The town of Crook sits South West of Durham City and is considered by many to be the gateway to Weardale.
The town had humble beginnings, and until the mid-nineteenth century it was just a tiny hamlet and part of the parish of Brancepeth. The surrounding area was mainly rural with most people in Crook employed in agriculture.
The changes that came about in the early 1800's were to see the growth of many of the towns throughout the region. The Industrial revolution had brought with it a need for coal and the rapid growth of the coal mining industry. This growth was to see hundreds of mines developed throughout the North East.
The coal mines around Crook were opened by Messrs Pease & Partners and benefited from the fact the coal seams were not deep in comparison to others in the area. As with many communities throughout the area the town was to grow rapidly because of the need for coal.
Most of the people in Crook would have been employed by the mines. However, a number of supporting industries also grew up in Crook and the surrounding area. The coal mined in the Crook area was particularly suitable for turning into coke and most of the collieries coke ovens. In order to build the coke ovens, a factory that made fire-bricks was opened in Crook and this employed a large number of men. Making coke produces a number of by-products, including gas, coal tar, benzol oil and sulphate of ammonia, and people were employed to help with the production of these products. As the town grew so did the number of people providing necessary services such as shopkeepers, innkeepers, teachers and many other professions.
The coal and coke mined in the Crook area was not only used locally, with the majority being transported for use outside the region, through ports on the North East coast, especially Hartlepool . The coal was transported to these ports on the railway, another great user of the Industrial age of coal. The first railway that served Crook was an extension of the Clarence railway, but this followed a difficult and awkward route and was soon replaced by a new railway that followed a local river valley. The development of the railway and the transport system was to be instrumental in the development of Crook.
The transformation of Crook was like many other local towns and by the end of the nineteenth century the tiny hamlet was now a thriving town with a wide selection of shops, public houses and there were churches for Anglicans, Catholics, Wesleyans, Methodists, Moravians, and Baptists. The town had 3 schools teaching a total of over 1700 children from the town and surrounding area. There was both a Miner's Institute and a Mechanics' Institute, which offered recreational facilities, reading rooms and libraries.
As with much of the region Crook has suffered mixed fortunes in the 20th century. It continued to prosper in the early part of the century but was badly affected by the worldwide depression of the 1930s. By 1936 more than 34% of the adult population was classed as unemployed and nearly three-quarters of these had been out of work for over five years. There was a revival in the 1940s and early 1950s, prompted by the increased demand for coal during the Second World War and in the post-war reconstruction, but this soon fizzled out and the area went into serious decline. The 1960s saw the closure of the remaining pits and the then the loss of the railway and there is now little evidence of Crook's rich industrial past. Today Crook continues as a small market town, though there is now very little by way of industry in the area and most of its residents work elsewhere in the North East.