Last Updated:

4 Jun 2020

Dunston Staiths

Dunston, Gateshead

54.957628, -1.636064

This is a

Staith

Founded in 

1893

Current status is

Extant, partially burnt down

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Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade II Listed

'Dunston is particularly known for wooden coal staiths, first opened in 1893 as a structure for loading coal from the North Durham coalfield onto ships. In the 1920s, 140,000 tons of coal per week were loaded from the staiths, and they continued to be used until the 1970s. They were also a shipping point for coke produced at the nearby Norwood Coke Works, as well as pencil pitch manufactured at the Thomas Ness Tar Works using by-products from the Norwood plant and the Redheugh Gasworks. Throughout their working life, motive power for shunting wagons on the staiths and in their extensive sidings known as the Norwood Coal Yard came in the form of locomotives from Gateshead MPD. The staiths' output gradually declined with the contraction of the coal industry, and they were finally closed and partially dismantled in 1980. Now redundant, the railway lines leading to the staiths were lifted, finally allowing the demolition of several low bridges that had become a nuisance to bus operators by limiting the routes available to double-deckers in the area. For many years, the men who worked on the staiths, known as teemers (the men who released the coal from the wagons and operated the loading chutes and conveyors) and trimmers (who had the dangerous job of ensuring the stability of the colliers by levelling the load in their holds as they were filled), had their own room in the nearby Dunston Excelsior Club. For anyone not employed in the club or on the staiths, access to the room was strictly by invite only, and the staithesmen held a reputation for unceremoniously ejecting anyone who fell foul of this rule.

The staiths was restored and opened to the public as part of the Gateshead Garden Festival in 1990, following similar events in Liverpool (1984), Stoke-on-Trent (1986) and Glasgow (1988). The Garden Festival was divided into five zones, Norwood, Eslington, The Boulevard, Dunston and Riverside. It was spread over a large area of Dunston and the lower Team Valley, formerly occupied by heavy industries. Though other parts of the Garden Festival site, such as Dunston, (the site of the Norwood Coal Yard), Eslington, (the site of the tar works), and Norwood, (the site of the coke ovens) in the Team Valley, gained an immediate spur for regeneration, The Boulevard was left as a green space. Riverside, which was centred around the staiths and the site of the former gasworks, was derelict and inaccessible for the remainder of the 1990s, although parts of the site have now been developed into new housing.

Today, the staiths are reputed to be the largest wooden structure in Europe, and are protected as a Listed Building and a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

In 2002, work began on a development of riverside apartments and houses designed by Wayne Hemingway. Known as Staiths South Bank, this development celebrates the area's heritage as well as improving the setting for the historic structure. In the early hours of 20 November 2003, a section of the staiths was destroyed by fire. As a result, access onto the Staiths themselves is not possible, but the structure can be viewed from the new riverside walkway, constructed as part of the Staiths South Bank development. In 2005 Gateshead Council commissioned a study into possible options for the Staiths' restoration.'

- Retrieved from Co-curate

Above is the earliest edition of the Ordnance Survey, showing the riverside at Dunston pre-staiths. A railway followed the riverside from the original Redheugh station at Gateshead to Carlisle. The path can still be walked.

Another feature of interest is Kings Meadow, an island once in the middle of the Tyne but since dredged by the authorities to make the Tyne more navigable. A pub, named the Countess of Coventry, can be seen on the island.

Further above is the second edition turn of the century. The staiths are brand new, being a year old when the map was illustrated. The area has grown dramatically, concurring with the industrial revolution along the Tyne.

In 1921, the staiths continue to serve the Durham coalfields as their principle exporting stage. The actual tracks are now detailed with 4 tracks traversing the staithes to accomodate for multiple ships at a time.

The Redheugh Ferry is still operating due to the lack of a bridge unless you go further east. There is also a ferry to the west of Dunston to the Elswick works.

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Tinted image of the staiths, undated. There are multiple steamships being loaded with coal. It is hard to tell which building is in the background depending on the era, but it may be Dunston Engine Works.

Retrieved from Co-Curate

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Aerial image of Dunston, 1939. The branch to Tanfield can be seen against the gas holders, as well as the gas works closer to the staith.

Retrieved from Newcastle Libraries

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A more recent photograph of the staiths from 1976. Gateshead can be seen in all its 70s glory, with its contemporary housing blocks and redeveloped estates.

The staiths were on their last legs at this point, with the Durham collieries sadly dwindling.

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