North East England in the 1970s and 80s

North East England in the Seventies and Eighties

One of the most important political changes of the 1970s was the establishment of the new counties of Cleveland and Tyne and Wear which swallowed up the most populous chunks of Northumberland, Durham and North Yorkshire. Coal mines continued to close in the 1970s and 1980s with the issue coming to a head in the bitter miners’ strike of 1984-85. By the end of the 1980s, there were only six collieries left in the land between Tyne and Tees and only two left in Northumberland.

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Tiny Tim, Beamish
Tiny Tim, Beamish. Photo © John Simpson

1970 – Beamish Museum

The North of England Open Air Museum is established at Beamish by Frank Atkinson. The museum will bring to life the social and economic history of the region.

April 1970 – Washington motorway

The Birtley bypass, a section of the A1(M) motorway stretching from junction 63 at Chester-le-Street to Junction 65 near the Bowes Incline is completed near Washington new town with Junction 64 connecting the motorway to Washington itself. The A1(M) is a name given to the upgraded motorway sections of the A1 with earlier sections completed through County Durham in 1965 and 1969. Motorways hail a new era of travel as so many railways and railway stations have closed during the 1960s.

1970 – Sunderland relegated

After only six consecutive seasons in Division One, Sunderland Football Club drop out of the first tier league of English football with relegation to Division Two.

June 18, 1970 – Conservatives elected

The Conservative party under Edward Heath is elected to government. In the North East the only party political constituency change was in Middlesbrough West where the Conservatives gained the seat from Labour.

1970 – Fort found at Whickham

Aerial photography reveals a previously unknown Roman fort at Washingwell Farm near Whickham on Tyneside.

1970 – Teesdale reservoir opens

Cow Green reservoir opens in Teesdale supplying homes and industries on Teesside with water. Some of the surrounding landscape becomes a national nature reserve.


Cow Green Reservoir
Cow Green Reservoir © David Simpson 2021

1970 – Monsanto on Teesside

Monsanto, a textiles company, establishes a plant at Seal Sands for production of acylonite for making acrylic fibre.

1970 – Thornley Colliery closes

Thornley Colliery in County Durham closes.

Thornley © David Simpson 2021

1971 – Working in the service sector

About 53 per cent of Tyneside employment is now in the service sector. Manufacturing and heavy industry no longer dominate the Tyneside scene.

1971 – Get Carter

The gritty 1971 movie Get Carter starring Michael Caine and set in the region, features a number of regional locations including the Durham coast, Blyth and a grim 1960s car park at Gateshead.

Staiths at Blyth.
Blyth, featured in ‘Get Carter’. Photo © David Simpson 2018

1971 – Colliery closures

Silksworth Colliery near Sunderland and Bedlington Colliery in Northumberland close.

1972 – More colliery closures

Glebe Colliery at Washington; Medomsley Colliery near Consett and Shotton Colliery close this year.

1972 – Power station at Hartlepool

Hartlepool Nuclear Power Station has started supplying electricity. Its construction began in 1968.

Hartlepool Power Station
Hartlepool Power Station pictured from the South Gare across the River Tees © David Simpson 2021

May 5, 1973 – Sunderland win FA Cup

Second Division Sunderland Football Club defeat First Division Leeds United 1-0 in the FA Cup final at Wembley with a goal from Scot, Ian Porterfield. Highlights include a split second double save from Sunderland-born goalkeeper, Jimmy Montgomery for his hometown club and an elated dash across the pitch at the end of the match by Sunderland manager, Bob Stokoe. It is Sunderland’s third ever appearance in a cup final and their second victory, having previously won it in 1937. Manager, Stokoe, a miner’s son from Northumberland had played for Newcastle United in the 1955 FA Cup final victory over Manchester City.

May 22, 1973 – Lambton resigns over scandal

Conservative MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, Antony Lambton, (‘Lord Lambton’) of the well-known Durham Lambton family resigns from office. He is the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Defence. He also resigns as the Berwick MP.  It follows the exposure of a scandal involving call girls. In November, a by-election will be held in which the Liberal party candidate Alan Beith is elected as the MP for Berwick. Lambton had held the Berwick seat since 1951.

