Western Bridges

The western most is the Redheugh Bridge opened in 1983. The Bridge was built by Nuttall HBM and designed by Mott Hay and Anderson who also designed the famous Tyne Bridge. The first Redheugh Bridge opened in 1870 and was built by a private company and carried both gas and water mains across the river, the pipes formed structural components of the Bridge. The engineer was Thomas Roch, engineer of the ill fated Tay Bridge which collapsed during the storm of 1879. This event led to doubts being expressed about Roches other workmanship and eventually led to the rebuilding of the Redheugh Bridge, to the design of Sandimen and Montcrief in 1901. The southern Toll House and the northern and southern masonry abutments of the old bridge were retained when the old bridge was dismantled in 1984.

The middle bridge is the King Edward the Seventh Railway Bridge and this was opened in 1906 and was built by the Cleveland Bridge Company. Oringinally called the “New High Level Bridge’, it was renamed in honour of the monarch who performed the opening ceremony. Built for the North East Railway Company to the design of Charles Harrison, it gave direct access to the west end of the Central Station and so greatly relieved congestion of the railway. Each of the two entire spans of the bridges is a hundred feet across and the massive stone piers and sunk into the river to a depth of seventy feet below high water level.

Shadowing the west end of the bridge is the bridge that became the Metro Bridge. The bridge was opened in 1981 by Queen Elizabeth 2nd and named in her honour. It like the King Edward Bridge was constructed by the Cleveland Bridge Company.
IMG_0248 Continue reading Western Bridges

Dunston Staithes

The Dunston Staithes in Gateshead played a crucial role in the transport of millions of tons of coal.In one year alone 5.5m tonnes of coal was shipped from Gateshead.

The wooden staithes was closed in 1980 and abandoned with the demise of the coal industry and have since fallen victim to vandalism and two fires. The 130-year-old staithes was built by the North Eastern Railway at a cost of £210,000 and is thought to be the largest timber structure in Britain.

‘Dunston Staiths were built by the North Eastern Railway in two stages; the first staith with three berths was opened in 1893. A second similar staith was opened in 1903, immediately to the south, and a basin dug out of the riverbank to service it. There are six berths, and loading can be carried out at any state of the tide; three electric conveyors and twelve gravity spouts. Record yearly shipment was 5½ million tonnes. The second set of staiths was taken down to the top of the piles in the 1970s and then further dismantled in the 1980s. However, the majority of the structure survived intact and was restored for the Gateshead National Garden Festival in 1990.

Dunston Staithes are currently being restored by the Tyne and Wear Buildings Preservation Trust, restoration of the Grade II-listed timber structure on the River Tyne began in April 2014. Dunston Staithes received a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of almost £420,000 in December 2013. It is also hoped that the Staithes will open to the public intermittently.

Dunston Staithes
Dunston Staithes
SINE Project, Structure Details for Dunston Staiths

SINE Project, Structure Details for Dunston Staithshttp://sine.ncl.ac.uk/view_structure_information.asp?struct_id=827The information displayed in this page has been derived from authoritative sources, including any referenced above. Although substantial efforts were made to verify this…

Elswick Riverbank

In the early years of the nineteenth century Elswick was a small township outside the medieval town walls of Newcastle. A cart road ran along the riverbank, used mainly by farmers taking produce to the growing urban centre. Steeply wooded banks sloped down to the river from Elswick Hall and its grounds. In the river, from which salmon were fished, the straggling island of King’s Meadow divided the waters on their way to Tynemouth and the sea.

It was in this environment that William, later Lord Armstrong, developed what was to become one of the most famous engineering, armaments and shipbuilding complexes in the world.

Armstrong was not the first to see the potential of this land. Richard Grainger, the developer responsible for much of the appearance of Victorian Newcastle, saw the opportunity to lay out an early ‘trading estate’. To this end he sculptured the eastern end of this site into gently sloping meadows ready for the building of manufacturing units, and created a network of wide roads leading to the river. Although the scheme never came to fruition, the concept was a hundred years ahead of its time.

When the industrial use of this land came to an end in the 1900s when the site was acquired by Newcastle City Council. The Council promoted an alternative non industrial use for the site and encouraged the development of the prestigious Newcastle Business Park. This initiative by Developments (Tyne & Wear) Ltd and the Tyne & Wear Urban Development Corporation has once more brought employment and activity to this historic site. For over 150 years the history of this riverside has been forged by people of vision. ”

Elswick Riverbank
Elswick Riverbank

Scotswood and Elswick

The social significance and the effect upon Newcastle of the employment created by Lord Armstrong on these river banks cannot be overestimated, At its zenith, around the turn of the century, the Elswick and Scotswood works employed over 20,000 people. This workforce together with their families and the many small trades, industries, shops and the like which served them, accounted for the growth of most of the western suburbs of Newcastle.

