Milburn Statue, Ashington
Ashington is a town in Northumberland with a population of around 27,000. It is within the industrialised was once a centre of the coal mining. The town is located some 15 miles north of the county town, Newcastle upon Tyne. The south of the town is bordered by the River Wansbeck. The North Sea coast at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea is about 3 miles from the town centre.
Many inhabitants have the distinctive accent and dialect known as Pitmatic, which differs somewhat from Geordie as spoken on the Tyne.
The name Ashington is found as Essendene in 1170. It may have originated from the name Æsc, a presumed Dark Age, Germanic progenitor who may have brought his people to settle in the deep wooded valley near Sheepwash. The name if derived from Æscandenu may be from such a man, or it might equally mean "Ash Trees' valley", which well describes the place.
The lie of the land
Ashington is located in eastern Northumberland, which is a largely urban area adjacent to Newcastle. Most of the area is of flat non-undulating ground, formed during Carboniferous period when ancient tropical swamp forests were buried and formed the coal seams that have given this area its significance. The local geology is of yellow sandstone. The topography of the town is quite flat. The land to the north west of the town is slightly undulating due to mining subsidence, which sometimes causes farmland to be flooded.
The south-eastern part of the town is slightly raised giving views to the north across Ashington. From certain parts of town the Cheviot Hills are visible about 30 miles to the north.
The town is of roughly a square shape lying north to south. The town centre is to the north of the town. South of this are residential areas. Farmland is on both east and west flanks. The south part is residential with the River Wansbeck to the south. To the east of the town is the small coastal town of Newbiggin-by-the-Sea and to the west is the small village of Bothal on the River Wansbeck. South of the town is the small village of North Seaton which once had its own pit. North of the town about 2 miles is the village of Linton and north east of the town is Lynemouth.
To the north of the town is Queen Elizabeth II Country Park which contains a lake surrounded by pine woodland plantation. The original Ashington Colliery was on the north west of the town and the smaller Woodhorn Pit was on the north east.
In the 1700s all that existed of Ashington was a small farm with a few dwellings around.
The first evidence of mining is from bell-shaped pits and monastic mine workings discovered in the 20th century during tunnelling. Ashington developed from a small hamlet in the 1840s, as the Duke of Portland built housing to encourage people escaping the Irish potato famine to come and work at his nearby collieries. As in many other parts of Britain, "deep pit" coal mining in the area declined during the 1980s and 1990s leaving just one colliery, Ellington which closed in January 2005.
In 2006 plans for an opencast mine on the outskirts of the town were put forward, although many people objected to it. During the heyday of coal-mining, Ashington was considered to be the "world's largest coal-mining village". There is now a debate about whether Ashington should be referred to as a town or a village; if considered as a village it would be one of the largest villages in England.
Growth of the town
As coal mining expanded, the village drew labourers in from the countryside to settle in Ashington. This led the Ashington Coal Company to build parallel rows of colliery houses. Some newcomers came from as far as Cornwall to make use of their tin-mining skills.
With the growing coal industry came the need for a railway link. Ashington was linked to the Blyth and Tyne Railway in the 1850s, and also to the East Coast Main Line near Ulgham (pronounced Uffham). The railway was also used by passenger trains until the Beeching Axe in 1964 closed the railway station, called Hirst railway station when opened in the 1870s. The railway runs south towards the steep-sided River Wansbeck valley, originally crossed by a wooden viaduct, which was replaced by today's steel-built Black Bridge.
In 1913 the Ashington Hospital was built. It is about ¼ mile from the town centre. The hospital was expanded in the 1950s and '60s with large new wings. Several schools opened in Ashington too. A new state-of-the-art Wansbeck General Hospital has been built on the outskirts of the town and is now in the process of being added to with all hospital facilities being available on one new site as the old Ashington Hospital has now been demolished.
Traditionally the area to the east of the railway was called Hirst and that to the west was Ashington proper. Although collectively called Ashington both halves had their own park: Hirst Park (opened in 1915) in the east and the People's Park in the west.
The colliery-built houses followed a grid plan. The streets in the Hirst End running north to south were named after British trees, such as Hawthorn Road, Beech Terrace, and Chestnut Street. The east-west running streets were numbered avenues, starting with First Avenue near the town centre, finishing at Seventh Avenue towards the southern end. After the 1920s houses in Ashington were built by the council, and were most often semi-detached houses, such as Garden City Villas. These occupied much of the fields in the Hirst area. New estates were built in different areas. The biggest building programme was in the late 1960s and saw Ashington extend south from Seventh Avenue opposite the Technical College towards North Seaton and south eastwards towards the A189. Some of the houses at the top end of Alexandra Road were private homes. During this building programme several new schools were built, for example Coulson Park, Seaton Hirst Middle. Community shops and a social club (the Northern) were built off Fairfield Drive. The late 1970s and early 1980s saw construction of Nursery Park opposite North Seaton Hotel. This south to the banks of the River Wansbeck. The late 1980s and 1990s saw the building of the Wansbeck Estate between the River Wansbeck and Green Lane.
In the late 1960s the area by the railway station was developed into Wansbeck Square, housing a supermarket, council offices and a public library, built partly over the railway line.
