Light, Leisure and Football 1878-1900

Electric light, leisure and football : 1878-1900

One of the most important developments in the history of modern life took place in the North East – the evolution of electric light. The most important figure was Sunderland-born Joseph Wilson Swan, inventor of the first practical light bulb. His developments would result in the widespread use of electric light throughout the world. Indeed, Newcastle was one of the first towns to be lit by electricity. Furthermore, Cragside in Northumberland was one of the first houses to be lit with electric light and a light bulb factory at Benwell was the first in the world. The region was witnessing the birth of modern times. The late Victorian Age was certainly a period of great change and development. It was a period of booming industry; rapidly expanding towns and increasing travel; tourism and leisure. This too, was an era that saw the emergence of the region’s new sporting passion: Association Football.

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Cragside near Rothbury, Northumberland. Photo © David Simpson

1878 – Swan develops lamp

Joseph Wilson Swan of Sunderland, who was born at the nearby Pallion Hall in 1828, develops a successful incandescent electric lamp. Swan has been working on this project since the 1850s.

Sir William Armstrong

1878 – Cragside lit by electricity

Sir William Armstrong (above) installs a small hydro electric plant on his estate for generating electric light in his picture gallery at Cragside. Using lakes in the grounds, Cragside is the first house in the world to be lit by electricity generated from water power. The arc lights he uses are not yet suitable for mass production and are unlikely to replace gas lighting.

Joseph Swan
Joseph Swan

Dec 18, 1878 – Swan demonstrates lamp at Newcastle

Joseph Swan demonstrates his incandescent electric light bulb to an audience at the Newcastle Chemical Society, but it burns out after only a few minutes.

1878 – Cleveland Bridge

Cleveland Bridge Engineering Company Ltd is established at Darlington. The company will achieve fame as a builder of many great bridges throughout the world.

1878 – Bolckow dies

Ironmaster Henry Bolckow dies. He was Middlesbrough’s first mayor and its first MP in 1868. With his business partner John Vaughan, Bolckow had instigated the development and rapid growth of the town through the establishment of the iron industry.

Jan 19 1879 – Swan demonstrates lamp at Sunderland

Joseph Swan demonstrates his incandescent electric light bulb during a lecture to an audience at the Athenaeum in Fawcett Street, Sunderland.

1879 – Swan Hunter Shipbuilding

The Wallsend shipbuilder Charles Sheridan Swan dies in an accident during a trip from Calais to Dover. His widow goes into partnership with a Sunderland shipbuilder called George Burton Hunter. Swan Hunter will become the most famous name in North East shipbuilding.

Winter Gardens Sunderland
Winter Gardens, Mowbray Park, Sunderland : Photo © David Simpson.

1879 – Ex-US President visits Sunderland

Former US President Ullyses Grant visits Sunderland and opens the Central Museum with its winter gardens and neighbouring Library.

Railway bridge, Sunderland
Railway bridge, Sunderland © David Simpson 2017

1879 – Sunderland railway bridge

A railway bridge is built across the River Wear alongside the famous Wearmouth Bridge.

1879 – New Steel methods

New steel-making methods enabling the use of Teesside ore are a great boost to Middlesbrough’s industry.

1879 – Gums and pastilles from York

York chocolate manufacturers Rowntree & Co diversify into gums and pastilles.

Sunderland AFC foundation plaque, Norfolk Street
Sunderland AFC foundation plaque, Norfolk Street © David Simpson 2015

Oct 1879 – Sunderland Football Club formed

A meeting of teachers at the British Day School (now the Norfolk Hotel) in the Sunniside area of Sunderland sees the formation of Sunderland AFC, ‘the Sunderland and District Teachers Association Football Club’, headed by Scottish schoolmaster James Allan, the club’s founder, who will also play for the club. The club play at Blue House Field, in the Hendon area of Sunderland.

Dec 1879 – Edison demonstrates lamps

American inventor Thomas Edison demonstrates an electric lamp similar to that pioneered by Joseph Swan.

Oct 20 1880 – Swan replaces gas with electricity

Joseph Swan once again demonstrates his incandescent electric light bulb, this time at the Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society. In front of an eminent audience, he has 70 gas jets turned down and their light immediately replaced by 20 electric bulbs.

