Keys to the Past

Local History

Tow Law (County Durham)

Tow Law stands on an exposed hilltop on the edge of the North Pennines about 10 miles to the west of Durham. Until 1841 there was no settlement here of any size, only a single home, Tow Law House.

Despite the late birth of the town there has been occupation in the area since the Neolithic period. Two stone-axes have been found. These may have been the earliest farmers in this area to clear wooded areas so that they could lay out their first fields. The probable burial mound of a Bronze Age inhabitant of the area is also recorded at Wheatley Grange.

In 1845 the seeds for the town's growth were planted when Charles Atwood took advantage of the local supply of iron ore and built an iron works. Six years later the population had increased to over 2000 people and by 1880 there were over 5000 people living here.

Six blast furnaces were built and they were fuelled by coal from nearby collieries including Black Prince, Royal George and West Edward. The coal was not burned in its raw form; instead it was first turned into coke. The remains of the Inkerman coke ovens can still be seen.

Sadly, Atwood's iron works had closed by 1882 and work transferred to his other ironworks at Spennymoor. Nonetheless, other ironworks continued to provide employment and coal mining continued as late as 1969.

The town mainly grew up around the ironworks, spreading up the hill and along the line of the old droving road, now the A68. In 1911 a row of six houses for retired miners was built at Daleview. More houses at Weardale Crescent and Coronation Avenue were completed in the 1930s and further estates were built in the 1950s and 1960s.

Since the closing of the iron works and the death of the mine the town has shrunk in size. Although the population is down to only about 2000 this has not stopped Tow Law having a strong community and a deep sense of its past. This was expressed by the repair and display of some of the coke ovens at Inkerman as a reminder of the former importance of the iron working industry.

Remembrance of the town's heritage and past inhabitants is also evoked by the presence of the town war memorial at the junction of the main roads in the centre. The statue takes the form of a WW1 DLI soldier in an action-ready stance with rifle and fixed bayonet standing on top of a cenotaph-style plinth. The memorial possibly reflects the largest proportional differential in the county with 101 names for WW1 and just 2 for WW2. Many other memorials can be found in the church of St. Philip and St. James including stained glass windows, plaques and other items dedicated in memory of fallen parishioners.

Reference number:D6896
Event(s):The identification of Historic Landscapes in Durham Project; Chris Blandford Associates

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Please note that this information has been compiled from a number of different sources. Durham County Council and Northumberland County Council can accept no responsibility for any inaccuracy contained therein. If you wish to use/copy any of the images, please ensure that you read the Copyright information provided.