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The Twenties and Thirties 1920-1939

Coal-mining reached a peak in Durham in 1923 when 170,000 miners were employed, 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 could be found at Jarrow in 1936 when there was 80 per cent unemployment. The men of that town set out on their famous 274 mile hunger march to London. The older industries still had a part to play - one of their great achievements was the building on the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia - and new industries like plastic at Billingham were beginning to emerge.

1920 - PUBLIC TRANSPORT (North-East)

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

1920 - SEAL SANDS (Middlesbrough)

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

1923 - COAL-MINING REACHES PEAK (County Durham)

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

1923 - AMMONIA-MAKING (Billingham)

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 IS MP FOR STOCKTON (Stockton-on-Tees)

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

1926 - GENERAL STRIKE (North)

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.

1928 - THE TYNE BRIDGE (Middlesbrough and Newcastle)

The Tyne Bridge is built by Dorman Long of Middlesbrough and opened on October 10 by George V.

1928 - ANHYDRITE MINED (Billingham)

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.


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

1928 - FLYING SCOTSMAN (North-East)

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

1929 - INDUSTRIAL MERGER (Middlesbrough)

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


Ramsay Macdonald is elected MP for Seaham Harbour.

1930 - SHIPYARD CLOSURES (North-East)

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.


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.


The impressive Ravensworth Castle near Gateshead is demolished.

June 19, 1932 - PALMER LAUNCHES LAST SHIP (Jarrow)

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

1932 - SYDNEY HARBOUR BRIDGE (Middlesbrough)

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is completed by Dorman Long of Middlesbrough for shipment in sections to Australia.

1932 - 5,000 WORKERS AT BILLINGHAM (Billingham)

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

1933 - WORKFORCE REDUCED (Hebburn)

Hawthorn Leslie has reduced its workforce 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.

1933 - SHIPYARD CLOSURES (North-East)

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

February 28, 1934 - BRIDGE OPENS (Middlesbrough)

The Duke and Duchess of York open the Newport Lifting Bridge, built by Dorman Long.

1935 - PLASTICS (Billingham)

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.

1936 October 5-31 - JARROW MARCH (Jarrow)

Two hundred unemployed men march 274 miles from Jarrow to the House of Commons in protest about the recession.

1936 - TVTE ESTABLISHED (Gateshead)

The Team Valley Trading Estate is established to encourage the 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 (Tyneside)

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

May 12, 1937 - GEORGE VI CROWNED (London)

George VI is crowned at Westminster Abbey. In December last year Edward VIII abdicated because of his love for American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

1937 - UNIVERSITY SPLITS (Newcastle and Durham)

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

1937 - CINEMA BOOM (North-East)

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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