The Age of the Iron Industry 1840-1877

The iron era : 1840 to 1877

Small scale iron-making had been important since ancient times and was mined in the dales from at least the twelfth Century in simple blast furnaces called bloomeries. It was smelted at Stanhope and later at Tow Law and Tudhoe and often found in mineral veins associated with lead mines. But then the industrial age began. The railways and shipbuilding caused the iron industry to grow. At first it was focused on Tyneside but this was soon eclipsed in the 1840s and 1850s by the great iron works at Middlesbrough and Consett.

👈 1828-1839 | Timeline |1878-1900 👉

Swing Bridge and High Level Bridge
Swing Bridge and High Level Bridge, Newcastle © David Simpson.

1840 – Ironmasters

John Vaughan, iron works manager at Walker on Tyne, and Henry BoIckow, a German accountant who has settled at Newcastle, become business partners. They aim to establish a new ironworks. Joseph Pease of Darlington sells them land at Middlesbrough. Meanwhile an iron works opens at Thornaby and last year another opened at Hartlepool.

1840 – Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square is built at Sunderland by William Drysdale. The houses in the square are specifically almshouses for seamen in the town.

Trafalgar Square, Sunderland
Trafalgar Square, Sunderland © David Simpson

1840 – Penny Black

The first recorded use of the Penny Black stamp is on a letter sent to the Bedlington Iron Works in Northumberland.

1840 – Middlesbrough’s first church

Middlesbrough’s first church is built. Its first school was built in 1838.

1840 – Sunderland shipyards

William Doxford establishes a shipbuilding business in Sunderland building wooden ships at Cox Green. The town of Sunderland is the home to 65 shipyards.

1841 – Consett Iron

An iron works is established at Consett by the Derwent Iron Company. Iron ore was discovered here in 1837. Meanwhile iron rolling mills and puddling furnaces are founded by Vaughan and Bolckow at Middlesbrough using Scottish pig iron.

1841 – Cleveland Buildings

Georgian style houses known as the Cleveland Buildings, are built in Middlesbrough and are the home to ironmasters Henry Bolckow (Charles Ferdinand Henry Bolckow) and John Vaughan.

Lower Gosford Street, Middlesbrough
Lower Gosford Street (right) : the Cleveland Buildings, Middlesbrough © David Simpson

1841 – Coquet Lighthouse

Coquet Island’s present lighthouse is built. The first keeper is William Darling, brother of the famous Grace Darling.

Apr 19, 1841 – Disaster at Bigges Pit

Thirty-two lives are lost in a mine explosion at Bigges Pit near Willington Quay on Tyneside.

1841 – Bainbridge store in Newcastle

Weardale’s Emerson Bainbridge establishes Bainbridge’s general drapers in Market Street, Newcastle.

Market Street, Newcastle
Market Street, Newcastle © David Simpson

1842 – More iron

The Weardale Iron company is founded. Meanwhile blast furnaces are erected at Walker by Losh Wilson and Bell using Whitby iron ore.

1842 – Middlesbrough Dock

Middlesbrough Dock opens, it is a major step in the development of the industry and commerce of the fledgling town.

1842 – Brandling Station

Brandling Station is built on the Brandling Junction Railway at Felling. The building still exists and though no longer a station is one of the oldest station buildings in the world.

Historic Brandling station building at Felling
Historic Brandling station building at Felling © David Simpson

Apr 5, 1843 – Disaster at Wrekenton

Twenty-seven lives are lost in a mine explosion at Stormont Colliery, Wrekenton.

1843 – Haggie ropeworks

Robert Hood Haggie takes over the ropeworks at Willington on Tyneside.

Willington Mill.
Willington © David Simpson

1844 – Gilkes and Wilson

Isaac Wilson and Edgar Gilkes take over the Tees engine works. The works will build iron railways. Meanwhile Bell Brothers take over a blast furnace at Wylam and Robert Stephenson builds an iron bridge over the Tees between Stockton and Thornaby replacing an earlier one used by the Stockton and Darlington Railway.

1844 – Old shires abolished

The County Durham districts of Bedlingtonshire, Norhamshire and Islandshire, become part of Northumberland. Politically and administratively, the districts had been part of County Durham since medieval times and were featured in the Boldon Book, ‘Durham’s Domesday Book’ of the twelfth century. However, in common with the rest of Northumberland (including Hexhamshire – see 1837) these shires will remain part of the Diocese of Durham for ecclesiastical purposes until the creation of the Diocese of Newcastle in 1882.

Norham © David Simpson

1844 – Penshaw Monument

Funded by a subscription, Penshaw Monument is erected in honour of John George Lambton, Earl of Durham. Lambton, a politician, coal owner and Governor General of Canada was the son-in-law of Prime Minister, Earl Grey. The monument, which can be seen from miles around is by architects John and Benjamin Green who also designed Newcastle’s Theatre Royal. Benjamin Green was, in addition, the architect of Earl Grey’s monument in Newcastle.

Penshaw Monument
Penshaw Monument © David Simpson

1844 – Catholic church : Future cathedral

A large Catholic church is built by the architect Augustus Pugin near Newcastle Central station. It will become a Catholic cathedral in 1850. London-born Pugin (1812-1852), noted for his Gothic Revival style was the architect for many of the nation’s Catholic churches.

