When settling down on their sofas to watch Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation live on 2nd June 1953, many residents of the North East would have had a hill to thank for the privilege. No, not Harry Hill or Benny Hill – we do actually mean a raised area of land. Well, more to the point –a transmitting station built on that hill and named after it. The hill in question is Pontop Pike, where the transmission mast still stands between the County Durham towns of Stanley and Consett.
In conventional circumstances, many people of the region in the early 1950s might have actually been denied the opportunity to watch that momentous coronation live at all. However, the mast’s construction was, on the BBC’s initiative, brought forward. Test transmissions only started on 20th April 1953 before the mast first transmitted programmes on 1st May, although this still allowed a comfortable amount of time before the coronation took place on 2nd June.
Today, the mast broadcasts digital television programmes to not only County Durham, but also the neighbouring Tyne and Wear and Tees Valley areas on either side, plus further-flung places like parts of Northumberland and North Yorkshire. The transmitter has not, however, been responsible for analogue television since 2012. At 149 metres (489 feet) high, the mast towers above Pontop Pike itself – which, despite its name having been used for Pontop Pike Park and Pontop Pike Farm in the local area, remains most strongly associated with its transmitting station.
Coal wagon at Beamish Museum entrance
Do you often visit Beamish Museum? We wouldn’t be at all surprised if you do. After all, it’s an amazing open-air museum that proves rewarding with repeat visits – and just one £19.99 ‘Unlimited Ticket’ allows you to make those visits for a year at no extra charge. However, in travelling to the museum, you may have often been struck by the sight of the large coal wagon that stands just outside the museum’s entrance. Yes, the wagon with ‘189’ on it…
Except that, well, that wagon isn’t actually no. 189; instead, it’s no. 389. Yes, it’s incorrectly numbered. That inaccurate numbering has been captured in many photographs over the years – including one in which the museum’s founding director, Frank Atkinson, is sat beside the wagon in 1987. However, as recorded in a Beamish Museum stock list, the wagon – of the 4T cauldron type – is no. 389 and was built in the 1870s for use on the Londonderry Railway.
Many other wagons of the same type and origin are on display – or even operational – in the museum’s colliery area. The mention of ‘Londonderry’ in that previously mentioned railway’s name isn’t primarily referring to the Northern Ireland city also known as Derry. Instead, it refers to the Londonderry family responsible for the 1850s development of this railway, which ran between Seaham and Sunderland and was owned by the Londonderry family until 1906. At that point, ownership passed to the North Eastern Railway company, which helped to develop the UK rail network.