1973 – Colliery closures

North East collieries closing this year were Bardon Mill in the Tyne valley; Fenwick Colliery at Backworth; Fishburn near Sedgefield; Ravensworth Ann Colliery near Gateshead (also known as Team or Eighton Colliery);  Morrison Busty near Annfield Plain and South Moor Colliery near Stanley.

1974 – Former city leader jailed

The career of former Newcastle City leader T Dan Smith ends in dishonour after he is jailed six years for corruption. He was once widely admired for his vision for the region. Former leader of Durham County Council, Andrew Cunningham and architect John Poulson also receive sentences.

Council leader T Dan Smith


1 April, 1974 – ‘Tyne and Wear’ created

Local government reforms considerably change the shape and identity of County Durham’s ancient boundaries with an impact in Northumberland and Yorkshire too. Gateshead, Jarrow, Blaydon, South Shields and Sunderland are all moved from their historic place in County Durham into a newly created county called ‘Tyne and Wear’. It is a functional name that almost gives the impression of a place worn by time. Those parts of Tyneside north of the Tyne (historically in Northumberland) are also moved into Tyne and Wear.

Tyne and Wear
Newcastle and the Tyne Bridge; Sunderland and the Wearmouth Bridge. Two separate bridges, two separate rivers and cities with different traditions and history. United under one Newcastle-based authority © David Simpson 2021/2015

1 April, 1974 – ‘Cleveland’ created

In the south-eastern corner of County Durham, Hartlepool is moved into a newly-created county called ‘Cleveland’ which includes most of the ‘Borough of Teesside’ that was created in 1968. The new county of Cleveland includes some areas of rural North Yorkshire that were genuinely part of an ancient district of Yorkshire called Cleveland, such as Guisborough. Confusingly, some parts of ancient Cleveland further to the south like the village called Carlton-in-Cleveland near Stokesley, are not included in the new ‘county’ of Cleveland. To further confuse, a quite separate village called Carlton near Stockton-on-Tees, that was historically in County Durham, now finds itself ‘in Cleveland’. Bureaucrats who created the new county no doubt just liked the name.

Village name stone, Carlton in Cleveland
Carlton in Cleveland. This Yorkshire village was in the ancient district of Yorkshire called Cleveland but was NOT included in the county called ‘Cleveland’ created in 1974. However, a former County Durham village called Carlton, near Stockton-on-Tees, was included in the new County of Cleveland © David Simpson 2021

1974 – Northumbrian Water

The public sector Northumbrian Water Authority is established, taking over responsibility for water supply and sewage treatment from numerous water authorities across the whole region. For now only Hartlepool; Newcastle & Gateshead and Sunderland & Shields water companies remain outside the Northumbrian Water area.

1974 – Boro promoted

Middlesbrough football club are promoted to Division One. The club has not played in this top tier of English football since the 1953-54 season.

1974 – Colliery closures

Collieries closing this year were Elemore near Pittington (the colliery for Easington Lane); Whitworth Park Colliery near Spennymoor; Nettlesworth near Sacriston; Usworth near Washington; Kibblesworth Colliery near Gateshead and Wardley Colliery near White Mare Pool all in the Durham coalfield and Netherton Colliery near Bedlington  in Northumberland.

Oct 10, 1974 – Two elections in one year

On February 28, Harold Wilson’s Labour Party returned to power after narrowly defeating the Conservative government of Edward Heath in the general election. However, Labour was short of an overall majority, so a second election was held in October with Labour winning by a very narrow majority. In the February election there were no party political changes in the North East other than the election of an ‘Independent Labour’ MP in Blyth though this constituency would return to the official Labour candidate in October. Liberal MP for Berwick, Alan Beith, elected in a by-election following the Lambton scandal of 1973, continued to hold the seat in both of the 1974 elections. He will do so until up until his retirement in 2015.

Berwick Bridge and Tweedmouth
Berwick Bridge and Tweedmouth. The town of Berwick is one small part of a vast constituency covering much of northern Northumberland © David Simpson 2018

1974 – Tyne and Wear Metro commenced

The building of the Metro Rapid Transport System commences on Tyneside. It will prove to be a hugely popular, successful, efficient and accessible form of public transport though many parts of Tyneside and Wearside will not be reached by its network.