1880 – Swan lamps at Cragside

Sir William Armstrong has installed Swan’s light bulbs in his house at Cragside.

1880 – Edison threatens to take Swan to court

Thomas Edison has threatened to take Joseph Swan to court over an alleged infringement of patent in the development of a successful electrical light bulb, but it becomes clear that the two inventors have coincidentally made their developments at the same time.

1880 – Rutherford College of Technology

Rutherford College of Technology is established in Newcastle.

Old Fish Market, Riverside music venue Newcastle
Old Fish Market, the riverside Newcastle. Photo © David Simpson 2015

1880 – Fish Market

The Fish Market building opens on Newcastle quayside.

Sep 8 1880 – Seaham pit kills 164 men and 181 ponies

One hundred and sixty-four lives are lost in a mine explosion at Seaham Colliery on the County Durham coast. The explosion also claims the lives of 181 pit ponies. Eleven years ago the colliery had suffered a similar explosion.

1881 – Northumberland Plate at Gosforth

The Northumberland Plate horse race, previously held on the Town Moor is held at Gosforth Park.

1881 – Benwell lamps

A company is formed at Benwell for the manufacture of Joseph Swan’s newly-patented electric lamps. It is thought to be the world’s first light bulb factory.

St Nicholas Cathedral Newcastle
Cathedral of St Nicholas., Newcastle. Photo © David Simpson 2018

June 3 1882 – Newcastle becomes a city

The town of Newcastle becomes a city and the church of St Nicholas becomes a cathedral. The Anglican diocese of Newcastle came into being on May 23, covering Newcastle and the county of Northumberland which had formed the northern part of the Diocese of Durham. Meanwhile, the first Fenwick’s shop opens in Northumberland Street. Northumberland Street was described at this time as “quiet and unpretentious”.

Feb 16 1882 – Trimdon Grange Colliery disaster

Seventy-four lives are lost in a mine explosion at Trimdon Grange. The tragedy will become the subject of a song by Tommy Armstrong the pitman poet of Tanfield Lea. It begins:

Let us not think of tomorrow,
Lest we disappointed be;
All our joys may turn to sorrow,
As we all may daily see.

Today we may be strong and healthy,
But how soon there comes a change
As we may learn from the explosion.
That has been at Trimdon Grange.

Apr 18 1882 – Tudhoe Colliery disaster

Thirty-seven lives are lost in a mine explosion at Tudhoe near Spennymoor in County Durham.

1882 – Boro move to Linthorpe Road

Middlesbrough Football Club move to a new ground at Linthorpe Road. Formed in 1876, the club had previously played at Archery Ground, Albert Park and at Breckon Hill, Longlands.

1882 – Salt works

Bell Brothers establish a salt works at Port Clarence. They will be purchased by Brunner Mond in 1890.

1883 – Edison-Swan founded

The Edison & Swan United Electric Light Company is formed. The American inventor Thomas Edison has teamed up with Tyneside industrialist Swan after at first accusing Swan of copyright infringement. Both men developed an electric light at around the same time.

1883 – Newcastle electric works

JH Holmes opens an electrical works at Portland Road Newcastle.

1883 – Armstrong College of Science

Armstrong College of Science is established in Newcastle.

Jesmond Dene, bridge and Armstrong's Banqueting House
Jesmond Dene, bridge and Armstrong’s Banqueting House © David Simpson 2021

1883 – Armstrong gives Jesmond Dene to Newcastle

Lord Armstrong has given Jesmond Dene to the new city of Newcastle. It was part of his town centre estate.

Memorial to the Victoria Hall tragedy Sunderland
Memorial to the Victoria Hall tragedy Mowbray Park : Photo © David Simpson

Jun 16 1883 – Theatre disaster : 183 children dead

183 children die of suffocation at the Victoria Hall Theatre in Sunderland during a crush. About 2,000 youngsters attended this well-advertised variety performance event for children at the theatre which stood near Mowbray Park. The tragedy came about after the performers began throwing toys to the children in the lower tier of the theatre. Excited children in the upper gallery tried to make their way down the narrow stairway but were trapped by a door at the foot of the stairs that could only open inwards. Most of the children who died were around 7 to 8 years old, though the youngest were two girls aged three. 114 boys and 69 girls died in this unimaginable tragedy and over twenty families lost more than one child. One family lost four children.

