Our first encounter is with a remarkable man who was a merchant, soldier, playwright, opera impresario, landscape architect and possible spy. Sir John Vanbrugh was also a rather good architect. In 1714 he built the original Morpeth Town Hall and between 1718–29 he built Seaton Delaval Hall. It has been described as ‘architecture for the storm and driving cloud, for sombre ships and battering sea’. Both Vanbrugh and his client, Admiral Delaval, were dead before the Hall was completed. Unfortunately, fires in 1752 and 1822 destroyed most of the interior. The park and garden associated with the Hall are of outstanding interest and contain a mausoleum, orangery, ice house and an 18-metre high obelisk marking the point of Admiral Delaval’s fatal fall from his horse in 1823. The long tree-lined avenue from Seaton Delaval makes an impressive approach to the Hall but it’s such a pity that Vanbrugh’s stone arch at the town end of the Avenue has been demolished.
A Brief History of Blyth
The earliest record of coal mining in the town is in Cowpen in 1315, the pit belonged to the Convent in Tynemouth. In 1690, the Blyth Coal Company was formed, bringing with it the famous Plessey Waggonway. By the eighteenth century, the Ridley family dominated the coal trade, owning all the Plessey Collieries and Blyth’s only shipping Quay. Ship-building in the town can be traced back to the mid eighteenth century. The Blyth Shipyard (around where the Euroseas Dry Docks now stand) specialised in transport, particularly colliers, diversifying in the early nineteenth century to turn out convict ships. During the First World War, Blyth built the first ever aircraft carrier, the “Ark Royal”. 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 extends its history back thousands of years. Archaeologists in the area have discovered various materials dating back to the Bronze Age, Iron Age and in the nineteenth century when the Roman coin was found when the dry dock was being built. There is much speculation about the existence of a Roman camp together with older encampments from the Vikings and later in the English Civil War. Although there are no traces of the Medieval Harbour at Blyth, it is recorded in historic documents, together with references to fishing in salt pans. Medieval villages also stood at Cowpen and Newsham. The town of Blyth grew as a result of its economic rise. There are many fine buildings from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. An historic core of houses stands on Bath Terrace, the diverse background of the miners and their families led to the building of many Churches and Chapels, including Blyth United Reformed Church, 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 Cinema, and legal office at the Police Station and Harbour Commissioner’s Offices.
Blyth Valley’s other important houses are Holywell Manor House of 1854 for Sir Ralph Bates; the 17thcentury Plessey Hall; the 18th-century Cramlington Hall; and Arcot Hall. The latter was built for George Shum-Storey, an Indian adventurer who was present at the siege of Arcot, near Madras. It dates from the late 18th century and is now used as a golf club.
East Hartford Farmhouse
The little-known East Hartford Farmhouse is an unusual Northumberland example from the Jacobean period. Lookout Farm, opposite Seaton Delaval Hall, shows the influence of Vanbrugh in its steep-stepped gables and blocked semi-circular windows. Its farm buildings have recently been converted to house people rather than animals. By the mid-19th century model farm buildings were becoming popular on the large estates. Good examples are those off the north side of the A192 at West Hartford – a barn, horse engine house and cart sheds built around a south-facing yard. Dated 1861, with initials ‘MWR’ (Matthew White Ridley), they were built for the Blagdon Estate. Windmills and watermills were once a common part of the rural scene. Near the Plessey Checks Roundabout are the ruins of a windmill tower of 1749, standing only a short distance from Plessey Mill, an 18thcentury watermill. Neither mill retains any original machinery.
It’s impossible to travel far without the aid of bridges. Hartford Bridge over the River Blyth has medieval origins and was partially rebuilt in 1904.The railways are represented by the fine five-arch viaduct in Plessey Woods. Two stone bridges over the Seaton Burn are also listed: a 17th-century bridge west of the A192 road bridge and an 18th-century bridge at New Hartley West Farm. From here we can follow the Seaton Burn to the coast and harbour at Seaton Sluice.
In the 1760s the harbour was improved by driving an artificial cut through the surface rock to provide safer access and a wet dock. It closed in the 1870s but there are several interesting associated remains, including the Octagon, formerly the Harbour Master’s Office, a sluice gate and a cast iron turntable mechanism used in the monitoring of ships through the cut. The last coal shipment left the port in 1861. Surprisingly, few remnants of the area’s mining history have been Listed, the one example being a former mine owner’s house on the north side of Double Row which was later used as the National Coal Board’s pay office.
Harbour Commissioners’ Office and Police Station
In Blyth, Bridge Street contains two of the town’s finest buildings. The Harbour Commissioners’ Offices of 1913 is built on a curving corner site. Inside, it contains a panelled boardroom with ornate painted Dutch glazed tiles taken from the SS Walmer Castle which was broken up in Blyth in 1932. Over the road is the Police Station of 1896 in the Italianate Gothic style; architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner considered it to be the best building in the town. Nearby, in Bath Terrace, can be found an impressive group of early 19th-century brick houses.
Blyth Links Wartime History
The buildings associated with a defence electric light station used to pinpoint German battleships. Further south is the remains of a First World War coastal defence fort within the grounds of Fort House, now used by the local authority as a base for the Coastal Warden. Nearly all these buildings are constructed in concrete, the most unusual of which is a pillbox incorporating a lavatory which is said to be unique in the north of England. Those lost during the Wars are remembered at the Listed war memorials at Miners Welfare Park Cramlington, Cowpen and Blyth Ridley park.
Imaginatively named after its proprietor Walter Lawson. It opened in 1937 and is regarded as a rare example of a streamlined modern (Art Deco) cinema; it has a rich collection of original internal features and fixtures surviving intact. In 2011 J. D. Weatherspoon’s Inns submitted a planning application to use the list building as a public house venue.