St Mary’s Newcastle © David Simpson

Sep 28, 1844 – Haswell tragedy : 95 dead

Ninety-five lives are lost in a mine explosion at Haswell Colliery to the east of Durham. The youngest victim is a boy of ten years old. The colliery had opened in 1835 deep below the magnesian limestone of eastern Durham.

Haswell Colliery Engine House
Remains of Haswell Colliery engine house and memorial to the Haswell disaster © David Simpson

1844 – Quarry becomes Sunderland park

Sunderland Council purchase land in a former quarry from the Mowbray family for the development of a new park for the town.

1845 – World champion rower

Tyneside oarsman, Harry Clasper, a former pitman competes against the best British oarsman in the coxed fours of the Thames Regatta along with his brothers and uncle, Ned Hawks, to become champions of the world. Clasper’s boat, which he called The Lord Ravensworth was of his own construction.

Harry Clasper


1845 – Collingwood Monument

John Dobson’s grand Collingwood monument is erected at Tynemouth. Dobson, the famed Newcastle architect who was born at North Shields, designed the column but the actual sculpture of Collingwood himself is by John Graham Lough. Admiral Collingwood, of Newcastle, was second in command to Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar and took control upon Nelson’s death.

1845 – Farewell Earl Grey

Former Prime Minister, and noted tea drinker, Charles, the second Earl Grey passes away at Howick Hall in Northumberland aged 81. He is of course commemorated by Grey’s monument in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Earl Grey, the monument
Earl Grey, the monument, Grey Street, Newcastle © David Simpson

Aug 21, 1845 – Jarrow pit disaster

Thirty-nine lives are lost in a colliery explosion at Jarrow.

1845 – Hudson Sunderland MP

Yorkshire banker and businessman, George Hudson, known as ‘the Railway King’ is elected MP for Sunderland, promising to construct a new dock for the town. Much of the northern railway network was built with Hudson’s finances including the line from Darlington to Newcastle. It was largely due to Hudson that York became the focus for much of the North’s railway network.

George Hudson

1845 – Hackworth works

Timothy Hackworth, a talented and enterprising railway engineer from Wylam in Northumberland establishes a locomotive works at Shildon in County Durham.

Old Shildon.
Old Shildon © David Simpson

1846 – Blast furnaces

Middlesbrough ironmasters John Vaughan and Henry BoIckow build blast furnaces at Witton Park in County Durham, where there is a good supply of coking coal. Whitby iron stone is imported into Middlesbrough, transported to Witton, and returns to Middlesbrough as pig iron for processing in forges, foundries and rolling mills.

Witton Park.
Witton Park © David Simpson

1846 – Tow Law works

Six blast furnaces for a new iron works are established at Tow Law by Charles Attwood, there was no village here at the time and the iron works will be a stimulus for growth.

1846 – Middlesbrough Farm demolished

The farm that once constituted the whole of Middlesbrough is demolished. The farm and its estate was the home to around 25 people before the extension of the Stockton and Darlington Railway brought about the transformation of the empty farmland into a new town and port.

The farm that was Middlesbrough as it appeared in 1806.

1846 – Boro Town Hall

A little town hall is built at the centre of the square that forms the heart of the newly emerging town of Middlesbrough.

Tower Green, Middlesbrough
Tower Green, Middlesbrough and the old Town Hall of 1846 mark the site of the original town of Middlesbrough © David Simpson In 2022 this area is under development.

1847 – Armstrong’s Tyneside works

William G Armstrong establishes a factory making hydraulic machinery at Elswick on the north bank of the Tyne to the west of Newcastle.

1847 – Seaside trips

Railways extended to the coast make the seaside a more accessible place of recreation. Railways reach Redcar in 1846 and Tynemouth this year.

A busy beach on a sunny day at Tynemouth
A busy beach on a sunny day at Tynemouth © David Simpson

1847 – Darlington & Stockton Times

The Darlington & Stockton Times newspaper is established in Barnard Castle, though the following year it will move to Darlington.

1847 – Alnmouth station

Alnmouth railway station opens in Northumberland.

1847 – Mowbray Park

Sunderland’s Mowbray Park is opened by the town’s Lord Mayor and local MP, John Candlish. It occupies a former magnesian limestone quarry.

Mowbray Park. Sunderland.
Mowbray Park. Sunderland © David Simpson

Nov 1847 – Riot at Consett

A major riot resulting from long-running tensions between Catholic Irish workers and Protestant workers breaks out at Crookhall near Consett. A little under 25% of Consett’s workforce were Irish at this time (many from the County Monaghan area). Consett, an iron works town, has rapidly grown since the start of the decade and its population of around 20,000 has only two policemen (see also ‘the Battle of the Blue Heaps’ March, 1858).

1848 – Flax Mill

A flax mill is established at Ouseburn to the east of Newcastle.

1848 – Independent ports

After centuries of resistance from Newcastle, South Shields and North Shields are finally legally recognised as ports in their own right. Customs Houses are established at the two places. The present old Customs House (now a theatre) at South Shields actually dates from 1864.

Customs House Shields
Old Customs House (dates from 1864), South Shields  © David Simpson

1848 – Monkwearmouth Station

The handsome Monkwearmouth station is built by architect Thomas Moore for the ‘Railway King’ and Sunderland MP, George Hudson.

