The Cochrane Family
Sleetburn’s excellent coking coal supplied the Cochrane’s iron works at Ormesby. By the eve of the First World War the colliery had become a large complex, with brickworks and a plant to crush a valuable mineral called brytes.
The Cochrane approach to managing his workers and villagers had clearly been the product of some considerable thought. I imagine that he was mindful of the fact that a trawl through the Durham County newspapers of the time indicated a significant amount of lawlessness and violence in local mining communities – which to a large extent was fed by alcohol and despair. For some miners the alcohol temporarily brushed aside the big physical demands of coal mining. The despair may well have been caused, to some extent, by the sight of too many mangled or impaired bodies, the experience of periodical unemployment and the demand for deference. Perhaps such a social climate encouraged Cochrane to build Sleetburn as two separate villages, one for pitmen called the ‘lowside’ and another for colliery officials and craftsmen. Fields separated the two classes of workers and in effect social control and sanctions prevailed. If one of his officials or craftsmen stepped out of line they risked being moved to the lowside – or even worse – sacked and blackballed.
We can all make a judgment about the arrangement of the village but of course we have the benefit of hindsight. Certainly the demand for deference was a feature of Victorian times and the Cochrane demand for it was not unusual. I think the demand that the doors to the houses be open, with heads bowed, when the Cochrane coach came down into the village is too much for me – I can visualize it and it smells of unnecessary humiliation. That coach came down Unthank Terrace where I was later to live! Henry Heath Cochrane was in charge by the time of the ‘keep your doors open demand’.
Much earlier in that century, after the war the battle of Waterloo, the Government and landed gentry were wary of an uprising in protest against acute social deprivation; after all governments were falling in Europe. It was, amongst other considerations, the soothing balm of religion and the 1832 Reform Act [giving the vote to many of the middle class] that played their part in calming the poor. Even the famous Chartists of the 1830s and 1840s were, it could be argued, thwarted by the good harvests that fed the poor and diluted justifiable protests. So deference still carried on but only, I feel, because the poor allowed it to.
I posed myself the question: is it likely that the owner of Eshwood Hall would employ local servants? My guess was that he would not. After all the Cochrane’s would not be unaware of the risk of displaying their human failings [we all have them] in front of servants who might gossip, or more likely let something slip, when they shopped or socialized in the village. That might weaken their imposed discipline of the villagers. I was sort of right. In 1901 Isabel Potter  was a housemaid domestic at the Hall. She was near, in modern terms, to being a local having been born in Penshaw. In those days a trip from Sleetburn to Penshaw was quite a journey!
Ellen Weatherson  was employed as a bedroom maid at Eshwood Hall and she was born in Elsdon, Northumberland. Her father was a shepherd living in Hexham with his wife Isabel and their children.
The parlour maid, Elizabeth Wood originally came from Northallerton. She had earlier worked as a housemaid for another of the Cochrane family, Alfred Cochrane – Ironmaster and JP who lived at Norton House, Coutham, Cleveland. As you can imagine Norton House was in a good area – an immediate neighbour was a bank manager and the other was a hotel proprietor.
The above indoor staff was managed by Maire A Thompson, a widow of 44 with the grand title of ‘Lady Manageress.’
Some of the outdoor staff employed at Eshwood Hall in 1901 included: Richard Middings , foreman gardener and born in Salop, Edward Foster  gardener born in Lumley, County Durham, Richard Stevenson  gardener, born in Tipperary and David Stevenson  born in Alstead, Yorkshire [brothers?}.
Eshwood Hall had some fun and games on the 23rd and 24th of September 1905 and also on December 21st 1906. On those days the water supply at Eshwood Hall failed! That latter date must have induced some panic, with it coming near to Christmas. Now there’s a thought: Christmas at Eshwood Hall without water.