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Local History

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Historical Snippets

Viking age grave from Cambois
In 1859 a burial mound overlying a stone burial cist containing 3 skeletons, an enamelled disc brooch and a bone comb was excavated at Cambois. The skeletons were of a woman aged 45-60 and the other two were males, one in his 20s the other in his 40s. The enamelled brooch dates to about 825-900 AD, the comb to the 10th century AD. The artefacts are now in the British Museum.

Sir Daniel Gooch, 1816 – 1889, Baronet & MP
East Bedlington Iron & Engine WorksSir Daniel Gooch, one of the great engineers from the Victorian period, was born in nearby Bedlington in 1816 (his father worked at the Ironworks). He became Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Chief Locomotive engineer when still only 21 yrs old. He designed and built locomotives, was Queen Victoria’s personal driver whenever she went by train, invented the express train, became Chairman of the Great Western Railway and laid the first transatlantic cables between Britain and America in 1865-66 (for which he was created Baronet). This cable was the equivalent of the internet in today’s terms. He also founded the town of Swindon by deciding that this was the place to build a locomotive works for the GWR.

The Bedlington Terrier
East Bedlington Iron & Engine WorksThe Bedlington Terrier descends from a dog named ‘Old Flint’ born in 1782 which fathered a line known as ‘Rothbury Terriers’. In 1825, a man named Joseph Ainsley in Bedlington bred two Rothbury’s and deemed the result a Bedlington Terrier
Bedlington Terriers were developed to hunt and kill vermin including rats, mice and other predatory animals such as foxes.

It has been described as a dog with the heart of a lion and the appearance of a lamb.

The Penny Black, the first postage stamp in the world
The Penny Black was Issued on 1st May 1840 for use from 6th May onwards. However, there are one or two surviving examples that are franked before the 6th May including one on a letter from London to the Bedlington Ironworks. These stamps are priceless.

Whinham’s Industry
Widely regarded as one of the best, if not the best, dessert gooseberries ever produced. It was developed locally by nurseryman Robert Whinham in the 1830s. Robert Whinham was born in Bedlington.

Cambois Lifeboat Station
Closed in 1922 after 56 years of service with the RNLI

East Bedlington’s Industrial Heritage

Coal mining has played a hugely significant role in the development of south east Northumberland. The nearby town of Ashington is still known as “the biggest pit village in the world” and many of our own parishioners in East Bedlington have either been miners or are related to miners. There were 3 important pits within the parish boundaries, namely Cambois, Bedlington “A” and Bedlington “E” collieries.

East Bedlington Iron & Engine WorksThe first recorded attempt at coal mining in Cambois goes as far back as 1780 with the sinking of the Gatty and Waller pit. But this early venture proved unsuccessful and the pit closed in 1789. Far more successful was Cambois Colliery. Sinking of this pit began in 1862 (the year of Northumberland’s worst ever mining disaster when 204 men and boys were killed in the Hartley pit disaster) and the first coal mined in 1867. At its peak (1959/60) Cambois Colliery employed 1261 mineworkers. Sadly, by the time the pit closed in 1968, at least 110 miners had been killed here.

Bedlington “A” and “E” pits were both sunk by the Bedlington Coal Company, the former in 1838 and the latter in 1859. Bedlington “A” was originally called Sleekburn “A” or “The Auld Pit”. At its peak this colliery produced 320,000 tons of coal a year and employed 980 men. It closed in 1971.

Bedlington “E” (“The Winnin”) was sunk in the village of West Sleekburn. When the pit was nationalised in 1947, 967 miners worked here. It closed in 1962.

As coal mining declined we were fortunate that Welwyn Electrical Laboratories Ltd decided to move to the North East. The firm began life in Welwyn Garden City in 1937 and moved to a purpose built factory in Bedlington Station in 1949. Welwyn Components Ltd (as they are called today) was to become a world leader in the design and manufacture of resistors and microelectronic assemblies. The workforce numbered 2,600 in 1969.

East Bedlington Iron & Engine WorksAnother major employer in the parish was Hughes Bolckow & Co Ltd (1912-82) of Battleship Wharf, Cambois. The company broke up ships of all types and sizes including battleships, submarines, passenger liners, oil tankers, cargo ships, trawlers, tugs, and so on. They also tackled locomotives, other railway stock and even bridges. An interesting sideline was the manufacture of furniture using hardwood purchased from other shipbreakers. This included a range of garden furniture called “Mauretania” using teak from this famous ship.

