My brief researches into bits of Northumberland history that have captured my curiosity. Usually the posts are what I can discover within a week or two using readily accessible material and are often recorded for Radio Northumberland. The articles are biased towards mapping, archaeology and the SE of the county. Navigation pages are provided, especially for Blyth, listing the articles in chronological order. (Alan Fryer)
The parish of Blyth is bounded by the River Blyth to the North. The boundary then heads west at Humford Woods along the Horton Burn for some distance. At Laverock Hall Farm the boundary line heads east for a short distance before joining Meggies Burn in the South Newsham area. It encompasses 7.4 sq miles (4725 acres) or 19.1 sq km in new money. The area is one of much diversity. Apart from the obvious Ridley Park, beach, quayside and shopping areas there are two small former reservoirs that are home to various wildlife, the site of an important but now demolished castle, the site of a historically important ironworks, miles of picturesque riverside walks including an area of special scientific interest and is host to 35 listed structures.
The town grew by industry, taking advantage of all the natural resources available. The salt industry, which had been in existence since medieval times was in decline by the 19th century, but the fledgling coal mining, shipping and shipbuilding industries expanded enormously in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Major collieries such as Cowpen, Newsham, New Delaval, Isabella, Bebside, Mill Pit and Bates existed within the parish boundaries. The deep-water harbour and port was also developed in stages during this period. During the 1960s the port was the busiest in England shipping over six million tonnes of coal. Although the town is now known a regional centre for shopping, recreation and entertainment the port still handles over two million tonnes of cargo, mostly forest products and metals.
There are more than twenty-five cafes and restaurants within Blyth, including a specialist sea food venue, Mediterranean, Indian, Tai-Chinese, Italian and Greek restaurants, and an ice cream parlour, and an art cafe. At least twenty venues have a 4 star or above rating on www.tripadvisor.com. The town has also been renowned for its market days on Wednesday Friday and Saturdays. It is also home to the most recognisable high-street shops, including WH Smiths, Burtons and Top Shop among others and an old-established jewellers and specialist cycle outlet.. A brand new shopping venue has recently been opened in the former Co-op store right in the heart of the town.
The town takes its name from the river. This starts its journey to the sea at Kirknewton. This is less than 19 miles west of Blyth as the crow flies. The river passes just to the north of Belsay, then to the south of Whalton, through Kirkley Hall estate, then Stannington, through Hartford and Plessey Woods and then Bedlington.
The town now sits in what was the administrative areas, from medieval times, of Cowpen Township and Newsham Township, which both had small villages at their centre. In fact, the area of Cowpen Quay and Hodgsons Road also is believed to have been the location for a settlement called Aynewick, although the exact location is no longer known. Blyth Snook was a name given to a promontory of land at the very mouth of the river on which a few fishermen’s cottages were built. It was being listed as a separate entity from the reign of Richard II (c1367) and grew slowly from this point.
Blyth is now divided into eight administrative wards: Croft, Isabella, South Beach, Kitty Brewster, Cowpen, Newsham, Wensleydale and Plessey. Wensleydale originates from Viscount Ridley. The title of Viscount was awarded in 1900 and he also became Baron Wensleydale at the same time receiving the title that had been held by his maternal grandfather. He was the Home Secretary in 1904 when he gifted lands to the people of Blyth for the creation of Ridley Park. The Ridley family had acquired the Blyth estate in 1723. They also purchased the nearby Blagdon estate where they continue to reside. The current Viscount, Matt Ridley, is an influential author and columnist, especially in the field of genetic science. The family also owned around 18 small pits dug into an outcrop of coal at Plessey. The coal was shipped from the River Blyth after being transported there via the horse-drawn, five-and-a-half-mile long, Plessey Wagonway (1709-1812): hence the name of Plessey Ward.
Isabella Ward took its name from the colliery that was sunk here in 1848 by a group of speculators, who owned other nearby collieries, and were collectively known as the Cowpen Coal Company. It was not uncommon to name pits after family members of the owners. Kitty Brewster farm was shown on maps from the early 19th century, but perhaps dates from the enclosure of the Cowpen estate in the early 17th century. It perhaps does not take its name from a female manufacturer of ale as may first be presumed. There are many place names with Kitty as a prefix, including a Kitty Brewster in Aberdeen. An article in “Tyne and Tweed No 28” suggests the name could come from the gaelic word ‘ceide’ which means a little hill, which at Aberdeen, as at Blyth was applied to a sloping bank. The eastern part of Cowpen was a holding of a branch of the Delaval family. In the 16th-17th century they resided at a large hall just opposite the where the Windmill Pub now stands on Cowpen Road. The holding passed through marriage in the female line to the family of Wanley-Bowes. Landholder, Margaret Wanley-Bowes, died unmarried and intestate. Her two sisters, Anne and Elizabeth, inherited the lands. Anne married Lt. Col. Thomas Thoroton, of the Coldstream Guards, in 1784. Elizabeth married Rev. Robert Croft in 1779. Both families resided at York. This gives rise to the name Thoroton Hotel and the suburb of Blyth in the 19th century known as Crofton.