Tyne and Wear Metro

May 27, 1975 – Britain’s worst road tragedy

A coach driver and thirty-two female passengers from Thornaby on Tees lost their lives in a tragic accident at Dibbles Bridge near Hebden in the Yorkshire Dales. The coach crashed through a parapet and overturned at the foot of a steep gradient following a brake failure. A further thirteen survivors, all part of a day trip out, survived.

Sept 27 to Aug 31, 1975 – Railway celebrations

The 150th anniversary celebrations of the Stockton and Darlington Railway are held. The Duke of Edinburgh visits the celebrations at Preston Park and opens the North Road Station Museum in Darlington. At the end of August an impressive cavalcade of steam locomotives headed by a working replica of George Stephenson’s Locomotion Number One of 1825, travel in procession along part of the route of the famous railway between Shildon and Heighington.

1975 – Colliery closures

Langley Park Colliery near Durham and Burradon Colliery to the north of Newcastle close this year.

Jan 1976 – When the Boat Comes In

A new TV drama series entitled When the Boat Comes In, set in a fictional North East town called Gallowshield after the First World War, airs this month on BBC television. It features James Bolam in the role of Jack Ford, a returning veteran struggling with the challenges of the 1920s and 30s (a further three series will follow, with the last episode in April 1981). Script writers for the series included Tom Hadaway, Sid Chaplin and Alex Glasgow who also sung and wrote the adapted version of the traditional North East song as the theme tune from which the series was named.

1976 – Sunderland promoted

Sunderland football club are promoted to Division One.

1976 – Kielder Reservoir

The construction of the Kielder Dam has begun in North Tynedale. The resulting reservoir in North Tynedale has been built primarily to supply the thirsty industries of Teesside.

Kielder Water
Kielder Water. Photo copyright © 2015 David Simpson.

April 5, 1976 – New PM

James Callaghan is elected as new leader of Labour by his party following the surprise resignation of Prime Minister, Harold Wilson.

May 1977 – President’s visit

US President, Jimmy Carter visits the North East. His visit takes in Washington Old Hall near Sunderland and the city of Newcastle. At Newcastle, accompanied by Prime Minister, Jim Callaghan, the President is granted the Freedom of the City by Lord Mayor Hugh White before delighting an assembled crowd of some 20,000 outside Newcastle Civic Centre with the words “Howay the Lads”.

Washington Old Hall
Washington Old Hall : Photo © David Simpson

1977 – Sunderland relegated

Sunderland football club are relegated to Division Two after just one season in the first tier, following their promotion in the 1975-76 season.

1977 – Freeman Hospital

Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital is founded. It is named from a nineteenth century farmer, Patrick Freeman who once farmed the land hereabouts.

1977 – Dudley Colliery closes

Northumberland’s Dudley Colliery closes.

1978 – Newcastle United relegated

Newcastle United are relegated to Division Two after 13 seasons in the top tier, Division One.

1978 – Commonwealth Gold for Foster

Hebburn-born athlete Brendan Foster wins the Commonwealth Games gold medal in the 10,000 metres in Edmonton, Canada. In 1976 he had been the bronze medallist at the same distance in the Olympic Games in Montreal. In previous years Foster found medal success in the 5,000 metres, winning gold in the 1974 European Championships in Rome and a silver in the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch. Earlier medal success at the beginning of the decade had been in the middle distance 1500 metres with bronze medals in the 1970 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games and 1971 Helsinki European Championships.

1978 – Rainton Colliery closes

Rainton Colliery (Adventure Pit) near Durham closes, the Rainton area had been an important area for mining since medieval times.

1978 – Sunderland shipyards

Around 7,535 men currently work in the Sunderland shipyards.

Oct 1978 – Captain Cook Birthplace Museum

The purpose-built Captain Cook Birthplace Museum opens at Stewart Park, Marton Middlesbrough near the site of the cottage where the famed explorer was born.

Captain Cook Birthplace Museum
The Captain Cook Birthplace Museum, Stewart Park, Middlesbrough © David Simpson 2021

May 3, 1979 – Margaret Thatcher is PM

Conservative, Margaret Thatcher is elected as Britain’s first female Prime Minister. She is the first female government leader in Europe. Her ‘reign’ will prove divisive within the North East region most of which is solidly Labour. There is no change in the party political representation of constituencies in the North East in this general election as the political parties hold on to their North Eastern seats, with the North East mostly dominated by Labour MPs.

