Fascinating, united, community-centric, historic – this is Wallsend. The importance of Wallsend is not always apparent to those who live outside the area with its name more often than not associated with the town's ability to produce excellent football teams and players. But, its development and importance to the region was once so much more than this. Pictured Above: Nelson Street, April 1906. Photo taken by Ralph Snowball.Part of the Norm Barney Photographic Collection, CulturalCollections, University of Newcastle.
The original inhabitants, the Awabakal people, called the area now known as Wallsend "Nikkinba" - the place of the coals, and was no doubt part of their traditional hunting grounds owing to the fish, game and native vegetable being plentiful.
Playing a Key Role in the Development of Newcastle
As a coal mining centre, Wallsend coal equalled the best there was and its development as a coal mining centre played a critical role in the early development of Newcastle as a port. So important was Wallsend as an industrial hub, that at one point in time its population equalled that of Newcastle.
Although settlers moved inland and westward from the coast shortly after 1797, little or no development of the area took place until the early 1820's following a survey by Mr Harry Dangar, who was the surveyor for the district.
Soon after completion of the survey in 1823, an area in Wallsend was selected for land grant purposes and settlement developed rapidly, both as an agricultural and cattle raising area until coal was first discovered.
The Australian Agricultural Co. opened their first pit at Hamilton, five miles from Wallsend, in 1849 and following the seam, extended their activities to Wallsend.
Like many Newcastle suburbs, Wallsend is named after a place in England and in this case a small coal Mining Township in Durham, Northumberland which is located in the north of England and situated at the end of Hadrian’s Wall which stretched across England – hence the name "Walls End".
The name was given to the area by Alexander Brown, originally a native of Northumberland when, in the 1850s, he purchased land bordering what is now Newcastle Road, Boundary and Croudace Streets and beyond Gunambi Road. The company he formed to operate the colliery which opened in January 1861 was called the Newcastle-Wallsend Coal Company.
The suburb began as two mining towns, Wallsend and Plattsburg. Wallsend was the more developed and as it grew it linked to Plattsburg via Nelson Street. Wallsend was declared to be a separate municipality in early 1874, but this had changed by 1915.
Expansion and Development
Following the establishment of the Newcastle-Wallsend Coal Company’s first coal mine in 1860, the town grew rapidly. The coal mined at Wallsend was of very good quality and the town prospered creating the commercial hub it is today.
With little consideration given to the controlled development of the town, the Newcastle-Wallsend Coal Company set aside a portion of their grant aside for residential and business purposes which led to the first subdivision in 1860.
The Coal Company subdivided land in and around its ‘A’ Pit with the first blocks selling for up to 160 pounds per acre. What followed was considerable building activity in the area and the development of commercial buildings, shops and hotels to service the needs of the growing number of miners arriving from as far away as Scotland, England and Wales.
In the 1860s, following a period of long-drawn-out disputes with management, a group of disgruntled miners began the Co-operative Mine on the present site of Wallsend High School in Macquarie Street. The mine ceased production in 1934 and was the first and only attempt to work a coal mine on the co-operative principle.
Wallsend, at this time, was a thriving township with a population of 6,000 people which at that point (1868) equalled the population of Newcastle. There were also eight churches, two public schools, several friendly societies, one denominational school, one co-operative society and a bank.
In 1874 Wallsend was incorporated, and the first council formed with James Fletcher elected Mayor.
The first Catholic Church at Wallsend was opened in 1876, the stones for it being sourced from the old quarry in Nelson Street. This Church, though not used, stood opposite the present brick church until 1954. The priest came from Newcastle and celebrated Mass every three months and as there was no public transport, the people thought little of walking to Lambton or Newcastle when there was no Mass at Wallsend.
The push for a hospital in Wallsend started around 1885 and was finally constructed on land donated by Newcastle Wallsend Coal Co. and opened in 1893. With around 190 beds, Wallsend was one of the best equipped and most efficient hospitals in NSW outside the Sydney region.
Until the mid-1960s it was a community hospital supported by local donations and mine workers' levies, as well as funds from the state government and run by a local community board. The hospital was eventually closed in September 1991.
Amalgamation of the two councils occurred in 1915 with the new council being known as Wallsend Municipal Council. This continued until 1938 when Wallsend joined with Newcastle City Council. Steam trams from Newcastle to Plattsburg replaced regular rail services in 1887. When the line was extended to West Wallsend and Speers Point, it was supposedly the longest suburban steam tram line in the world.
Unfortunately, the December 1989 earthquake resulted in the demolition of many century-old buildings. However, Wallsend still retains much of the atmosphere and character of its ‘coal mining village’ years.
Today, Wallsend has outgrown the historic main street and received investment and expansion from local business and national companies. The main street of Wallsend has also experienced a constantly changing arrangement of business with new restaurants, real estate agencies, trendy coffee shops, hairdressers, flower stores and many professional services occupying previous local businesses that have since moved to the larger Stockland Wallsend shopping centre.
Wallsend is also at the heart of Newcastle’s property market with more properties sold in Wallsend than any other Newcastle suburb in the 2013-14 financial year, according to Australian Property Monitors.
Local property experts put this growing demand down to a number of factors that include affordable housing and the town’s close proximity to the city and other Newcastle suburbs. They also add that the suburbs access to good schools, the University and the close community meant it was a great place to raise a family. ■
Acknowledgement: Thanks to Wallsend Heritage Group Inc. for historical information and also the University of Newcastle Archives for providing images.