Whinfield coking ovens, 850m south east of Low Spen Farm


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Gateshead (Metropolitan Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:
NZ 15181 58138

Reasons for Designation

Coal has been mined in England since Roman times, and between 8,000 and 10,000 coal industry sites of all dates up to the collieries of post-war nationalisation are estimated to survive in England. Three hundred and four coal industry sites, representing approximately 3% of the estimated national archaeological resource for the industry, have been identified as being of national importance. This selection, compiled and assessed through a comprehensive survey of the coal industry, is designed to represent the industry's chronological depth, technological breadth and regional diversity. Coking is the process by which coal is heated or part burnt to remove volatile impurities and leave lumps of carbon known as coke. Originally this was conducted in open heaps, sometimes arranged on stone bases, but from the mid- 18th century purpose built ovens were employed. By the mid-19th century two main forms of coking oven had developed, the beehive and long oven, which are thought to have been operationally similar, differing only in shape. Coke ovens were typically built as long banks with many tens of ovens arranged in single or back to back rows, although stand alone ovens and short banks are also known. They typically survive as stone or brick structures, but earth- covered examples also exist. Later examples may also include remains of associated chimneys, condensers and tanks used to collect by-products. Coke ovens are most frequently found directly associated with coal mining sites, although they also occur at ironworks or next to transport features such as canal basins. Coal occurs in significant deposits throughout large parts of England and this has given rise to a variety of coalfields extending from the north of England to the Kent coast. Each region has its own history of exploitation, and characteristic sites range from the small, compact collieries of north Somerset to the large, intensive units of the north east. All surviving pre- 1815 ovens are considered to be of national importance and merit protection, as do all surviving examples of later non-beehive ovens. The survival of beehive ovens is more common nationally and a selection of the better preserved examples demonstrating the range of organisational layouts and regional spread is considered to merit protection.

The remaining Whinfield beehive coke ovens survive particularly well and represent a rare example of intact beehive ovens, a design pioneered within the Durham coalfield. The structure of the ovens includes many original features which illustrate the technology employed in a large scale commercial coke works from the mid-19th century to the late 1950s. In addition, the site represents part of the last beehive coke works to be operated in Britain.


The monument is situated 850m south east of Low Spen Farm, on the west side of Rowlands Gill, and includes the structural and buried remains of seven mid- 19th century beehive coke ovens. The area forms part of what was once a far more extensive former coal mining landscape which is now largely cleared and landscaped. The Whinfield coke works were built in 1861 by the Trustees of the Victoria Garesfield Colliery. Garesfield Colliery was formerlly situated to the west of the monument. This colliery no longer survies and is not included in the scheduling. The Victoria Garesfield coke ovens (later the Whinfield works) originally consisted of a bank of 193 beehive coke ovens and were built primarily to produce coke from high quality coals from the Victoria Garesfield and Watergate Collieries. The coal produced a coke that was ideal for the malleable iron founding industry of County Durham. It continued to operate until 1958 when the cost of brick production (ovens require constant maintenance including the replacement of bricks) and the demise of suitable coal reserves led to its closure. Part of the original works was preserved by the National Coal Board, and restored in the 1980s. The monument includes the remains of seven well preserved beehive ovens forming the western end of the original bank of 193 ovens. Five of the ovens are complete and the profiles of two further ovens survive in the east end, providing a valuable illustration of beehive coke oven construction, and in particular the way in which the floor of the ovens was angled towards the doors to assist unloading. A series of circular holes, measuring 0.38m in diameter and situated in the roofs of the ovens, allowed top loading from wagons conveyed on a 1.14m gauge railway above the ovens. The remains of the stone piers used to support the rails survive either side of a central arched flue. The oven doorways, five of which survive intact, have round brick arches supported by larger brick abutments. All five doorways are open though they would have been bricked up and sealed with daub during firing. Vent pipes surviving in the top of the arches were used to regulate the supply of air into the oven and were also used to observe the progress of combustion. Hot air from the ovens was directed through a small flue at the rear of the ovens into the main central flue. From 1915 the hot air from the flue was used to raise steam for electricity generation for use in a cuprous oxide plant located near to the works. The plant has been demolished and its site is not included in the scheduling, but a short length of partially blocked arch running from the flue at the north west corner of the monument is believed to relate to this later activity and is included. All modern fence posts are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Atkinson, F, The Great Northern Coalfield 1700-1900, (1966), 61
McCall, B, Beehive coke ovens at Whinfield, County Durham, (1972), 52-62


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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