|North East England|
North East England region in England
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|• Total||3,317 sq mi (8,592 km2)|
|• Density||782.84/sq mi (302.26/km2)|
|• Per capita||£15,688 (9th)|
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
North East England is one of the nine regions of England that are classified at the first level of NUTS for statistical purposes. It covers Northumberland, County Durham, Tyne and Wear, and the Tees Valley. The region is home to three large conurbations: Teesside, Wearside, and Tyneside, the latter of which is the largest of the three and the eighth most populous conurbation in the United Kingdom. There are only three cities in the region; Newcastle upon Tyne is the largest city in the region with a population of just under 280,000, followed by Sunderland, both of which are located in the metropolitan county of Tyne and Wear. The city of Durham is the county town of County Durham. Other large settlements in the region include Darlington; Gateshead; Hartlepool; Middlesbrough; South Shields; Stockton-on-Tees and Washington.
- Geography and early history
- Industrial heritage
- Alkali manufacturing
- Teesside chemicals
- The Brunner Mond Company
- Chemicals at Billingham
- Plastics and nylon manufacture
- Petrochemical production
- Salt making
- Coal mining
- Iron and steel
- Recent political history
- Images for kids
Geography and early history
The region is generally hilly and sparsely populated in the North and West, and urban and arable in the East and South. The highest point in the region is The Cheviot, in the Cheviot Hills, at 815 metres (2,674 ft).
The region contains the urban centres of Tyneside, Wearside and Teesside, and is noted for the rich natural beauty of its coastline, Northumberland National Park, and the section of the Pennines that includes Teesdale and Weardale. Its historic importance is very visible by Northumberland's ancient castles, the two World Heritage Sites of Durham Cathedral and Durham Castle, and Hadrian's Wall. In fact Roman archaeology can be found widely across the region and a special exhibitions based around the Roman Fort of Segedunum at Wallsend and the other forts along Hadrian's Wall are supplemented by the numerous artifacts that are displayed in the Great North Museum Hancock in Newcastle.St. Peter's Church in Monkwearmouth, Sunderland and St. Pauls in Jarrow also hold significant historical value and have a joint bid to become a World Heritage Site.
The area has a strong religious past, as can be seen in works such as the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The work of the 7th-century Cuthbert (634–687 AD), Bede (673–735 AD) and Hilda of Whitby (614–680 AD) being hugely influential in the early church and are still venerated today. These saints are usually associated with the monasteries on the island of Lindisfarne, Wearmouth – Jarrow, and the Abbey at Whitby but they are also associated to many other religious sites in the region. Bede is regarded as the greatest Anglo-Saxon scholar. Working his whole life at the monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow where he translated some forty books on all areas of knowledge, including nature, history, astronomy, poetry and theological matters such as the lives of the saints. His best known work is "The Ecclesiastical History of the English People". One of the most famous pieces of both art and literature created in the region are "The Lindisfarne Gospels" thought to be the work of a monk named Eadfrith, who became Bishop of Lindisfarne in 698 and died in 721 AD. This body of work is thought to have been done in honour of Cuthbert and created around 710–720 AD.
The arrival of the Vikings on 6 June 793 AD on the shores of Northeast England, was an unprecedented attack that shocked the whole of Europe, a raiding party from Norway attacked the monastic settlement on Lindisfarne. The monks fled or were slaughtered while Bishop Higbald sought refuge on the mainland and a chronicler recorded- "On the 8th June, the harrying of the heathen miserably destroyed God's church by rapine and slaughter." British history changed forever that day and three hundred years of Viking raids, battles and settlement were to persist until William the Conqueror defeated King Harold at Hastings in 1066. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes the change from raiding to settlement when it records that in 876 the Vikings "Shared out the land of the Northumbrians and they proceeded to plough and support themselves" The Viking kingdom of "Northumbria" was an area spreading from the Scottish borders (then Pictish borders) at the Firth of Forth to the north, and to the south of York, its capital, down to the Humber. The last independent Northumbrian king from 947–8 was Eric Bloodaxe who died in battle at the Battle of Stainmore, Westmorland, in 954. After Eric Bloodaxe's death, all England was ruled by Eadred the grandson of Alfred the Great and so began the machinery of national government. Today the Viking legacy can still be found in the language and place names of Northeast England and in the DNA of its people. The name Newcastle comes from the new castle built shortly after their conquest in 1080 by Robert Curthose, William the Conqueror's eldest son.
North East England has an oceanic climate with narrower temperature ranges than further south in England. Summers and winters are kept mild rather than hot or cold by the strong maritime influence of the North Atlantic Current of the Gulf Stream, along with a relative distance to mainland Europe and heat and coldwaves forming there. Met Office operates several weather stations in the region. The stations nearest significant urban areas are Durham, Stockton-on-Tees and Tynemouth, that all show variations in temperature especially in summer in relation to its distance to the North Sea. The warmest summers in the region are found in Stockton-on-Tees and the Middlesbrough area with a 1981-2010 July average high of 20.4 °C (68.7 °F). Precipitation is often low by English standards, in spite of the low sunshine levels, with Stockton-on-Tees only averaging 574.2 millimetres (22.61 in) during a year, and seaside Tynemouth recording 597.2 millimetres (23.51 in) during a year, in spite of a slightly sunnier climate. The summers on the northern coastlines are clearly cooler than in the southern and central inland areas, with Tynemouth only just being above 18 °C (64 °F) in July. Moving further inland, frosts during winter gets more common due to the higher elevation and distance to the sea.
