A short history
of the Port of Tyne
In the second century, the Romans established a port on the river Tyne to trade grain, wood, hides, salt, lead, wool and fish in return for wine, leather, cloth, tiles and metal imported from Northern Europe, Spain and Italy. During this period the river Tyne grew in strategic importance as a supply line to the many forts along Hadrian’s Wall.
In medieval times, trade centred on the export of wool, hides, grindstones and lead, but it was the steady growth in the export of coal from 1600 onwards, together with the heavy duties levied on river users, that gave Newcastle its prosperity and the famous phrase “carrying coals to Newcastle” as coal steadily increased in importance.
In 1635, Newcastle was described as “after Bristol and London, the fairest and richest town in England” and as a crossroads for trade, the bridges over the river Tyne at Newcastle, together with its access to the sea and the emergence of coal ensured the city’s supremacy for over 800 years. The City of Newcastle maintained its effective monopoly on the coal trade right up until the mid-nineteenth century.
The growth in trade and industry, fuelled by the Industrial Revolution and an expanding railway network, marked a growing need for improvements to the river. Over the centuries, the river had been so badly maintained there were 800 acres of sandbanks between the sea and the city with places in the channel being slightly over 2 ft deep at low water by the mid-nineteenth century. Such were the protests and demands for change that on 15th July 1850, the Tyne Improvement Act received Royal Assent, passing the stewardship of the river away from the City of Newcastle upon Tyne to the newly created Tyne Improvement Commission.
Tyne Improvement Commission
The Tyne Improvement Commission was made up of two life commissioners; fifteen representatives from the corporations of Newcastle, South Shields, Tynemouth, Gateshead and Jarrow; and fifteen representatives from ship owners, mine owners and traders.
In 1854, the commissioners started a programme of development and improvement that continued well into the twentieth century and laid the foundations for what was to become the modern-day Port of Tyne.
Within 70 years, the river Tyne was deepened from 1.83 metres to 9.14 metres and over 150 million tonnes dredged from it. The North and South Piers were built together with the Northumberland, Tyne and Albert Edward Docks and the staithes at Whitehill Point and Dunston. The results of these developments could be seen in 23 million tonnes of cargoe being handled by the Port by 1910.
On 31st July 1968 the Tyne Improvement Commission was dissolved and replaced with the Port of Tyne Authority, constituted on 28th June, and one of the UK’s largest trust ports.
The Port of Tyne today
Traditionally, the Port of Tyne was famous for its coal exports but the radical changes in the UK’s mining industry during the 1990s created an urgent need to diversify to remain viable. Today, the results of a decade of redevelopment and £120 million of reinvestment has culminated in being named Port Operator of the Year in the Lloyd’s List London Awards 2008 and UK's Best Port of Call in 2011 by Cruise Critic. The Port’s five commercial business areas – bulk & conventional cargo, car terminals, cruise & ferries, logistics, and estates - its three rail terminals, its modern international cruise and passenger terminal building and its growing cruise business; all add value to the north east region.
Now very much a case of “carrying coals to Newcastle” the Port’s bulk and conventional cargo business also handles grain, scrap, steel, forest products and other cargoes. The volume of imported coal, increasing dramatically from zero in 2003 to 4.9 million tonnes in 2013, has earned the Port its place as the UK’s second largest coal importer.
Port of Tyne Logistics offers customers an integrated package of container handling, warehousing and distribution, with many customers already experiencing the advantages of feedering into the Tyne rather than bringing their goods through Felixstowe or Southampton and trucking them all the way up country. Not only does it help reduce the carbon footprint, it also offers customers cost efficiencies.
The Port of Tyne’s two car terminals were developed by the port to support manufacturing giants Nissan and VW, and its Estates business manages a growing portfolio of commercial properties and land holdings.
The Port of Tyne has no shareholders or owners and is governed by an independent board of four executive directors, and six non-executive directors who are appointed by the Secretary of State for Transport. The port receives no government funding, is run on a commercial basis and operates for the benefit of its stakeholders who are customers, suppliers, employees, river users and the local community – all reflecting its trust port status.
Today, North East England’s major deep river port, the Port of Tyne, is 613 acres of dynamism, five business areas, a strong commitment to the community and a mission to provide a vibrant and sustainable Port of Tyne well into the next century.