For further information on our mining heritage visit www.dmm.org.uk. Alternatively, Cambois Colliery is featured in “The Collieries of N’land Vol 2” by James T Tuck (ISBN 1-871518-12-1) and Bedlington “A” Colliery is covered in “The Collieries of N’land Vol 1” by James T Tuck, 1993 (ISBN 1-871518-08-3).

National Union of Ironworkers Banners

National Union of Miners Banners

The Bedlington Iron & Engine Works

"We live by fire and water and iron and God’s favour"

The Bedlington Iron & Engine Works 1736 – 1867, Furnace Bank, Bedlington Station

The Bedlington Iron & Engine Works played a hugely significant part in the Industrial Revolution not only in North East England but on a world wide scale.

East Bedlington Iron & Engine WorksAmongst its achievements, the Ironworks produced boiler plates, axles and wheels for George Stephenson's first locomotive, and then went on to produce about 150 locomotives for both national lines and for export around the world.

However the principal success, which put Bedlington on the world map, was the development and production of cheap malleable iron rails which were used on pioneering long distance railways, such as the Stockton and Darlington Railway (opened in 1825) and Russia’s first railway (1837). So good was this new type of rail that William James, a prominent railway engineer, was to say “Light has at length shone from the North and I pronounce it as my candid opinion that the malleable iron railroad at Bedlington Works is by far the best I have ever seen”.

All this is hard to imagine when you visit the Ironworks site today at Furnace Bridge. Little is left above ground, the most prominent features being the bridge itself, quayside walls on both banks of the River Blyth and an 18th C lime kiln. However, archaeological excavations in 1999 showed that much still remains buried beneath the grass of what is today a Country Park.

From humble beginnings in 1736 the Bedlington Iron & Engine Works were to dominate both sides of the River Blyth, and you have to imagine a sky blackened with smoke from furnaces, the deafening noise coming from forges and the sweat of hundreds of workers some of whom were just 9 years of age.

East Bedlington Iron & Engine WorksThe Works were at their most productive during the first half of the 19th Century under the guidance of men such as Michael Longridge (buried in St Cuthbert’s churchyard, Bedlington) and John Birkenshaw, principal agent at the works.

To appreciate just how important these Works were bear in mind the following:

  • The next time you travel by train to Kings Cross remember that when this station opened in 1852 the very first train to leave was hauled by a loco built at the Bedlington Engine Works
  • The first train to run in Holland was also built at Bedlington Engine Works (a replica of the loco De Arend can be seen in a museum in Utrecht)
  • The first train to run in Italy was built in Bedlington Engine Works( this loco, Bayard, can be seen in Naples railway museum).
  • A locomotive, the John Bull, is on display in the USA’s premier science museum, the Smithsonian Institute. Guess where the boiler and other parts were made. Correct – the Bedlington Iron & Engine Works!
  • After the Works closed in 1867 its last owner, John Dixon, was to achieve even greater things. The next time you’re in London go to the Thames Embankment and have a look at Cleopatra’s Needle. The man responsible for shipping this 3,500 year old monument from Egypt and erecting it by the Thames was none other than John Dixon!

East Bedlington Iron & Engine Works

If you would like to find out more about the Bedlington Iron and Engine Works visit  www.bedlingtonironworks.org.

Alternatively local historian Evan Martin has written a booklet “Bedlington Iron & Engine Works 1736 – 1867”, Northern History booklet No. 52, 1974. ISBN 0 85983 036 5 which is available in local libraries.

Listings in East Bedlington Parish


Current Listing





Windmill farmhouse


18th/19th C


West Staithes, North Blyth


c1910-1923. Only remaining example of coastal coal staithes in the North of England. One of only three Listed coastal staithes in England. Originally 500 metres long. In 1994/95 the upper two decks were demolished and the length truncated to 375metres.


Sleekburn Cottage Farmhouse, Barrington Road, Sleekburn




Farm buildings to NE of Sleekburn Cottage farmhouse





Cambois War Memorial