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Blyth town centre.JPG
Blyth town centre
Grid reference: NZ310814
Location: 55°7’34"N, 1°30’50"W
Population: 35,818  (2001)
Post town: Blyth
Postcode: NE24
Dialling code: 01670
Local Government
Council: Northumberland
Blyth Valley

Blyth is a town on the coast of Northumberland. It stands to the south of the River Blyth from which it takes its name and is 13 miles 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 Great Britain.

Town and industry

The port is the foundation of Blyth and continues top bring business here, for while the cargoes have changed over the ages, the docks keep working.

The town was seriously affected when its principal industries went into decline, but it has reinvented its role as required and 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 money 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 less than a mile out to sea.

Name of the town

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 'bliþe' meaning, as it does today, 'gentle' or 'merry'. The town of Blyth itself is referred to as 'Blithmuth' in 1236 and 'Blithemuth' in 1250.[1]


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.[2] Human skulls, a spearhead and a sword dating from the Bronze Age were found in the river in 1890,[3] as well as a bronze axe which was found at South Beach in 1993,[4] and a dagger found at Newsham.

There is no conclusive evidence of a Roman presence in the area, but an earthwork is shown on early mapping of the area, at the location of present-day Freehold Street,[5] and is said to have been a Roman camp, though it could as well have been dug to withstand the Vikings, or dug by the Vikings, or may even date from as late as the Civil War.[6] Debate also surrounds a mosaic which was found near Bath Terrace.[6] 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.[7]

Between the 12th and 18th centuries, there were several small villages and some industrial activity in the area. The principal industries during this period were coal mining, fishing and the salt trade.[8] Shipbuilding in the area dates from 1748.[9]

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 forfeit to the crown.[9] 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[10] and was bought by Matthew White and his brother-in-law Richard Ridley.[9]

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.[10] 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.[11] Deep mines were sunk at Cowpen Colliery and Cowpen Square in 1796 and 1804 respectively,[8] and by 1855, a quarter of a million tons of coal was being shipped from Blyth, rising to three million tons by 1900.[9] 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.[9]

A map of Blyth, around 1860

A map of the town in 1860 shows a snapshot of Blyth's development from how it stood at the opening of the 19th century. The old part of the town is to the right of the map; the houses of Waterloo and Cowpen Quay are to the bottom-left and top-left respectively. Still shown "the Gut" (or "Slake"), a tidal inlet which stretched south from the river separating Blyth from Cowpen and which was not to be filled in until the 1890s. Shown and here too appears the first Blyth railway station.

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.[12][13] This line combined with the existing line between Seghill and North Tyneside to form the Blyth and Tyne Railway.[14] 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.[9] In 1882, the formation of the Blyth Harbour Commission[15] led to the building of new coal loading staiths, as well as the construction of the South Harbour.[8]

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.[16] Blyth railway station, first built in 1847, was relocated in 1867 and rebuilt in 1896,[17] to cope with the increase in goods and passenger traffic.[18] In 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.[11] Before it was filled in, it almost entirely separated Blyth from Cowpen to which Waterloo Bridge provided 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.[16]

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.[9] Blyth also served as a submarine base during both wars.[11] By 1930, the port of Blyth was exporting 5.5 million tons of coal,[8] and by the early 1960s, reached its peak with over six million tons.[10] 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.[19]

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.[20] As the demand for coal fell, due to the increasing use of oil, natural gas and nuclear power as energy sources,[21] 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.[11] In January 2002, Blyth Power Station was closed and subsequently demolished in stages,[19] until 7 December 2003, when its four chimneys were demolished.[22]

Transport links

The main approach road to Blyth is the A189 "spine road" which is accessible from the A1 by way of the A19. The A193 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 currently has no passenger rail links. Blyth railway station was closed on 2 November 1964[17] by the Beeching Axe. 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. [23][24]


Wind turbines on Blyth pier, from the Quayside

Industry and commerce

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.[25] Its main trades are paper, pulp and timber, unitised cargo (containers and Roll-on/roll-off) and the import of materials used in the manufacture of aluminium. It also handles the import of a variety of stones and metals.[26] 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.[27] The port is operated by Port of Blyth, which is the operating division of Blyth Harbour Commission.[15] 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.[15][28]

Renewable Energy

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.[29] It was joined in December 2000 by Blyth Offshore Wind Farm, which is composed of two turbines half a mile out to sea. At 2 megawatts each, they were, when installed, the largest in the world.[30]

The New and 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.[31]

Entertainment and leisure

The Quayside with the ‘’Spirit of the Staithes’’ sculpture

Events and venues

  • The Blyth Town Summer Fair takes place each July in and around the market place and hosts many attractions, such as music performances, arts and crafts exhibitions, fairground rides and children's entertainment.
  • The Blyth Town Christmas Fayre is also held in the market place and features a similar range of family entertainment.[32]
  • The Phoenix Theatre close to the town centre is an intimate, 299 seat theatre. It presents a regular programme of professional performing arts to the local community and has successfully brought amateur and professional practitioners alongside each other to develop work for the community.[33]

Parks and open spaces

Ridley Park was created on land handed over by Viscount Matthew White Ridley and was opened on 27 July 1904.[34] Itnow has a children’s play area and other facilities.