Monkwearmouth Station
Monkwearmouth Station © David Simpson

1848 – High Level Bridge

The High Level Bridge opens in Newcastle to complement the old stone Tyne Bridge at the lower level which links the quayside to Gateshead. There are no other bridges across the Tyne in Newcastle.

High Level Bridge © David Simpson

1849 – Shields Gazette

The North and South Shields Gazette newspaper, an evening newspaper is established. Later simply called the Shields Gazette (today focused on South Shields and South Tyneside).

1849 – Seaham Colliery

Seaham Colliery was opened (it will be known locally as ‘the Knack’).

1849 – John Snow finds cholera cause

The York-born John Snow, a graduate of Newcastle’s recently established School of Medicine and Surgery (1834) identifies cholera as a waterborne disease.

Jun 5, 1849 – Hebburn pit disaster

Thirty-three lives are lost in a mine explosion at Hebburn.

1850 – Eston iron

Iron is found in the Eston Hills near Middlesbrough by John Vaughan and will replace the use of Whitby ironstone in the Teesside iron industry.

Eston Nab
Eston Nab in the Eston Hills near Middlesbrough © David Simpson

1850 – Newcastle Central Station

Newcastle station is opened by Queen Victoria. It has been constructed by John Dobson who commenced work on the impressive building in 1847.

Newcastle Central Station
Inside the elegant Newcastle Central Station  © David Simpson

1850 – Royal Border Bridge

The London railway, which reached Newcastle in 1844, reached Berwick in 1847 with the Tweed crossed by Robert Stephenson’s Royal Border Bridge completed this year. It will be officially opened by Queen Victoria.

The Royal Border Bridge, Berwick
The Royal Border Bridge, Berwick © David Simpson

1850 – Hudson Dock

A new dock is built at Sunderland to the south of the River Wear. It is much larger and more practical than the North Dock, the vanity project known as ‘Hedworth’s Bath Tub’ built for former Sunderland MP Sir Hedworth Williamson in 1837. The dock probably cost Williamson his seat. New Sunderland MP George Hudson has delivered on his promise with a much larger dock.

1850 – Sunderland shipbuilding

Sunderland is a thriving shipbuilding centre during this age of sailing ships. Over 150 vessels were built at Sunderland this year, with more than 2,000 shipwrights working in the town and a further 2,000 working in related industries.

The Keel Line in Sunderland’s Keel Square features a year-by-year list of ships built at Sunderland © David Simpson

Nov 11, 1850 – Houghton Pit : 30 dead

Twenty-seven lives are lost in a mine explosion at Houghton Colliery, Houghton-le-Spring after ‘firedamp’ and coal dust was ignited by a safety lamp.

1851 – Irish and Scots

Many workers have come to the North East from Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Twenty per cent of Tyneside’s population is Irish and another fifth Scottish. Sunderland has 4,000 Irish and 2,300 Scots, most of whom are employed mainly in the ship yards. Coalmining is also attracting outsiders.

1851 – Over 7,000 live in Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough’s population has grown from 40 people in 1829 to 7,600.

1851 – Middlesbrough furnace

The first blast furnace on Teesside is erected at Middlesbrough. The whole ironmaking process is now carried out here.

1851 – Crystal Palace

Much of the glass for London’s Crystal Palace, the home of the ‘Great Exhibition’ is manufactured at Hartley’s glassworks in Sunderland.

1851 – Durham Town Hall

Durham Town Hall is completed along with the adjoining indoor markets.

Durham Town Hall stonework
Durham Town Hall stonework © David Simpson

1851 – William Pickersgill

William Pickersgill establishes a shipbuilding business in Sunderland.

Aug 19, 1851 – Washington pit disaster

Thirty-four lives are lost in a mine explosion at Washington.

May 6, 1852 – Pit disaster at Hebburn

Twenty-two lives are lost in a mine explosion at Hebburn.

1852 – Smith’s own dock

Last year Smith & Co opened its own dock at North Shields (where they had previously leased docks) with the first ship to be launched being Termagent (or Ptarmigan) this year. The company will become Smith’s Dock Company Ltd in the 1890s.

1852 – John Bowes of Jarrow

Charles Palmer launches a revolutionary screw-propelled steam collier called The John Bowes at his Jarrow engine works. It will be used in the shipping of coal to London which it will perform at a much higher speed than the existing sail-based collier briggs.

Shipbuilder, Charles Palmer

1852 – Mining Institute

The North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers is established in Newcastle, later occupying Newcastle’s Neville Hall.

1852 – Dickens lectures

Famed writer, Charles Dickens gives readings in Newcastle upon Tyne.

1852 – Lambley Viaduct

The Lambley Viaduct is built across the River South Tyne by the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway under the guidance of the engineer George Barclay-Bruce.

Langley viaduct
Langley viaduct © David Simpson

1852 – Cleveland Ore at Consett

Consett iron works begins importing iron ore from Cleveland which is of better quality than the local ore. It is the high quality of the local coal and nearby supply of quality limestone at Stanhope, both essential elements in iron production that keep the industry in the area.

1852 – Hartlepool Brewery

The Lion Brewery is established at Hartlepool. It will later become Camerons Brewery.

The Lion Brewery, Hartlepool
The Lion Brewery, Hartlepool © David Simpson

1852 – Iron ship built at Sunderland

Sunderland, an important centre for building wooden sailing ships builds its first iron ship this year. The 77 ton Loftus is the first iron ship to be built on the Wear.

