On the north side of the B6318 midway between Throckley and Heddon-on-the-Wall stands a terrace of houses known as Frenchman’s Row. They aren’t the original buildings (being replaced in the 1960s), but the name is a strange survival from a former age. Moreover, the more substantial eastern-most structure was for years the famous Royal French (or Frenchman’s) Arms pub. But where, one might wonder, does the strange name come from?
It all dates back to 1796, when the lessees of Heddon Colliery built a row of flats on the spot for their workmen. They were stone-built, and had an outer flight of steps and a gallery. However, before so much as a single collier had moved in, three ships full of French refugees arrived – being Huguenot clergymen fleeing the shenanigans on the continent – and the new accommodation was used instead to house 38 of these individuals. The Frenchmen stayed until 1802, when they were able to return to their homeland – leaving a sundial as a parting gift (still to be seen today on the rebuild terrace).
Despite their short stay, though, the name ‘Frenchman’s Row’ stuck. The buildings were used as a poor house for a time, but were renovated and relaunched as accommodation proper in 1883. The more substantial building at the eastern end was not added until 1897 and became the Royal French Arms (a small beer-house had originally been housed in the end house of the ‘row’).
The original row was eventually demolished in 1960, to be replaced by the current affair in 1962 – but the name was retained. And the Victorian pub has now been converted into apartments, but is still known as ‘Royal French Court’.