North East England 1920-1937

North East England 1920-1937

Coal-mining reached a peak in 1923 with 170,000 miners employed in the Durham coalfield alone but many industries in the North East experienced hard times in the 1920s and 1930s. Demand for industrial products was fading and the Great War had provided only a temporary boost. In 1926 places like Middlesbrough had unemployment rates of 45 per cent. A worse situation was found at Jarrow in 1936 with 80 per cent unemployment. The men of that town set out on their famous hunger march to London. However other industries still had their part to play. One of the North East’s great achievements of this era was the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia and the similar iconic landmark of the Tyne Bridge. New industries like plastics at Billingham were also beginning to emerge.

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The Jarrow March
The Jarrow March

1920 – Public transport

Since 1900 public transport has become common place throughout the region. Motor buses and trams serve the major North East towns.

1920 – Seal Sands

The Tees Conservancy Act instigates the extensive reclamation of Seal Sands at the mouth of the Tees.

1923 – Coal mining reaches peak

Coal-mining reaches a peak in County Durham, employing around 170,000 miners.

ICI Billingham.
ICI Billingham, pictured from the Ferryhill area of County Durham. Photo © David Simpson. 2018

1923 – Ammonia making

The first manufacture of ammonia in Britain is undertaken at Billingham by Brunner Mond. The ammonia will be used in the production of ammonium sulphate fertilisers. The chemical works at Billingham become part of the newly-formed Imperial Chemical Works Company (ICI).

1923 – Macmillan MP for Stockton

Harold Macmillan is elected as MP for Stockton-on-Tees.

Newcastle United’s Stan Seymour

April 26 1924 – Newcastle United win the FA Cup

Newcastle United Football Club reach the FA Cup final for the sixth time in their history, defeating Aston Villa 2-0 at Wembley, in front of a rain-drenched crowd of over 91,000.  Newcastle’s two goals come late in the game, from Scottish-born Neil Harris and County Durham’s Kelloe-born Stan Seymour in the 83rd and 85th minute. It is the second time in their history that Newcastle have won the FA Cup but this is their first appearance and victory in a Wembley final. Their previous cup win, in 1910, was played at Crystal Palace and followed by a replay at Goodison Park, Liverpool.

Mar 30 1925 – Colliery disaster at Scotswood

Thirty-eight lives are lost in a mine disaster at the Montagu Colliery at Scotswood near Newcastle after an inrush of water flooded the mine from the old Paradise pit.

1926 – General Strike

The General Strike brings industrial activity to a halt throughout the country. Miners are among those striking this year over wages and working hours. Male unemployment is high throughout the region – in Middlesbrough it is 45 per cent – particularly when compared to the national average of 14 per cent.

1927 – Newcastle United Champions

Newcastle United become champions in the highest tier of English football, winning the First Division title with 56 points (there are 22 teams with two points for a win and one point for a draw). It is the fourth time they have won the title. Third-placed Sunderland finish on 49 points behind runners up Huddersfield Town on 51 points. Meanwhile, Middlesbrough are promoted as champions of the Second Division. Middlesbrough forward George Camsell, (born Framwellgate Moor), is the top scorer in the Second Division with an astonishing 59 goals that include nine hat-tricks.

1927 – Lucozade invented in Newcastle

Newcastle chemist, William Owen, based in the Barras Bridge area of the city invents the drink Lucozade which he initially calls Glucozade. The name is changed to Lucozade in 1929.

Tyne Bridges
The Tyne Bridge arches above its companions in 2015. Photo © David Simpson 2015

1928 – The Tyne Bridge

The Tyne Bridge is built linking Newcastle and Gateshead by Dorman Long of Middlesbrough and is opened on October 10 by George V. In fact its official name is the George V Bridge.

1928 – Anhydrite mined

Anhydrite, also known as dry gypsum, is used in the production of fertilisers. The mine 700ft beneath Billingham consists of miles of grid-like subterranean streets.

1928 – Armstrong Vickers merge

Armstrong’s factory at Elswick on Tyneside has been forced to merge with Vickers of Sheffield. The factory has been unable to diversify since the end of the war.

1928 – Derwenthaugh Coke Works open

The Derwenthaugh Coke Works open near the banks of the River Derwent and Tyne near Blaydon.

