John Bowes, son of John Bowes 10th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, was born in 1811 and died in 1885. He was raised at the family's substantial Gibside home near Rowlands Gill. His mother, Mary Milner was a housemaid and was not initially wed to his father until nine years after he was born. For this reason, John did not inherit the title of Earl following his father's death, although he did become a landlord to his father's estates across England.
His great grandfather Sir George Bowes had been a wealthy coal baron and was part of a wealthy group of coal/land owners known as the 'Grand Allies' who were formed to develop and control coal production in the local area. Although John lived mainly in France, he did launch the Marley Hill Coal Company in 1839. His intention was to reopen Marley Hill Colliery which had been started prior to 1700. The Tanfield Waggonway having been originally built by the Grand Allies.
In 1844, a young Charles Palmer joined the company, later becoming a managing partner in 1846. The name of the company was then changed in 1847 to John Bowes, Esq & Partners.
Palmer purchased collieries in Burnopfield and Crookbank and also the railway which ran west of Marley Hill to these pits. Coal mined from these collieries was transported to Dunston by the Brandling Junction Railway's Tanfield branch which had been recently modernised from wood to metal. It was decided that it would be more cost-effective to transport the coal directly to ships at Jarrow Staithes, so in 1850 Palmer acquired Springwell Colliery Railway, Kibblesworth Colliery in 1851, along with its railway, then in 1852 St Andrews House Colliery, which stood adjacent to Marley Hill. In order to connect them together, Palmer needed one final piece of two and 1/4 miles of the railway line which he managed to persuade Lord Ravensworth to eventually lease, allowing construction of a new self-acting rope worked incline, which was completed in September 1854.
In 1855 the line was extended from Burnopfield to Dipton and by 1860 Charles Palmer had taken control of a fifteen-mile stretch of railway from Dipton to Jarrow. It was given the name Pontop and Jarrow Railway.
In 1932, the Pontop and Jarrow Railway was renamed the Bowes Railway, in honour of the Bowes-Lyon family, ancestors of the Queen Mother, who were major shareholders.
In 1947 the line became part of the National Coal Board which made a significant investment in the railway to improve efficiency. A good example of this was the introduction of electricity, which replaced many of the steam-driven machinery in the workshops and notably the steam winding engines at Blackham’s Hill in 1950. The final adaption to the railway was the link constructed to the neighbouring Pelaw Main Railway, which was constructed in 1955. The line closed beyond Kibblesworth in 1969, with Kibblesworth now being the only colliery sending its coal via the Bowes Railway. The closure of the Kibblesworth pit took place on the 4th October 1974 and brought an end to most operations, with closure finally coming in November 1974.