After more than 2000 years of industrial activity as a result of abundant minerals such as salt and coal the chemical industry of the Northeast England is today spread across the whole of the region with pharmaceuticals being primarily produced in the north of the region, speciality and fine chemicals spread across the middle of the region and commodity chemicals and petrochemicals on Teesside. These companies are members of the Northeast of England Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC). The early chemical industry in this region was however primarily Tyneside based and associated with the manufacture of soap and glass. The most important chemical activity in the 18th and 19th centuries was the manufacture of alkali to make soap, and when it was mixed with lime and sand it was used to make glass. What came out of the industrial revolution was a period when the Northeast of England's economy was dominated by iron and steel, coal mining and shipbuilding.
Before the industrial revolution alkali was mostly used to help with the beaching process of making cloth. As the industrial revolution took hold increasing demand for alkali came from higher levels of production of dyestuffs, and bleach. In 1798 John Losh and the Earl of Dundonald took out a lease on a rich supply of brine pumped from a nearby coal mine, the Walker pit and this became their raw material. The Losh, Wilson & Bell Alkali works were established by at Walker-on-Tyne in 1807 and bleaching powder manufacture there in 1830, Losh Brothers soon manufactured half the soda in England. By 1814 the Leblanc process of making alkali from common salt was introduced to Britain. This involves the production of sodium sulfate from sodium chloride, followed by reaction of the sodium sulphate with coal and calcium carbonate to produce the alkali sodium carbonate. An alkali works using this process opened at Tyne Dock 1822, Felling shore Tyneside 1826, Friars Goose Gateshead 1828 and again on Felling Shore 1834. Such works also produced soda, alum and Epsom salts. The river frontage at South Shore of the River Tyne at Gateshead was one of the main locations for the chemical industry such that in the 19th century, it was a conglomeration of industries; glass, soap and iron. By 1828 one of the great problems associated with the alkali works was pollution from emissions of hydrochloric acid fumes which devastated the neighbouring countryside. One solution was to build tall chimneys to drive the fumes further away and in 1833 the highest chimney in England was built at the Friars Goose Alkali Works. The passing of the Alkali Act of 1863 in the UK Parliament brought about a further reduced pollution from these processes and was the first industrial environmental legislation to come into practice in the world.
Robert Wilson first produced sulphuric acid and fertilisers at Urlay Nook near Egglescliffe in 1833 and this was Teesside's first great chemical works. In 1859 rock salt deposits were discovered at Middlesbrough by Henry Bolckow and Vaughan while boring for water at a depth of 1,206 feet and this led to the move to Teesside of the heavy chemical industry. In 1860 William James established an alkali company at Cargo Fleet and in 1869 Samuel Sadler also set up a factory nearby. Sadler's works produced synthetic aniline and alzarine dyestuffs and distilled tar. The introduction of the Solvay Process to make alkali in 1872 made the Tyneside alkali industry uneconomic but it was a real boost to Teesside industry which was invigorated by the discovery of further salt deposits at Port Clarence near Seal Sands by Bell Brothers in 1874. The Solvay process or ammonia-soda process is still today the major industrial process for the production of sodium carbonate. The process was developed into its modern form by Ernest Solvay during the 1860s and it requires salt brine and limestone as basic raw materials. The worldwide production of soda ash in 2005 has been estimated at 42 billion kilograms. Salt manufacture for human consumption by panning had taken place at Seal Sands since Roman times and in the 20th century, extraction of salt from the salt strata below ground in the Seal Sands area, known as the Saltholme Brine Fields, has left salt caverns which are now used as liquid/gas strorage facilities for the process industry.
The Brunner Mond Company
By 1882 a number of salt works were established at Haverton Hill near to Port Clarance and nearby Seal Sands in 1882 by Bell Brothers. This company became the first firm to begin large scale salt production on Teesside and salt workers were brought in from Cheshire and housed at Haverton Hill. The salt-making interests of Bell Brothers were bought by Brunner Mond & Co of Cheshire in 1890. Brunner Mond became the giant of Teesside chemical-making in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Meanwhile, rationalization of chemical firms in 1891 left only four works on Tyneside.
Chemicals at Billingham
The Chemical Industry was established at Billingham in 1918 by the Government for the production of synthetic ammonia. It was intended for use in the making of munitions for the Great War. The 700 acre Grange Farm at Billingham was chosen for the site. The war was over by the time the plant opened and it had to be adapted to new manufacturing. It was taken over by Brunner Mond in 1920 and manufactured synthetic ammonia and fertilisers. Brunner Mond merged with other large scale chemical manufacturers in 1926 to form Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI). In 1928 anhydrite was mined from 700 feet below Billingham for use in the making of sulphuric acid which is required to make detergents and fertilizers.
Plastics and nylon manufacture
Manufacturing of plastics commenced at Billingham in 1934. This is one of the first places in the world where large scale manufacture of these materials took place. A new chemical plant was established the following year for making oil and petrol from creosote and coal through a process called hydrogenation. In 1946 another large chemical works opened on Teesside at Wilton. on the south side of the River Tees. Further lands were purchased by ICI in 1962 at Seal Sands where land had been reclaimed from the sea and this became the third large scale chemical manufacturing site on Teesside. Today all three Teesside Chemical sites at Billingham, Wilton, and Seal Sands remain in use for large scale chemical manufacture by the members of the Northeast of England Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC) and plastics and polymers continue to be manufactured there by Lotte Chemicals(PET), SABIC(HDPE), Victrex(PEEK) and Lucite International(Perspex). Nylon 66 manufacture ceased on Teesside in 2008 with the closure of the Invista manufacturing unit.
