In the 1600's the coal trade from Newcastle on the River Tyne was seriously threatened by the developing coal trade on the neighbouring River Wear.
The lower, tidal stretch of the Wear was able to carry large cargo boats. The next stretch of the river could be improved at reasonable expense. The
final stretch through Kepier Gorge would cost much more, several locks would have to be built to enable boats of twenty two tons to reach Durham
The city corporation wished to make Durham an inland port exporting coal, lead, lime, building stone and wool. The dean and chapter owned coal mines
further downstream, they would have been satisfied with the lower stretches of the river being engineered to enable easier export of their coal. In
1705 the mayor and aldermen of Durham, the dean and chapter, and the inhabitants of Sunderland petitioned parliament to make the Wear navigable as far
Fishing weirs were built in the river up to ten thousand years ago, with the side-effect of making the river deeper. The Romans added to these weirs
and may have brought lead down the river in dugout canoes. The Normans oversaw considerable modification of the river banks and built weirs and mills,
the foundations of their work can still be found. Stone for Durham cathedral was brought up the river from Kepier Gorge. That stretch of river is now
little more than ankle deep in places, it's difficult to imagine how it was. Oral tradition says 'the river was much deeper hundreds of years ago'.
The plan to make the river navigable was practical and with precedent. Over the years several capable engineers drew up plans for a series of locks.
The father of civil engineering, John Smeaton, said
"It is practicable to make the river navigable . . ."
The Wear navigation and the City of
Durham in the eighteenth century. D. Kirby. Archaeologia Aeliana.
London, Gainsborough, Boston, Norwich, Exeter and Plymouth all supported the Wear navigation, it would have made coal cheaper. The Grand Allies would
have seen their fortunes reduced.
. . . control of the northern coal trade had fallen into the hands of a cartel of wealthy coal-owning families
known as the 'Grand Allies'.
William Cotesworth was one of the Grand Allies.
Newcastle's opposition to the Wear Navigation Bill, for example, had to be conducted so
circumspectly as to avoid public attention, which was, as Cotesworth pointed out, rather
The plan to bring boats of twenty two tons as far as Durham City was secretly opposed by the Newcastle coal merchants. A conspiracy that saved the
surrounding area from further industrial use and has left the river usable only by kayaks, canoes and small craft capable of being dragged over the
edit on 20 3 2019 by Kester because: punctuation