Closure of the pits and new industry
In 1981 the Woodhorn Pit closed and its chimney was demolished. In the late 1980s this became a museum. In 1988 Ashington Pit was closed and is now occupied by a business park. In 2004 the hospital was demolished with the new hospital located near Woodhorn being used instead. In the early 2000s maisonette flats in various parts of Hirst were demolished and parts of the Moorhouse and Woodbridge estate opposite Woodhorn Pit were demolished.
The railway is still used by the Alcan Aluminium plant nearby and there have been calls to restore the railway station for passenger use with services to Newcastle.
In October 2008, plans to opencast 2m tonnes of coal in Ashington were approved. UK Coal's plans which were first submitted in 2005, would create 60+ jobs.
About the town
A reasonable sized public library is adjacent to Wansbeck Square. The local museum is at Woodhorn pit. It is mainly a museum of the town's mining history, with pictures and models. There are also various arts exhibits in the museum and information on local history.
Parks walks and green spaces
Riverside Park provides a peaceful riverside setting to relax or take walks. The park runs along the Wansbeck River. There are public footpaths and bridleways from here towards the quaint village of Bothal with its photogenic castle above the river.
The People's Park near the leisure centre off Institute Road is a large green field suitable for recreation. Hirst Park is located off Hawthorn Road; it provides summer floral displays, bowling greens and is sheltered by tall trees, to the north of the park is a large green sports field.
At Woodhorn is the Queen Elizabeth II Park. This is surrounded by pine wood and has a large lake with a narrow gauge railway. Walks from here head out towards Linton, Northumberland|Linton and eastwards towards the seaside town of Newbiggin following the old railway line.
Ashington enjoys a good location within Northumberland allowing good access to the countryside. The town is situated near the coast, enabling short journey times to beaches such as Druridge Bay and Cresswell. Northumberland National Park is also close by.
Industry and employment
Until 1988 the majority of the town's male population was employed in the mining industry. The closure of the pits led to large scale unemployment. However limited coal mining was carried out until recently at Ellington Colliery and opencast coal extraction is carried out at Butterwell Opencast.
The former site of Ashington Colliery became part of regeneration project and saw the development of Wansbeck Business Park. This park now houses a number of companies with local, national and international profiles. These include Polar Krush NICC Ltd, Thermacore Ltd, Clarity IT Consulting (ClarityWEB) Ltd, Sugarfayre Ltd, Zodiac Automotive (UK) Ltd and Torque Tension Systems Ltd. The park includes a variety of wildlife with a large pond at its centre.
Ashington's close proximity to Newcastle upon Tyne makes it an ideal commuter town for people working in Newcastle. Ashington is situated near the coast, allowing easy access to Druridge Bay
Arts and culture
In 1934 some of the Ashington miners enrolled in painting classes as an alternative pastime, and then began to produce paintings to sell at local markets to supplement their poor wages. They achieved unexpected success and approval from the art community and were given prestigious gallery exhibitions during the 1930s and 1940s under the name "The Pitmen Painters", although the group had called themselves the "Ashington Group". In the 1970s the group's work was "rediscovered" and popularised as "workers' art" and given international exhibitions. On 26 October 2006 a new £16 million museum housing the work was opened in Ashington by The Princess Royal.
The book Pitman Painters by William Feaver, recording the development of the Ashington Group, 1934 to 1984, has been made into a stage play by Lee Hall, well known for Billy Elliot. A German translation by Michael Raab premiered at the Volkstheater in Vienna, Austria, in April 2009. In 2011, Jon Blair made a film for ITV1's Perspectives Arts series, entitled Robson Green and The Pitmen Painters giving an insight into the live's and work of The Ashington Group including rare film footage of the group in their Hut including interviews with Oliver Kilbourne and Harry Wilson.
Ashington has appeared in various films and TV programmes, such as Spender starring Jimmy Nail, Our Friends in the North in 1996, The Fast Show on BBC1.
We Never Had It So Good by David Williams is a collection of short stories about a young boy growing up in Ashington in the late 1950s.
- Football: Ashington AFC
- Rowing: The Cambois Rowing Club is now situated in Ashington
- Cycling: Ashington Road club cycling team was formed in the 1980s
- The Evening Chronicle
- The Journal
- The Newspost Leader (covers mostly Wansbeck)
- Kirkup Mike, 2003 Hirst-Recollections of an Ashington Community
- http://www.senrug.co.uk/campaigns.php, South east Northumberland Rail Users Group
- "Mining village pit plan approved". BBC Tyne News. 2008-10-07. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/tyne/7656285.stm. Retrieved 2008-10-07.
- Wainwright, Martin (27 October 2006). "Pitmen Painters get royal seal of approval - and a gallery of their own". The Guardian (London). http://arts.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,,1932735,00.html. Retrieved 25 April 2010.
- Linda McCullough Thew (31 October 1985). The Pit Village and the Store: Portrait of a Mining Past. Pluto Press. ISBN 978-0-7453-0069-6.
- Kirkup, Mike (1993). The Biggest Mining Village in the World. ISBN 0-946098-30-1.
- Kirkup, Mike (2003). Hirst - Recollections of an Ashington Community. ISBN 1-902527-49-6.
- Williams, David (2007). We never had it so good. ISBN 978-1-903506-28-8.
- Charlton, Cissie, with Vince Gledhill (1988). Cissie - Football's most famous mother Cissie Charlton tells her story. Bridge Studios. ISBN 0-9512630-4-8 (hardback) 0-9512630-9-9 (paperback).