Coke ovens used in the making of chemicals at Billingham were replaced in 1962 by new plants utilising the steam naphtha process which enabled the use of crude oil as feedstock for the process known as "cracking". This proved to be a much cheaper process of making ethylene, aromatuics, petroleum derivatives and other chemicals such as ammonia on Teesside. From 1964 to 1969 four great oil refineries were erected at the mouth of the Tees, two by Phillips Petroleum and one each by ICI and Shell. Their main purpose was to supply the Billingham chemical industry. A 138-mile pipeline was built in 1968 linking chemical works on Teesside with chemical plants at Runcorn for the transportation of ethylene. Today the remaining oil refinery is operated by ConocoPhillips and two biorefineries, producing biodiesel and bioethanol for transport fuels, are operated by Ensus and Harvest Energy. SABIC operate the Ethylene Cracker and the Aromatics Plants while the Ammonia and Fertiliser works are operated by CF Fertlizers.
Salt-making in and around Greatham (between Hartlepool and Billingham) had been important in Roman and Medieval times and it also took place on wearside from the 1580s but by the 16th century the industry had been eclipsed by South Shields on the Tyne. In 1894 the industry returned to Greatham with the establishment of the Greatham Salt and Brine Company by George Weddell. The works was later purchased by the famous salt-making company Cerebos in 1903. Cerebos, by the mid-20th century, was owned by the food conglomerate Rank Hovis McDougall and the factory closed in 2002. During the 20th century the extraction of salt on the north bank of the River Tees by aqueous hydraulic means, has resulted in a number of underground salt cavities that are completely impervious to gas and liquids. Consequently, these cavities are now used to store both industrial gases and liquids by companies that are members of the Northeast of England Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC). Today the Huntsman Tioxide is based close to Greatham operating one of the world's largest chemical plants for the manufacture of titanium dioxide which is the ubiquitous brilliant white pigment used in paints, polo mints, cosmetics, UV sunscreens, plastics, golf balls and sports field line markings.
Glass manufacture has been an important industry in the Northeast of England since stained glass glaziers worked on the Wearmouth and Jarrow monasteries in 674 AD. Sunderland and Tyneside were noted for glass-making between the 17th and 19th centuries. In 1827 about two fifths of all English glass was made in the Tyneside area and in 1845 South Shields was making more plate glass than anywhere else in England. Sunderland was also rising to prominence as a glass-making centre. James Hartley's Wear Glass Works was opened in Sunderland in 1836 and by 1865 one third of the sheet glass in England was supplied by his Sunderland works. The Candlish Glass Bottleworks was the largest in Europe, managed by John Candlish
Coal Mining was one of the first industrial activities in Northeast England because the region was fortunate to have shallow seams of coal near the coast, which meant that material could be transported in and out by sea. This led to the growth of ports such as Sunderland, Newcastle, Teesport Middlesbrough, Seaham, Hartlepool and Blyth. The energy and carbon from coal underpinned the development of the iron and steel, chemicals, shipbuilding and other industries around these ports. As discussed in the classic historical review of "Victorian Cities" by Asa Briggs, Middlesbrough is a completely Victorian town was developed as a port downstream of Yarm and Stockton to take bigger coal ships. The Northumberland-Durham coalfield was one of the earliest mining areas to be worked in the country, its shallow seams near the coast meant that the coal could be dug and sent out quickly and easily. The Romans extracted coal here and the area was an important source of coal in the 13th and 14th centuries. Many current towns and villages across the region were originally settlements set up for the coal miners. As an example, Seaham is a port community that was completely developed to handle output of the coal mining interests of Charles William Vane-Tempest-Stewart the 3rd Marquis of Londonderry a military leader and business man who became one of the UK’s richest men on the back of these coal mining developments. The Marquis built his business interests on the inherited wealth of his wife,Francis Anne, and employed as General Manager the mining engineer and entrepreneur John Buddle who invented a number of mining safety techniques such as water level monitoring and mine ventilation techniques.
The Marquis of Londonderry built one of the country’s finest country houses in the region Wynyard Hall as a pleasure palace for his family and his royal connections.
London was one of the places which received coal from the area and there are references to shipments of coal being sent to the capital, for example 526 cauldrons of coal from Tyneside to London in 1376 for smiths involved in building Windsor Castle. Before the growth of mining companies the coal from the North East was often sent by monks to London. The coal was often called sea coal because it was washed up from undersea outcrops on the Northumbrian coast. This could explain the name Se-coles Lane in London. It also led to the colloquial phrase "taking coals to Newcastle" meaning why take something to a place that already has an excess therefore it is a foolhardy or pointless action.
Improvements in technology meant equipment could be built to go deeper many technical developments in mining technology took place in this region. One example was the High Main seam at Walker Colliery on Tyneside, which became one of the deepest coal mines in the world, thanks to large engine cylinders which helped drain the mine. Other mining developments from this region include water level and ventilation techniques introduced by John Buddle who also helped to introduce the miner's safety lamp which was invented here by Stephenson and Davy.