1853 – Ironmaster mayor

Henry Bolckow becomes the first mayor of Middlesbrough. A number of iron works are being established in the area and Darlington Forge has been established to serve the marine and electrical industry.

Henry Bolckow

1853 – Newcastle cholera

Cholera kills 1,500 people in Newcastle.

1853 – Tudhoe Works

The Tudhoe Iron works is opened by Charles Attwood’s Weardale Iron and Coal Company.

1853 – Seaham bottleworks

Glass works are founded by John Candlish at Seaham. It will later merge with the adjoining Londonderry Glassworks on its south side and will become the largest glass bottle works in Britain.

1854 – North Eastern Railway

Expanding railways are important to the demand for iron. The London railway reached Gateshead in 1844 and was extended to Berwick in 1848. Iron railway bridges include Newcastle’s High Level Bridge (1848) and Berwick’s Royal Border Bridge. The NER (North Eastern Railway) is formed this year and gradually swallows up smaller railways. It also develops docks.

Royal Border Bridge Berwick
Looking south from Berwick, the Royal Border Bridge © David Simpson

1854 – Blyth and Harbour Dock Act

Improvements are made to the coal port of Blyth under the leadership of its chairman, Matthew White Ridley.

Mouth of the Blyth.
Mouth of the River Blyth © David Simpson

1854 – Leslie’s first ship

Shetlander, Andrew Leslie builds his first ship, The Clarendon at Hebburn on land purchased from Cuthbert Ellison. The Tyneside workforce is supplemented by many new workers from Aberdeen. Additional labour will also arrive from Ireland.

1854 – Christ Church

Christ Church, is built to serve the newly developing town of West Hartlepool.

Christchurch, Hartlepool
Christchurch, Hartlepool © David Simpson

Oct 6, 1854 – Newcastle-Gateshead Fire

At 1am a fire at a Gateshead worsted factory spread to an adjoining warehouse containing a lethal range of chemicals and 3,000 tons of brimstone. Crowds gathered along the Tyne and at 3.15am the building exploded, sending out “debris like flying fish”. The explosion was heard as far away as Berwick and is said to have damaged houses in Shields. Miners at Sunderland came to the surface in alarm and the glow from the fire could be seen at Smeaton near Northallerton. Flying debris set alight ships and caused a second fire on the Newcastle side of the river which destroyed the medieval quayside buildings. Hundreds were made homeless and at least 50 died. Most bodies were incinerated and left unidentifiable.

Tyne Bridge and Newcastle Quayside
Newcastle Quayside  © David Simpson

Nov 1854 – Black Middens sink ships

The notorious Black Middens rocks at the mouth of the Tyne claim five sailing ships in three days. The rocks are hidden at high tide.

1855 – Armstrong’s Cannon

William G. Armstrong invents the first successful breech loading canon at his Tyneside works.

1854 – Teesdale Mercury

The Teesdale Mercury newspaper is established in Barnard Castle.

1855 – Teesside supplies London piping

Practically all London’s water piping is presently made of Teesside cast iron. Meanwhile Liverpool’s Bernhard Samuelson provides land for an iron works at South Bank and a new community develops here.

1855 – Works close at Bedlington

The Bedlington Iron works close.

Bedlington © David Simpson

1856 – Jarrow’s naval vessels for the world

Palmers of Jarrow begin making warships for navies across the world.

1856 – Sheffield threat

The Bessemer Steel making process is developed, a setback for Middlesbrough as local iron ore is unsuitable. Steel is in demand and Sheffield with its existing industry dominates the market for a time.

1857 – Northumberland Dock

The substantial Northumberland Dock opens on the Tyne between Howdon and North Shields.

1857 – Doxford Yard at Pallion

William Doxford and Sons establish the Pallion shipyard in Sunderland.

Doxford Shipyard plaque
Doxford Shipyard plaque © David Simpson

1857 – Washington New Hall

Washington New Hall (not to be confused with the old manor house of Washington Old Hall) is built for Tyneside industrialist Isaac Lowthian Bell. Previously the owner of the Walker iron works on Tyneside he now owns a chemical works at Washington. His famous granddaughter Gertrude Bell is born at the hall in 1868. Isaac becomes a prominent industrialist on Teesside, establishing Bell Brothers and the Port Clarence Iron Works.

Washington New Hall
Washington New Hall  © David Simpson

1857 – Fordyce History of Durham

A history of Durham by William Fordyce is published in two volumes. It includes extensive information on the history of Gateshead, Sunderland, Stockton, South Shields and Hartlepool as well as the mining settlements and rural heartlands of the county.

1857 – Medical School reunites

The School of Medicine and Surgery in Newcastle, which has recently been incorporated as part of Durham University briefly split into two schools in 1851 following a disagreement between different factions. One group moved into John Dobson’s newly built Surgeons Hall (1851) near Summerhill Grove and the other settled in premises behind Neville Hall in Neville Street where this year the two groups have reunited.

1857 – Durham Viaduct

Durham railway station and viaduct are built, both offering splendid views of the city’s cathedral and castle for rail passengers travelling from London to Newcastle.

