There has been Christian worship here for well over 1,000 years and although much of the current fabric is 13th century there is evidence of Anglo Saxon presence.
It is from the river that the village takes its name and there are many historic documentary references, such as Pont-Island, Pont-Eland, and Pont Ealand which reflect the nature of its prominent location on the river surrounded by low lying fen or marsh lands.
St Mary’s survived the troubled times of the border wars with Scotland and is said to have taken a prominent role in the 1244 ‘Peace Treaty’ between the two nations. The close links with Merton College, Oxford, can be traced back to this period and one of Henry III’s secretaries Walter de Merton who, in 1274, was responsible for establishing Merton’s House of Scholars in Oxford.
The peace did not however last for long and the Castle of Ponteland, occupying the site of The Blackbird Inn, didn’t escape the attention of the Scottish army after its unsuccessful siege of Newcastle in 1388, when the “Town and Castle were burnt” en route to their success at the Battle of Otterburn. The remains were subsequently converted to a dwelling house, some portions of which adjoin the current building.
The restored remains of the Pele Tower, which stands proudly in front of the modern Peel House apartment conversion in the centre of Main Street, has close links with the Church of St Mary. It represents the surviving remains of an early 14th century vicarage, first recorded in a “List of Castles & Fortalices in Northumberland” drawn up in 1415 on the instruction of King Henry V and currently held in the Harleian manuscripts in the British Library.
Centred on the 1830s turnpike to Scotland, Ponteland has evolved over the past 200 years from a very sleepy rural community of about 350 people to a bustling attractive town on the perimeter of the Tyneside conurbation, with a population in excess of 11,000.
The industrial revolution of the 1800s had very little impact upon its growth and despite the creation of the adjoining “Garden City” Darras Hall Estate in the early 1900s, the overall resident population increased very slowly to only around 1,000 in the 1940s. The completion of the light railway from Newcastle in 1905 and its subsequent extension to Darras Hall in 1913 also failed to encourage the movement of population from industrial Tyneside, and was closed to regular passenger traffic in 1929 as a financial failure. The railway was finally closed in the late 1960s.
The Board of Guardians of the Newcastle Poor Law Union did however recognize the possible benefits of rural life and in 1903 established The Cottage Homes at Smallburn on the northern outskirts of Ponteland to provide the orphans and “institutional” children of Newcastle with home life training. There was little provision for education of the children and the burden fell upon the local schools. By this time the original Richard Coates Endowed School, which was established in 1719, had been replaced by a new building on the green fronting St Mary’s Church. A new infant school was also built on North Road in 1910.
Towards the end of the 1950s there was a growing need for housing and the population became more mobile through the ready availability of motor transport. Ponteland offered an attractive alternative to urban living and in the 60s there was a surge in housing development. The building of the Merton Way Shopping Centre along with the Thornhill Road housing was a major departure from the confined ribbon development of the 1930s and further development followed in Jackson Avenue, Ladywell Way, Dunsgreen, Fairney Edge and Eland Haugh.
The Coates Endowed School in front of St. Mary’s Church was replaced by a new Coates Middle School on Thornhill Road and the building demolished in 1968 to create a very attractive village green. Shops and schools were established on The Broadway and a middle and high school campus developed off Callerton Lane. Comprehensive sports facilities were built and supplemented the well established provision for tennis, golf and bowls.
Ponteland is now established both regionally and nationally as an attractive location for 21st century living!
Words and pictures courtesy of John Turner, Chairman, Ponteland Local History Society