Labins in England

Those following my research on the Labin side of the family know that my great grandfather was born in Ryhope Colliery, and that his parents and family have roots in several small communities in Durham County, England. Although these names are unknown to most of the family, a brief history of these areas and some photos may make our history come alive as we picture our ancestors walking these streets.

Ryhope, in Sunderland, County of Tyne & Wear, NE England (UK), from the Old English reof hoppas, meaning ‘rough valley,’ is first mentioned in 930 AD when king Athelstan granted the land of Bishopwearmouth (including the township of Ryhope) to the Bishop of Chester-le-Street. The land had been reclaimed from the Vikings who had captured it in 918 AD. Ryhope has a strong history of farming; in 1183 there were 22 recorded Villeins who provided the landowner with cattle and crops, and in 1380 the population had swelled to approximately 150.

By 1860 common grazing land had been split into plots, radiating out in strips from the village green. Ryhope’s proximity to the sea has allowed it to serve as a seaside destination for centuries. Located on the Durham coalfield, it was inevitable that Ryhope would follow the path of many other villages and abandon agriculture in favor of coal. In 1859 a colliery was opened, causing huge changes in the geography of the village. The settlement of Ryhope extended west toward the area of Tunstall, creating two distinct areas of Ryhope–the ‘Village’ and the ‘Colliery.’ Railway lines linked Ryhope to Sunderland, Seaham and other mining villages. Thomas Lewis Labin was born in Ryhope Colliery, and his father John Labin worked in that colliery and others in the county. His mother Ann Tennant Labin was born in Bishopwearmouth and she and John Labin were married at Parish St Hilda in South Shields.

Durham is both county and city, and the name comes from the Old English “dun,” meaning hill fort, and the Old Norse “holme,” which translates to island. Some attribute the name to the legend of the Dun Cow and the milkmaid who in legend guided the monks of Lindisfarne carrying the body of Saint Cuthbert to the site of the present city in 995 AD. Archeological evidence suggests a history of settlement in the area since roughly 2000 BC. After arriving at their destination, they erected the vestiges of Durham Cathedral, which was a “modest building.”

During the medieval period the city gained spiritual prominence as the final resting place of Saint Cuthbert and Saint Bede the Venerable. The shrine of Saint Cuthbert, situated behind the High Altar of Durham Cathedral, was the most important religious site in England until the martyrdom of St Thomas a Becket at Canterbury in 1170.

Durham’s geographical position has always given it an important place in the defence of England against the Scots and Durham Castle is the only Norman castle keep never to have suffered a breach. The Battle of Neville’s Cross, which took place near the city on 17 October 1346 between the English and Scots, is the most famous battle of the age. The city suffered from plague outbreaks in 1544, 1589 and 1598. The city remained loyal to King Charles I throughout the English Civil War. The castle suffered considerable damage and dilapidation during the Commonwealth due to the abolition of the office of bishop whose residence it was. Cromwell confiscated the castle and sold it to the Lord Mayor of London shortly after taking it from the bishop. A similar fate befell the cathedral, it being closed in 1650 and used to incarcerate 3,000 Scottish prisoners. Graffiti left by them can still be seen today etched into the interior stone.

The first census, conducted in 1801, stated that Durham City had a population of 7,100. The Industrial Revolution mostly passed the city by. However, the city was well known for carpet making and weaving, though most had left by the 19th century. The Industrial Revolution also placed the city at the heart of the coalfields, the county’s main industry. Practically every village around the city boasted a coal mine and, although these have since disappeared with the decline in heavy industry, the proud traditions, heritage and community spirit are still evident. The city also saw the creation of the world’s first passenger railway in 1825.

Sir Walter Scott was so inspired by the view of the cathedral from South Street that he wrote Harold the Dauntless, a poem about Saxons and Vikings set in County Durham and published 1817. The following lines from the poem are carved into a stone tablet on Prebends Bridge:

Grey towers of Durham
Yet well I love thy mixed and massive piles
Half church of God, half castle ‘gainst the Scot
And long to roam those venerable aisles
With records stored of deeds long since forgot.

Durham Cathedral was founded in its present form in AD 1093 and remains a center for Christian worship. It is generally regarded as one of the finest Romanesque cathedrals in Europe and the rib vaulting in the nave marks the beginning of Gothic ecclesiastical architecture. The castle was famed for its vast Great Hall, created by Bishop Antony Bek in the early 14th century. It was the largest great hall in Britain until Bishop Richard Foxe shortened it at the end of the 15th century. It is still 46 feet high and over 33 yards long and is still the home of University College, Durham. It has been in continuous use for over 900 years and is the only castle in the United Kingdom never to have suffered a breach.