Durham Viaduct
Durham Viaduct © David Simpson

May 1, 1858 – Newcastle Daily Chronicle

The Newcastle Daily Chronicle is founded. Its editor, Joseph Cowen will become the newspaper’s sole proprietor the following year.

Joseph Cowen statue, Newcastle
Joseph Cowen statue at the junction of Fenkle Street and Westgate Road Newcastle © David Simpson

March 1858 – Battle of the Blue Heaps

With tensions running high in the iron town of Consett between Catholic Irish workers and other groups of Protestant workers, a potential riot is quelled as around 200 militia are called in from Newcastle. This stand-off is often remembered in Consett as ‘the Battle of the Blue Heaps’ but was not as serious as an earlier event just over a decade earlier in November 1847 when a major riot took place at Crookhall just outside Consett involving the two factions (see 1847 above).

1858 – Durham church

St Nicholas Church is built by J.B. Pritchett, a Darlington architect in Durham market place, replacing an earlier medieval church.

1858 – Mechanics Institute

The South Shields Mechanics Institute is established (it will later become the South Shields Museum).

1858 – Sunderland bridge modified

Sunderland’s famed eighteenth century iron bridge is extensively modified by Robert Stephenson. The bridge resembles the famous iron bridge of Coalbrookdale in Shropshire and is the most famous feature of Sunderland.

The Old Wearmouth Bridge
The Old Wearmouth Bridge in the nineteenth century with the railway bridge to the rear

1859 – Salt makes chemical industry

Ironmasters Bolckow and Vaughan discover huge rock salt deposits while boring for water in the Middlesbrough area. It is an important stage in the shift of the chemical industry from Tyneside to Teesside.

1859 – Tyne Dock

Tyne Dock opens. Built by veterans who had returned from the Crimean War, it is situated between Jarrow and South Shields.

Plan of Tyne Dock
Plan of Tyne Dock

1859 – Heathery Burn discovery

A huge collection of Bronze Age items is discovered in the moors above the valley of Weardale which includes evidence of the earliest use of wheeled vehicles in the British Isles.

1860 – Stockton iron

Malleable iron works of the South Durham Steel and Iron Company are opened by Christopher Furness at Stockton. There are 32 blast furnaces across the Tees at Middlesbrough.

2 Mar, 1860 – Burradon disaster

A colliery explosion at Burradon to the north of Newcastle claims 76 lives.

1860 – Ford Village

The marchioness of Waterford is creating a new carefully laid out village at Ford in Northumberland.

Ford Post Office.
Ford Post Office © David Simpson

Dec 20, 1860 – Pit disaster at Hetton

Twenty-two lives are lost in a mine explosion at the Minor Pit Hetton, after boiler fire doors opened and ignited fire damp gas.

Jan 1, 1861 – Women save crew

All but one of the crew of a Seaham ship called The Lovely Nelly driven onto rocks off Whitley Bay during a blizzard are saved by the Cullercoats fishwives who haul a boat from the shore to make the rescue. Only a boy, too frightened to jump from the ship, could not be rescued. He perished in the seas as the ship was wrecked.

The remains of Sparrow Hall in the old part of Cullercoats.
Cullercoats © David Simpson

1861 – Gateshead Irish

Irish communities are now firmly established across the North East, particularly in industrial towns. About 7% of Gateshead’s population is Irish-born (presumably with many more second generation Irish). The Pipewellgate area has a particularly populous Irish element.

1861 – ‘Iron and Coal’

A dramatic Pre-Raphaelite painting by William Bell Scott entitled ‘Iron and Coal’ is completed depicting a busy Tyneside industrial scene. It is the eighth and final painting in a series by Bell Scott depicting scenes from Northumbria’s history beginning with the building of Hadrian’s Wall. The paintings can be seen at Northumberland’s Wallington Hall.

Iron and Coal by William Bell Scott, a painting at Wallington Hall : National Trust
‘Iron and Coal’ by William Bell Scott, a painting at Wallington Hall : National Trust

1861 – Teesmouth gares

The gares or breakwaters are built at the mouth of the River Tees following a great storm in which 50 vessels are wrecked on the sand bars between Redcar and Hartlepool.

Fishermen's huts, South Gare
Fishermen’s huts, South Gare © David Simpson

1861 – Tragedy at Bedlington works

The Bedlington Iron works reopens. A visiting party attends the works opening and the owner’s wife is killed after her shawl is trapped in a chain saw.

Dec 2, 1861 – Marquess statue

The statue of the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry is unveiled in Durham market place.

Jan 16, 1862 – Hartley Disaster : 204 dead

The Hartley Colliery Disaster near Seaton Delaval claims the lives of 204 men after a beam which supported an engine above the mine shaft collapsed and trapped the men. When the bodies are eventually recovered the dead are buried at the churchyard of Earsdon near Whitley Bay.

Hester Pit memorial Earsdon
Memorial to Hartey Colliery disaster Earsdon churchyard © David Simpson

1862 – Rowntree’s chocolates

Henry Isaac Rowntree acquires the cocoa and chocolate side of the business from York tea dealer, William Tuke & Son. Tukes have been selling cocoa as a side line since 1785.

1862 – Grey Street’s Gladstone praise

The Prime Minister, William Gladstone proclaims Grey Street as “our best modern street”.