Scotswood and Elswick, along with four other small townships – Jesmond, Heaton, Byker and Westgate – were taken into the boundaries of Newcastle Upon Tyne under the Municiple Corporation Act of 1835. This expansion of the city brought the spread of housing into the suburbs. Fuelled by the growth of industry on the riverbank, the construction of houses in Elswick and Scotswood took place at a rapid and constant pace. In 1851 the population of Elswick was 3,539.

By 1861 this had risen to 14,341 and by the end of the century was over 51,000. People came from far and wide, from Ireland and Scotland, from areas of rural deprivation and from distant towns to work in Armstrong’s yards and factories. As they came the massed ranks of terraces houses marched further and further north from Scotswood Road.

By the end of the century the two parishes of Scotswood and Elswick housed nearly half the population of the city. The prodigious rise of Scotswood and Elswick and the enduring fame of Scotswood Road was yet another remarkable product of the activity on this stretch of the riverbank.”

Scotswood and Elswick
Scotswood and Elswick

River Tyne at Elswick

“Everywhere from the dancing waters of the harbour to the ebb and flow of the throbbing city industry, resource an expansion, coal staiths, shipyards, engine shops, dry docks, chemical works, forges, electrical lighting laboratories, warehouses, merchants’ offices, steam ships, railway trains, without end, without number from Shields to Scotswood, there is not its like in 13 miles of river the world over”
(W. Richardson, 1924)

The early development of industrial Tyneside was achieved no so much as a result, but rather in spite of the river itself. Until the 1860s the Tyne was largely undredged and unnavigable. It was, in fact, notoriously dangerous. There were no docks, few quays and no piers at the entrance. Progress up and down the river was hampered by sand banks, restricted by the old Tyne Bridge which prevented anything other than small keels passing beyond it, and further hindered at Elswick by an island – King’s Meadow – large enough to host horse races and athletic events and to contain a public house, the ‘Countess of Coventry’.

The dredging of the river, the opening of the Northumberland Dock and the Albert Edward Dock, the replacement of the old Tyne Bridge with the Swing Bridge and the removal of Kings Meadow, led to the improved use of the river, increased activity on the riverbanks and to the furthering of Tyneside’s prosperity. This was particularly true here at Elswick and across the river at Dunston where at the turn of the century the massive coal staiths were constructed by the North Eastern Railway and a huge manufacturing and storage complex was built for the Co-operative Wholesale Society – of which, by the early 1990’s only the former soap works remained.

River Tyne at Elswick
River Tyne at Elswick

Armstrong Works

“Their size, their completeness, their tremendous productive energy, their variety of blast furnaces, foundaries, machine shops and chemical laboratories, teeming with human life, reverberating with the shriek of steam, the clang of hammers, and the whirr of machinery, overhung by a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night, presents a picture of concentrated economic activity which overwhelms and astonishes the average observer.”
(R.W. Johnson, The Making of the Tyne,1895)

Armstrong’s huge industrial complex began with the construction of four buildings at the western end of the site. The main machine shop with its boiler house and the smiths’ shop were built north of the railway line which dissected the site, whilst the erecting shop and the Company offices were situated in the South. The design of the machine shop, using solid masonry, brick arches, cast iron columns, girders and beams gave an almost ecclesiastical appearance to this main building.

Whilst the rest of the original buildings and many of the later ones were of a more functional appearance, the survival of the nearby arched arcade reflects the architecture of the earliest buildings of this site. The surviving structure formed part of the projectile shop within the works, and the range of arches contained chutes and machinery which allowed materials to be passed from one level to another.”

Armstrong Works
Armstrong Works

Lead Leather and Gas

Lead works have stood on the site east of the gas works since the eighteen century. The works were built by Walkers, Fishwick and Ward in 1778. For many years the works housed one of Tyneside’s most notable landmarks, the Elswick Shot Tower. In 1795 the Tower was used for the manufacture of lead shot, when it was pulled down in 1960, it was only one of three shot towers left in the country. One of the most famous paintings which features the shot tower (in the background above the Tyne Bridge) is that by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) in London’s Tate Gallery.