1979 – Shipyard closures

Between 1974 and 1979, there have been five shipyard closures in the North East. There are now only eight shipyards left in the region.

Swan Hunter Shipyard, Wallsend.
Swan Hunter Shipyard, Wallsend. Photo © David Simpson 2018

July 1979 – Hylton Colliery closes

Hylton Colliery in Sunderland closes. The colliery opened in the year 1900 and is also known as Castletown Colliery. Monkwearmouth Colliery (also known as Wearmouth Colliery) remains in operation in Sunderland, a colliery that traces its origins back to 1835.

North East colliery closures in the 1970s
North East colliery closures in the 1970s © David Simpson and Tangled Worm 2021

Dec 1979 – Viz launched from bedroom

The spoof comic Viz is first published by Chris Donald from the bedroom of his parents’ house in Jesmond, Newcastle, assisted by brother, Simon Donald and school friend Jim Brownlow. Based on the style of British children’s comics but with a witty adult style full of unashamed profanities and toilet humour. Over time it becomes a major success with a circulation of more than one million in the early 1990s.

1980 – Dock closes

The Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority has closed Middlesbrough Dock to commercial traffic. The Dock is scheduled for redevelopment.

1980 – Consett steel works close

The Consett Steel Works are closed on economic grounds. Consett iron works and the later steel works had dominated the landscape here since the works opened in 1841 and could be seen from miles around. The closure results in the loss of at least 3,000 jobs and the socio-economic impact on the town will become the subject of much media attention.

Christchurch, Consett
Christchurch, Consett. Photo © David Simpson 2018

1980 – Colliery closures

South Medomsley Colliery, Eden Colliery near Leadgate and Backworth Colliery near Newcastle close this year. The coal staiths at Dunston on the Tyne are also closed this year.

1980 – Sunderland promoted

Sunderland Football Club are promoted to Division One.

1980 – Metro opens

The first section of railway line for Tyneside’s Metro Rapid Transport System is officially opened. It runs from Newcastle’s Haymarket to Tynemouth.

1981 – Great North Run

The annual Great North Run half marathon event – with its route from Newcastle to South Shields is established by Tyneside athlete Brendan Foster.

1981 – Colliery closures

Woodhorn Colliery near Ashington and Houghton Colliery at Houghton-le-Spring are closed. Blackhall Colliery on the southern edge of the Durham coalfield just to the north of Hartlepool is also closed.

Woodhorn Colliery museum
Woodhorn Colliery on the northern edge of Ashington is now a museum. Photo © David Simpson 2018

1981 – Service sector on the increase

Employment in the service sector on Tyneside is now 63 per cent of the workforce.

Aug 1, 1981 – Video Killed the Radio Star

Video Killed the Radio Star featuring the bespectacled Hetton-born and Durham raised singer songwriter and music producer, Trevor Horn on vocals with his group The Buggles, becomes the first video to be played on the MTV channel in the United States. The theme of the song, which was released in 1979 in part reflects upon and heralds a new age of pop music and media. Horn has been described as ‘the man who invented the eighties’.

Nov 6, 1981 – Queen opens new bridge in her name

Queen Elizabeth II officially opens the Queen Elizabeth II bridge across the River Tyne in Newcastle. The new bridge transports the new Tyne and Wear Metro system across the river.

Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, (Metro Bridge), Newcastle upon Tyne
Queen Elizabeth II Bridge (Metro Bridge), Newcastle upon Tyne © David Simpson 2018

1982 – Yachtsman sails the world

Newcastle-born yachtsman David Scott Cowper becomes the first man to sail solo around the world in both directions. In 1980 he became the first to do so in the easterly direction (225 days) and has now completed the same feat in the opposite direction (237 days).

1982 – Middlesbrough relegated

Middlesbrough football club are relegated to Division Two after eight seasons in the top flight of English football.

1982 – Colliery closures

South Hetton Colliery, Boldon Colliery and Shilbottle Colliery closed this year.

Nov 5, 1982 – The Tube

The Tube a new music television programme broadcast nationally from the studios of Tyne Tees Television in Newcastle’s City Road began broadcasting with a focus on live bands. Presenters include Jools Holland, Paula Yates, Muriel Gray and Leslie Ash. Sunderland band the Toy Dolls are first to perform live. The show ran until April 1987.

