North East England in the 1970s and 80s

North East England in the Seventies and Eighties 1970 to 1989

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 and 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.

Go back in time  | TimelineHome |  Go forward in time

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

1970 – Beamish Museum

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

1970 – Fort found at Whickham

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

Cow Green Reservoir
Cow Green Reservoir © David Simpson 2021

1970 – Teesdale reservoir opens

Cow Green reservoir opens in Teesdale supplying homes and industries on Teesside with water.

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.

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.

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

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.

1971 – Colliery closures

Silksworth Colliery near Sunderland and Bedlington Colliery in Northumberland close.

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

1972 – Power station at Hartlepool

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

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.

1973 – Colliery closures

The 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;  Morrison Busty near Annfield Plain and South Moor near Stanley.

Council leader T Dan Smith

1974 – Former city leader jailed for corruption

The career of former Newcastle City leader T Dan Smith ends in dishonour after he is jailed for 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.

1 April 1974 – ‘Tyne and Wear’ and ‘Cleveland’ created

Local government reforms have considerably changed the shape of County Durham’s boundaries. Gateshead, Jarrow, Blaydon, South Shields and Sunderland have all been moved from County Durham into the new county of Tyne and Wear. Most of the Tyneside area north of the Tyne has been moved from Northumberland into Tyne and Wear. In southern County Durham, Hartlepool has been moved into the newly-created County of Cleveland which includes most of the old borough of Teesside, which dates from 1968, along with areas of rural North Yorkshire including Guisborough.

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 and Kibblesworth Colliery near Gateshead all in the Durham coalfield and Netherton Colliery near Bedlington  in Northumberland.

1974 – Work on Tyne and Wear Metro system begins

The building of the Metro Rapid Transport System commences on Tyneside.

Sept 27, 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.

1975 – Colliery closures

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

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

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.

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”.

1977 – Dudley Colliery closes

Northumberland’s Dudley Colliery closes.

1978 – Rainton Colliery closes

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

May 4, 1979 – Margaret Thatcher is PM

Margaret Thatcher has been elected as Britain’s first female Prime Minister. Her ‘reign’ will prove divisive in the region.

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

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.

July 1979 – Hylton Colliery closes

Hylton Colliery near Sunderland closes.

1980 – Dock closes

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

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

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.

1980 – Colliery closures

South Medomsley Colliery, Eden Colliery near Leadgate and Backworth Colliery close.

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 – The 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.

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

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.

1981 – Service sector on the increase

Tyneside employment in the service sector is now 63 per cent.

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 – Colliery closures

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

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

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.

1983 – Colliery closures

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

1984 – Wagon works close at Shildon

The Shildon wagon works close on economic grounds. The works has 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 protest over pit closures. Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher and National Union of Miners leader, Arthur Scargill lock into a bitter and uncompromising dispute arising from the closure of mines that are expected to have a devastating socio-economic impact on places and communities for which coal mining is a whole way of life.

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

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, is also named from its proximity to this park.

1984 – New bishop of Durham 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.

July 1984 – York Minster fire

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

Durham Cathedral
Durham Cathedral. Photo © David Simpson

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.

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 close this year.

1986 – Tees is number three

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

1986 – Colliery closures

Eppleton Colliery at Hetton-le-Hole and Horden Colliery close this year. In Northumberland, Whittle Colliery near Newton-on-the-Moor also closes.

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.

Durham Castle north wing
Durham Castle north wing. Photo © David Simpson.

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.

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 for Tyne and Wear and Teesside

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 – 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 19th century and was originally located at North Shields.

Oct 1987 – Metrocentre opens

Europe’s largest shopping and leisure complex is opened at Gateshead.

1988 – Sunderland shipbuilding ends

The Austin and Pickersgill Shipyard closes at Sunderland bringing an end to shipbuilding in a place which was once described as ‘the largest shipbuilding town in the world’. There have been seven shipyard closures across the region in the 1980s and only one now remains – the Swan Hunter Yard on the Tyne at Wallsend.

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.

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

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.

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.

Go back in time  | TimelineHome |  Go forward in time

Coal Mining and Railways

North East England History and Culture