In 1795 the Tower was used for the manufacture of lead shot, when it was pulled down in 1960, it was only one of three shot towers left in the country. One of the most famous paintings which features the shot tower (in the background above the Tyne Bridge) is that by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) in London’s Tate Gallery.

Elswick Lead Works
Elswick Lead Works

Between the mighty Armstrong Works and the Skinner Burn, the historical boundary between Elswick and the City, lay a number of long standing industrial concerns. Richardson’s Tannery also know as the ”Leather Works” was located between Water Street and Dunn Street. Richardson’s moved from Whitby to Tyneside in 1766 and opened the Elswick Works in 1863. The firm became one of the areas leading concerns and the works continued in use until 1971.

East of Richardson’s stood the Gas Works. The Works were brought into use in 1859 following the closure of two smaller works, Manors and Sandgate. Although the new works were substantial, there were still supply problems in parts of Newcastle, and many complaints about the smell from the site. Further complaints about the site, dating from 1871, were that abnormal stench was coming from the Gas Works. Despite the problems the invention of a mantle in 1880, saw gas used for lighting and heating in houses until the second world war. However the increasing availability of electricity in the 1940s brought about the closure of man of the works, including that of Elswick.

SINE Project, Structure Details for Richardson's Tannery

SINE Project, Structure Details for Richardson’s Tanneryhttp://sine.ncl.ac.uk/view_structure_information.asp?struct_id=1140The information displayed in this page has been derived from authoritative sources, including any referenced above. Although substantial efforts were made to verify this…

SINE Project, Structure Details for Low Elswick Gas Works

SINE Project, Structure Details for Low Elswick Gas Workshttp://sine.ncl.ac.uk/view_structure_information.asp?struct_id=826The information displayed in this page has been derived from authoritative sources, including any referenced above. Although substantial efforts were made to verify this…

SINE Project, Structure Details for Elswick Lead Works

SINE Project, Structure Details for Elswick Lead Workshttp://www.sine.ncl.ac.uk/view_structure_information.asp?struct_id=1674The information displayed in this page has been derived from authoritative sources, including any referenced above. Although substantial efforts were made to verify this…

Ships for the World

The name Elswick became synonymous with naval technology and shipbuilding. the opening of Elswock Shipyard, which stood on this site, was the culmination of the creation of an industrial empire. Armstrong entered into shipbuilding by cooperating with C.W. Mitchell’s yard at Walker in the construction of a gunboat for the Admiralty in 1868. This followed in 1882 by the amalgamation of the two firms as Sir W. G. Armstrong, Mitchell & Co and two years later by the opening of the Elswick yard.

The Walker yard was left to concentrate on the building of merchant ships, whilst at Elswick warships were built and armed. The awesome output of fighting ships which took place in the following thirty years produced some of the most prestigious and terrifying ships of war the world has ever seen. Beginning with two cruisers the Panther and the Leopard – for the Austro-Hungarian Navy, and then the mighty British ironclad battleship, the Victoria, the yard produced a wealth of ships for the navies of the world.

Of the many countries which came to Elswick for its ships, perhaps the most significant was Japan. In the years from 1895 to 1905 virtually the whole Japanese navy, including the cruiser Asama, was built on the Tyne. The great naval battles of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904/5 were fought with huge numbers of Tyneside ships and Elswick guns.

A close bond developed between the North East and Japan. When two of Japan’s finest Elswick-built ships, the Hatsuse and the Yashima, were tragically lost in 1904, the whole of Tyneside mourned. Following Japan’s naval victories in this war, their successful and highly respected admiral Togo visited Elswick to see for himself where his powerful navy had been produced.

In its three decades of existence, the Elswick Yard produced a total of 84 warships.

Ships for the World
Ships for the World

Lord Armstrong

William George Armstrong, son of Alderman William Armstrong, corn merchant, was born on November 26th, 1810 at 9. Pleasant Row, Shieldfield, Newcastle. Although trained for the legal profession and practising as a solicitor until the age of 37, his real interest lay in machinery and engineering.

As a young man he visited Watson’s Engineering Works in High Bridge daily and developed his ideas on hydraulics and the generation of electricity. His ideas gained the backing of a number of monied and influential businessmen who in 1845 launched Armstrong into his engineering career. Inside two years he had successfully demonstrated his invention of the hydraulic crane, left his solicitors office, founded a new company to manufacture machinery and bought five and a half acres of land as a site for his works here at Elswick.