June 9, 1983 – Thatcher wins second term

The Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher retain their place in government in the 1983 general election. There have been some parliamentary boundary changes since the previous election but the general party political make-up of constituencies in the North East sees little change. However, Darlington elects a Conservative MP and Stockton South elects Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate, Ian Wrigglesworth as its MP. The SDP, formed in 1981, fought the general election in alliance with the Liberals. One of the four key founders of this new party, the former Labour MP Bill Rodgers, loses the Stockton North seat to a Labour candidate in the election. Rodgers had represented the constituency of Stockton-on-Tees from 1962. The constituency was divided into North and South for the 1983 election.

July 16, 1983 – 100th Miners’ Gala held

The 100th Durham Miners’ Gala is held in Durham City. The gala has been held every year since 1871 with the exception of the war periods 1915-1918 and 1940-45.

Durham Miners' Gala
Scene from the 2015 Durham Miners’ Gala. Photo © John Simpson 2015

1983 – Colliery closures

East Hetton Colliery at Kelloe and Marley Hill Colliery close this year.

1983- World Gold for Steve Cram

Jarrow athlete Steve Cram wins the World Championship gold medal in the 1500 metres in Helsinki. Last year he won the European Championship gold in Athens and Commonwealth gold in Brisbane for the same distance.

1983 – Auf Wiedersehen, Pet

Dick Clement and Tynesider Ian La Frenais, who were previously creators and writers of Porridge and The Likely Lads score another hit as writers of a new comedy drama, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet which is first broadcast this year. The series features the antics of a group of seven British workers with a range of regional accents, employed on a building site in Germany. The three key characters are Geordie bricklayers Dennis (Tim Healy); Oz (Jimmy Nail) and Neville (Kevin Whately). Created by Norton-on-Tees born Franc Roddam from the idea of a Stockton bricklayer, a further three series would follow in 1986, 2002 and 2004, with the third series involving the fictional dismantling and sale of the Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge.

1984 – Wagon works close at Shildon

The Shildon wagon works close on economic grounds. The works had been responsible for building most of Britain’s railway freight wagons.

Mar 12, 1984 – Miners’ strike

Mines across the country are out on strike in support of their union, protesting over colliery closures. Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher and National Union of Miners leader, Arthur Scargill, lock into a bitter, stubborn and uncompromising dispute arising from the closure of ‘uneconomic’ mines. Yet the closure of these supposedly value-less collieries is likely to have a devastating socio-economic impact on places, communities and whole regions for which coal mining is a way of life. The struggle brings economic hardship; violent battles with drafted-in police and sees communities divided in bitterness towards strike-breaking miners desperate to support families, while striking miners struggle to make ends meet, defending their jobs, communities and a way of life.

Wheatley Hill pit wheel
Preserved pit wheels such as this one at Wheatley Hill in County Durham are often the only prominent reminder of mining in colliery villages across the region © David Simpson 2021

Apr 6, 1984 – Bearpark Colliery closes

Bearpark Colliery closes. The village and its colliery are named from the former medieval park of Beaurepaire Park that once belonged to the Priors of Durham. Langley Park, another colliery village nearby, is also named from its former proximity to this park. Bearpark Colliery has been operating since 1872 and is the very heart of the large village of Bearpark that was built to serve the mine.

Bearpark Colliery.
Sign pointing to the site of Bearpark Colliery. Photo © David Simpson

1984 – Newcastle United promoted

Newcastle United are promoted to Division One.

1984 – New bishop courts controversy

David Jenkins becomes the new Bishop of Durham. He is noted for his outspoken and controversial beliefs, including doubts over the resurrection of Christ and the Virgin birth. He is consecrated at York Minster. The bishop will also be vocal in his support for striking miners. He is critical of the government and the provocative Ian McGregor, an American appointed by the government as head of the National Coal Board. Many miners, including those in Durham have long distrusted the Church of England, considering it part of the ‘Establishment’ but they are endeared by Jenkins’ support. The government and church are not comfortable with Bishop Jenkins’ outspoken views.

July 1984 – York Minster fire

A major fire destroys parts of York Minster after it is hit by lightning.

