The History of
Railway Hotel

A landmark in the Birtley community,
The Railway Hotel has a rich history in the local area.

Railway Hotel Birtley - Line Drawing

Humble Beginnings.

We get a good idea of the History of the Railway Hotel from the title deeds which we are fortunate to have.

A Joseph Humble, Mason, of Birtley, inherited the site on which the Railway now stands. In September 1833 he took out a mortgage on it for £140. The lender was Mr Forster Walker of Gateshead, Builder and House Carpenter. The mortgage deeds describe then property as:

‘All that messuage or thatched house now in the occupation of Joseph Humble and which he intends shortly to rebuild, situate on the east side of the Turnpike Road leading from Gateshead to Durham and also all that cottage situate on the south side of the said messuage and in the occupation of William Johnson as tenant thereof, and also all that cottage situate behind the said messuage and in the occupation of James Littlefair as tenant thereof, and also all that Garden or parcel of ground situate to the east of the said messuage and cottages now in the occupation of Joseph Humble and containing by admeasurement 1r 1p.’

This is the plan at the time:

Railway Hotel Birtley - Original building plan

Joseph Humble’s last will and testament was dated 31 Mar 1851, in which he describes himself as an Inn Keeper of Birtley Lane in the parish of Chester-le-Street. He leaves to his wife Jane:

All that messuage, Inn and dwelling house known by the sign of the Blue Bell Inn, as also the cottages and tenements adjoining the said inn together with the garden situate behind the same.

It is perhaps fair to assume, therefore, that Joseph Humble built the Blue Bell Inn between September 1833 and May 1835, and became the first Inn Keeper. Even if the building was not operating as a pub by 1835, it certainly was known as the Blue Bell Inn by 1851.

Joseph Humble died the day after he signed his will and Jane Humble, his wife, inherited the pub. In October 1864 she drew up a deed of appointment whereby after her death, the pub would be settled on the eldest of her six children, Margaret.

The Birth of the Railway.

Jane died on 18 March 1873 and after a family dispute over the will on 9 Dec 1882 Margaret became owner of the property. By now the property is described as:

Railway Hotel Birtley - The building during the 1800s

A freehold Public House formerly The Blue Bell, now The Railway Hotel, at Birtley occupied by the said Jane Humble until her death, then by the said Thomas Bowman, and now by Thomas Robinson as yearly tenant at a rack rent (including a cottage in the yard behind now forming part of the public house) of saleable value as a licensed public house £750, gross rack rental or annual value £60. Apart from the licence would not be worth more than £300. A ruinous cottage adjoining the public house on the south lately occupied by Jane Allport [the sister number 2] deceased, by the successor’s permission without rent. Saleable value £25, rent £1, 10s.

About 575 square yards of ground late belonging to the said public house recently agreed to be sold to Colonel JJ Sheppee as accommodation ground for £50.

Tax deduction of £6 annually for repairs ‘the property being old and originally badly built’.

Thus the pub was still called ‘The Blue Bell’ as late as 1864, but by 1882 is known as ‘The Railway Hotel’. The change may possibly have occurred around 1873 when Margaret Bowman inherited.

The pub is also clearly being let out to various licencees by Jane Humble.

Meanwhile, the mortgagee, Miss Jane Elizabeth Reed, married Robert Clark in 1840. He died in 1856. In 1863 the widow Jane was married again to John Kell. She died in 1884 and her second husband died the following year. John Kell’s executors were his friends: Nathaniel Clark, William Bell Gillhespy and Robert Clark.

The Railway goes up for sale.

The next big event was the sale of the pub and site at public auction on 14 Jun 1911, by Messrs Edward George and Co at the Central Exchange Hotel, Grey Street, Newcastle. The lot was described as follows:

The freehold fully-licensed public house known as The Railway Hotel, Birtley, in the County of Durham, in the occupation of Robert H Bowman. The premises comprise Bar, with sitting accommodation; two sitting rooms, kitchen, scullery and cellar on the ground floor; club room and two bedrooms on the first floor; and two attics over. There is a large yard, with stable, coach-house, wash house and other conveniences in the rear and garden adjoining. The property is situate on the main road from Gateshead to Durham. The landlord’s fixtures and fittings are included in the sale.

The Newcastle Breweries Ltd was the highest bidder at £2,500.

Railway Hotel Birtley - New plan 1910s

The certificate dated 12 Sep 1911, recording the estate duty paid on the premises following Margaret Bowman’s death in 1904, reveals that the pub was then leased to Messrs Isaac Tucker and Co for a term of which nearly 6 years were unexpired at an annual rent of £70.

The conveyance was dated 14 Nov 1911, from 1) Robert Humble Bowman, Innkeeper of the Railway Hotel, John Davidson of Gateshead, Brewery Manager and Mortgagee, and Matthew Henderson of Whitley, Accountant, to 2) Messrs Fenwick and Woods, Trustees of the Newcastle Breweries Ltd. The property description is not as detailed as in the auction description.

The Certificate of the contract for the Redemption of Land Tax, 15 Oct 1913, gives the further description as follows:

All the land together with the public house known as The Railway Hotel and other buildings erected thereon, situate in the parish of Birtley in the County of Durham, in the occupation of the said Newcastle Breweries Ltd, bounded on the west by the High ~Road there from Newcastle to Durham, on the north by a beerhouse known as the Hanlon Hotel, on the east by the grounds of Birtley House and on the south by a roadway there as the same is delineated and described in the plan marked A.

It is clear therefore that the Railway Hotel as it is today was erected between 1911 and 1913. The Hanlon Hotel can be clearly seen on the 1913 plan and the layout of the Railway appears largely as today.

We are currently researching the Newcastle Breweries archives in the hope of finding some plans or details of their rather grand new build. We know from memories that it was a multi roomed pub with a corridor, a rear snug and a parlour. The splendid ionic columned faience exterior remains unchanged. Quoting from Lynn Pearson’s book The Northumberland Pub: “The Railway Hotel, Durham Road, Birtley has retained part of its original glass, which decorates a delightful brown faience façade with ionic columns, a recessed doorway and a niche. The glass which curves gently round to the recessed entrance shows the inevitable steam train”.

The plate from the book is below:

Railway Hotel Birtley - Northumbrian Pub plate

The Railway into the Swinging Sixties.

The two pictures below give a good feel of the pub in the early 1960s. It is just possible to make out a famous Blue Star sign on the outside and there was no hanging sign in those days! Unfortunately we don’t have many pictures of the inside of the pub currently. One we do have shows the current publican, Karen’s, Grand mum Edith behind the bar in early 1960s when she worked at the pub – note the hand pumped Newcastle Brown!

Railway Hotel Birtley - View from the front in the 1960s Railway Hotel Birtley - Birtley High Street in the 1960s

We know that the pubs was knocked into one, sadly lost its etched glass windows and had the original sign covered up probably in the late 1990s. Fortunately the exterior was largely unaltered with the original sign in place beneath the new one, original fireplaces, bar and back fitting all survived and take pride of place in the reopened pub.

Railway Hotel Birtley

The perfect balance of good beer and good company