A century ago, the coal mining village of Chopwell, near Gateshead, was a hotbed of revolutionary socialism and earned the nickname Little Moscow for its strong support of the Communist Party.
There was a lot of unemployment, poverty and hunger and the working conditions for miners were harsh and dangerous providing a fertile breeding ground for revolutionary ideas. During the 1926 general strike the union flag at the council offices was taken down and replaced with the Soviet Flag. When the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) visited the area in 1929 he expressed sympathy with mining families for the privation and squalid conditions they had to suffer. He received ‘a reet welcome’ from the miners who appreciated his common touch.
The last coal pit closed down for good in 1966, taking away the community’s reason for being. Chopwell was classified as a category D village, meaning ‘do not resuscitate’ and it was allowed to decline. But it has hung on and reinvented itself as a dormitory town for those employed in Newcastle or Consett. The village streets may have a rather humdrum appearance but the residents are fortunate to have a 900 acre woodland on their doorstep called Chopwell Wood.
The old pit-head buildings have been demolished and slag heaps levelled. The miners’ rows of terraced houses, once dank, overcrowded and lacking in sanitation, have been upgraded and modernised.
There is no obvious sign that the revolutionary flame continues to burn brightly but you can still find streets in the village named Lenin Terrace and Marx Terrace and judging by the Chopwell website there is a strong community spirit among the village’s population of 3,000. Another notable street, Fannybush Lane, had to be renamed by the local authority in the 1990s because its street sign kept getting stolen.
How to Get to Chopwell
You can find the location on this map: