Besfords

The history of the Besfords

Cowpen Square

Cowpen Square, the River Blyth, the North Side Staiths and environs, Blyth, 1935.

Cowpen is situated on the southern bank of the River Blyth. The opening up of the Cowpen North and South pits at the end of the eighteenth century led to the building of Cowpen Square in order to house the coal miners and their families who came to Cowpen to work in these pits.

The name Cowpen comes from Old Norse and is pronounced coop’n.

When Cowpen Square was built, the land on which Cowpen Quay would be constructed had not yet been reclaimed. It then consisted of mud which flooded at high tide. Cowpen Square thus had to be protected from flooding by means of an earth mound which was built around it.

The expansion of the township in the nineteenth century was dramatic and was almost entirely due to the development of coal mining. The population of Cowpen in 1801 was 853. By 1841 this had risen to 2,464, and by 1851 to 4,045. By 1849 the quantity of coal leaving the port of Blyth annually had reached more than 250,000 tons.

Cowpen Colliery, Bates Pit, railway sidings and staiths, and the River Blyth and surrounding countryside, Blyth from the east, 1935.
Cowpen Colliery, Bates Pit, railway sidings and staiths, and the River Blyth and surrounding countryside, Blyth from the east, 1935. Image © Historic England

The houses in Cowpen Square were rudimentary by today’s standards. They had one downstairs room which was long and narrow, with a brick floor. This was illuminated by one window about three feet square. The houses had no stairs, just a ladder which led through a hole in the ceiling to a garret under the roof timbers. The garret was lit by a small window at floor level. Because the houses were so small, the inner square itself became a much needed social space for the miners and their families. Games such as quoits and pitch and toss were played (and gambled upon). Cockles were gathered from the adjacent mud and a type of eel known as a Sandal would sometimes be caught. 

Cowpen Square stood until shortly after the end of the Second World War when it was demolished.

Further articles about Besfords with links to Cowpen:

  • Ann Besford (1825-1896)

    Ann Besford was the daughter of Robert Besford (1792-1844) and his wife Mary Besford (née Marshall).

  • Cowpen Square

    Cowpen Square

    Cowpen is situated on the southern bank of the River Blyth. The opening up of the Cowpen North and South pits at the end of the eighteenth century led to the building of Cowpen Square in order to house the coal miners and their families who came to Cowpen to work in these pits. The…

  • David Besford (1863-1954)

    David Besford (1863-1954)

    David Besford was born on 11th September 1863 at Cowpen Colliery. He was the son of John and Margaret Besford.

  • Edward Besford (1857)

    Edward Besford was the son of John Besford and Margaret Besford (née Patterson). Edward was born on 30th December 1857 at Crofton Mills, Cowpen, Blyth.  Edward only lived for 13 hours, dying on 31st December 1857. His death certificate gave the cause of death as “Debility”.

  • Family of John Besford and Margaret Besford (née Patterson)

    John Besford (1826-1914) and Margaret Patterson (1827-1914) were married at All Saints’ Church, Newcastle upon Tyne, on 12th November 1850.

  • George Besford (1831-1908)

    George Besford was born at Fenrother, Northumberland, and was baptised on 20th March 1831 at St. Cuthbert’s Parish Church, Hebron. He was the son of Robert Besford (1792-1844) and his wife Mary Besford (née Marshall).

  • George Robert Besford (1909-?)

    George Robert Besford emigrated from England to Canada in 1947. He sailed from Southampton to Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the RMS Aquitania, a Cunard-White Star Line ship,  leaving on 13th September 1947.

  • James Besford (1860)

    James Besford was the son of John Besford and Margaret Besford (née Patterson). James was born on 21st August 1860 at Cowpen Lane, Blyth.  He died three days later on 23rd August 1860. His death certificate gave the cause of death as “Icterus, 2 days”. Icterus is a term for Jaundice.

  • John Besford (1826-1914)

    John was born in 1826 at Eshott Heugh, the son of Robert and Mary Besford.

  • John Besford (1859)

    John Besford was the son of John Besford and Margaret Besford (née Patterson). John was born on 19th September 1859 at Cowpen Lane, Blyth. He only lived for 15 days, dying on 4th October 1859. His death certificate gave the cause of death as “ Haemorrhage, 12 hours”.

  • John Besford (1868-1869)

    John Besford was the son of John Besford and Margaret Besford (née Patterson). John was born on 31st May 1868 at Cowpen Colliery, Blyth. John died on 25th July 1869 at Cowpen Colliery. He was just short of 14 months old. His death certificate gave the cause of death as “Debility”. He was the second…

  • John Besford (1872-1954)

    John Besford (1872-1954)

    John Besford was born on 5th February 1872 at Cowpen Square, Blyth, Northumberland. John was the son of Alexander Besford, a coal miner, and his wife Elizabeth (Bessy) Besford (née Mills).

  • John Besford (1890-1916)

    John Besford was born in 1890, the son of Thomas Besford and Elizabeth Besford (née Train). The 1891 Census records John aged 7 months and living with his parents at 5 Croft Street, Cowpen, Blyth, Northumberland.

  • Margaret Besford (1866-?)

    Margaret was the only daughter of John Besford and Margaret Besford (née Patterson). She was born on 21st May 1866 at Cowpen Colliery, Blyth, Northumberland.

  • Margaret Besford (née Patterson) (1827-1914)

    Margaret Patterson was the daughter of Edward Patterson (1789-1873) a Fisherman, and his wife Margaret (1792- 1883).

  • Mary Besford (later Ferguson) (1822-1883)

    Mary Besford was baptised at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Horton , Northumberland, on 27th January 1822. Her parents were Robert Besford (1792-1844) and Mary Besford (née Marshall).

  • Mary Besford (née Turnbull) (1865-1951)

    Mary Besford (née Turnbull) (1865-1951)

    Mary Turnbull was born in 1865. Her parents, George Turnbull and Mary Turnbull (née Barron), were from Roxburghshire, Scotland. Mary had eight siblings.

  • Robert Besford (1792-1844)

    Robert was born at Garrett Lee Farm to Robert Besford and Ann Besford (née Goodfellow). He was baptised on 10th January 1792 at St. Helen’s Parish Church, Longhorsley. He was an agricultural labourer.

  • Robert Besford (1856)

    Robert Besford was the son of John Besford and Margaret Besford (née Patterson). Robert was born on 14th November 1856 at “Mill, Cowpen”. A windmill called Crofton or Cowpen Mill had been built in 1799. This was located near to Cowpen Square, where John and Margaret were recorded as living on the 1851 census. Robert…

  • Thomas Besford (1833-1914)

    Thomas Besford was born at Espley, Northumberland, in 1833. He was baptised at the parish church of St. Mary Magdalene, Mitford, on 21st April 1833.

  • William Besford (1823-1906)

    William Besford was born at Dam Dykes farm, near Cramlington, Northumberland. He was baptised on 3rd of August 1823 at St. Nicholas’s Parish Church, Cramlington. William’s parents were Robert Besford (1792-1844) and his wife Mary Besford (née Marshall).

  • William Besford (1851-1879)

    William was the first child of John Besford and Margaret Besford (née Patterson). He was born on 28th November 1851 at Cowpen, Blyth, Northumberland.

Main image: Cowpen Square, the River Blyth, the North Side Staiths and environs, Blyth, 1935. Image © Historic England


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