Sir Humphry Davy, after contemplating a communication he had received from Reverend Dr Robert Gray Rector of Bishopwearmouth (later Bishop of Bristol) the problem of gas in mines, took up the challenge of solving the problem of providing light in "fire-damp" ridden collieries in August 1815. He started the work with several days of discussions with John Buddle, then overseer at Wallsend Colliery, other colliery owners and the Reverend John Hodgson, Vicar of Jarrow, both these men had experience of mining tragedies. Davy also collected samples of "fire-damp" before returning with them to his laboratory in London. Two designs of his lamps emerged and were tested at the most hazardous pits in the land then at Newcastle-upon- Tyne and Whitehaven in Cumberland and they were a resounding success. He later published his paper on "The safety lamp for coal mines and some researches on flame" in 1818 and the world learned forever how to work underground coal mines much more safely. George Stephenson the colliery engineer at "Killingworth Main" Colliery, later famous for his steam engines, also invented a safety lamp which was successfully tested on 21 October 1815. This became known as the "Geordie" lamp. As a result, some in the Northeast of England then tried to challenge the delivery of some Ceremonial Plate to Davy but the Davy Lamper's won the day and on 25 September 1817 a gold plated dinner service as presented to Davy from the coal owners at the Queen's Head in Newcastle. Davy declined to take out a patent on his lamp design effectively giving it to the nation and of course the world's coal miners.
The moment when the new safety lamp was first tested for real in Northeast England is recorded by John Buddle in a report from the Select Committee on Accidents in Mines on 4 September 1835 "I first tried the lamp in an explosive mixture on the surface; and then took it to the mine; it is impossible for me to express my feelings at the time when I first suspended the lamp in the mine and saw it red hot. I said to those around me: "We have at last subdued this monster [fire-damp]." Thus is recorded one of the most significant moments in the industrialization of the world.
As an example of the many coal mines (colloquially known as pits) that were created in the Northeast of England Monkwearmouth Colliery' (or Wearmouth Colliery) was a large deep pit that went out under the North Sea. It was located on the north bank of the River Wear in Sunderland. It was the largest pit in Sunderland and one of the most important in County Durham. The mine opened in 1835 and was the last to remain operating in the Durham Coalfield. The last shift left the pit on 10 December 1993, ending over 800 years of commercial underground coal mining in the region. The Colliery site has been cleared to make way for the Sunderland A.F.C's Stadium of Light which opened in July 1997. The mine is commemorated by a large sculpture of a miners lamp at the entrance to the stadium complex.
The Durham Coalfield remains a national resource for the UK economy today and for the future. Most of the mines in the region were closed during the years of UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for mainly political reasons (see UK miners' strike (1984–1985)), despite 75% of the Durham Coal field reserves remaining untouched. This amounts to more energy than the UK has ever extracted as gas from the North Sea oilfield. The company Five-Quarter has secured licences from the British Government, "which allow exclusive access to 400 square kilometres within which approximately 2 billion tonnes of gas source rocks exist under the North Sea, off the coast of Northumberland and Tyneside. In terms of energy, in this area alone, the potential gas deposits could be more than the total natural gas extracted from the entire North Sea to date." Several large open cast coal mines are still operational in this region for example at Cramlington where Banks have created the large scale public sculpture called Northumberlandia "The Lady of the North" a with the surface material.
Today companies like Five-Quarter are investigating the use of the latest technology for underground coal gasification to access the Durham Coalfield reserves. Professor Paul Younger of Newcastle University in 2011 reported that "Around 75 per cent of the coal in the North East is still underground, even though we have been mining it on an industrial scale longer than anyone else in the world. Previously a lot of this coal was too deep for conventional mining, or too far off shore. Even today this resource this could never be exploited by conventional means, but the technology to harness that resource has now become cost effective." Accessing these reserves is of particular importance to the local chemical industry, the members of the Northeast of England Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC)
Iron and steel
Before 1846 Walbottle, Elswick, Birtley, Ridsdale, Hareshaw, Wylam, Consett, Stanhope, Crookhall,Tow-Law and Witton Park all had iron works but the discovery of a rich seam of iron ore to the south of the region gradually drew iron and steel manufacture towards Teesside. In 1850 iron ore was discovered in the Cleveland Hills near Eston to the south of Middlesbrough and Iron gradually replaced coal as the lifeblood of that town. The ore was discovered by geologist John Marley and first utilised by John Vaughan, the principal ironmaster of Middlesbrough who along with his German business partner Henry Bolckow had already established a small iron foundry and rolling mill at Middlesbrough using iron stone from Durham and the Yorkshire coast. The new discovery of iron ore on their doorstep prompted them to build Teesside's first blast furnace in 1851.
Many more iron works followed such as those built in the region by Losh, Wilson and Bell who when they opened their Port Clarence works in 1853 had 5 operating furnaces in the region according to John Marley the Geologist, who was commissioned to look for a deep seam of ironstone near Middlesbrough by Bolckow & Vaughan, yet he is reputed to have "accidentally" discovered the Cleveland Ironstone deposits on 8 June 1850. It is this discovery that led to the expansion in iron manufacture in the region. Marley's 1857 report on his discovery to the Institution of Mining Engineers entitled "Cleveland Ironstone: Outline Of The Main Or Thick Stratified Bed, Its Discovery, Application, and Results, in connection with the Iron-Works In The North Of England" has a contemporaneous review of the many iron works across the region at that date.
