Phoenix Row Primitive Methodist Chapel, County Durham
Phoenix Row is a tiny hamlet about two and a half miles west of Bishop Auckland. It consists principally of a single row of cottages built in the 1840s to accommodate the workers in the local coal mines that were being developed in the area in the early nineteenth century. Commercial extraction began here in 1819 and it is said that, over the next 150 years, nearly 100 pits were developed within a radius of 5 miles. Originally, coal was transported to the Stockton and Darlington Railway by way of the Etherley Incline, but with the development of railways in the area and the continued expansion of coal mining the Incline closed in 1843. Phoenix Row was built on part of the line of the former Incline.
As coal mines continued to be opened so the area saw a steady increase in population and housing. The 1881 census lists 20 properties in Phoenix Row; almost without exception they were occupied by coal miners or other colliery workers. The increase in population also lead to the development of places of worship, and at the northern end of Phoenix Row a Primitive Methodist chapel was opened in 1880. The Durham County Record Office holds a treasurer’s account book which dates from 12 July 1880.
Writing in 1909, William Patterson commented that “places now on the plan, and at some of which there are vigorous and growing churches, were not in existence in the dawning days. Wind Mill, Copley, Phoenix Row, Ramshaw, Bildershaw, and Tindale Crescent have wells of healing and refreshment.”
The chapel celebrated its centenary in 1980, but it seems it was not destined to survive for much longer. In 1987 the chapel was recommended for closure and the following year it was sold. Subsequently, the building was converted into a dwelling. The chapel date stone, which is now set over the entrance door in a new porch, confirms 1880 as the year of the chapel’s construction.
1881 census, RG11/4915, folios 54-57, pages 45-51
W M Patterson, Northern Primitive Methodism: A record of the rise and progress of the circuits in the old Sunderland district (London: Edwin Dalton, 1909), p.80
Durham County Record Office, M/BA 615, M/BA 642, M/BA 644