Blyth

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Blyth (/ˈblaɪθ/ “blithe”) is a town and civil parish in southeast Northumberland, England. It lies on the coast, to the south of the River Blyth and is approximately 21 kilometres (13 mi) northeast of Newcastle upon Tyne. It has a population of about 35,818.

The port of Blyth dates from the 12th century, but the development of the modern town only began in the first quarter of the 18th century. The main industries which helped the town prosper were coal mining and shipbuilding, with the salt trade, fishing and the railways also playing an important role. These industries have largely vanished, but the port still thrives, shipping paper and pulp from Scandinavia for the newspaper industries of England and Scotland.

The town was seriously affected when its principal industries went into decline, and it has undergone much regeneration since the early 1990s. The Keel Row Shopping Centre, opened in 1991, brought major high street retailers to Blyth, and helped to revitalise the town centre. The market place has recently been re-developed, with the aim of attracting further investment to the town.

The Quayside has also seen much redevelopment and has been transformed into a peaceful open space, the centrepiece of which is a sculpture commemorating the industry which once thrived there. On the opposite side of the river are the nine wind turbines of the Blyth Harbour Wind Farm, which were constructed along the East Pier in 1992. They were joined in 2000 by Blyth Offshore Wind Farm, which is composed of two turbines situated 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) out to sea.

Blyth is also home to the non-League football club Blyth Spartans, famed for their 1978 “giant-killing” feats in the FA Cup.

The place-name ‘Blyth’ is first attested in 1130 as ‘Blida’, and takes its name from the river Blyth. The river-name comes from the Old English adjective ‘blithe’ meaning ‘gentle’ or ‘merry’, and still used today. Interestingly, the town of Blyth is referred to as ‘Blithmuth’ in 1236 and ‘Blithemuth’ in 1250. Had this name persisted, the town would today be referred to as ‘Blythmouth’, on the analogy of Tynemouth to the south.

Little is known of the early development of the Blyth area. The oldest archaeological find is an antler hammer dating from the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age period, which was found at Newsham in 1979. Human skulls, a spearhead and a sword dating from the Bronze Age were found in the river in 1890, as well as a bronze axe which was found at South Beach in 1993, and a dagger found at Newsham. Although there is no conclusive evidence of a Roman presence in the area, an earthwork shown on early mapping of the area, at the location of present-day Freehold Street, is said to have been a Roman camp, but it has also been argued that it may be of Viking origin or date from the Civil War. Debate also surrounds a mosaic which was found near Bath Terrace. The strongest evidence so far has been a single coin, dating from the reign of the Emperor Constans (AD337–350), which was found during excavations for a dry dock.

Between the 12th and 18th centuries, there were several small settlements and some industrial activity in the area. The principal industries during this period were coal mining, fishing and the salt trade. Shipbuilding in the area dates from 1748.

The modern town of Blyth began to develop in the first quarter of the 18th century. Up until 1716, the land around the Blyth area—the Newsham Estate—was owned by the Earls of Derwentwater, but when the third Earl, James Radclyffe, was executed for his part in the Jacobite rising of 1715, the land was forfeited to the crown. On 11 July 1723, the Lordship of Newsham was put up for sale by the Commissioners of Forfeited Estates at their office in the Inner Temple, London. The land was bought by Matthew White and his brother-in-law Richard Ridley. From the 12th century, most port activities were on the north side of the river, but under White and Ridley the first new quays and houses were built on the south side, and from here the port began to prosper. By 1730, a coaling quay, a ballast quay, a pilots’ watch house and a lighthouse had all been built at Blyth harbour. In 1765 the first breakwater was constructed, and in 1788 the first staith with an elevated loading point was erected. Deep mines were sunk at Cowpen Colliery and Cowpen Square in 1796 and 1804 respectively, and by 1855, a quarter of a million tons of coal was being shipped from Blyth, rising to three million tons by 1900. The only industry not to survive during this prosperous time was the salt trade, which was heavily taxed during the 18th and early-19th centuries. During the Napoleonic Wars, the tax was increased to provide funds for the military and, even though the tax was abolished in 1825, the industry went into terminal decline. Having had fourteen salt pans at the beginning of the 18th century, exporting over 1,000 tons of salt annually, Blyth’s salt industry closed in 1876, with the destruction of the last salt pan.