Grey Street and Theatre Royal, Newcastle
Grey Street and Theatre Royal, Newcastle © David Simpson

1862 – ‘Infant Hercules’

William Gladstone describes Middlesbrough as “an infant Hercules” during a visit.

1862 – Seaham blast furnaces

Blast furnaces are built at Seaham. They will later give rise to the naming of the nearby ‘Blast Beach’.

1862 – Blaydon Races song

Music Hall is popular and Geordie Ridley is one of the leading entertainers. Tyneside’s ‘National Anthem’ The Blaydon Races is first sung by Ridley at Balmbra’s Music Hall in Newcastle.

Balmbra’s plaque, Cloth Market, Newcastle © David Simpson

Mar 6, 1863 – Colliery disaster at Coxlodge

Twenty-two lives are lost in a mine explosion at Coxlodge near Newcastle.

Mar 9, 1863 – Boxing champ dies at Durham

Former boxing champion and Durham mine owner, John Gully dies at his home in Durham City. He was a father to 24 children. As a boxer he once went 59 rounds with Henry the Game Chicken Pearce and lost but went on to become a champion. He was also a Derby winning racehorse owner and an MP for Pontefract.

John Gully
John Gully,  in his later years as a colliery owner and in his prime as a pugilist

1863 – Darlington works

Darlington Railway Locomotive Works in North Road is established by the Stockton & Darlington Railway.

1863 – Mowbray Almshouses

The Mowbray Almshouses in Sunderland’s Church Lane are built at Bishopwearmouth in the centre of the town near the old Wearmouth village green and the neighbouring parish church (now Sunderland Minster). They supersede earlier almshouses of 1727.

Mowbray Almshouses, Sunderland
Mowbray Almshouses, Sunderland © David Simpson

1863 – Wallsend shipbuilding

Schlesinger, Davis & Co open the first shipbuilding yard at Wallsend.

1863 – Rockcliffe Hall

Rockliffe Hall near Hurworth, originally called Pilmore Hall is built by Arthur Backhouse, a member of the well-known Quaker family of Darlington bankers.

1864 – Hexham Courant

The Hexham Courant newspaper is founded to serve  Hexham and the Tynedale area.

Offices of the Hexham Courant
Offices of the Hexham Courant © David Simpson

1864 – Railway King dies

Yorkshire-born ‘Railway King’ and one time Sunderland MP, George Hudson dies. He played an important part in developing the Northern railway network, most of which converges on York.

1864 – Consett Iron Company

Derwent Iron Company becomes Consett Iron Company Ltd.

Fawcett Park, Consett
Fawcett Park, Consett, on the site of the Consett Iron Works © David Simpson

1864 – Farewell Geordie Ridley

Geordie Ridley, composer of the Blaydon Races dies at his Gateshead home aged only thirty. He had long suffered with an industrial injury.

Geordie Ridley

1865 – Sunderland sheet glass

About a third of the sheet glass in England is supplied by James Hartley’s Sunderland works.

15 April, 1865 – Lincoln assassinated

United States President, Abraham Lincoln is shot dead at Ford’s Theatre, Washington DC by John Wilkes Booth, while watching the popular play Our American Cousin, written by the Sunderland playwright, Tom Taylor.

1866 – Cragside

The early house of Cragside near Rothbury is built as a modest hunting lodge on the craggy cliffs. It will later be transformed by William Armstrong and Richard Norman Shaw.

1866 – Head Wrightson

Engineer Thomas Wrightson, who trained at William Armstrong’s Tyneside engineering works, teams up with the Teesside engineering company Head Ashby & Co. Head’s firm started in 1840 as a Thornaby foundry.

Oct 31, 1866 – Pelton pit disaster

Twenty-four lives are lost in a mine explosion at Pelton Colliery, County Durham.

Holy Trinity church, Pelton
Holy Trinity church, Pelton © John Simpson

1866 – Whitley Bay to be developed

Land is being purchased at Whitley (Whitley Bay) for building purposes as the arrival of a new railway in the neighbourhood in 1862 will increasingly attract bathers from across Tyneside. More land will be purchased in the 1870s for the building of houses and shops in the new resort.

1867 – Tyne Theatre and Opera House

The Tyne Theatre and Opera House opens on Westgate Road, in Newcastle upon Tyne. It will later be converted into a cinema called the Stoll Picture House in 1919.

New Tyne Theatre, Westgate Road
New Tyne Theatre, Westgate Road © David Simpson

1867 – Hartlepool Treasure

A hoard of Spanish silver dollars is revealed beneath the sands at Seaton Carew following a heavy storm.

Seaton Carew beach looking south
Seaton Carew beach looking south © David Simpson

1868 – Saltburn-by-the-Sea

The railway reached Saltburn in 1860 and the Zetland Hotel was built in 1861 to accommodate tourists. Saltburn has been developed as a resort by Henry Pease of Darlington and a pleasure pier has been built.

Saltburn © David Simpson

1868 – Public hangings cease

Public hangings cease at Durham. Hangings outside the prison in Elvet could be popular events, a balcony on a nearby house could be rented out for the view.

1868 – Ryhope Water

The impressive Ryhope water pumping works opens near Sunderland.

Ryhope Engine Museum
Ryhope Engine Museum  © David Simpson

1868 – Albert Park

Albert Park is given to the people of Middlesbrough by ironmaster, Henry Bolckow.