1883 – Sunderland AFC move north of the river

Sunderland Association Football Club move grounds to Horatio Street, Roker to the north of the River Wear for the beginning of the 1883-84 season. Since their foundation in 1879 they have played at three different grounds, all to the south of the River Wear: Blue House Field Hendon (1879-81), The Cedars Hendon (1881-82) and The Grove, Ashbrooke (1882-83).

1884 – Electrical switch

JH Holmes of Newcastle has manufactured the first quick break electrical switch.

Naturalists Albany and John Hancock

1884 – Hancock Museum

The naturalists Albany and John Hancock open the Hancock Museum in Newcastle.

1884 – Marks and Spencer

Michael Marks opens a Penny Bazzar in Leeds, with everything priced at one penny. Marks, a Lithuanian Jew who had entered the country via Stockton-on-Tees, later establishes a partnership with a Mr Spencer in Wigan.

1884 – First steam turbine

Charles Algernon Parsons has patented the first steam turbine on Tyneside. Parsons, born in Ireland in 1854, is the youngest son of the Earl of Rosse and is a keen inventor. He currently works as a junior partner in the Tyneside firm of Clarke Chapman. Turbines allow wide-scale generation of electricity and Parsons will come to be known as ‘the man who invented the 20th Century’.

1884 – Steel Ships by Swan Hunter

Swan Hunter shipbuilders of Wallsend commence building steel ships.

1884 – Cragside complete

Cragside House, with it vast estate near Rothbury has been completed by Norman Shaw for Lord Armstrong.

Mar 2 1885 – Colliery disaster at Usworth

Forty-two lives are lost in a mine explosion at Usworth Colliery near Washington.

Berwick upon Tweed and the Old Bridge
Berwick upon Tweed and the Old Bridge. Photo © David Simpson 2018

1885 – Berwick loses special status

Special references to Berwick upon Tweed in Acts of Parliament are abolished. For centuries Berwick  had been specifically referred to  in acts relating to the United Kingdom.

1886 – West End move to St James’ Park

Newcastle West End football club (established by a local cricket club in 1882) move to their new home ground at St James’ Park. The Club Secretary, Tom Watson is instrumental in securing this site as a home venue for the team.

1886 – Sunderland AFC move to Newcastle Road

Sunderland Association Football Club move to a new football ground at Newcastle Road in the Monkwearmouth area of the town. The club, founded in 1879, has been located on this north side of the River Wear since 1883, playing at Horatio Street, Roker (1883-84) and Abbs Field, Fulwell (1884-86). Newcastle Road will be associated with their most successful spell.

1886 – Hawthorn Leslie

Leslie’s shipyard at Hebburn combines with the locomotive works of R & W Hawthorn of St Peter’s Newcastle.

Dec 2 1886 – Elemore Colliery disaster

Twenty-eight lives are lost in a mine explosion at Elemore Colliery near Hetton-le-Hole.

Tower of Darlington Railway station
Tower of Darlington Railway station David Simpson 2021

1887 – Darlington station

Bank Top station opens and becomes the town’s main station.

1888 – Sunderland Albion FC

On March 13, James Allan, who was the founder of Sunderland AFC back in 1879, falls out with the club and sets up a new club called Sunderland Albion FC. Albion play their matches at Hendon,  south of the Wear where Sunderland AFC had once played. The original Sunderland are elected to the Football League while Albion join the ‘Football Alliance’ with teams like Nottingham Forest and Newton Heath (Manchester United).

Jan 1889 – Sunderland defeat Albion

In December 1888 and January 1889, brand new football club, Sunderland Albion play the original Sunderland in two ‘friendly’ games. Albion lose 2-0 and 3-2.

1889 – ‘The Nops’ : Middlesbrough Ironopolis FC

A new, professional football club called Middlesbrough Ironopolis is formed in Middlesbrough by members of Middlesbrough FC after differences emerge in the club over whether they should turn professional. The new club, nicknamed ‘The Nops’ play at the Paradise Ground on the Ayresome Grange Estate. After the breakaway, Middlesbrough FC also decide to turn professional.