From the mid-19th century, several important events occurred which allowed the port of Blyth to rapidly expand. First, in 1847, a railway line was constructed, connecting Blyth to collieries at Seghill. This line combined with the existing line between Seghill and North Tyneside to form the Blyth and Tyne Railway. In 1853, the Blyth Harbour and Docks Board was formed, then in 1858 the Harbour Act was passed allowing dredging of the harbour to begin. In 1882, the formation of the Blyth Harbour Commission led to the building of new coal loading staiths, as well as the construction of the South Harbour.

As trade in Blyth continued to grow, so did the population. Development of the Cowpen Quay and Waterloo areas began in about 1810 and 1815 respectively, and between the 1850s and 1890s major house building took place in these areas. Blyth railway station, first built in 1847, was relocated in 1867 and rebuilt in 1896, to cope with the increase in goods and passenger traffic. The 1890s saw the filling in of “the Slake” (also known as “the Flanker” or “the Gut”). The Slake was a tidal inlet which stretched south from the river, across the site of today’s bus station, along the route of Beaconsfield Street, and on past Crofton Mill Pit. Before it was filled in, it almost entirely separated Blyth from Cowpen—Waterloo Bridge providing the only main link. Once it was removed, the two areas could combine and allow the town to begin to take its present form. The town continued to expand in the 20th century; much large-scale house building took place in the 1920s and 1930s, and from the 1950s to the 1970s.

Industry in Blyth reached its peak in the first half of the 20th century. At this time it boasted one of the largest shipbuilding yards on the North East coast, with five dry docks and four building slipways. During the First and Second World Wars, the Blyth shipyards built many ships for the Royal Navy including the first aircraft carrier, HMS Ark Royal in 1914. Blyth also served as a submarine base during both wars. By 1930, the port of Blyth was exporting 5.5 million tons of coal, and by the early 1960s, reached its peak with over six million tons. Blyth A and Blyth B power stations, collectively known as Blyth Power Station, were opened in 1958 and 1962. Blyth A was the first power station in Britain to have 120 megawatt sets installed, while Blyth B was the first to be fitted with 275 megawatt sets.

During the 1960s, Blyth entered a period of steep decline. Following the Beeching report, the railway into Blyth was closed; and in 1966, economic depression resulted in the closure of the shipyards. As the demand for coal fell, due to the increasing use of oil, natural gas and nuclear power as energy sources, the following years saw the closure of many collieries in the area. By the 1980s, the only one left in the town was Bates’ Pit, which closed in 1986. In January 2002, Blyth Power Station was closed and subsequently demolished in stages, until 7 December 2003, when its four chimneys were demolished.

From around the first quarter of the 18th century, until November 1900, the land to the south of the River Blyth was known as South Blyth. It was in the Parish of Earsdon and was run by the Parish Council until 1863, when the South Blyth Local Board was formed. Under the Local Government Act of 1894, South Blyth Local Board became an Urban District Council, then in 1906 it was amalgamated with Cowpen Urban District Council to form Blyth Urban District Council. On the 21 September 1922, Blyth UDC became Blyth Municipal Borough Council, and in 1935 its southern boundary was moved south from Meggie’s Burn to Seaton Burn. Blyth MBC lasted until 1974, when it was amalgamated with Seaton Valley and Cramlington Urban District Councils, as well as part of Whitley Bay Urban District Council, to form Blyth Valley Borough Council.

Blyth was the administrative centre for the borough of Blyth Valley, until the borough was abolished in structural changes to local government on 1 April 2009. Blyth Valley—which also included Cramlington and several villages—was 70 square kilometres in size and, according to the Registrar General’s Population Estimate for mid-2005, it had a population of 81,600; this gives a population density of 1,166 people per square kilometre. The two-tier local government of Northumberland County Council and Blyth Valley Borough Council has been replaced by a unitary authority for the county of Northumberland. Blyth is situated in the parliament constituency of Blyth Valley, which shares its boundaries with the borough.