Albert Park, Middlesbrough
Albert Park, Middlesbrough © David Simpson

May 1, 1868 – Police murder

Sherburn village near Durham is the scene of a murder in which the police constable of the village shot dead the police constable of the neighbouring village of Pittington over a disagreement.

1868 – Gateshead Town Hall

Gateshead Town Hall is built by the architect John Johnstone.

Gateshead Old Town Hall
Gateshead Old Town Hall  © David Simpson

1868 – Gertrude Bell born

Gertrude Bell is born at Washington New Hall. The daughter of industrialist Isaac Lowthian Bell, she will become a famed explorer and expert on Arab affairs and will draw up the borders of Iraq.

1869 – Teesside news

The North Eastern Daily Gazette is established in Middlesbrough by Scotsman, Sir Hugh Gilzean Reid. It is later simply called the Evening Gazette.

1869 – Willington Viaduct

The Willington Viaduct is established near Willington Quay, replacing an earlier viaduct by John and Benjamin Green.

Willington Viaduct.
Willington Viaduct © David Simpson

1869 – Norman Shaw’s Cragside

Industrialist, William Armstrong employs Scottish architect Richard Norman Shaw, to transform his Cragside home into a magnificent Germanic ‘fairytale’ house.

1869 – Bowes Museum

John Bowes begins building the Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle in County Durham. It is completed in 1892. Bowes, whose wife is a French actress, has the museum built in the style of a French chateau.

Bowes Museum
Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle © David Simpson

1869 – Cargo Fleet chemicals

Samuel Sadler, ‘the father of the Teesside chemical industry’ establishes an alkali factory at Cargo Fleet.

Sir Samuel Sadler statue, Middlesbrough
Sir Samuel Sadler statue in Middlesbrough © David Simpson

1869 – Sulphur works

The Tharsis Sulphur works opens at Pelaw Main near Hebburn.

Nov 20, 1869 – Durham Miners’ Union

The Durham Miners’ Union is formed following a meeting of miners in Durham City’s Market Hotel (now the Market Tavern in Durham market place).

Market Tavern, Durham
Market Tavern, Durham © David Simpson

Jan 1, 1870 – The Northern Echo

The Northern Echo newspaper is established in Darlington by John Hyslop Bell with the backing of the influential Pease family. It will become particularly influential under its second editor, W.T. Stead.

July 17, 1870 – 130,000 crowd for hero

Around 130,000 people across Tyneside turned out to see the funeral procession of their great hero, the champion rower, Harry Clasper. Harry’s coffin is transported by a tug along the Tyne watched by the huge crowd.

Memorial to Harry Clasper, Whickham churchyard
Memorial to Harry Clasper, Whickham churchyard © David Simpson 2022

1871 – Redheugh Bridge

A bridge opens at Redheugh linking Gateshead and Newcastle. It will be the first of three successive bridges on the site.

1871 – Engineer’s Strike

Northern engineers strike over working hours. The Tyneside works of Armstrong and Hawthorn are badly affected but Robert Stephenson’s locomotive works is not. Managers at Charles Palmer’s of Jarrow persuade employees to continue working, promising to accept deals negotiated by strikers at other factories.

1871 – Saltwell Towers for Gateshead

Architect, William Wailes has sold his new home in Gateshead to the town’s corporation after running into financial difficulties.

Saltwell Towers, Saltwell Park Gateshead
Saltwell Towers, Saltwell Park Gateshead © David Simpson

1871 – Souter Lighthouse

Souter lighthouse near South Shields is the first lighthouse in the world to be purposely built to be powered by electricity. The light is generated by carbon arcs and not incandescent light bulbs.

Souter Lighthouse
Souter Lighthouse  © David Simpson

1871 – More Wallsend shipbuilding

The shipbuilding firm of Coulson and Cooke move from St Peters at Byker to Wallsend. It will subsequently be taken over by Charles Sheridan Swan.

1871 – Miners’ Gala

Durham’s first annual miners’ gala is held. The venue is the city’s Wharton Park but it will move to the riverside area known as ‘the racecourse’ in 1873.

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

20 July, 1871 – Wearsider invents FA Cup

Sunderland-born Charles W Alcock, the first full time secretary of the Football Association, dreams up and introduces the FA Cup competition, announcing its creation’ at the offices of ‘The Sportsman’ newspaper in London. Charles and his brother John Forster Alcock, another influential Football Association member both hail from Norfolk Street in the Sunniside area of Sunderland and are the sons of a Sunderland ship owner.

Plaque commemorating Charles W Alcock,
Plaque commemorating Charles W Alcock, Norfolk Street, Sunderland © David Simpson

1871 – College of Physical Sciences

Durham University’s College of Physical Sciences is established in Newcastle upon Tyne. It is initially situated in premises to the rear of both the Mining Institute in Neville Hall and the Literary and Philosophical Society, two neighbouring institutions in Neville Street that have been instrumental in supporting the establishment of the college. The premises of the Newcastle School of Medicine (last year renamed Durham School of Medicine) are also in this vicinity.

Oct 25, 1871 – Pit disaster at Seaham

Twenty-six lives are lost in a mine explosion at Seaham Colliery, County Durham.

1872 – Redcar races

Redcar racecourse opens adding to the attractions of the booming coastal resort of Redcar.