York Minster © David Simpson 2021

1984 -Olympic medals for NE athletes

North East athletes win medals in the Los Angeles Olympic Games. Jarrow’s Steve Cram claimed silver in the 1500 metres; Elswick Harrier’s Mike McLeod, a silver in the 10,000 metres and Ferryhill’s Charlie Spedding, a bronze in the Olympic Marathon. Spedding is also gold medal winner in the London Marathon and Houston Marathon this year.

1984 – World’s most beautiful building

In celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Royal Institute of British Architects, a panel of 50 architectural experts vote Durham Cathedral the most beautiful building in the world.

Durham Cathedral
Durham Cathedral © David Simpson 2020

1984- Sunderland Airport closes

Sunderland  Airport closes. It was situated on the site of the former RAF Usworth near Washington.

1985 – Colliery closures

Brenkley Colliery near Seaton Burn; Sacriston Colliery near Durham and Herington Colliery near Sunderland all close this year.

May 1985 – Money for Nothing in the CD Age

The Brothers in Arms album released this month by rock band Dire Straits is one of the first albums released on a Compact Disc (CD) and becomes the first ever album to sell over a million copies in the CD format. A track from the CD, Money for Nothing featuring the lyrics of Tyneside’s Dire Straits frontman, Mark Knopfler is the number one single in the United States for three weeks. The single features the vocals of Knopfler and fellow Tynesider Sting singing the additional words “I want my MTV”. In 1987 it will become the first video to be played on MTV Europe.

1985 – Sunderland relegated

Sunderland Football Club are relegated from the first tier of English football to Division Two after only five seasons in Division One.

April 1, 1986 – Tyne and Wear abolished

The Newcastle-based county of Tyne and Wear, created in 1974, is abolished and divided into the five unitary authorities of Newcastle upon Tyne, North Tyneside, Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland. However, the term ‘Tyne and Wear’ persists and has become deeply rooted in little more than a decade, despite centuries of traditional county boundaries. Tyne and Wear continues to be used as a term in relation to certain cultural features and services such as the Metro system and museums service. The title Lord Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear is also retained. A Lord Lieutenant is the representative of the monarch, usually within a traditional historic county boundary, suggesting that in ceremonial terms the county of Tyne and Wear continues to exist.

Tyne Bridges linking Newcastle and Gateshead
Tyne Bridges linking Newcastle and Gateshead viewed from Dunston riverside © David Simpson 2017

1986 – Tees is number three

The port of Tees is the third largest port in the UK in terms of tonnage shipped.

1986 – Middlesbrough relegated

Middlesbrough FC are relegated from the second tier to Division Three.

1986 – Colliery closures

Eppleton Colliery at Hetton-le-Hole and Horden Colliery close this year.

1986 – More medals for Cram

At the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, Jarrow athlete Steve Cram wins gold in the 1500 metres and 800 metres. Cram will also claim a European Championship gold in the 1500 metres in Stuttgart and a European Championship bronze in the 800 metres.

Sept 1986 – Nissan car plant opens

Nissan becomes the first Japanese company to open a factory in Britain when it establishes a car plant between Washington and Sunderland, partly occupying the former RAF Usworth site. A Nissan Bluebird will be the first car off the production line. It will go on to be displayed at Sunderland’s museum.

1987 – World Heritage site

Durham Cathedral and Castle are declared a World Heritage Site, one of only a few selected sites designated as such in Britain by UNESCO.

View of Durham Castle from Framwellgate Bridge
View of Durham Castle from Framwellgate Bridge © David Simpson 2022

1987 – Gateshead Civic Centre complete

The red brick Gateshead Civic Centre, started in 1978 is complete.

1987 – Ship restored

The restoration of HMS Warrior is completed at Hartlepool.

1987 – Development Corporations

Two new development corporations, Teesside Development Corporation and Tyne and Wear Development Corporation are established. They invest millions of pounds into developing the region’s two major urban areas.

1987 – Middlesbrough promoted

Middlesbrough FC are promoted from Division Three to Division Two.

1987 – Shipyard closures

The 15,000 tonne North Islands was launched on October 15, 1986, and it enters history as the last ship ever to be launched on the Tees at Smiths Dock, South Bank, as the shipyard is closing with the loss of 1,295 jobs. The Smiths Dock firm can trace its origins back to the early nineteenth century and was originally located at North Shields.

1987 – Sunderland shipbuilders

Around 4,337 men now work in the Sunderland shipyards. Since the 1780s over 8,000 ships have been built on the River Wear at Sunderland.