As part of Blyth Valley, Blyth is twinned with Solingen, Germany; Ratingen, Germany; Gelendzhik, Russia

Blyth is on the coast of North East England, to the south of the River Blyth and is approximately 21 kilometres (13 mi) northeast of Newcastle upon Tyne. Some of Blyth’s suburbs have origins which can be traced back much further than the town itself; Newsham, Bebside and Cowpen are all believed to have had habitation sites dating from the Romano-British, Saxon and Medieval periods, although most of the housing in these areas dates from the 19th and 20th centuries.

The geology of the area is made up of a carboniferous bedrock of sandstone, mudstone and coal, which is covered mainly by boulder clay and till.

The main approach road to Blyth is the A189 “spine road” which is accessible from the A1 via the A19. The A193 is the main road through Blyth and leads to Bedlington to the west and North Tyneside to the south. The other main route into Blyth is the A1061. Blyth bus station is located in Post Office Square in the town centre. Buses in Blyth are operated by Arriva Northumbria and there are regular services to Newcastle as well as the other main towns in the south of Northumberland and the surrounding areas of Blyth. A small number of services are operated by Go North East.

Blyth currently has no passenger rail links – the nearest station is Cramlington (5 miles). Blyth railway station was closed on 2 November 1964 following the Beeching Report. There were also two small stations on the outskirts of the town, at Bebside and Newsham; they were closed to passenger services in 1956 and 1964 respectively.

It is possible that the Tyne and Wear Metro may be extended from Northumberland Park and terminate at Blyth, but this will not be considered before 2019. An alternative, proposed (2009) by the Association of Train Operating Companies, is reopening the existing freight line between Newcastle and Ashington, including reopening Newsham station to serve Blyth.

With the running down of the coal mining and shipbuilding industries, Blyth largely exists today as a dormitory town in the commuter belt serving Newcastle and North Tyneside. However, its port still remains a major industry in the area, handling over 1.5 million tonnes of cargo annually. Its main trades are forest products, such as paper, pulp and timber, unitised cargo (containers and RoRo) and the import of materials used in the production of aluminium. It also handles the import of a variety of stones and metals. A twice weekly container service between the port and Moerdijk, near Rotterdam, provides connections with the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and France as well as South America and the Far East. The port is operated by Port of Blyth, which is the operating division of Blyth Harbour Commission. Port of Blyth is a trust port, which means that it is governed by its own local legislation under the control of an independent board; there are no shareholders and therefore no dividends to support, which allows any surplus to be reinvested in the port.

Several renewable energy projects have been established in Blyth. In 1992, Blyth Harbour Wind Farm was constructed along Blyth’s East Pier. Consisting of nine wind turbines and with a maximum capacity of 2.7 megawatts, it can provide enough electricity for over 1,500 homes. It was joined in December 2000 by Blyth Offshore Wind Farm, which is composed of two turbines situated 1 kilometre (0.6 mi) out to sea. At 2 megawatts each, they were, when installed, the largest in the world.

The National Renewable Energy Centre (Narec) is one of five centres of excellence set up by the North East’s regional development agency, One NorthEast. It was established in 2002 and is based at Eddie Ferguson House, by the Quayside. Its purpose is to develop and test new energy technologies and equipment that will assist in the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Commercial developments in the town centre have also helped to revitalise Blyth. Opened in 1991, the Keel Row Shopping Centre has brought many large high street retailers to the town. Several streets and many derelict buildings, including the old council offices, were cleared away to make way for the development. Adjacent, is the thrice weekly market which is held on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. On 14 March 2009, the market was officially reopened following a £3 million refurbishment, which involved the installation of new paving, seating, lighting, and a water feature. The centrepiece is an artwork by Simon Watkinson, named Hyperscope; the 7.5 metres (25 ft) stainless steel column incorporates lighting effects and represents the town’s coal mining heritage and history as a wartime submarine base. The aim of the refurbishment is to attract people to the market area when the market is closed, and to bring further investment to the town. However, the project has received criticism; following approval of the proposals in June 2007, concern was raised by Councillor Alisdair Gibbs-Barton, who said that the market place was beginning to resemble a park, and that more trade should be being encouraged. Following the reopening there were also claims that new stalls provided to market traders are unable to withstand adverse weather conditions, and that traders were being overcharged for stall space.