1872 – Neville Hall

Neville Hall, the new home for the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers is completed in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Common Room of the Great North
Neville Hall: Now the Common Room of the Great North © David Simpson

1872 – Jarrow and Hebburn Irish

About a quarter of the population of Jarrow and Hebburn were Irish at this time, the population comes from all corners of the Emerald Isle and encompasses people of both Protestant and Catholic backgrounds. The Irish population of Jarrow and Hebburn is much higher than in South Shields and a little higher than that of Gateshead.

Orange Lodge, Hebburn
Orange Lodge, Hebburn © David Simpson

1872 – Sunderland’s cup-winning captain

Sunderland-born Charles W Alcock, captains London-based club The Wanderers FC to victory in the first ever FA Cup final. Wanderers defeat the Royal Engineers 1-0 at Kennington Oval in London. It was the Harrow-educated Alcock who had dreamt up and created the competition.

C.W. Alcock

1872 – Boro Bank

A National Provincial Bank is built in French Baroque style by the architect John Gibson at Middlesbrough. It will later be home to the Cleveland Club, utilised by Middlesbrough business people.

Former National provincial Bank, Middlesbrough
Former National provincial Bank, Middlesbrough © David Simpson

Mar 24, 1873 – Murderous Mary Ann

Mary Ann Cotton is hanged at Durham Jail for poisoning her son, Charles, at West Auckland. She is said to be responsible for 21 deaths including her mother, three husbands, one lover and a number of children, including her own.

Mary Ann Cotton

Apr 14, 1873 – Race meeting

A race meeting on the racecourse by the River Wear in Durham City attracts a crowd of 80,000 people.

Durham, riverside 'racecourse' area
Durham, riverside ‘racecourse’ area © David Simpson

1873 – Leazes Park

Newcastle’s Leazes Park, the city’s oldest park, is opened by Sir Charles Hammond. Many public parks are opening in the region’s towns.

Dec 22, 1873 – The Sunderland Echo

The Sunderland Echo newspaper is founded by the Sherburn-born Samuel Storey and his backers. It was initially called The Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette. Storey would later be Sunderland’s MP and mayor.

1874 – Middlesbrough first for iron

Middlesbrough is the number one iron town in England. One third of the nation’s output originates here and is exported all over the world. About 95 blast furnaces now exist in the town. Meanwhile Palmer’s of Jarrow is presently obtaining royalties for Cleveland coast iron mining.

1874 – New Exchange

The New Exchange Building in Middlesbrough is built by W.H Blessley. It symbolises the growth of Middlesbrough’s industry and commerce.

New Exchange Building, Middlesbrough
New Exchange Building, Middlesbrough © David Simpson

1875 – Farewell Joe Wilson

Tyneside mourns the loss of noted Gateshead songwriter, Joe Wilson (born 1841), whose compositions included Keep yer feet still Geordie Hinny.

Joe Wilson

1875 – Dorman Long

Arthur Dorman and Albert de Lande Long establish an iron works on Teesside, initially specialising in the manufacture of bars and angles for ships. The firm will play a part in converting Teesside’s iron works to steel-making. Meanwhile Bolckow and Vaughan open a Bessemer steel plant at Eston helping Middlesbrough compete with Sheffield. High grade iron ore has to be imported from Spain as local ore is unsuitable. In 1877 a new process (the Gilchrist process) for making steel will facilitate the use of Cleveland ore from 1879.

1876 – Swing Bridge

Newcastle’s Swing Bridge is built by William Armstrong, replacing the stone bridge of 1781. It will allow ships to access his works upstream. Like the stone bridge that preceded it, the Swing Bridge is a low level bridge linking the Newcastle quayside to the Gateshead riverside. Bridges have existed at this point on the Tyne since the Roman and medieval eras.

The Swing Bridge Newcastle
The Swing Bridge on the site of the Roman and Medieval Bridge  © David Simpson.

1876 – Wear-built wooden ships cease

The building of wooden ships ceases at Sunderland – an age old industry in the town. Sunderland will now focus on the building of iron ships which are now the mainstay of shipyards in the town.

1876 – Middlesbrough Football Club

Middlesbrough FC has been formed by cricketers on Teesside. The club play at the Archery Ground in Middlesbrough’s Albert Park.

1877 – Hartlepool news

The Northern Daily Mail for Durham and North Yorkshire is established in Hartlepool. It later becomes The Hartlepool Mail.

1877 – School of Science and Art

The School of Science and Art, (later Rutherford College) in Corporation Street, Newcastle, is established on the initiative of Dr J.H. Rutherford and will be formally opened in 1879. The college will later build new premises in Bath Lane, where Dr Rutherford had founded an Elementary school in 1871.

1877 – Waterhouse Building

A prominent new building is built in Albert Road, Middlesbrough by renowned architect Alfred Waterhouse for Middlesbrough High School. It will teach pupils from the Middlesbrough High School for Boys (founded 1870) and the town’s High School for Girls (1874) though the two groups of pupils will be taught separately. In the 1960s this building becomes part of Constantine College and later a part of Teesside University.

Waterhouse Building, University of Teesside
Waterhouse Building, University of Teesside © David Simpson

1877 – Gosforth rugby

Gosforth Football Club, a rugby club is established by ‘old boys’ of Durham School to the north of Newcastle.

👈 1828-1839 | 1878-1900 👉

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