The success of John Vaughan and Henry Bolckow’s Teesside's first blast furnace which opened in 1851 followed by several others, meant by 1873, Middlesbrough was producing 2 million tonnes of pig iron a year, a third of Britain's total pig iron output. Iron was in big demand in Britain in the late 19th century, particularly for the rapid expansion of the railways being built in every part of the country. More and more blast furnaces were opened in the vicinity of Middlesbrough to meet this demand such that by the end of the century Teesside was producing about a third of the nation's iron output. The growth of Middlesbrough which became known by its nickname "Ironopolis" was visited in 1862 by the Victorian prime Minister Gladstone who said "This remarkable place, the youngest child of England's enterprise, is an infant, but if an infant, an infant Hercules" By the 1870s, steel, a much stronger and more resilient metal was in big demand and Middlesbrough had to compete with Sheffield as the major producer. In 1875 Bolckow and Vaughan opened the first Bessemer Steel plant in Middlesbrough and the River Tees was destined to become known as "The Steel River" leaving its old nickname "Ironopolis" behind. In 1881 one commentator described how the ironstone of the Eston Hills had been used in the building of structures throughout the world, Sir H G Ried, the British politician, was to say in reference to the great railways and bridges of the world "The iron of Eston has diffused itself all over the world. it furnishes the railways of the world; it runs by neapolitan and papal dungeons; it startles the bandit in his haunt in cicilia; it crosses over the plains of Africa; it stretches over the plains of India. it has crept out of the Cleveland Hills where it has slept since Roman days, and now like a strong and invincible serpent, coils itself around the world"
By 1929 the great depression was to bite and the famous name of Bolckow-Vaughan passes into history merging with neighbour Dorman-Long & Co. who became Britain's biggest iron and steel maker employing 33,000 men. By 1954 the post-war boom sees Britain's premier steel-making centre remaining on the Tees as Dorman-Long builds a state of the art steelworks at Lackenby and then new blast furnaces at Clay Lane. 1967 sees Dorman-Long become part of the nationalized British Steel Corporation as production booms in Britain and in 1979 The largest blast furnace in Europe is erected at BSC's new Redcar plant. This plant which was subsequently acquired and operated by Chorus, Tata Steel and then most recently Sahaviriya Steel Industries (SSI) is still operating today. To illustrate the scale of this steel manufacturing unit, in 2011 GB Railfreight won a contract to operate the rail system at the SSI steelworks in Redcar (UK) and the company purchased 10 NSB Di 8 is a class of diesel-electric locomotives for use on internal torpedo trains between the steelwork's blast furnaces and continuous casters. The locomotives were delivered to the UK in December 2011.
British Steel Industrial Archive
The British Steel Collection now housed at Teesside University contains the records of over forty iron and steel companies based in the Teesside area of the North East of England and covers the period c. 1840–1970. The history of Teesside and its rapid growth during the 19th century is directly linked to the expansion of the railways from Darlington and Stockton towards the mouth of the Tees estuary and the subsequent discovery of ironstone in the Cleveland Hills which attracted iron companies to the area. The British Steel Collection archives the company records of many Teesside iron and steel companies such as Bolckow & Vaughan, Bell Brothers, Cochrane & Co. Ltd., Dorman, Long & Co. Ltd., South Durham Steel & Iron Co. Ltd., Cargo Fleet Iron Company and Skinningrove Iron Co. Ltd.. Furthermore, the records of associated institutions as the Middlesbrough Exchange Co. Ltd. and the Cleveland Mineowners’ Association have been preserved in this unique Industrial Heritage Archive.
Shipbuilding has been one of this region’s main industrial activities. In 1294 shipyards in Newcastle upon Tyne built a galley for the King's fleet. Ships were built on the River Wear at Sunderland from at least 1346 and on the River Tees at Stockton from at least 1470. In more recent times the Northeast of England was the birthplace of some of the world’s greatest vessels and in 2013 that heritage and its impact globally was recognized by UNESCO and placed on their Memory of the World Register ranking this regions shipbuilding heritage alongside iconic items like the Domesday Book in terms of historical importance.
Wood to iron and steel
The early ships were built of wood but in the 19th century there was a move towards building ships of iron then steel. Ships were built on Tyneside near Newcastle and Jarrow, Wearside in Sunderland, and Teesside, Stockton, Yarm and Middlesbrough and also in smaller ports like Blyth, Whitby and Hartlepool. Sunderland’s early development was as a coal port but it became the largest shipbuilding town in the world that gave the town its fame. The first recorded shipbuilder was Thomas Menville at Hendon in 1346. By 1790 Sunderland was building around nineteen ships per year making it the most important shipbuilding centre in the United Kingdom. By 1840 there were 65 shipyards such that over 150 wooden vessels were built at Sunderland in 1850. By this time 2,025 shipwrights worked in the town and some 2,000 others were employed in related industries. Sunderland's first iron ships were built from 1852 and wooden shipbuilding ceased here in 1876. Sunderland shipbuilders included Austin and Son 1826, William Pickersgill 1851 and William Doxford 1840.
In 1678 Stockton was building ships and Yarm also had a shipbuilding activity at that time. It was between 1790 and 1805 that Thomas Haw of Stockton was a building ships for the Napoleonic wars. Shipbuilding did not begin in Middlesbrough until 1833 when a wooden sailing ship called The Middlesbro' was built. Teesside's first iron ship was built in Thorneby in 1854, it was a screw steamer called The Advance, and Teesside's first steel ship was Little Lucy built in 1858. One famous Teesside-built ship was the 377 feet long Talpore, built by Pearse and Co of Stockton in 1860. It was a troop ship for the River Indus, and was the world's largest river steamer at the time. An archive of the ships built on Teesside has been created, In Hartlepool Thomas Richardson of Castle Eden and John Parkin of Sunderland established a shipyard at Old Hartlepool in 1835 and built The Castle Eden ship. The shipbuilding company of William Gray was established here in 1862 and Gray became one of the most influential men in the town. He was the first mayor of West Hartlepool in 1887. William Gray shipbuilders won the Blue Ribband prize for maximum output in 1878, 1882, 1888, 1895, 1898 and 1900. The yard closed in 1961.