The development of Armstrong’s work from making buildings to making hydraulic machinery, to a 230 acre site (four times larger than the modern Business Park) with a workforce of over 20,000 was the pre-eminent industrial achievement of Victorian Tyneside. Armstrong’s own status and influence grew in parallel. Following his invention of the Armstrong gun, he was made engineer to the War Department.

As Sir William, he guided his company into its greatest period of expansion and prosperity, but gradually as he approached his seventieth year, he withdrew from active participation in business, and concentrated on the construction of his country retreat “Cragside” near Rothbury in Northumberland. The house was designed by Richard Norman Shaw a leading architect of the day and set in a huge landscaped estate of trees, bushes, plants, lakes, diverted streams and waterfalls.

Raised to the peerage in 1887, Lord Armstrong, with his wife Margaret, spent his final years at Cragside in well-earned tranquility. He died in 1900 after a life of outstanding achievement.

Lord Armstrong
Lord Armstrong

Skinner Burn

The Skinner Burn is one of a number of streams that ran down to the Tyne, the existence of which is now almost completely forgotten, the stream ran along the west side of the bank in medieval times, its steep banks help protect the city, the burn for many years formed part of the boundary of the City of Newcastle and township of Elswick until the two were united in 1835 and the burn was filled in (or culverted).

In the eighteenth century the Skinner Burn along with the banks of the Ouse Burn to the east of the city, became one of the early areas of industrial activity. Along the burn were glass houses, Lime Kilns and a large brewery, a pottery and a foundry. Housing grew up around these concerns, but conditions for residents were unpleasant, the burn being, according to one historian, ‘little better than an evil smelling sewer’.

In the nineteenth century this area became closely linked with the growing railway and heavy engineering industries. In 1818 Robert Hawthorn opened a small engine works on Forth Banks and was joined by his brother William in 1820 to being R & W Hawthorn, the firm that was to become one of the largest engineering concerns in the region, with interests in both railways and marine engineering.

Adjacent to the Hawthorn engineering works was that of Robert Stevenson, perhaps the most important engineering works in the world. Little can now be seen of these mighty works and a small outlet in the river walls is now the only indication of the existence of the Skinner Burn.


Armstrong Gun

“The Armstrong Gun, the Armstrong Gun,
What a wonderful thing is the Armstrong Gun,
Sir William’s invention astonisht them all,
Wi’ a bolt for a shot instead of a ball.

Nae spungin’ or rammin’ or servin’ the vent,
Such things are no needed to serve its intent,
In a neat little chamber breech end of the bore,
Place the powder and shot and away let it roar.”
(From a poem by an Elswick employee of the 1850s)

William Armstrong’s interest in the production of armaments sprang from an incident in the Crimean War in 1855, when British field guns weighing over two tons each had to be slowly pulled by hand up the steep Heights of Inkermanamid a huge loss of life.

Many of the features of the field gun which Armstrong developed after this event had been considered previously, but it was the thoroughness and ingenuity of the man which brought them together to produce a lightweight, accurage field gun which revolutionalised the manufacture of armaments and the way in which wars were fought.

Newcastle Business Park

The refurbished structure upon which you are standing was once part of the projectile shop at the Armstrong Works Elswick. It forms the centrepiece of the best business park development in the north east of England, a joint venture between Drybart Development (Tyne & Wear) Limited and Tyne and Wear Development Corporation.

In the middle of the nineteenth century the view west for this spot, just two miles from the centre of Newcastle Upon Tyne would have been sheep grazed pastures. By 1860 William Armstrong, a local solicitor, inventor and manufacturer, had transformed the area into one of Britain’s most important industrial sites.

In 1867 Armstrong decided to build warships as well as making equipment for vessels built by others, He entered into agreements with Charles Mitchell’s ship building yard down the river Tyne at Walker and in 1884 a ship yard in the name of Sir W. G. Armstrong, Mitchell and Co. Ltd

The connection with Walker Naval Yard is celebrated by the Armstrong coat of arms and Neptune’s head which appear on the reverse of this plaque. They were recovered from the Walker Naval Yard when it closed in 1985.

In 1981 Vickers Armstrong finally left the site. Subsequently a derelict mile-long riverside frontage was reclaimed to a 25 hectare complex of low density, high specification offices amongst extensive landscaping,

Names of roads and buildings on the site echo its history. The main thoroughfare on the Newcastle Business Park is known as William Armstrong Drive. All the remaining road, and the majority of the buildings were named after vessels launched from the site from 1885 until shipbuilding ceased here in 1981.