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Forest Hall, North Tyneside

Clousden Hill Commune

Last Updated:

9 May 2023

Forest Hall, North Tyneside

This is a

Farm

55.025155, -1.559289

Founded in 

1895

Current status is

Defunct

Designer (if known):

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The house is still extant, though the commune ended in 1898.

NEHL - The land beyond these walls at Clousden Hill belonged to a short lived communist commune in the mid 1890s. 18 acres ran under collective ownership as a response to the rapid gritty industrialisation and “overcrowding”. Cash flow and internal tensions brought it down in 1898.

The farm was taken on with an annual lease of £60 overseen by secretary Franz Kapper, who had fled Bohemia. The intention was to establish an agricultural colony with profits of the crops they grew and resources they sold, with men and women sharing the burden of labour through farming, producing clothing and tearing livestock. Food was to be distributed freely, administered by a joint committee of mixed sex. Assurance was given against poverty, sickness and old age, with education also intended.

It also gained international attention - Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta heralded his support, though expressed concern for the gender split with only 4 women in a colony of 27 in 1897.

It vanished as quick as it was established. In 3 years it went from aspiration and ambition to infighting and issues with capital & debt. While regional Co-Operatives were buying stock is clearly wasnt enough. It was privately taken over in 1898.

In respect of Clousden Hill House, the local HER listing states:

"This is a robust, stone-built former farm dwelling possibly dating from c.1850, with a number of later alterations but without embellishment or particular features. The core of the house is shown on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey of c.1855 and the house with its extension to the east is shown on the Second Edition Map of 1898.

The house is single-storey. Extending eastwards and attached to the house is a lower and narrower single storey, rubble-built range, added in the second half of the 19th century. In the garden area immediately to the west of the building are the remains of low walls, and to the front are sandstone garden walls. A fish pond is marked immediately to the rear of the building.

The Clousden Hill area holds a notable position in British Social History as the site of one of the best known and earliest experiments in communal living. In the period from c.1894 to 1898 an anarchist communist colony based at "Clousden Hill Farm" farmed 20 acres of land with revolutionary ideas of both communal living and agriculture. The instigator of the commune was Frank Kapper, an anarchist tailor from Bohemia who followed the ideas of Prince Peter Kropotkin, a Russian anarchist based in Britain.

The chosen location of Tyneside was based on Kropotkin's idea that intensive agriculture under glass could be carried out in coal mining areas where coal could be bought cheaply. It seems that the building in question was occupied by at least part of the commune in early 1898."

It is worth noting the house was probably build in the 1860s rather than 1850s.

Nigel Todd has written a book on the commune named "Roses and Revolutionists". He has also written a piece for the Newcastle Chronicle here: https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/how-clousden-hill-communist-agricultural-10602306. Sadly, Nigel passed away in 2021.

Listing Description (if available)

Both Ordnance Surveys above illustrate the Clousden Hill area first in the 1890s, alongside an earlier vista from 1865. The 1890s map shows the commune around the time it was operating. The house in which many of the tenants lived is at the centre of the property while the nursery is just below. The nursery is where the crops were grown and harvested to be sold. There was also a disused quarry adjacent to the house which had gone out of use a decade or so earlier.

As we can see on the 1865 map, Clousden Hill House was not built to the current extent at least until after the map was surveyed. The quarry was still in operation at the time of surveying but probably closed by the time the house was fully completed. The quarry became a lake, and Newcastle and North Shields Curling Club used it for a short time.

The old Killingworth waggonway had part of its trackbed severed having been closed some time before 1858. The trackbed was reused for a tramway to pit terraces at Palmersville. The Clousden Hill Inn also still retained its previous name, The Three Tuns. This was later changed to the Clousden Hill Inn, probably after the construction of the house.

The land in question was previously known as Closing Hill, but there was either a corruption of the name or an intentional change.

The 1920 Ordnance Survey map was revised in 1913, a decade and a half since the commune was running. Much is still the same except rows of either greenhouses or small farm cottages. The quarry was still extent as was the nursery.

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Photograph of the east side of the commune from Forest Hall Road. It is a private area, so there was no chance of having a peek inside!

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An illustration from the Clousden Hill Free Communist and Co-operative Colony, drawn by Henry Wright from the 8 January 1893 Illustrated London News

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