping an eye on the state of the various industries. On one occasion he wrote from home to his cousin, John Pears Walton of High House, Acomb near Hexham, who was twenty years his senior, about a solicitor’s account which was followed by observations about the state of the lead industry (Stonecroft near Hexham had been a hugely successful lead mine), and the collieries around Radstock.

Huish House, Radstock
4th Febry 1896
Dear Cousin
Yours of the 1st is duly to hand and I herewith forward cheque value £2.15.5. to meet Messrs. Lockhart’s account.
The collapse of lead mining & smelting in this country during the last few years is extraordinary. My father used to say Stonecroft would be a paying mine for many years to come.
Unfortunately many Collieries at the present moment are not very profitable, especially those yielding house coal – but the unusually mild season is of course partly responsible for this. We are only working 4 days a week in this district.
Trusting you & your family are well & wish kind regards.
I remain
Your affect Cousin
J. Coulthard Walton

Coulthard continued as manager of the mine complex for another fourteen years, then, as if that was not enough, in 1910 he took on post of company agent on the death of Mr. J. Batey. However he only enjoyed this position for a few years until his own death in 1914 at the age of 56, by which time he had been manager of the Writhlington pits for a total of thirty-one years.

Back to main stories

We are adding a story every few weeks, so bookmark this page to come back for more………..

Alston Moor Historical Society Archives are staffed by volunteers. But even though we give our time for free there are still ongoing costs. Filing cabinets, electricity, heating, hosting costs and more.

We would appreciate any contribution you could give us to help us with our work.
About Us
Alston Moor Historical Society was founded in 1973 and, due to the nature of Alston Moor, it is a member of both the Northumberland Association of Local History Societies and the Cumbria Federation of Local History Societies.
Alston Moor Historical Society
Alston Moor, Cumbria
Alston Moor Historical Society - Alston Stories