1928 – Flying Scotsman

The Flying Scotsman locomotive service begins operating on the LNER London-Edinburgh route.

Wearmouth Bridge
The present Wearmouth Bridge with the railway bridge to the rear : Photo © David Simpson.

1929 – Wearmouth Bridge

A new bridge is built across the River Wear in Sunderland. It is designed by designed by Mott, Hay & Anderson.

1929 – Domestos invented at Byker

William Handley, a chemist develops the household cleaner Domestos in his garden shed at Byker. He had purchased Sodium Hypochlorite from the chemical works at Billingham to use in its manufacture.

1929 – North East Coast Exhibition

The North East Coast Exhibition of 1929 at what will be called Exhibition Park in Newcastle. It showcases North East industry and enterprise.

1929 – Industrial Merger

Dorman Long of Middlesbrough absorbs neighbouring industrial giant Bolckow and Vaughan.

June 5 1929 – Ramsay Macdonald MP and PM

On May 30, Labour leader Ramsay Macdonald, a Scot, is elected MP for Seaham Harbour and on June 5 his party win the general election as he becomes Prime Minister for the second time. Macdonald had also served as Prime Minister briefly in a minority government from January to November 1924 after the Conservatives lost their majority. Macdonald was the first Labour leader to become a Prime Minister. On this occasion he will serve as Prime Minister until 1935.

Charles Mark Palmer
Statue of Charles Mark Palmer, Jarrow Town Centre © David Simpson

1930 – Shipyard closures

19 shipyard closures in the region in the last decade result in the loss of thousands of jobs and contribute to heavy unemployment throughout the region.

1931 – Jarrow unemployment

About 80 per cent of Jarrow’s workforce is unemployed. This is because of a slump in demand caused by the end of the war and the huge number of unemployed men returning from service.

Shrove Tuesday football Chester-le-Street
Ball in the Burn, Shrove Tuesday football at Chester-le-Street

Feb 9 1932 – Shrove Tuesday football ends

Chester-le-Street’s anarchic annual Shrove Tuesday football game is played for the last time due to the damage to shops in the main street, which hosts the game. The event is thought to have medieval roots. A similar tradition continues at Sedgefield and Alnwick.

April 23 1932 – Newcastle United win FA Cup

Newcastle United Football Club win the FA Cup final at Wembley, defeating Arsenal 2-1 in front of a crowd of 92,298. Arsenal take the lead in the first half but Newcastle reply in the 38th minute with a goal from their home town forward, the Newburn-born, Jack Allen. Allen would follow this up with a winning goal in the 72nd minute.  This is Newcastle’s seventh appearance in an FA Cup final and the third time they have won it.

June 19, 1932 – Palmer launches last ship

The Palmer Shipyard launches its last ship at Jarrow – HMS Duchess.

1932 – Sydney Harbour Bridge

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is completed by Dorman Long of Middlesbrough, the bridge was in fact commenced before the similar Tyne Bridge at Newcastle.

Ravensworth Castle
Ravensworth Castle (demolished in 1932) once dominated  the Team valley

1932 – Ravensworth Castle demolished

The impressive Ravensworth Castle near Gateshead is demolished.

1932 – 5,000 workers at Billingham

5,000 are employed by the chemical industry at Billingham.

1933 – Hebburn workforce reduced

Hawthorn Leslie has reduced its workforce at Hebburn by about a fifth over the last two years. It now employs around 1,000 people. Many industrial firms have had to take similar actions.

Hebburn riverside pictured from Wallsend
Hebburn riverside pictured from Wallsend. Photo © David Simpson 2018

1933 – Shipyard closures

There were six shipyard closures in the region from 1931 to 1933 further increasing unemployment.

Newport Bridge, Middlesbrough
Newport Bridge, Middlesbrough © David Simpson 2021

Feb 28, 1934 – Bridge opening

The Duke and Duchess of York open the Newport Lifting Bridge across the River Tees on Teesside. It has been built by Dorman Long.

Discovery Museum
Discovery Museum, Newcastle © David Simpson 2021

1934 – Newcastle Museum

The Municipal Museum of Science and Industry is established featuring many exhibits from the North East Coast Exhibition of 1929. It will later be known as the Discovery Museum.