The City of Sunderland is a local government district of Tyne and Wear, in North East England, with the status of a city and metropolitan borough, named after its largest settlement, Sunderland. Lewis Carroll was a frequent visitor to the area. He wrote most of Jabberwocky at Whitburn as well as “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” Some parts of the area are also widely believed to be the inspiration for his Alice in Wonderland stories, such as Hylton Castle and Backhouse Park. There is a statue to Carroll in Whitburn library. Lewis Carroll was also a visitor to the Rectory of Holy Trinity Church, Southwick.

Newcastle upon Tyne, commonly known as Newcastle, is a city in the metropolitan county of Tyne and Wear in North East England, situated on the northwest bank of the River Tyne’s estuary and centred 8.5 mi from the North Sea. Newcastle was part of the county of Northumberland until 1400, when it became a county of itself. The first recorded settlement in what is now Newcastle was Pons Aelius, a Roman fort and bridge across the River Tyne. It was given the family name of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who founded it in the 2nd century AD. The population of Pons Aelius at this period was estimated at 2,000. Fragments of Hadrian’s Wall are still visible in parts of Newcastle, particularly along the West Road. The course of the “Roman Wall” can be traced east to the Segedunum Roman fort in Wallsend and to the supply fort Arbeia in South Shields. The extent of Hadrian’s Wall was 73 miles, spanning the width of Britain; the wall incorporated Agricola’s Ditch and was constructed primarily for defence, to prevent unwanted immigration and incursion of Pictish tribes from the north.

After the Roman departure from Britain in 410, Newcastle became part of the powerful Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, and became known as Monkchester. After a series of conflicts with the Danes and the devastation north of the River Tyne inflicted by Odo of Bayeux after the 1088 rebellion against the Normans, Monkchester was all but destroyed. Because of its strategic position, Robert Curthose, son of William the Conqueror, erected a wooden castle there in the year 1080. The town was henceforth known as Novum Castellum or New Castle. Newcastle Castle Keep is the oldest structure in the city. The city grew as an important center for the wool trade in the 14th century, and it later became a major coal mining area. The port developed in the 16th century and, along with the shipyards lower down the river, was among the world’s largest shipbuilding and ship-repairing centers.

Throughout the Middle Ages, Newcastle was England’s northern fortress. Incorporated first by King Henry II, the city had a new charter granted by Queen Elizabeth I in 1589. A 25-foot-high stone wall was built around the town in the 13th century to defend it from invaders during the Border war against Scotland. The Scots king William the Lion was imprisoned in Newcastle in 1174, and Edward I brought the Stone of Scone and William Wallace south through the town. Newcastle was successfully defended against the Scots three times during the 14th century, and was created a county corporate with its own sheriff by Henry IV in 1400.

From 1530 a royal act restricted all shipments of coal from Tyneside to Newcastle Quayside, giving a monopoly in the coal trade to a cartel of Newcastle burgesses known as the Hostmen. The phrase ‘taking coals to Newcastle’–meaning a wasted or redundant trip–was first recorded in 1538. This monopoly, which lasted a considerable time, helped Newcastle prosper and develop into a major town. To the east of the city, resided the keelmen and their families, so called because they worked on the keels (boats) used to transfer coal from the river banks to the waiting colliers, for export to London and elsewhere. In the 1630s about 7,000 out of 20,000 inhabitants of Newcastle died of plague, more than one-third of the population. In 1636, evidence held by the Society of Antiquaries suggests that 47% of the then population of Newcastle died from the epidemic; this may also have been the most devastating loss in any British City in this period.

In the 18th century, Newcastle was the country’s fourth largest print center after London, Oxford and Cambridge, and the Literary and Philosophical Society of 1793, with its erudite debates and large stock of books in several languages, predated the London Library by half a century. Newcastle also became a glass producer with a reputation for brilliant flint glass. Newcastle was one of the first cities in the world to be lit by electric lighting. Innovation in Newcastle included safety lamps, Stephenson’s Rocket, Lord Armstrong’s artillery, Be-Ro flour, Joseph Swan’s electric light bulbs, and Charles Parsons’ steam turbine, which led to the revolution of marine propulsion and the production of cheap electricity. In 1882, Newcastle became the seat of an Anglican diocese, with St. Nicholas’ Church becoming its cathedral.