1889 – Parsons opens Heaton works

Parsons has opened his own works at Heaton, Newcastle for the manufacture of turbines.

1889 – Light company registered

The Newcastle and District Electric Light Company has been registered.

Fatfield Bridge © David Simpson

1890 – Fatfield Bridge

Fatfield Bridge (or Penshaw Bridge) is built across the River Wear near Washington. Nearby is the enigmatic site of Worm Hill, associated with the ancient legend of the Lambton Worm.

St George's church, Jesmond
St George’s church, Jesmond © David Simpson 2021

1890 – Arts and Crafts church at Jesmond

St George’s in Osborne Road, the impressive ‘arts and crafts’ church has been built at Jesmond.

1890 – Forth Banks power station

Newcastle’s Forth Banks Power Station has started work.

1891 – Newcastle clubs lose to Sunderland Albion

Sunderland Albion (the ‘other’ club in Sunderland) defeat Newcastle East End FC 3-0 at Heaton and Newcastle West End FC 3-0 at St James’ Park in two successive rounds of the FA Cup,

1892 – Sunderland AFC champions as rivals disband

Sunderland AFC, managed by Newcastle-born Tom Watson, are Football League champions for the first time. It signals the demise of same-town rivals, Sunderland Albion, who they defeat in two friendlies during April. Sunderland Albion lose their ‘away’ game to Sunderland 6-0 and their home game 8-0. In August, Albion concede the ultimate defeat and disband.

May 1892 – Newcastle United Football Club formed

Newcastle United Football Club is formed by uniting Newcastle West End FC with Newcastle East End FC.  The East End club, originally of Byker and established by Stanley Cricket Club there in 1881, had moved to Heaton in 1886. The West End Club was also established by a cricket club (in 1882) and set up home at St James’ Park in May, 1886.  Despite the now ‘united’ football clubs in  Newcastle and the choice of St James’ Park as their new home, this was really a takeover of the financially struggling west end club, by their east end rivals. The new club, who will play in the Northern League adopt the name Newcastle United in December 1892.

1892 – ‘Nops’ and ‘Boro’ join forces

It’s all happening in North East football. Rival clubs Middlesbrough FC and Middlesbrough Ironopolis FC form an alliance to make a joint application to join the Football League but are turned down. The two clubs split again and Middlesbrough FC revert to amateur status.

Dunston Staithes and Tyne
Dunston Staithes and Tyne river basin : Photo © 2015 David Simpson

1893 – Dunston Staithes

The North Eastern Railway’s Dunston Coal Staiths commence operation on the banks of the Tyne near Gateshead. The operation of a staith (or ‘staithe’) is straightforward. Trains laden with wagons of coal make their way along the length of the staith where the coal is offloaded via chutes into coal ships berthed alongside. Groups of men called ‘Teemers’ control the pouring of the coal into the ships, while men called ‘Trimmers’ keep the levels of coal even and stable within the vessels. It is dangerous work.

1893 – Sunderland AFC are champions again

Sunderland are champions for the second consecutive season. There are now two divisions in the league. Manchester club Newton Heath (Manchester United) finish bottom of Division One. Birmingham’s   Small Heath (Birmingham City) are Division Two champions.

1893 – Newcastle United join the Football League

Newcastle United join the Football League Division Two at the start of the 1893-1894 season along with Woolwich Arsenal, Liverpool and successful Northern League side, Middlesbrough Ironopolis. There are 15 teams in Division Two and 16 teams in Division One. Liverpool’s first ever league game in their history is away to Ironopolis which they win 0-2.

1894 – Ironopolis disband

After one season in Division Two, Middlesbrough Ironopolis, who finished fourth from bottom are financially struggling and resign from the league. They subsequently disband. Newcastle United finish fourth, narrowly missing a chance of promotion. Liverpool are promoted as champions of Division Two. Meanwhile, in Division One, Sunderland finish second behind champions, Aston Villa.

1894 – Greatham Salt

The Greatham Salt and Brine Company is established by George Weddell. Greatham, which is near Hartlepool was noted for its salt back in medieval times.