Blyth is the largest town in Northumberland; as of the 2001 UK census it had a population of 35,818.

Census data for Blyth, 1801–1991
Name Year Homes Male Female Total
South Blyth and Newsham Township 1801 519 651 1170
1811 718 804 1522
1821 809 996 1805
1831 246 792 977 1769
1841 287 791 983 1774
1851 265 1085 975 2060
1861 327 971 982 1953
1871 535 1419 1499 2918
1881 533 2831
1891 634 1884 1844 3728
South Blyth and Newsham Civil Parish 1901 926 2710 2762 5472
Blyth Urban District 1911 1440 3649 3336 6985
Blyth Urban District and Civil Parish 1921 6473 16048 15774 31822
Blyth Municipal Borough and Civil Parish 1931 7218 16008 15672 31680
1941
1951 10091 17227 17520 34747
Blyth Municipal Borough 1961 11193 17819 18102 35921
1971 12080 16916 17737 34653
Blyth 1981 36466
Blyth Wards 1991 14271 16972 18355 35327

There were once four cinemas in Blyth, but with the closure of the Wallaw in 2004 there are now none. The others—The Central, The Essoldo and The Roxy—were all closed down in the 1960s and 1970s.

Ridley Park was created on land handed over by Viscount Matthew White Ridley and was opened on 27 July 1904. In June 2005, a £602,000 regeneration project was completed, which saw the installation of a children’s water play area and upgrading of existing play facilities at the southern end of the park. The Quayside is a stretch of the riverfront that was once a centre of Blyth’s industry, where coal would be loaded from trains onto ships for export, but having undergone major redevelopment, it is now a clean and peaceful area. Notable features of the Quayside include the “Spirit of the Staithes” sculpture and eleven “solar sound posts” which, when approached, replay pre-recorded stories relating to the port told by local people. Blyth’s largest and most natural open space is its beach and sand dunes, which stretch from the mouth of the river to Seaton Sluice. The dunes were declared a Local Nature Reserve by Blyth Valley Borough Council in December 2003, and are also an area of Special Nature Conservation Interest. They are notable for their diverse range of plant life, butterflies, moths and birds, as well as being one of only two coastal locations in the country inhabited by both species of banded land snail—Cepaea nemoralis and Cepaea hortensis.

The “Spirit of the Staithes” sculpture on Blyth’s Quayside was unveiled by Princess Anne on 28 May 2003. As part of the overall regeneration of the Quayside, it was commissioned by Blyth Valley Council in conjunction with Northern Arts and created by the artist Simon Packard. Standing 15 metres (50 ft) high and 7 metres (22 ft) wide, it represents the heritage of coal distribution in Europe, an industry in which Blyth was the largest exporter.

The “High Light” lighthouse is one of Blyth’s oldest structures. It stands to the rear of Bath Terrace and is 18.74 metres (61.5 ft) tall. Built in three stages, the first section was constructed in 1788 to a height of 10.66 metres (35 ft). A further 4.26 metres (14 ft) was added in 1888, and the final 3.82 metres (12.5 ft) was added in 1900. It was deactivated in 1985 and listed Grade II on 15 July 1987.

Before their demolition, the four chimneys of Blyth Power Station dominated the landscape along the coast. Two were 167 metres (548 ft) high, the other two were 137 metres (449 ft) high and they were visible for many miles.

On the north side of the River Blyth are the remains of the railway coal staithes which featured in the chase scene at the end of the 1971 film Get Carter, starring Michael Caine.

Note: this page is partly based on a Wikipedia page. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. Where possible, text is being updated to original, fully referenced research. ‘Our photos’ means we took the photographs. The Street View and street map visuals are courtesy of Google.

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