News and Dates

Five Northern Rivers

Article text
Middlesborough steel works
April 2014

Train to the great city of Newcastle Upon Tyne, and what an entrance, passing Durham then crossing the Tyne looking across onto the other competing engineering gantries across the valley.

Newcastle has to be one of the great cities of England. Its architecture and its engineering competes in its majesty. It is surprising how dominating the bridges are and how tall they fly across the valley. The Quayside Victorian offices and warehouses below the Tyne Bridge lead up past St Nicholas Cathedral and into Grey Street and ending at the Grey Monument. London's Regents Street and the avenues in Bath are second best. This isn't showmanship or created for Regal entities, but full on commerce and confidence of a provincial city. Unlike Manchester or Birmingham however, Newcastle hasn't made it high on modern architecture or new buildings of architectural merit, for this you need to look across the water to Gateshead, with its emphasis on the Arts.

The Tyne, with the ship building yards gone, is still a busy working river with large port facilities, ship repair yards, and maritime industries based on the oil fields not only in the North Sea but worldwide.

Moving South across the Wear, the Sunderland shipyards are gone and the area has a much more melancholic feel. They do still make cranes and cars here which are exported worldwide, emphasizing a cleaner manufacturing industry. It is amazing looking at the river and its deep gorge and its meandering journey to the sea, how large the ships were which were built here and what a sight it would have been to see them launch and make their journey onwards.

Easington and Blackhall Colliery are small mining communities to the south, both famous for their roles not just for the coal mines, but also as film locations. Billy Elliot was partially filmed in the former, and the coal conveyor belt end to Get Carter was filmed along the coast line at the latter

Hartlepool was a slight disappointment in that the industrial seascape I had expected had been cleared. However, the Hartlepool engineering yards in the harbour manufacture large elements for the oil industry.

The bottom end of the journey was the Tees Estuary and its vast steel works, refinery's, ship yards, chemical works and engineering masterpieces such as the Transporter Bridge and the Tees Lifting Bridge. In the day time, the landscape resembles a science fiction heartland, at night a vision of light and power.

North of Newcastle lies the Rivers Wansbeck at Ashington, once defined as the largest coal mining village in the world; and Blyth which sits on the River Blyth. Here the waste lands define old power stations and staithes, but still has a thriving port.