The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

North England

Category: Land + People

North England is situated between Lancashire and Yorkshire in the south and Scotland in the north. However, within this economic region we may distinguish two main centres of industrial activity: one situated in the north-east around the estuaries of the rivers Tyne, Wear and Tees and the other in the north-west in Cumberland (Workington, Whitehaven, Barrow-in-Furness). Most important is the North-East, which includes Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Sunderland and Teesside(the latter merging together 6 towns, including Middlesbrough).

For centuries the North-East depended for its prosperity on the Northumberland and Durham coalfield and the industries associated with it. During the twentieth century this coalfield — in common with most British coalfields — has faced serious economic problems, many of which have yet to be overcome. Basic industries, such as coal mining, steel making and shipbuilding have contracted, and new industries have not emerged to replace them. As a result, the industrial structure of the area is weak, unemployment is high and population growth very slow — a far cry from the situation in the South.

One hundred years ago Northumberland and Durham was the leading coalmining district in Britain, with a production of more than forty million tonnes a year. Today the number of pits has contracted considerably and output is less than one third of this figure.

The iron industry also grew up at an early date in the North-East because all of the basic raw materials were available locally.

The collapse of the coalfield industry came with the gradual exhaustion of the Cleveland ores towards the end of the nineteenth century. It then became necessary to import large quantities of ore and this favoured sites near the coast, such as those on Teesside.

Among the major traditional industries of the North-East, shipbuilding alone was a finishing industry, i.e. an industry which produced finished goods rather than materials for other industries.

Tyneside was so dependent on shipbuilding, ship repairing, marine engineering and associated industries that the district suffered considerably during the world economic crisis of the 1930s.

In the 1950s there was some revival in shipbuilding, but another decline followed in the 1970s. New industries have been attracted to the area, especially around the Tyne and the Wear. They included electrical engineering and engineering associated with construction work for the production of North Sea oil.

Decline in the two basic industries, coal mining and shipbuilding, led to a shrinkage in the population of Newcastle. Yet the city with a population of over 200,000 is still the principal centre of the North-East.

To the south of the Tyne estuary is Sunderland (196,000), standing at the mouth of the river Wear. As a seaport and as an industrial town its development has been similar to that of Newcastle.

Teesside, which includes six towns, (382,000) is an industrial area where the decline in the traditional industries has been less marked than in the rest of the North-East. This area recently formed the new county of Cleveland, therefore it may be also called the Cleveland area. It is one of the leading iron and steel manufacturing areas in Britain. Middlesbrough (149,000), the chief town, was merely a small village at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Iron works, later steel works, were established at Middlesbrough. Shipbuilding also developed. In the 1960s the production of local ore closed altogether, but imported supplies were easily obtained through the port. Shipbuilding has virtually disappeared today but the other early industry — iron and steel has actually expanded, benefiting from the continued availability of good quality local coking coal and from a coastal location, which allows iron ore to be imported cheaply, particularly from Sweden. As a result Teesside produces nearly three million tonnes of steel a year.

Furthermore, the chemical industry which grew up during the nineteenth century, making use of local salt deposits, has also expanded rapidly.

Hartlepool, just north of Teesside has seen similar industrial changes. Shipbuilding has disappeared, and engineering is now the main industry. Coal exports have also ended, but imports of timber and wood pulp have much increased. As seaports, Teesside and Hartlepool together rank high in the country in tonnage handled, largely due to oil and iron ore imports.

Unfortunately the benefits of new industrial developments to the region are less than may first appear. Unemployment remains high and people continue to move out of the North-East to the South or the Midlands. In short, the problem of the ‘Two Nations’ remains.

Industrial development in the North-West is less extensive than in the NorthEast. It is mainly concentrated in the Whitehaven — Workington area and in the Furness district around Barrow. The occurrence of coal and iron ore near Whitehaven and Workington gave rise to an important iron and steel industry, as well as to engineering. Whitehaven has a chemical industry.

The iron and steel industry also developed at Barrow-in-Furness (75,000), partly because of the availability of coking coal, but also on account of the presence nearby of iron ore. At Barrow-in-Furness shipbuilding developed from iron and steel production. Formerly Barrow built both naval and merchant ships (including oil tankers), but in recent times has specialized in submarines for the Royal Navy; engineering is an important associated industry.

Abundance of water, due to the heavy rainfall, is one of the chief natural resources of the region. This was an important factor in building a nuclear power station, which requires plenty of water for cooling. Moreover, the remoteness of the region was another contributing factor. At Calder Hall, near the Cumbrian coast the first nuclear power station was built in Britain in 1956, which supplied necessary electricity for the industry of the region.

Agriculture in the North-West is strictly affected by environmental factors, i.e. the relief and climate. The Lake District has the highest mountains in England. Rainfall is heavy. The village of Seathwaite is said to be ‘the wettest place in England’ with a mean annual rainfall of 3,300 mm. It stands at the western foot of the mountain called the Old Man of Goniston. The region is sparsely populated, and sheep rearing is the main occupation of the farmers.

Arable farming is more or less limited to valley bottoms.

Most of the people of the North-East live in the main industrial areas, around the estuaries of the Tyne, Wear and Tees, whereas Northumberland and Durham are mainly rural counties and are sparsely populated. The farms here are noted for both their sheep and their cattle. On this side of the Pennines the farmers raise far more beef cattle than dairy cattle, and also bring in Irish cattle for fattening on their farms. This is in contrast to the farmers on the west side of the Pennines, where dairying predominates.

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