Tow Law is a small Township situated in an area of fringe moor land, on the eastern approaches to the Pennine Hills in the west of County Durham, some 10 miles from Durham City and intersected by the main A68 road. Despite its unpromising location – the town being at more than 1,000 feet above sea level on an exposed site - its growth during the last century had been rapid. In 1841 only one building stood in the locality, called Tow Law House, but by 1851 the population of the town stood at almost 2,000. By the early 1870’s the population had reached 4,968 reaching a peak in 1881 of 5,005 inhabitants.
The founding architect of this growth was one Charles Attwood who in 1845 established an Iron Works near to this solitary house to take advantage of the Iron Ore to be found in upper Weardale and of the coal reserves in and around Tow Law.
Six blast furnaces were erected for the smelting of the ironstone and the firm became known as "Weardale Iron and Coal Company". A large Colliery was sunk a little to the north of the area to which the Company gave the name ‘Black Prince’. Other mines were quickly sunk and took the names of Royal George, Old Thornley, Hedley Hope and West Edward. A number of these Collieries had Coke-ovens and Brick works attached.
It’s of passing interest to note that the merchant-banking house of Baring Brothers financed the expansion of the Tow Law Iron Works.
By 1860 Inkerman and West Thornley Collieries had begun, both having coke works attached. With such a large amount of coal near the surface several drift mines were also in production.
One purpose of the industrial venture at Tow Law was to manufacture rails and chairs for the Railways, which were being constructed at that time, and particularly for those projected in America. Thomas Baring while visiting North America in 1852 commended the products of the Weardale Iron and Coal Company to ironmasters in New England, but with so much promise and so much sound finance behind the venture it is sad to relate that it did not prosper.
The demise of the Tow Law Iron Works was complete by the year 1882 with all of the Iron and Steel products now being produced by the Weardale Iron and Coal Company at their Tudhoe works at near Spennymoore. The company continued with their mining interests, Black Prince Colliery continued intermittently until the early 1920’s, and West Thornley until the 1932. At the peak of prosperity Black Prince employed over 600 men working four coal seams and over 1,000 men were employed at the Ironworks. The last deep mine in the town ‘Inkerman’ closed in 1969.
It is interesting to recall that during the Crimean War of 1853 cannon balls used in that conflict were made from Tow Law Iron, and the small hamlet to the east of the town called Inkerman takes its name from the battle of Inkerman.
While the Weardale Iron and Coal Company rose and fell, it fell to a Mr. Joseph Bond to carry on iron making in the town. He had the enterprise to establish his Castle Foundry and Patent Steel Work’s in 1868, and indeed Bond’s Foundry Company is still here today. So too are the steel works of George Blair and Company, founded in 1941 just to the north of Tow Law. Both are less pretentious that the undertakings of the Weardale Company but have continued to give work. The Banks Group of Land Mineral Estate Developers formed in 1976 have also been a source of employment in the town.
The railway, under the Stockton and Darlington Railway Company, was one of the first developments in Tow Law. The line lead from Crook and Bishop Auckland in one direction and Consett in the other. The railway-line to Consett carried its last passengers in 1957. In the early 1960’s passenger traffic to Crook and Bishop Auckland ceased. The railway finally closed in 1965, the line and buildings removed and Alpine Way Estate built on the site of the station and sidings.