Benebal Crag: The early history of Tynemouth is very long and complex, but its origins probably began when the Priory and Castle were built high on the cliffs overlooking the North Sea. This steep rocky headland was referred to by the native Britons as ‘Benebal Crag’, or ‘Pen-bal Crag’, of which the literary translation is: ‘The head of the rampart on the rock’.
Billy Mill: An extract from Mackenzie’s 1811 book, ‘View of the County of Northumberland’, describes Billy Mill as follows: ‘This village is situated upon an eminence about two miles north-west from Shields, and commands an extensive prospect of the sea and adjoining country. It is composed of a few straddling houses, and here is a quarry of excellent stone belonging to the Duke of Northumberland.’ The name is thought to derive from the old windmill which once stood on land situated near to the quarry on Billy Mill Lane, and was once known as ‘Billings Mill’.
Black Middens: For centuries the mouth of the Tyne was a place of shifting sandbanks and dangerous rocks. Most feared of all were these notorious dark rocks which, according to local folklore, were thrown down by the devil in an attempt to curb the wealthy sea trade of Newcastle. Usually covered at high tide, the Black Middens have been responsible for many shipwrecks and, over the years, have caused the death by drowning of hundreds of mariners and their passengers. The term ‘Midden’ is local dialect with the strict dictionary definition being; ‘An accumulation of refuse, especially from a prehistoric kitchen fire; a dunghill or manure heap’.
Brier Dene: The name Brier, (with a variant spelling of briar) is a prickly scrambling shrub, and a ‘Dene’ is defined as a deeply wooded valley with a stream or river running through it. Brier Dene is a local beauty spot near to Whitley Links, which at one time formed part of Lord Hastings Estate. There has always been some confusion as to the correct spelling of the name, which is spelled in one of two ways, i.e. Briar Dene and Brier Dene. Nearly all references on early ordnance survey maps and other documents confirm the definitive spelling as Brier Dene (with an E), and it has been established that Briar Dene (with an A) is simply a modern corruption of the old name. It is interesting to note that although the local street names have been correctly spelled, the local pub of the same name bears the modern spelling corruption of Briar Dene.
Browns Bay is the name of the small inlet between the southern end of Whitley Promenade and Marconi Point (formerly known as Browns Point) at Cullercoats and consists of a large rocky reef. The bay, along with nine former cottages which stood to the rear of Front Street and were known as ‘Brown’s Buildings’, are all believed to have taken their name from a local baker called Brown who had premises on Cullercoats Front Street in 1838.
by Charlie Steel © 2015
Further reading for many of Charlie’s articles can be found in his books: ‘Monkseaton Village’ (Vol. 1 & 2), North Shields Public Houses, Inns & Taverns’ (Part 1 & 2) and ‘Tynemouth Remembered’ all published by Summerhill Books.