South East Northumberland
Visit south east Northumberland
Golden beaches continue in the beautiful south of Northumberland and Newcastle Gateshead, though industry gets a look-in here and some former mining villages have grown into towns.
It is an area of rolling surf, migratory birds, historic churches and a few surprises – such as the UK’s first offshore sculpture, called The Couple, shown below.
Newbiggin by the Sea
At its heart is Newbiggin by the Sea, an ex-pit village looking to the future with panache and the community spirit that has seen the place through good times and bad.
Now it mines artistic talent and is becoming a magnet for tourists. They are drawn by unspoilt Newbiggin Bay, sporting events such as an annual triathlon and a new Maritime Centre.
Out in the bay is Sean Henry’s sculpture, Couple. Onshore is a community arts group with a hectic schedule spanning music, film and drama as well as painting.
Members are the heirs to Ashington’s Pitmen Painters of the last century. Community arts development manager Eddie Galvin is captivated.
“Newbiggin-by-the-Sea is the best place I’ve ever lived, and that’s a feeling I’ve had since moving here in 2003,” he says. “I meet people every day with a wide range of creative skills just looking for a chance to express themselves.
“In the village we have painters, writers, singers, musicians, sculptors, ceramicists, glass artists, textile artists, poets, actors, film-makers, crafters and jewellers, among others. We believe that art can be a positive agent for change as part of the regeneration of the village, giving tangible economic benefits and also providing positive role models for future generations.”
Newbiggin has already made waves in the arts world. In the 1950s, John Braine wrote bestseller Room at the Top while working at the local library.
The sea has always been part of life here and once promised to bring villagers closer to Heaven. In 1352, Bishop of Durham ThomasHatfield granted a 40-day indulgence to anyone who contributed to the repair of the pier. At that time Newbiggin was the country’s third-biggest grain exporter and provided vessels to the King to defend the realm.
Fishing boats numbered 142 in 1869, but just a handful survive today. Newbiggin has the oldest working lifeboat station in the British Isles, dating from 1851. An incident in 1940 in which 60 villagers, mainly women, towed the boat over the moor in a snowstorm found its way into the Jack Higgins novel Storm Warning.
But they’re used to moving mountains here. When their beach was washed away because of mining subsidence, they imported sand from Suffolk a few years ago and made a new one.
Overlooking the sands is the dramatically sited 14th century Church of St Bartholomew, which has the finest medieval gravestones in Northumberland.
Inland, towards Ashington on the coast road, is Woodhorn Church, grade I listed and dating in part from the 11th century. Its future is uncertain as Northumberland County Council is trying to sell it.
Nearby is the Queen Elizabeth Country Park, created from reclaimed colliery land and home to award-winning Woodhorn Museum and Northumberland Archives.
Ashington is famous for two products – coal and footballers. The latter include Jackie Milburn – known to Newcastle United fans as Wor Jackie – Sir Bobby Charlton and his brother Jackie. Other famous sporting sons are cricketers Steve Harmison and his brother Ben, and golfer Kenneth Ferrie.
It used to be known as the largest mining village in the world, growing rapidly from a tiny farming community in the 19th century. Ashington Colliery, which opened in 1867, closed in 1988. Last to go was nearby Ellington, in 2005. Old pit sites are devoted to offices, homes and parks.
A big local employer now is Wansbeck Hospital. For the next generation, schools in Ashington and Newbiggin have joined up in an academy specialising in construction, sponsored by the Church of England and the Duke of Northumberland.
Four miles away, Bedlington has a historic centre surrounded by modern homes. Parts of St Cuthbert’s Church date from the 12th century.
More than a thousand years ago, the town was bought for the monks of the Congregation of St Cuthbert, then at Chester-le-Street in Durham. Bedlingtonshire – including Choppington, Netherton, Sleekburn and Cambois – thus became part of the Palatinate of Durham, ruled by the prince bishops.
Later it was absorbed by County Durham, but at the Reformation the Church land went to the Crown, which sold the shire to a member of the Fenwick family. It did not join Northumberland until an Act of Parliament in 1844.
In the 18th century, important iron works on both sides of the River Blyth made their mark. By the 19th century, they were employing 2,000 and supplying rails, axles and wheels to railway pioneer George Stephenson. The Bedlington Iron Company made the first locomotives for Russia and the Netherlands. The Bedlington terrier has given its name to a spectacularly successful local football team.
To the north of Newbiggin is the coastal village of Lynemouth. The pit is gone but there is an aluminium smelter and its power station.
Druridge Bay and Creswell
Farther north on the southern tip of Druridge Bay is Cresswell, a small village with a seasonal population of caravanners. There is a 12th century pele tower, said to be haunted by the White Lady, daughter of the Cresswell family, who killed herself after her brothers murdered her lover, a Danish prince. She is said to take the form of a white owl flying over the links searching for her lost love.
South of Newbiggin is the port of Blyth, largest town in Northumberland and built on coal. In 1961 Blyth exported more coal than anywhere else in Europe.
Its harbour was begun in 1689 but expanded in the 19th century. Blyth Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company was one of the largest shipbuilding yards in the North East. During the two World Wars, Blyth built many Royal Navy ships, including the first aircraft carrier, HMS Ark Royal, in 1914. The yard closed in 1967. Now the riverside is home to companies at the forefront of renewable energy.
Now the riverside is home to companies at the forefront of renewable energy and has world-class facilities, including a centre for testing turbine blades up to 100m long.
Seaton Sluice takes its name from the ingenious 17th arrangement for scouring silt from the original harbour by damming river and seawater behind a sluice at high tide and releasing it at low tide.
A second harbour was created to cope with trade in coal, salt and bottles from the Delaval family’s Royal Hartley Bottle Works, the largest in the country, which lasted about a century.
Coal exports were ended by the Hester pit disaster of 1862 at nearby Hartley in which 204 men and boys died. They were entombed when a 42-ton beam from the pumping engine snapped and half fell down the shaft.
It took 10 days to recover the bodies and gravediggers worked from dawn on Saturday until after dark on the Sunday night of the burials. The funeral procession was so long that the first horse-drawn hearse reached the church four miles away before the last hearse had left the colliery.
Some 60,000 crowded into the village for the funeral that January day. Seven months later, a law was passed requiring every mine to have two shafts. There is a memorial at Earsdon.Seaton Deleval HallSeaton Delaval Hall is an imposing stately home bought for the National Trust from the Hastings family after a public fundraising campaign. It was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh for Admiral George Delaval, but both died before their masterpiece was completed in 1729.