Bishopwearmouth is an area in Sunderland, North East England, one of the original three settlements on the banks of the river Wear that merged to form modern Sunderland. The settlement was formed in 930 when Athelstan of England granted lands to the Bishop of Durham. The settlement on the opposite side of the river, Monkwearmouth, had been founded 250 years earlier. The lands on the south-side of the river became known as Bishopwearmouth, a parish that covered around twenty square miles, encompassing settlements such as Ryhope and Silksworth. Within the parish was Sunderland, a small fishing port at the mouth of the river. Over the centuries, the port grew in both importance and size, and in 1719 was made into a parish independent from Bishopwearmouth.

North Shields is a town on the north bank of the River Tyne, in the metropolitan borough of North Tyneside, Tyne and Wear in North East England. Historically part of Northumberland, it is located eight miles east of Newcastle upon Tyne. Its name derives from Middle English ‘schele’ meaning ‘temporary sheds or huts’ (used by fishermen), and the area is still synonymous with fishing and other trades associated with seafaring. The history of North Shields starts in 1225 when the Prior of Tynemouth decided to create a fishing port to provide fish for the Priory situated on the headland at the mouth of the River Tyne. He also wished to victual ships anchored near the priory. Besides the ‘shiels,’ wooden quays were used to unload fishing boats and to ship coal from local collieries owned by the Priory. Soon the population of the new township numbered 1000.

The burgesses of Newcastle upon Tyne were determined to preserve the custom rights that they had enjoyed up till then, which covered the whole length of the river. They successfully petitioned the king in 1290 and managed to suspend trade from the new settlement. It was forbidden to victual ships or to load and unload cargoes at North Shields. The opposition of the Newcastle burgesses remained for a considerable time but despite this, North Shields continued to develop as a center for fishing and exporting salt, produced at local saltpans. During its history, N Shields survived thanks to forts to guard against invasion and lighthouses to prevent shipwrecks.

South Shields is a coastal town at the mouth of the River Tyne, England, about 4.84 miles downstream from Newcastle upon Tyne in County Durham.The first evidence of a settlement within the town of South Shields dates from pre-historic times. Stone Age arrow heads and an Iron Age round house have been discovered on the site of Arbeia Roman Fort, built around AD 160 and expanded around AD 208 to supply soldiers along Hadrian’s Wall. Divisions living at the fort included Tigris bargemen (Persia aka Iraq), Spanish/French soldiers and Syrian archers/spearmen. The fort was abandoned as the Roman Empire declined in the 4th century AD.

The site was used in the early post-Roman period as a British settlement and became a royal residence of King Oswald of Northumbria; records show that his son Oswin was born within ‘Caer Urfa,’ by which name the fort was known after the Romans left. Bede records Oswin giving a parcel of land to St Hilda for the foundation of a monastery there in c.647; the present-day church of St Hilda, by the Market Place, is said to stand on the monastic site. In the 9th century, Scandinavians made Viking raids on monasteries and settlements along the coast, and later conquered the Saxon Kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia. Local folklore claims that a Viking ship was wrecked at Herd Sands in South Shields in its attempts to disembark at a cove nearby. The current town was founded in 1245 and developed in the same fashion as North Shields.

In the 19th century, coal mining, alkaline production and glass making led to a boom in the town. The population increased from 12,000 in 1801 to 75,000 by the 1860s, bolstered by economic migration from Ireland, Scotland and other parts of England. These industries played a fundamental part in creating wealth both regionally and nationally. However, the rapid growth in population brought on by the expansion of industry made sanitation a problem, as evident by Cholera outbreaks and the building of the Cleadon Water Tower to combat the problem. In the 1850s ‘The Tyne Improvement Commission’ began to develop the river, dredging it to make it deeper and building the large, impressive North and South Piers to help prevent silt build up within the channel. Shipbuilding (along with coal mining), previously a monopoly of the Freemen of Newcastle, became another prominent industry in the town.

The Church of St Hilda, the parish church of South Shields, is said to be on the site of a chapel founded by St Aidan circa AD 647 and placed in charge of St Hilda. Some restoration work was carried out in 1675 by Robert Trollope. In 1753 a north aisle was added to the church. It was then mostly rebuilt between 1810 and 1881 and the interior galleries are supported on cast iron columns. The rebuilding of the church incorporated the font of 1675 by Robert Trollop, and a Gilt chandelier dating from 1802. The church is most famous for the model of a lifeboat by William Wouldhave dating from 1802 which is suspended from the ceiling. (More on St Hilda at a later date).

© Copyright 2015 Linda L Labin, PhD (except images from the web and material from