Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Dunston Staiths: coal survivor on the River Tyne

Dunston Staiths: coal survivor on the River Tyne
12 Jun
2020
For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint Rory Walsh visits a unique industrial landmark

Imagine a short walk on a long pier. Most of us will probably recall trips to the seaside. Few will think of something inland on the Gateshead banks of the River Tyne. The Dunston Staiths opened in 1893 to transport local coal around the world. The name ‘Staith’ comes from the Norse for ‘jetty’. By the 1920s there were thirty coal staiths on the river. Today the Dunston Staiths are the last.

Stay connected with the Geographical newsletter!
signup buttonSince its inception in 1935, Geographical has reported on many thousands of global issues, allowing readers to look past the boundaries and borders of our world and take a broader perspective. In these turbulent times, we’re still committed to telling expansive stories from across the globe, highlighting the everyday lives of normal but extraordinary people. Stay informed and engaged with Geographical.

Get Geographical’s latest news delivered straight to your inbox every Friday!

Walking upriver from the Tyne Bridge, the first glimpse is a brown shimmer on the horizon. Continue and the Staiths emerge, ribbed and spiky, like a lurking sea dragon. Snaking through the water for 526 metres, the Dunston Staiths are thought to be the largest wooden structure in Europe. 

Up close they are even more impressive. Above a forest of posts and beams, the top decks carried railway lines where wagons emptied coal into waiting boats below. The Tyne’s course into the North Sea was an ideal trade route. At their busiest, the Dunston Staiths sent 140,000 tonnes of coal per week to London, Scotland and Scandinavia.

The coal industry declined following the Second World War and the Dunston Staiths closed in 1980. Ten years later they opened to the public for the Gateshead Garden Festival. Despite being Grade II Listed, and a Scheduled Monument, the Staiths were abandoned for almost 25 years. Then, in 2014, the Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust bought and began to restore them. 

In the same year, local resident Suzanne Hutton opened the Staiths Café next to the structure. ‘The Staiths are part of our industrial heritage but they are beautiful as well,’ she says. ‘They look so different at different times of day, and the sunsets are amazing.’ Restoration work is ongoing but the Staiths now host various events, including a summer food market. The site is also a venue in The Late Shows local arts festival.

Among others, Hutton has met walking groups, photographers and architects. But people aren’t the only new visitors. The Staiths have become an important wildlife habitat. As the Tyne is no longer dredged, mudflats and saltmarsh have formed around the structure. Birds including lapwings, redshank and golden plovers roost on the Staiths and feed off the mud. 

The Staiths are closed from October to March to protect breeding and migrating species. Rare saltwater plants flourish on the riverbanks. ‘There are otters here and we’ve recently seen seals,’ says Hutton. From shipping ‘black gold’ to shaping green space, the Dunston Staiths are a remarkable survivor.

Get Geographical delivered to your door!
signup buttonAs we brace ourselves on our personal islands, it can be hard to picture the processes of the planet continuing to whir. Marooned in our homes, it’s vital that we stay positive, motivated and informed. Geographical is committed to helping you explore the world from the comfort of your sofa. Get the world delivered to your door, with Geographical.

Subscribe today to Geographical’s monthly print and digital magazine and save 30% off the cover price! 

Related items

Julysub 2020

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

geo line break v3

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in UK...

Discovering Britain

For July's Discovering Britain viewpoint Rory Walsh hears about a…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain, Rory Walsh visits several places…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint Rory Walsh visits a…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain Trail, Rory Walsh explores a…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint, Rory Walsh explores birdlife…

UK

Ian Boyd, once a member of the Science Advisory Group for…

Discovering Britain

We’re all keeping ourselves to ourselves for now, but not…

UK

According to the World Conservation Union, Britain’s national parks ‘only…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint Rory Walsh looks below…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain, Rory Walsh explores London’s weird…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint, Rory Walsh visits the…

UK

The story of Margate is one of early success, severe…

UK

In a bid to boost its green credentials and make…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain trail, Rory Walsh follows fictional…

UK

Badger culling is on the rise again this year, with…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint, Rory Walsh visits a…

UK

Growing tea in the UK could have a number of…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain trail, Rory Walsh visits a…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint, Rory Walsh visits the…

UK

Leading conservation organisations are calling on the UK government to…