Age of the iron industry in the North East : 1840 to 1878
Small scale iron-making had been important since ancient times and was mined in the dales from at least the 12th 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.
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.
1840 – Sunderland shipyards
William Doxford establishes a shipbuilding business in Sunderland. The town of Sunderland is the home to 65 shipyards.
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 and school
Middlesbrough’s first church is built. Its first school was built in 1838.
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.
Apr 19 1841 – Colliery 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.
1842 – More iron
The Weardale Iron company is founded. Meanwhile blast furnaces are erected at Walker by Losh Wiison and Bell using Whitby iron ore.
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).
Apr 5 1843 – Colliery 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 Quay.
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. 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.
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.
1844 – Catholic church a 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.
Sep 28 1844 – Haswell pit tragedy leaves 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.
1844 – Quarry land purchased for a 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.
Aug 21 1845 – Colliery disaster at Jarrow
Thirty-nine lives are lost in a colliery explosion at Jarrow.
1845 – Hudson is 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.
1845 – Hackworth works
Timothy Hackworth, a talented and enterprising railway engineer from Wylam in Northumberland establishes a locomotive works at Shildon in County Durham.
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.
1846 – Middlesbrough ‘the 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.
1847 – Armstrong’s Tyneside works
William G Armstrong establishes a factory making hydraulic machinery.
1847 – 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.
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. The London railway, which reached Newcastle in 1844, makes it to Berwick in 1847. Robert Stephenson’s Royal Border Bridge is built.
1847 – Battle of the Blue Heaps at Consett
A major riot breaks out in the town of Consett between Catholic Irish workers and the English workers who are mostly Protestant. A little under 25% of Consett’s workforce were Irish at this time. The iron town of Consett has rapidly grown since the start of the decade and its population of around 20,000 people only has two policemen.
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.
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.
1848 – Monkwearmouth Station
The handsome Monkwearmouth station is built by architect Thomas Moore for the ‘Railway King’ and Sunderland MP, George Hudson.
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.
Jun 5 1849 – Colliery disaster at Hebburn
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.
1850 – Heathery Burn Bronze Age find
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.
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.
Nov 11 1850 – Thirty dead at Houghton Colliery
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 – Middlesbrough furnace
The first blast furnace on Teesside is erected at Middlesbrough. The whole ironmaking process is now carried out here.
1851 – William Pickersgill
William Pickersgill establishes a shipbuilding business in Sunderland.
1851 – William Smith & Co’s dock
Smith & Co opened their own dock at North Shields for the building of ships, they had previously leased docks here and have already built many ships at Shields. They were originally based at St Peter’s Byker where they were operating from 1810.
Aug 19 1851 – Colliery disaster at Washington
Thirty-four lives are lost in a mine explosion at Washington.
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 suppy of quality limestone at Stanhope, both essential elements in iron production that keep the industry in the area.
May 6 1852 – Colliery disaster at Hebburn
Twenty-two lives are lost in a mine explosion at Hebburn.
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.
1852 – Hartlepool Brewery
The Lion Brewery is established at Hartlepool. It will later become Camerons Brewery.
1852 – Iron ships in Sunderland
Sunderland, an important centre for building wooden sailing ships builds its first iron ship this year.
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.
1853 – Newcastle cholera
Cholera kills 1,500 people in Newcastle.
Oct 6 1854 – Great Fire of Newcastle and Gateshead
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.
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.
1854 – Blyth and Harbour Dock Act
Improvements are made to the coal port of Blyth under the leadership of its chairman, Matthew White Ridley.
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.
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.
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.
1856 – Jarrow makes 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 – 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 will move on to become a prominent industrialist on Teesside, establishing Bell Brothers and the Port Clarence Iron Works.
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 – 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.
1858 – Famed Sunderland bridge modified
Sunderland’s 18th 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.
1859 – Salt deposits stimulate 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.
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 Colliery disaster
A colliery explosion at Burradon to the north of Newcastle claims 76 lives.
Dec 20 1860 – Colliery 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 – Cullercoats fisherwomen save Seaham ship’s 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.
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 – 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.
Jan 16, 1862 – Hartley Colliery 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.
1862 – Grey Street receives Gladstone praise
The Prime Minister, William Gladstone proclaims Grey Street as “our best modern street”.
1862 – ‘Infant Hercules’
William Gladstone describes Middlesbrough as “an infant Hercules” during a visit.
1862 – Darlington works
Darlington Railway Locomotive Works in North Road is established.
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.
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.
Mar 6 1863 – Colliery disaster at Coxlodge
Twenty-two lives are lost in a mine explosion at Coxlodge near Newcastle.
Mar 9 1863 – Boxing champion 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.
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).
1863 – Wallsend shipbuilding
Schlesinger, Davis & Co open the first shipbuilding yard at Wallsend.
1864 – Consett Iron Company
Derwent Iron Company becomes Consett Iron Company Ltd.
1864 – Railway King dies
Sunderland-born ‘Railway King’ George Hudson dies. He played an important part in developing the Northern railway network, most of which converges on York.
1864 – Farewell Geordie Ridley
Geordie Ridley, composer of the Blaydon Races died at his Gateshead home aged 30. He had long suffered with an industrial injury.
1865 – Sunderland sheet glass
About a third of the sheet glass in England is supplied by James Hartley’s Sunderland works.
15 April 1865 – President 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.
Oct 31 1866 – Colliery disaster at Pelton
Twenty-four lives are lost in a mine explosion at Pelton Colliery, County Durham.
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.
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 – Assembly Rooms
The Tyne Theatre and Opera House open on Westgate Road, Newcastle upon Tyne.
1867 – Hartlepool Treasure
A hoard of Spanish silver dollars is revealed beneath the sands at Seaton Carew following a heavy storm.
1868 – Saltburn by the Sea
The railway reached Saltburn in 1860 and the Zetland Hotel was built to accommodate tourists. Saltburn is developed as a resort by Henry Pease of Darlington and a pleasure pier is built.
1868 – Gateshead Town Hall
Gateshead Town Hall is built by the architect John Johnstone.
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 – 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, builds the museum in the style of a French chateau.
1869 – Cargo Fleet chemicals
Samuel Sadler, ‘the father of the Teesside chemical industry’ establishes an alkali factory at Cargo Fleet.
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 in the market place.
17 July 1870 – 130,000 say farewell to 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.
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 sold to Gateshead
Architect, William Wailes has sold his new home in Gateshead to the town’s corporation after running into financial difficulties.
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.
1871 – More shipbuilding at Wallsend
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.
20 July 1871 – Sunderland man dreams up the 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.
1871 – University acquires colleges
Durham University acquires Newcastle School of Medicine and the Newcastle College of Science.
Oct 25 1871 – Colliery disaster at Seaham
Twenty-six lives are lost in a mine explosion at Seaham Colliery, County Durham.
1872 – Jarrow and Hebburn Irish
1872 – Sunderland man captains winners in first FA Cup final
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.
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.
1873 – Leazes Park
Newcastle’s Leazes Park opens. Many public parks are opening in the region’s towns.
1874 – Middlesbrough is 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.
1875 – Farewell Joe Wilson
Tyneside mourned the loss of noted Gateshead songwriter, Joe Wilson (born 1841), whose compositions included Keep yer feet still Geordie Hinny.
1875 – Dorman Long
Arthur Dorman and Albert de Lande Long establish an iron works and 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.
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.
1876 – Wooden shipbuilding ceases at Sunderland
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.
1876 – Middlesbrough Football Club formed
Middlesbrough FC has been formed by cricketers on Teesside. The club play at the Archery Ground in Middlesbrough’s Albert Park.