Sep 1934 – Farewell Mauretania

The famed ship, RMS Mauretania built at Wallsend in 1906 makes her last journey. Heading from New York to Southampton, her fittings are sold off before she heads for Rosyth in Scotland for breaking up.

1935 – Ellen Wilkinson MP

The Conservative MP for Jarrow is ousted by Labour’s Ellen Wilkinson, formerly the MP for Middlesbrough.

1935 – Plastics

A new chemical plant at Billingham makes oil and petrol from creosote and coal through a process called hydrogenation. The production of plastics was established last year.

Jan 1936 – EDWARD VIII constitutional crisis

King George V dies at home at Sandringham and is succeeded by his eldest son, Edward VIII. However, the yet-to-be-crowned king’s plan to marry American Mrs Wallis Simpson creates a constitutional crisis because not only is she a ‘commoner’ but she is already married and for the second time too, having divorced her first husband.

Sunderland ‘s Bobby Gurney

1936 – Sunderland Champions

Sunderland, who had finished second to Arsenal last season become champions in the highest tier of English football for the sixth time in their history, taking the First Division title. Middlesbrough finish fourteenth in the division while Newcastle United finish eighth in the Second Division. The goal scoring talents of local lads Bobby Gurney and Raich Carter contribute considerably to Sunderland’s title gain, although the division’s top scorer is West Brom’s William ‘Ginger’ Richardson of Framwellgate Moor, Durham.

Ellen Wilkinson

Oct 5-31, 1936  – Jarrow March

Two hundred unemployed men march 274 miles from Jarrow to London in protest about the recession that followed the recent closure of the town’s Palmer’s shipyard. Around 80 per cent of Jarrow’s workforce were employed at this yard. The route of the march took in 21 stops, including Chester-Street, Ferryhill, Darlington, Northallerton, Leeds, Barnsley, Leicester, Northampton and St Albans. At Leicester local bootmakers worked through the night to repair the marchers’ shoes. Jarrow MP, Ellen Wilkinson joined the marchers for some sections of the journey. A meeting was held in London’s Hyde Park and Wilkinson presented a box containing 11,000 signatures to parliament. The men, sadly, returned home having achieved little but a lasting place in the social history of the region and the hearts and minds of the people.

Eileen Blair

1935 – Eileen’s Ninety Eight Four

South Shields-born Eileen O’Shaughnessy writes a poem to celebrate her school’s fiftieth anniversary (Sunderland Church High School). Focusing on mind control in a police state, she entitles it End of the Century 1984. She will later marry the novelist, George Orwell, whose famed novel 1984, (published 1949) has a similar theme.

1936 – TVTE established

The Team Valley Trading Estate is established to encourage light industries in the region. It is recognition of the dangers of relying too heavily upon a small number of manufacturing industries which employ many people. The region had been designated a Special Area in the Special Areas Act of 1934.

1937 – Scandinavian ferry

A regular ferry service commences from the mouth of the Tyne to Bergen and Oslo in Norway.

Sunderland’s Raich Carter

May 1, 1937 – Sunderland win the FA Cup

Sunderland Football Club win the FA Cup for the first time in their history in their second appearance in the final. They defeat Preston North End 3-1 at Wembley. Preston had taken the lead just before half time but second half goals came from Sunderland-born lads Bobby Gurney and Raich Carter, who are both noted as prolific goal scorers. Sunderland’s third goal came from Yorkshireman, Eddie Burbanks near the end of the game.

May 12, 1937 – KING GEORGE VI

George VI is crowned at Westminster Abbey. In December last year his elder brother King Edward VIII – who was never crowned – abdicated because of his intention to marry American Mrs Wallis Simpson.

The Bailey, Durham
The Bailey in Durham is the site of some of the University’s oldest colleges Photo © David Simpson 2017.

1937 – University becomes two

Durham University is reorganised into two divisions: Durham and Newcastle. The Newcastle colleges are grouped under the title ‘King’s College’.

1937 – Cinema boom

Many cinemas are built in the region in the 1930s, including three at Darlington, four at Gateshead, five in Sunderland and 15 in Newcastle. By 1939, Darlington has more cinema seats per head of population than any other town in Britain.

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