The history of Bedlington Iron & Engine Works is a complex, detailed – if surprisingly short – one. However, it played an absolutely crucial role in the development of the railways. Sited on the tidal limit of the River Blyth, either side of Furnace Bridge, they were at the very forefront of the Industrial Revolution here in the North-East.
Ironworking probably began in this little rural corner of the region in the 1730s. Its progress was somewhat chequered, however, and it was not until Biddulph, Gordon and Co. took over the enterprise in the early nineteenth century that things really began to take off. The company ran the site for fifty years as the ‘Bedlington Iron & Engine Works’, exploiting the existent facilities to maximum effect with the dawning of the age of steam.
It was the invention (and patenting) of cleverly-designed malleable rails for the railways in 1820 at Bedlington by John Birkenshaw which brought the works into the limelight. This development – and the process by which they could be manufactured cheaply and in high quantities – enabled the laying of long lengths of rail, and greatly facilitated the birth and expansion of the new industry in the 1830s and 40s.
In the 1850s, rail production and forgings were at their peak as the Crimean War effort was in full swing. Additionally, between 1837 and 1852, around 150 steam engines were manufactured – including many for George Stephenson. However, it wasn’t to last. Competition from the likes of Middlesbrough forced the works out of the market in 1867, remnants of the site falling into gradual decay until the plot was cleared in 1959. Virtually nothing of this important piece of North-East history remains visible today.
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