Charles Algernon Parsons

1894 – Turbine Company

The Marine Steam Turbine Company is set up by Charles Parsons at Wallsend.

Bamburgh Castle
Bamburgh Castle. Photo © David Simpson 2018

1894 – Armstrong buys Bamburgh Castle

Lord Armstrong has purchased Bamburgh Castle. Armstrong will carry out much renovation and restoration at the castle.

Sept – 1894 ‘Game of three halves’

Sunderland AFC play a ‘game of three halves’ in the opening home game of the 1894-95 season against Derby County. A reserve referee is used after appointed referee, Tom Kirkham, fails to arrive. At half time Sunderland are winning 3-0 when Kirkham turns up and offers Derby County the chance to restart the game, which they accept. It prolongs the agony for Derby as Sunderland win the game 8-0 or 11-0 if you include goals from the first of the three halves.

Company founder, John Barbour

1894 – J Barbour & Sons

A new company called J Barbour & Sons, is established in South Shields at Number 5 Market Place, They initially specialise in importing oilcloth for fishermen.

1895 – Sunderland AFC champions again

Sunderland AFC are the Football League Division One champions for the third time. Last year they were runners up. Liverpool finish bottom and are relegated in their first season in Division One. Newcastle finish in tenth place in Division Two.

Tom Watson

1896 – Watson moves to Liverpool

Newcastle-born Tom Watson, the manager of Sunderland AFC whose team have been described by football league founder William McGregor as ‘The Team of All Talents’ leaves Sunderland to manage Liverpool. Watson, who was previously General Manager of Newcastle West End FC (for whom he was instrumental in the move to St James’ Park) also held that post at Newcastle East End. He will now establish Liverpool as a force in English football.

1896 – Women at University

The first women students are admitted to Durham University.

1896 – M&S ‘Penny Bazzar’

A Marks and Spencers ‘Penny Bazzar’ store opens in Newcastle’s Grainger Market.

Apr 13 1896 – Colliery disaster at Willington

Twenty lives are lost in a mine explosion at the Brancepeth A Pit, near Willington, County Durham.

1897 – Armstrong Whitworth works

Armstrong’s works become Armstrong Whitworth & Co. The company achieves prominence in the manufacture of arms.

Charles Algernon Parsons

1897 – Turbinia demonstration

The Turbinia vessel is demonstrated at the naval review at Spithead.  The Turbinia was built by the Wallsend steel firm of Brown and Hood for the engineer, Charles Algernon Parsons. Parsons more or less gate crashes the event with his vessel running circles around the naval fleet in a demonstration of its speed and agility which can’t fail to impress all those present.

1898 – Smallpox

Smallpox is spreading throughout the North. It kills 202 people in Middlesbrough.

1898 – Electricity comes to town

Electric lighting is introduced to many towns in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. This year, electric lighting came to Middlesbrough. Electric trams are also beginning to replace horse drawn trams in North East towns.

St Mary's Island near Whitley Bay.
St Mary’s Island near Whitley Bay. Photo © David Simpson 2018

1898 – St Mary’s Lighthouse

A lighthouse is completed on St Mary’s Island near Whitley Bay. It was commenced in 1896.

1898 – Newcastle United promoted to top tier

After finishing in second place in Division Two, Newcastle United are promoted to the top tier of English football for the first time in their history. The St James’ Park club, established in 1892 joined the Football League in 1893 and have finally reached the top-flight after five seasons in Division Two.

1898 – Sunderland AFC move to Roker Park

Sunderland AFC move from their Newcastle Road Ground where they have played since 1886, winning three league titles, to a new ground at Roker Park. The ground opens on September 10 with a 1-0 victory over Liverpool in front of a 30,000 crowd.

Middlesbrough Town Hall.
Middlesbrough Town Hall. Photo © David Simpson 2018

1899 – Middlesbrough Town Hall

Middlesbrough Town Hall opens. It supersedes an earlier much smaller town hall close to the riverside area. Meanwhile the town’s football club reverts to professional status once again and join Division Two of the Football League.

Aug 15, 1900 – Police chase

The world’s first pursuit of a criminal by motor car takes place at Newcastle. A car is borrowed by a policeman who orders the driver to chase a drunken horse-rider. The chase lasts one mile.

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