On Tyneside South Shields born Charles Mark Palmer established a yard at Jarrow in 1851 and built its first iron collier 'The John Bowes' in the following year. It was the first ever seagoing screw collier and was built for John Bowes of Barnard Castle for shipping coal to London. Palmers were also famed for building the first rolled armour plates for warships in 1854. William Smith and Co launched the 1600 ton Blenheim in 1848. W.G.Armstrong, the famous northern engineer, gained interests in the Tyneside shipbuilding firm of Mitchells in 1882 and the company of W.G.Armstrong, Mitchell and Co was formed. The yard built battleships as well as a ship called The Gluckauf, which was arguably the world's first oil tanker. It was launched by the yard in 1886. Scotsman Charles Mitchell started building ships at Walker on Tyne in 1852 and purchased a 6.5 acre site at Wallsend in 1873 to soak up excess orders from his Walker shipyard. The new yard failed financially and was handed to his brother-in-law Charles Swan. Charles and his brother Henry were directors of the Wallsend Slipway Company, a repair yard established by Mitchell in 1871. In 1878 Charles arranged a partnership with Sunderland shipbuilder George Hunter, but in 1879 Charles died after falling overboard from a channel steamer whilst returning from the continent with his wife. Hunter went into temporary partnership with Swan's wife before becoming Managing Director in 1880. Swan Hunters built their first steel ship at Wallsend in 1884 and their first Oil Tanker in 1889. A Most early ships built on the Swan Hunter yard were smaller ships, like colliers and barges, but in 1898 it built its first ocean liner 'The Ultonia'. It would build a further 21 liners in the period 1898–1903. The most famous ship ever launched was undoubtedly The Mauretania, a Transatlantic ocean liner launched on 20 September 1906. The ship was 790 feet long with a beam of 88 ft and a gross tonnage of 31,938 tons. It carried 2000 passengers on its maiden voyage on 16 Nov 1907 and captured the Blue Ribband for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic, a record held for twenty-two years.
A major pioneering innovation in marine engineering was the steam turbine, invented by Charles Algernon Parsons. He patented the first steam turbine on Tyneside in 1884. Parsons, born in Ireland in 1854, was the youngest son of the Earl of Rosse and a keen inventor who worked as Junior Partner in the Tyneside engineering firm of Clarke Chapman. In 1894 Parsons' Marine Turbine Company launched The Turbinia, a famous vessel, the first powered by electric turbines.The vessel can be still be seen (and boarded!)at the Discovery Museum in Newcastle upon Tyne.
Shipyard closures in the 20th century took place during economic slumps and occurred in two phases, between 1909–1933 and 1960–1993. Early closures included Smiths Dock at North Shields in 1909, which became a ship repair yard, Armstrongs of Elswick in 1921, Richardson Duck of Stockton (1925), Priestman's of Sunderland (1933) and Palmers of Jarrow and Hebburn (1933). There were 28 North East closures in this period of which 14 were on the Tyne, 7 on the Wear, 6 on the Tees and 1 at Hartlepool. Six shipyards closed in the 1960s including W.Gray of Hartlepool (1961), Short Brothers of Sunderland (1964) and The Blyth Shipbuiding Company (1966). There were five closures in the region in the 1970s including the Furness yard at Haverton Hill, near Stockton, in 1979.
In terms of Maritime History, from the above it is not surprising that this region was home to perhaps the most influential sailor of all time Captain James Cook who sailed his ship the HM Bark Endeavour from Whitby to discover and name for the western world the antipodean continents and islands as well as many islands in the Pacific Ocean. His family home and early personal history is from Teesside.
Science and engineering
The coal and shipbuilding industry that once dominated the North East suffered a marked decline during the second half of the 20th century. Tyneside is now re-inventing itself as an international centre of art, culture and through The Centre For Life, scientific research, especially in healthcare and biotechnology. Newcastle University is now a leading institution in the development of stem cell technology being the first in the United Kingdom and the second institution in Europe to obtain a licence to do such work. Sunderland suffered economic decline during the last century, but is now becoming an important area for quaternary industry, bioscience, computing and high technology. The Sunderland economy is now dominated by the Nissan's European car manufacturing facility and supply chain which is also leading that company's development of electric vehicles. The economy of Teesside continues to be largely based on the petrochemical, commodity chemical and steel industries that form a significant part of the Northeast of England Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC), but newer industries such as offshore engineering and digital computing, particularly in the new field of "gaming" have emerged from Teesside University. Northumberland, although largely rural and an important tourist location with its castles, beaches and history has a nationally significant concentration of pharmaceutical manufacturing companies around Cramlington and Prudhoe. The County also has seen a huge investment into the creation of the UKs largest reservoir Kielder Water which enables the whole Northeast region to have excess water reserves that it can use to attract more industry. Kielder forest around the reservoir is known to be the darkest place in England, making it an ideal location for professional and amateur astronomers. The City of Durham with its highly regarded University, Castle and Cathedral attracts many tourists and is based in largely rural County Durham which also has a significant number of knowledge intensive businesses (KIBS) in architecture, engineering, technology and measurement science. At Sedgefield in County Durham, Netpark is home to the Centre for Process Innovation's Printable Electronics Technology Centre, a nationally important centre for the development of printed electronics and a number of other emerging electronics companies such as Kromek.
At the start of the 20th century, Middlesbrough produced one third of the nation’s iron output. Middlesbrough firm Dorman Long put that steel to good use building bridges across the world. The firm’s most famous creations include not only the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Tyne Bridge in nearby Newcastle upon Tyne, but also the distinctive Newport Lifting Bridge in Middlesbrough. The town's most famous bridge, though, is the Transporter Bridge, built over 100 years ago. Bridge Building and large structure works is still a significant engineering capability on Teesside, for example local firm Cleveland Bridge built the arch that now towers over Wembley Stadium.
