Blyth is best known as an industrial port in south-east Northumberland. It lies on the south bank of the River Blyth and the range of finds made here extend its history back thousands of years.
The oldest find in the area is an antler hammer, a rare find of organic material. It dates to the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age period.
Mysterious Bronze Age rituals are thought to have involved watery areas, such as rivers and lakes. At Blyth this seems to have been taken to a darker stage, as there have been finds of metalwork as well as human skulls in the river. The places where these early people lived have not yet been discovered in this area. More mundane finds have been made at South Beach and Newsham where a bronze axe and a dagger have been found respectively.
There are many cropmarks in the surrounding areas that are thought to be Iron Age. It is likely that there were some in the Blyth area, but the level of development that has taken place means that all trace of them may have been obscured.
Apart from a coin found in the 19th century when a dry dock was being built, and three coins found when an air raid shelter was being built in the Second World War, there is no confirmed Roman presence in the area. However, there is much speculation about the existence of a Roman camp on Freehold Street, as well as a mosaic near Bath Terrace. The camp is also claimed to be Viking or an English Civil War feature.
Although there are no traces of the medieval harbour at Blyth it is recorded in historic documents, together with references to fishing and salt pans. For example Brinkburn Priory was given a salt pan at Aynewick, although its exact site is unknown. Other medieval villages may have stood at Cowpen and Newsham.
The post-medieval period saw the major development of Blyth. Much was centred on coalmining and, although mining originated here in the medieval times at Cowpen for example, the number of mines and quantities of coal dealt with expanded rapidly after the English Civil War. Such collieries may originally have been built in small villages, but the need for worker's accommodation and supplies meant an enormous expansion in the area. Typical of this was Newsham Colliery with pit cottage terraces, brickfield and links by a railway. Blyth Harbour developed as a place where ships could anchor and be loaded with coal brought by waggonway or railways for export to London or the Continent. Initially such waggonways came direct from the individual collieries, such as Cowpen, but later ones linked into railway networks leading to the Tyne or Blyth river-mouths ' such as the Blyth and Tyne railway. Coal staithes allowed the dropping of coal directly into the ships. Safety for ships entering the river saw lighthouses built and an early survival is the High Light built in stages as further buildings obscured the advantage.
Other industries also flourished in Blyth, although usually on a smaller scale than the coal industry. The salt industry continued in quantity till the 18th century, although nothing remains of it today, a harpoon shop made equipment for the Greenland whaling industry and a chemical alkali works once operated here.
The town of Blyth grew as a result of its economic rise. There are many fine buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries. A historic core of houses stands on Bath Terrace, for example Nos 5-10 Bath Terrace. The diverse background of the miners and their families led to the building of many churches and chapels, including Blyth United Reform Church, the Church of St Cuthbert and the Church of Our Lady and Wilfrid, the latter eventually becoming the parish church. Other structures fulfilled specific roles of entertainment at the (Wallaw Cinema N12100}, and legal office at the Police Station and Harbour Commissioner's Offices.
Defences were a vital part of Blyth from the 19th century. Blyth Coastal Defence Battery was built in the late 19th century to protect the port against large battleships. It was adapted in World War I (1914-18) and renamed Fort Coulson. The complex had gun emplacements as well as a Defence Electric Light director station. The increased threat from the air in World War II (1939-45) led to the building of Gloucester Battery.
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