Other place names that have persisted through the decades are Malvin’s Close, which was probably named after Richard Mawen who was listed as a tenant of the Tynemouth Priory (who held part of Cowpen) on a survey compiled on the suppression of the monasteries. Richard held tenements with land, meadows and pastures worth £12 annual rent. On the 1619 partition of lands Malvin’s Close farm was listed as being 66 acres in extent. Edmund Hannay, the first shipbuilder in Blyth, brought the property in 1764. His descendants remained there until 1873 when it was purchased by the Cowpen Coal Co.
Hodgson’s Road (Lane) was shown on Meikle’s map of 1872 leading to the area that was formerly Hodgson’s Mill. The County History states: “A windmill called Crofton or Cowpen Mill was built in 1799 by Mr Richard Hodgson of Plessey then ‘undertaker’ of Cowpen Colliery in a couple of fields acquired from the Croft family.
Princess Louise school was built in 1914. The princess Louise, also titled the Duchess of Argyll, was the slightly rebellious 4th daughter of Queen Victoria. She died in 1939 at the age of 91 but had been the President of the Women’s Education Union from 1871.
Solingen estate takes its name from the “City of Blades”, Blyth’s twin town since 1962. Actually, Solingen is a city of 161,000 residents in the Westphalia-Rhine area of West Germany. It has been renowned since medieval times for the manufacture of fine swords, knives, scissors and razors.
The Thomas Knight Care Home stands on the sight of a former sizeable hospital built in 1887. Thomas Knight was a successful shipowner who resided in the Crofton area of Blyth. He had risen from quite a lowly position, but had given generously to local good causes throughout his career. He left an endowment in his will for hospital provision within the town.
On the 20th September 1922 the town of Blyth received the charter of incorporation and became a municipal borough. Since the late 19th century Blyth had been an Urban District which usually covered areas of less than 30,000 population. The census of 1921, however, showed Blyth to have grown to a size of 31,822. Municipal boroughs had been around since 1835 and had a higher status and the right to appoint a mayor. They were abolished in 1974.
The Blyth News retrospectively described the event:
"The hooters on the ships in Blyth harbour were sounded to mark an even greater event for rejoicing in the following year [a major strike in the coal industry 1921].
For on September 20th 1922 the town received its charter of incorporation and became a borough.
A procession of robed mayors and other notable guests walked from the council offices in Seaforth Street to the market place. There before a huge crowd of schoolchildren and residents, Mr JB Nicholson chairman of the district council and of the Incorporation Committee which had worked for three years to achieve this object handed over the charter to the charter mayor Mr John Goulding.
Church bells rang in celebration and the gun at the coastguard station fired a salute. Visitors and guests went on a river trip and toured the shipyard - then hit by a depression - where they were entertained to tea. A banquet was held that night in the Mechanic's Institute.
Mr Goulding in his speech said: 'I hope this will be the beginning of a new era for Blyth.' And at its last meeting on November 8th the Urban Council decided on the motto to be inscribed on the coat of arms.
It was a motto justified by the history of the town. Today  it still holds good. And in the light of present development will do so for years to come... WE GROW BY INDUSTRY.
In 1922 the Harbour Commissioners adopted the Motto POST SALUM SALUS: “after the open sea safety”. The Harbour Commission had been formed in 1888 replacing the 1854 Blyth Harbour and Dock Company.
Another noteable date in Blyth’s history is 15th October 1904. This was the day of a disastrous fire on Waterloo Road, which by this time had become an important commercial district within Blyth. The fire started just before midnight in the shop of Mr Lindly who was at the time holding a waxworks exhibition. The properties destroyed were "representative of the most superior architecturally in the district." Twelve premises in total were extensively damaged or destroyed including a musical instrument shop and two pubs. The cost of the damage was estimated at between £30k-40k (£3-4 million in 2012). The town seemed cursed with fires. There was another serious fire shortly after this one and several in the 1870-80s period, destroying pubs and the Mechanic’s Institute of the time. It was believed arson was the cause of many of these events.
In 1832 and 1848-9 there were major cholera epidemics. Eighty people died in 1832 and it is said they were buried in the open space between Wellington Street and Ridley Street, down near the quayside, with planning permission being refused in this area for many years.
A waterworks was constructed by Sir Matthew White Ridley in 1854. The reservoir, in the South Newsham area, still exists and is used by a freshwater angling club. The waterworks brought a much-needed supply of water to Blyth. Previously, water was brought to the town in carts or women carried it from a spring near the site of what became Mill Pit. In the same year Blyth was lit by gas for the first time. Related Articles...