Tyne & Wear

Gateshead's Dunston Staithes could be opened to public

The restoration of the Grade II-listed timber structure on the River Tyne is due to begin in April. Dunston Staithes received a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of almost £420,000 in December. It is also hoped that it will be open to the public for the first time.

Image copyright Tom Yellowley

The timber pier-like structure was constructed in 1890 by the North Eastern Railway Company and was used to carry coal onto ships for transport to London and the continent.

Coal from mines around the North East was transported to the staithes by rail, placed onto ships and transported to London and other ports.

In one year alone 5.5m tonnes of coal was shipped from Gateshead.

Image copyright Tom Yellowley

The staithes was closed in 1980 and abandoned with the demise of the coal industry and has since fallen victim to vandalism and two fires.

An "intense" blaze broke out on the 1,700-feet-long Gateshead landmark in the early hours on Thursday, 20 November, 2003. At the height of the fire, 17 appliances and 67 firefighters, some wearing life jackets, were at the scene along with the fire boat.

Image copyright Tom Yellowley

Martin Hulse, from Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust, has been campaigning for the money to restore the staithes for about 10 years.

He said: "When the phone call came through, I was numb, there was weeks of nervous energy just built up.

"For me the staithes is one of the icons of Gateshead and sits alongside the Angel, Millennium Bridge and Sage. Importantly it is the one that reminds us where the region came from, its history and underlines the importance of coal, railways and the River Tyne itself."

Image copyright Tom Yellowley

"We want to get people on top," said Mr Hulse, who said he was hoping to make that possible by mid-2015.

He continued: "We're going to bring purpose and use back to the structure, I have crazy ideas, you could hold markets on it, you could install big solar panels on it and make money but we are open to ideas."

The project will also focus on; reconnection of the staithes with the surrounding salt marsh and wider natural heritage, interpretation of the site's rich history, telling the story of the staithes fully for the first time and enhanced safety features to promote public access.

Image copyright Tom Yellowley

It is hoped artwork created by local students will feature as part of the restoration which will be open to view during the summer of 2015.

See the full story and more archive footage on BBC One's Inside Out in the North East on Monday 10 February at 19:30 GMT.

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