Today, the members of the Northeast of England Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC) represent about one third of the regional industrial economy. They are commodity chemical, petrochemical, speciality chemical, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, polymer, renewable material and renewable energy companies and associated supply chain. The commodity chemical companies are mostly based in Teesside whereas the pharmaceuticals are based in Northumberland and County Durham. The Teesside industry is located on three large chemical sites at Wilton, Billingham and Seal Sands at the mouth of the River Tees and Teesport, the third largest port in the UK and the tenth in Western Europe and is important logistical infrastructure supporting the commodity chemical and steel members of NEPIC. In the 21st century PD Ports, owners of Teesport, have been developing it as a Port Centric Logistical Centre. This strategy has seen a number of significant importing and distribution facilities for the north of the UK being built at this port including distribution centres for the large distribution operations of Asda/Walmart and Tesco supermarket chains.
NEPIC has two offices in the region: one in the north in Sunderland, serving the pharmaceutical and speciality chemical industries on Tyneside and in south Northumberland, and one in the south at Wilton near Redcar, serving the commodity chemical and steel industry of Teesside and operating amongst several process sector and supply chain companies that work out of the process industry research centre, The Wilton Centre, one of Europe's largest technical development laboratory facilities. The head office of the Centre for Process Innovation, part of the UK's High Value Manufacturing Catapult, is based in this multi-occupancy technical development centre along with their pioneering National Industrial Biotechnology Facility.
This region has a strong history in technological innovation:
The friction match was invented in Stockton-on-Tees in 1826 by John Walker.
George Stephenson (9 June 1781 – 12 August 1848) was an English civil engineer and mechanical engineer who built the first public inter-city railway line in the world to use steam locomotives. Renowned as the father of railways George Stephenson was born in Wylam, Northumberland, 9.3 miles (15.0 km) west of Newcastle upon Tyne.
Sir Joseph Wilson Swan (31 October 1828 – 27 May 1914) was a British physicist and chemist from Sunderland, County Durham now the (City of Sunderland). He is most famous for inventing an incandescent light bulb before its invention by the American Thomas Edison. Swan first demonstrated the light bulb at a lecture the Literary and Philosophical Society and Miners Institute on Mosley Street, Newcastle upon Tyne on 18 December 1878. Mosley Street, Newcastle upon Tyne is reputed to be the first street in the world to be lit by electric light.
Charles Algernon Parsons invented the steam turbine in 1884, and having foreseen its potential to power ships he set up the Parsons Marine Steam Turbine Company with five associates in 1893. To develop this he had the experimental vessel Turbinia built in a light design of steel by the firm of Brown and Hood, based at Wallsend on Tyne. He also pioneered in the field of electricity generation, establishing the Newcastle and District Electric Lighting Company in 1889. The company opened the first power station in the world to generate electricity using turbo generators in 1890, at Forth Banks in Newcastle.
William George Armstrong, 1st Baron Armstrong, CB, FRS (26 November 1810 – 27 December 1900) was an effective Tyneside industrialist who founded the Armstrong Whitworth manufacturing empire. He was responsible for the development of the hydraulic crane and many military armaments. His house at Cragside, Northumberland was the first in the world to be lit by hydro-electricity, using incandescent lamps provided by the inventor Joseph Swan.
In 1936 the first commercially viable production of acrylic safety glass, Perspex, began by ICI Acrylics and the material is still manufactured in the region by Lucite International now part of Mitsubishi Corporation. During the Second World War acrylic glass was used for submarine periscopes, windshields, canopies, and gun turrets for airplanes. Shortages in raw materials and price pressures have led to innovation by Lucite who developed their patented Alpha Technology in this region. This technology is now the leading technology used in the manufacture of acrylics around the world. It uses new feedstock’s and has a cost advantage of 40% over conventional processing methods.
Newcastle University was the first in the UK and the second in Europe to receive a licence to perform research on stem cells and is a leading centre for such research today. Dr Karim Nayernia was the first to isolate spermatagonial stem cells at this University. Many new healthcare developments have arisen from this stem cell expertise in the region.
Today the region has five universities with a number of research departments: Durham University, Newcastle University, Northumbria University, University of Sunderland and Teesside University, which have a portfolio of many innovative businesses that have spun out of their research and teaching departments.
Recent political history
The region was created in 1994 and was originally defined as Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, County Durham and Cleveland. A reform of local government abolished Cleveland and created several unitary districts. The region now consists of three counties plus a small part of a fourth:
- Tyne and Wear;
- County Durham, including the boroughs of Darlington, Hartlepool, and Stockton-on-Tees (north of the River Tees);
- and the remainder of Stockton-on-Tees (south of the Tees), and the boroughs of Redcar & Cleveland and Middlesbrough, form a part of North Yorkshire.
2004 regional assembly referendum
In November 2004 a referendum on whether a directly elected regional assembly should be set up for North East England resulted in a decisive "no" vote. The number of people who voted against the plans was 696,519 (78%), while 197,310 (22%) voted in favour. John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister at the time, admitted that his plans for regional devolution had suffered an "emphatic defeat". Bernard Jenkin, the Conservative spokesman for the regions, said the vote would mean the end of plans for a North East Assembly. He told the BBC: "The whole idea of regional government has been blown out of the water by this vote".
The North East Combined Authority was established in 2014 and covers much of the region, except for the Tees Valley boroughs of Darlington, Hartlepool, Stockton-on-Tees, Redcar & Cleveland, and Middlesbrough. These instead established the Tees Valley Combined Authority in 2016.
