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The tide of history carries us.

There has been a port on the Tyne for almost 2,000 years when grain and forest products were first traded with Scandinavia and the Baltic.

During the Roman era, the River Tyne was strategic as a supply line to the many forts along the Wall guarding its northern frontier. Trade in later medieval times centred on the export of wool, hides, grindstones and lead with coal steadily increasing in importance from 1600 onwards.

The upsurge in trade and industry fuelled by the Industrial Revolution and an expanding railway network marked a growing need for improvements to the river and after much pressure from river users, the River Tyne Improvement Act was passed by Parliament in 1850.

The Act effectively ended Newcastle's ancient monopoly and provided for a sharing of responsibilities for the river between Newcastle, Gateshead, Tynemouth, South Shields and the Admiralty.

A board of 18 Commissioners was set up including shipyard owners, coal merchants and traders as well as representatives from the local councils.

The new River Tyne Commissioners immediately set about securing Parliamentary powers to build the two great masonry piers at the entrance to the river, alleviating the mariners' dread of the Black Middens rocks and the Herd Sand.

The numerous shoals and sandbanks between Shields and Newcastle had to be dredged out, deepening, straightening and widening the channel for the rapidly increasing number and size of ships.

Two islands were also removed ( Little Annie Island, near Elswick and the larger Kingsmeadow island, between what is now Newcastle Business Park and Vickers at Scotswood. This second island even had a pub on it, The Countess of Coventry, which was frequented by workers on the Tyne. As a result Sir William Armstrong was able to develop the shipyards at Elswick and Scotswood.

As a result, a number of many docks, quays and shipyards were established. The river at Newcastle was similarly improved after 1876 when the old masonry bridge was removed and replaced with the Swing Bridge. This enabled easier access to the sea.

To provide more space to handle the increased traffic, Tyne Dock was created in 1859 and Northumberland Dock in 1867.

By 1872, work commenced on what was to become Albert Edward Dock within a large natural hollow on the north bank of the river downstream of Northumberland Dock called Coble Dene. Most of the 5m tons of material excavated was removed by dredgers and dumped at sea.

The official opening of the new dock in 1884 was a rather grand affair, with the principal guest being Albert Edward Prince of Wales, who had already officiated at the opening of Jesmond Dene as a public park, the Hancock Natural History Museum and the new Public Library in Newcastle.

Rumour has it that the Prince commented: "lovely entrance, where's the dock?" which suggests that Champagne was freely flowing on the passage from Newcastle Quay. By the middle of the 19th Century the growth in shipbuilding, engineering and coal exports from the river was enormous. In 1855 work commenced on the North and South Piers, a monumental task for Victorian engineers.

There were many set-backs during the construction period, due largely to the severity of north-easterly gales, which tore several cranes from their mountings and into the sea.

As a result, the North Pier was not completed until 1909 ( 54 years after work started ( at a total cost of pounds 1,018,000.

In 1928, the deep water Tyne Commission Quay replaced the outmoded passenger facility within Albert Edward Dock, greatly improving ship turnaround times and improving cargo handling facilities, with a rail link direct to the main line station at Newcastle.

The Tyne has a long and distinguished tradition of handling coal. Until 2004, the focus has been on exporting coal and at its peak in the mid 1800's 23.6m tonnes was exported in one year.

In 1936 coal was still the major commodity in the region and so a new timber shipping staith with overhead conveyors was opened and by 1953, an iron-ore import handling plant was completed and operational.

Even as late as 1995 about 3.5m tonnes was being shipped from the Tyne to the Thames's power stations of Kingsnorth and Tilbury.

Coal exports ceased from the River in 1998 following the demise of the North-East deep mining industry and the coal loading equipment was subsequently sold to the Lyttleton Port Company, New Zealand, in 2002.

Since the early 1950s, river-associated commercial activity has gradually moved down river for economic reasons, namely the deeper water, closeness to the sea and the prohibitive cost of dredging.

Activity within the shipyards, such as Swan Hunter, Brighams, Vickers and Palmers, reached its peak in the 1950s and in the early 1960s oil imports started coming in.

Esso opened its terminal on the North side in 1960 while Shell soon followed suit on the Jarrow side.

Associated manufacturing companies sprung up such as William Press, which made oil rig modules, and Charlton Leslie offshore, both of which were later acquired by Amec.

By 1974, with the exception of the quay, which was re-named Riverside Quay and now handles general cargo, all would be swept away in the gradual transformation of the dock facilities from rail to road transport.

A new road complex and large modern transit sheds to accommodate mechanical cargo handling methods including containerisation all featured prominently in the modernisation.

The river is also far cleaner than it was in the 60s and 70s. Northumbrian Water and the Environment Agency, who are responsible for the water quality, acquired land at Howdon in the 70s to build an installation and interceptor sewers that would ensure a cleaner Tyne.

The cranes and warehouses which once lined both sides of the river at Newcastle and Gateshead have been swept away, with promenades, lively bars and restaurants taking their place, earning Newcastle a national reputation for leisure and lively nightlife and bringing new life to an area slowly falling derelict. The Port sold off part of the dock estate in 1990 which was redeveloped as the Royal Quays and Marina.

New traffics and new facilities have now been developed, the most notable development being the creation of the Tyne Car Terminal for Nissan in 1994.

Substantial investment has been made by the Authority over the years, culminating in 1999 with the extension and refurbishment of the terminal at a cost of just under pounds 2m.

The construction of a new pontoon and linkspan bridge for Ro-Ro Berth 3 at pounds 2.2m has doubled the capacity of the berth, enabling it to accommodate the next generation of passenger vessels.

With the traumatic departure of coal, the port authority has spent pounds 1.2m converting the former grain loading conveyor and the coal terminal site into a new multi-purpose bulk terminal.

And now, with the addition of a new pounds 1.3m rail terminal and the purchase of a road logistics company, the authority is now able to offer a complete intermodal capability at Tyne Dock, connecting sea, rail and road.

The Port of Tyne has invested around pounds 80m over the last 10 years, with a further pounds 22m being ploughed into expansion and refurbishment projects.

The authority is committed to the region, its employees and its users and will continue to strive forwards in the competitive environment in which it operates.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Dec 8, 2006
Words:1224
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