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.[35] On the Quayside are 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.[36][37]

Blyth's largest and most natural open space is its beach with sand dunes which stretch from the mouth of the river to Seaton Sluice. The dunes were declared a Local Nature Reserve by the 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.

Sights of the town

The "High Light" lighthouse

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 the council in conjunction with Northern Arts and created by the artist Simon Packard. Standing 50 feet high and 22 feet wide, it is meant to represents the heritage of coal distribution in Europe, an industry in which Blyth was the largest exporter.[36]

The "High Light" lighthouse is one of Blyth's oldest structures. It stands to the rear of Bath Terrace and is 61½ feet tall. Built in three stages, the first section was constructed in 1788 to a height of 35 feet. A further 14-foot stage was added in 1888, and the final 12½ feet added in 1900. It was deactivated in 1985 and listed Grade II on 15 July 1987.[38][39]

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).

Outside links


  1. Eilert Ekwall, Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-names, p.50.
  2. "Prehistoric Hammer (Blyth)". Retrieved 2007-05-06. 
  3. "Bronze Age Objects (Blyth)". Retrieved 2007-05-06. 
  4. "Bronze Age Axe (Blyth)". Retrieved 2007-05-06. 
  5. "Freehold Street (Blyth)". Retrieved 2007-05-06. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Local History – Blyth (Northumberland)". Retrieved 2007-05-06. 
  7. "Roman Coin (Blyth)". Retrieved 2007-05-06. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Balmer & Smith 2004:8
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 "Northumberland Communities – Blyth". Retrieved 2007-05-06. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Balmer 2002:7
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 "History of Blyth". Retrieved 2007-05-06. 
  12. "Blyth and Tyne Railway (Blyth)". Retrieved 2007-05-06. 
  13. "Blyth Extension (Seghill Railway)". 2004-09-04. Retrieved 2007-05-06. 
  14. "Blyth and Tyne Railway". 2004-09-04. Retrieved 2007-05-06. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 "Constitution". Retrieved 2008-08-11. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 Balmer 2002:8
  17. 17.0 17.1 "Blyth Station". Retrieved 2008-05-09. 
  18. Balmer & Smith 2004:60
  19. 19.0 19.1 "SINE Project, Structure Details for Blyth A and B Power Station". Retrieved 2007-02-04. 
  20. "Timeline of North East History – Shipbuilding 1790 to 1899 – Closures 1909–1979". Retrieved 2007-10-06. 
  21. "The Miners Struggle – Page 2". Retrieved 2007-10-06. 
  22. "Blyth's giants are felled". 2003-12-07. p. 2. Retrieved 2007-02-04. 
  23. "Bebside Station". Retrieved 2008-05-09. 
  24. "Newsham Station". Retrieved 2008-05-09. 
  25. "Port of Blyth Home Page". Port of Blyth. Retrieved 2008-08-11. 
  26. "Main Trades". Port of Blyth. Retrieved 2008-08-11. 
  27. "Connections". Port of Blyth. Retrieved 2009-05-26. 
  28. "Modernising trust ports". Department for Transport. Retrieved 2007-09-30. 
  29. "Blyth Harbour operational wind energy site". Archived from the original on 2007-06-29. Retrieved 2008-03-30. 
  30. "Blyth Offshore Wind Turbines". Retrieved 2007-02-03. 
  31. "NaREC – Company". Archived from the original on May 18, 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-26. 
  32. "Blyth – A Visitors Guide". Retrieved 2007-07-28. 
  33. "Phoenix Theatre web site". Retrieved 2011-09-11. 
  34. "Blyth Photographs – Blyth, Ridley Park (c. 1910)". Retrieved 2007-09-01. 
  35. "Busy Vibrant Blyth In The North". 2006-10-30. Retrieved 2007-10-21. 
  36. 36.0 36.1 "Quayside projects". Retrieved 2007-06-03. 
  37. "Solar Sound Posts". Retrieved 2007-10-14. 
  38. "SINE Project, Structure Details for High Light". Retrieved 2007-04-15. 
  39. "High Light details". Retrieved 2007-04-15. 

Printed sources and further reading

  • Balmer, Bob (2002) [1997]. Images of England: Blyth (3rd edition ed.). Tempus Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7524-0773-9. 
  • Balmer, Bob; Smith, Gordon. Images of England: Blyth volume II. Tempus Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7524-3349-3.