By Tony Hendersen
May 6, 2018 - A monument to the North East’s powerhouse past has clinched a spot in the top ten most important industrial heritage sites in England.
Dunston Staiths on the Tyne, which are listed and a scheduled monument, is 1,709ft long and thought to be the largest timber structure in Europe.
At its peak in the 1930s, around four million tons of coal a year was being loaded from the staiths on to collier vessels for export to London and abroad.
Dunston was the last working – and is the only surviving – example of the series of coal staiths which once lined the Tyne and is the only substantially complete example in the UK.
Now the staiths have been placed in the Top 10 of the Industry, Trade & Commerce category in Historic England’s campaign Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places.
The category was judged by Tristram Hunt, director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, who said the staiths were “a reminder of Britain as the workshop of the world.”
He said: “It reminds us that the coal and manufactured goods which came out of Britain needed railways, ports and docks to connect to the world.
“Surviving infrastructure like this is a very good example of what today we would call global Britain.”
In the top ten listing, Historic England said: “Staiths were landing stages for shuttling coal from the North East’s rich coalfields on to ships, allowing the region to export its wares and trade globally. Coal was once the lifeblood of industry in England, fuelling industries like steel and heavy engineering. Whole communities were founded around collieries.
“In 1913, the Great North Coalfield employed almost 250,000 men and by the 1920s was producing over 56 million tons of coal every year. Dunston Staiths is still standing as a reminder that the Tyne was one of the most important working rivers in the world.”
The staiths, which opened in 1893 and closed in 1980, were designed by North Eastern Railway engineer Charles A Harrison, who also designed the King Edward bridge across the Tyne.
The structure was refurbished as a promenade and exhibition space for the 1990 Gateshead National Garden Festival. It was then mothballed and suffered damage in arson attacks.
The staiths are now owned by the Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust which, with backing from the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage and Historic England, has so far repaired 40 of the structure’s 98 timber frames so that the restored stretch can be used by the public.
The Friends of Dunston Staiths will be running a monthly market from May-August and the structure will be open from 6pm-11pm on Saturday, May 19 as part of the Late Shows by the Port of Tyne and Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums.
The staiths site is also important as a roost for birds, with the surrounding mudflats and saltmarsh a Site of Nature Conservation Importance as feeding grounds.
“The staiths are incredible, and to be included in the top ten is a reminder that they are of international importance,” said Martin Hulse, manager of Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust.
“It is necessary to actually stand on the staiths to appreciate the scale of its construction and what was achieved.”
The North East also has two locations in the Faith and Belief category top ten in Lindisfarne and the natural spring of Lady’s Well, with its cross and statue, near the village of Holystone in Northumberland.
Dunston Staiths, 1985
Dunston Staiths, 1981
Dunston Staiths, 1976
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