If, like me, you love seeing the North-East depicted in old movies, then you’ll know all about the classic British gangster flick, Get Carter. A marvellous 1971 effort – if for no other reason than to see so much of the region as it was forty years ago – the closing scenes are famously acted out on Blackhall Beach, just north of Hartlepool.
However, the scene immediately preceding the ‘beach chase’ between Michael Caine and Ian Hendry (where the two are seen scrambling over giant coal staithes, before progressing to the beach) was actually filmed thirty miles north, at what used to be North Blyth Staithes. Nowadays, there ain’t much to see on the seafront at the Blyth estuary – and it is really quite peaceful; but at one time it was a hive of activity. As recently as the early 1960s, it was Europe’s busiest port for shipping coal, with five sets of staithes and numerous other loading points. But the subsequent decline of the coal industry led to to the staithes being left as idle skeletons for many years, until the North Blyth set – originally built during 1910-23 – were severely truncated in the 1990s.
Nowadays, Blyth makes a decent living, ironically, from importing goods. This amounts mainly to material for the nearby Alcan works – namely, alumina and, believe it or not, coal.
For some absolutely splendid ‘then & now’ shots of the North Blyth Staithes (and dozens of other scenes from the famous film) see the Get Carter Tour website. Look for the ‘Locations Tour’, and then the ‘Staithes’ links. Super stuff.