Westerton (County Durham)
Westerton is a small village to the south of Spennymoor. The earliest settlers in this area were probably of Mesolithic date. These earliest inhabitants would have been simple hunter and gatherers living of nature. It is possible that one of their small flint tools has been found here. Farming was introduced in the Neolithic period and developed throughout the Bronze Age. By the Iron Age there was a probably a network of small fields and enclosed settlements of round-houses. The cropmarks of an enclosure may be all that remains one of these early farmsteads.
The village of Westerton probably developed during the Anglo-Saxon period. The village name comes from the Old English for 'western farm'. However, the most unusual feature in the village is Westerton Observatory. Located in the middle of the village which sits on a prominent hill, the Tower is a circular medieval looking structure with a rusticated doorway and cross-shaped arrow loop typical of the Gothick revival of the 18th century.
The tower was built as an observatory by Thomas Wright of the nearby village of Byers Green. He was a mathematician, astronomer (famous for his explanation of the Milky Way), architect (of Nuthall Temple Notts), and garden designer. Designs for the tower appear in a manuscript of 1744, but the observatory does not appear to have been completed until after Wright's death in 1786. Wright was also responsible for building an elaborate mansion and gardens at Byers Green in imitation of Pliny, sadly none of this now survives.
The village remained mainly an agricultural village, but like many parts of County Durham it did not escape the rise of the coal industry in the 19th century. Westerton Colliery was opened in 1838, and at its height it provided work for 822 people. It finally shut down in 1961 and the engine house was demolished in 1966. The coal was mainly used for industrial purposes. It was turned into coke in a range of 395 coke ovens, and the waste gas from the ovens was used for heating the boilers in the colliery.
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