Battle of the Blue Heaps

by Alastair Laws

The blue heaps as they are still known today was the residue left from the ironstone workings in the immediate area.

The disturbances were between the catholics and the protestants of the area.

The catholics were families who had moved to the Consett area from Ireland in the 1840’s to get away from starvation caused by the “Potato Famine” and to secure a better life for their families. They kept mainly to themselves except whilst at work.

The protestants on the other hand were also immigrants from other areas. The factions divided into two groups. There were open conflicts between the two factions during the 1840s culminating in November 1847 with the battle of the blue heaps.

The cause for the disturbances was drink and religious antagonism, surfice to say that once resolved, the community settled down to a more tolerant existence. None of those charged were goaled for the offence but each were bound over in the sum of £20 to keep the peace for one year.

One hundred and ninety five men were sent to trial at the Quarter Sessions. Twelve were found guilty and bound over. One of these can be recognized in the Census returns for 1851 as a 22 year old headstrong young man at the time of being brought to the Quarter Sessions in 1848to reappear in the society of 1851 as a skilled and responsible citizen having settled down to work and raising a family.

There were many prior incidents leading up to the battle of 1847 usually when one person of a particular denomination was attacked and at a later time members of his denomination joined together to seek retribution, some are recalled particularly the event at the Highgate public house in 1844 when in the lower rooms not a chair or table had not had its legs broken off and were used to some purpose on each others heads. The landlord in his shirt sleeves, his arms from hands to elbows were just as though he had dipped them in blood, a dozen fights could be seen to be going on at the same time. Another catholic-protestant clash occurred on 8th Feb 1846 when up to fifty on each side laid into each other with sticks, stones and other missiles, this lasted several hours until peace was restored by a large body of policemen.

So one can see what lead up to the 1847 Battle of the blue heaps. Religious clashes, petty jealousies probably thinking that the Irish would work for less thus the protestants loosing their jobs, all of these events culminating in 1847.

The actual battle took place when one side held possession of the mounds between Consett and Blackfyne, these were in the main, Irish newcomers into the neighbourhood, whose coming, rightly or wrongly was resented by those who were already engaged in the place as workers. The occupants of the blue heaps were amply supplied with ammunition in the shape of stones and crude weapons of offence. A small canon intended for saluting purposes had also been commandeered and mounted to decimate the ranks of the attacking parties, although fortunately it was never fired.

Military aid was hastily summoned in the form of a company of soldiers garrisoned at Shotley Bridge.

High praise was accorded to the Roman Catholic priest of Leadgate, Father Kearney whose advice and heroism had a most beneficial effect.

During the twelve months bound over period following the court case, none of those bound over broke their bond.

A lot of the men who took part were employed as miners working in local pits, others worked in the iron ore mines of Consett, others at the Ironworks, but probably most using a misguided loyalty fearing the Irish newcomers would take their jobs.

It would appear that by whatever means peace and commonsense was restored because from this time no further disturbances are known of. The various waring factions have learnt to co-exist and now live together in harmony, having settled their differences with nothing more than a few cuts and bruises.

In conclusion

One can only say that the probable cause of this incident can be put down to large numbers of Irish immigrants coming from poverty and starvation looking for work in the area and those already here protecting their jobs from people they believed would work for less money and throw them out of work so they were prepared to fight and try to get rid of the threat, one I suppose will never really know the real reason for the “Battle of the Blue Heaps.”

My thanks to Consett A Town in the Making by Tommy Moore

First published 1992 by County Durham Books in association with Southgate Publishers Ltd. Pages 109-119.

Digitised by Laura Pyatt