1987 – Sunderland relegated

Sunderland are relegated from the second tier of the Football League to Division Three for the first time in their history.

June 11, 1987 – Thatcher wins third term

The Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher win a third general election in a row. It is the first time this has been achieved under the same leader since 1820. Most of the North East still remains solidly Labour and there is little change in the political representation of constituencies in the region since the 1983 election except that Stockton South is now Conservative and Newcastle Central is regained by Labour.

Grey Street Newcastle upon Tyne
Newcastle Central returns to Labour © 2015 David Simpson

Sep 1987 – ‘Walk in the wilderness’

A black and white photograph is taken of Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher carrying a handbag and walking through the empty industrial landscape of the former Head Wrightson engineering works at Thornaby on her visit to Teesside. The ‘walk in the wilderness’ as it comes to be known is one of the most enduring and symbolic political images of the era. Some saw it as symbolic of Conservative party destruction of traditional industries; others, including Mrs Thatcher herself, saw it as symbolic of the need for change.

Modern Thornaby
Riverside developments in modern Thornaby today near the site of the former Head Wrightson works. © David Simpson 2021

Oct 1987 – Metrocentre opens

Europe’s largest shopping and leisure complex is opened at Gateshead. It is the creation of the North East Ashington-born entrepreneur and developer, John Hall.

1988 – Boro and Sunderland promoted

Middlesbrough FC are promoted from Division Two to Division One, having just been promoted from Division Three the previous season. Sunderland are promoted from Division Three to Division Two after one season in the third tier.

1988 – Ashington Colliery closes

Ashington Colliery in Northumberland closes. Ashington, often described as the ‘world’s largest pit village’ no longer has a colliery. The nearby Woodhorn Colliery had already closed in 1981.

First Row, Ashington
First Row, Ashington, was the first row in the colliery village of Ashington. Photo © David Simpson 2018.

1988 – Seaham Colliery closes

Seaham Colliery in the coastal County Durham town of Seaham Harbour is closed. Two collieries: Vane Tempest and Dawdon Colliery, continue to operate in the town. Last year Whittle Colliery near Shilbottle in Northumberland was closed.

North East colliery closures in the 1980s
North East colliery closures in the 1980s © David Simpson and Tangled Worm 2021

Dec 1988 –  Driving Home for Christmas

Middlesbrough singer-songwriter Chris Rea’s single Driving Home for Christmas is released and will become a perennial Christmas time hit. The song was written in 1978 by Rea on a journey from London to his home town of Middlesbrough but was not released until 1988.

May 1989 – First man to walk to both poles

Explorer, Robert Swan, who is Teesdale-born and raised becomes the first man to walk to both poles. This month he and his team reached the North Pole. In January 1986 Swan had completed the 900 mile walk to the South Pole.

1989 – Newcastle United and Boro relegated

Middlesbrough and Newcastle United football clubs are relegated from Division One to Division Two. With Sunderland already in Division Two it leaves the top tier of English football without representation from the North East. Middlesbrough had only been promoted last year while Newcastle United have been playing in Division One for five consecutive seasons.

1989 – Northumbrian Water privatised

The government’s privatisation of the water industry leads to the formation of the Northumbrian Water Group from the former public sector-based Northumbrian Water Authority that serves most of the region.

1989 – Sunderland shipbuilding ends

Shipbuilding ends in Sunderland with the launch of the last ship on the Wear. It was launched by North East Shipbuilders, a firm recently formed from a merger of Sunderland Shipbuilders Ltd (a successor to William Doxford & Sons) with Austin & Pickersgill. It brings an end to shipbuilding in a place that was once described as ‘the largest shipbuilding town in the world’. There have been seven shipyard closures across the region in the 1980s and in 1989 only one now remains: the Swan Hunter Yard on the Tyne at Wallsend.

1989 – Byker Grove

A popular teen TV drama set in a Newcastle youth club begins its first series this year on CBBC. Byker Grove (actually filmed in Benwell rather than Byker) will boost or launch the careers of several North East actors including young actors Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly who respectively play the characters PJ and Duncan. Dec featured in series one with Ant joining the cast for series two in 1990. The drama will run until 2006. Later, as a TV presenting duo, Ant and Dec will become a mainstay of prime-time light entertainment on British TV.

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