The region has a diverse landscape that includes maritime cliffs and extensive moorland that contains a number of rare species of flora and fauna. Of particular importance are the saltmarshes of Lindisfarne, the Tees Estuary, the heaths, bogs and traditional upland hay meadows of the North Pennines, and the Arctic-alpine flora of Upper Teesdale.
The beauty of the Northumbrian coastline has led to its designation as an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) stretching 100 miles from Berwick-Upon-Tweed to the River Coquet estuary. Among the 290 bird species identified on the Farne Islands, is the rare seabird the roseate tern. One of the foremost bird sanctuaries and observatory for migratory and wading birds in the UK is now operated at "Saltholme" which is part of a wider site of special scientific interest called Seal Sands. The Saltholme reserve is managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds(RSPB). This project has been pronounced as one of the best places to view birds by Bill Oddie, the celebrity bird watcher and former host of the BBC's Spring Watch Programme. In December 2012 he also presented the project with a prize as the UK's favorite National Lottery funded project. The seal colony at Seal Sands on the mouth of the River Tees is thriving and stands at more than 60 harbour seals and this is the only breeding colony of this species on the northeast coast."Rainton Meadows" is also a recently created bird-watching site. The region is also the English stronghold of black grouse and contains 80–90% of the UK population of yellow marsh saxifrage.
The Magnesian Limestone grasslands of East Durham are a unique habitat not found nowhere else in the world which is particularly important to many species of butterfly and moths.
The Northeast of England also features woodland such as Kielder Forest, the largest man-made forest in Europe. This is located within Northumberland National Park and contains an important habitat for the endangered red squirrel.
The North East along with the South West are the only English regions to have seen the least immigration from outside Great Britain and Ireland for over 50 years. The Northeast of England as a region has the lowest rate of HIV infection in the UK, but has the highest rate of heart attacks among men and of lung cancer among women in England, and the highest lung cancer rate in the UK for men. The region has the highest unemployment rate in the UK at 10% and as of April 2013 youth unemployment in the North East is 24.8% of the unemployed, with 51,000 out of work. In 2010 the region had the second highest trade union membership among UK men. Higher education students from the North East are most likely to pick a university in their home region. The Northeast, as part of the "North" demographic region, has the highest proportion of Christians in the UK.
In the Eurostat Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics (NUTS), North East England is a level-1 NUTS region, coded "UKC", which is subdivided as follows:
|NUTS 1||Code||NUTS 2||Code||NUTS 3||Code|
|North East England||UKC||Tees Valley and County Durham||UKC1||Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees||UKC11|
|South Teesside (Middlesbrough and Redcar and Cleveland)||UKC12|
|Northumberland and Tyne and Wear||UKC2||Northumberland||UKC21|
|Tyneside (Newcastle upon Tyne, Gateshead, South Tyneside, North Tyneside)||UKC22|
- See also: Transport in Tyne and Wear
The East Coast Main Line (ECML) calls at Newcastle, Durham and Darlington, and provides fast connections to London and Edinburgh. The Durham Coast Line connects Sunderland, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough with the main line. York-based Virgin Trains East Coast serves the full length of the ECML and operates most of the stations on the route. Grand Central Railway has linked Sunderland, and Teesside with London since December 2007, and is non-stop from York onwards. It does not have electric trains, and uses the Northallerton–Eaglescliffe Line and Durham Coast Line. Local services along these and most other local routes in the North East are provided by Northern, based in Manchester. TransPennine Express, also based in Manchester, have long-distance services from Newcastle, Scarborough and Middlesbrough to Manchester, via West Yorkshire.
The Tyne and Wear Metro is a light rail network which serves the metropolitan county of Tyne and Wear. It has stations in Newcastle and Sunderland city centres and other towns and suburbs in the county, as well as at Newcastle Airport and attractions such as the St James' Park, the Stadium of Light, and Gateshead International Stadium.
The North East's main arterial carriageway the A1(M), mirrors the railway trajectory. However, the A1(M) is only motorway standard through County Durham, is the A1 road throughout parts of North Yorkshire, and is an A Road through the entirety of Tyne and Wear and Northumberland. The road is controversially still single carriageway north of Morpeth, despite being the main trunk route connecting Edinburgh and Newcastle upon Tyne. The Tyne Tunnel was opened as a single-carriageway in 1967, and an adjoining new tunnel was opened in February 2011. The A1 Newcastle Western Bypass was completed in the early 1990s. The A66 connects Teesside with Darlington, County Durham. The A68 takes a cross-country central route over the North Pennines and Cheviot Hills to Scotland, often following the Roman road Dere Street.
The two main airports are Newcastle Airport, located north of the city near Ponteland, and Durham Tees Valley Airport, located east of Darlington.
The region's population is served by a charitable service known as the Great North Air Ambulance for those who need rapid transfer to a hospital or medical assistance in difficult or remote locations.
Long term planning for transport in the region has involved the development of sub regional strategies. This planning also needs to take into account region wide transport schemes such as those carried out by the Highways Agency and Network Rail. These activities in the United Kingdom now fall into the remit of the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) which in the Northeast of England are Tees valley Unlimited and the North East LEP. Bodies such as the Northeast Chamber of Commerce (NECC) and the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) are providers of significant practical insights to policy makers.
Within the region the local transport authorities plan for the future by producing Local Transport Plans (LTP) which outline their strategies, policies and implementation programmes. The most recent LTP is that for the period 2006–11. In the North East region the following transport authorities have published their LTP online: Darlington, Durham, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Northumberland, Redcar and Cleveland, Stockton-on-Tees and Tyne and Wear.
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