Morpeth and District Civic Society
BEDLINGTON may seem a fairly unimportant place, but Barry Mead, historian and archaeologist, showed our members that it is world famous.
Dating from Saxon times, with a church dedicated to St Cuthbert who rested in the town in 1069, Bedlington was part of the County Palatine of Durham, from when the land was owned by Cutheard, Bishop of Durham in the 10th century.
Yet it was mainly its industrial heritage which earned it worldwide fame.
Bedlington Ironworks began in 1736 with nail-making, but it was transformed into an engineering works with the coming of the railways. It was here that the patent was taken out for malleable iron rails, which allowed for longer and more reliable lengths of track than the previous cast iron rails.
The new rail was used for the first railway built in Russia, as well as the Stockton and Darlington Railway.
The John Bull locomotive, built in Newcastle in 1831 but with a Bedlington boiler, is now on display in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC.
Sir Daniel Gooch, Brunel’s chief engineer, was born in Bedlington and was the engineer aboard the Great Eastern, which laid the first cable from Ireland to the USA. Indeed, the first message transmitted via the cable was from Gooch to Queen Victoria. And the Queen always used him as the driver whenever she travelled in the Royal train.
Coal mining too was important with 10 collieries by 1909, down to four by the 1950s, until the final closure in 1974.
But there was also a variety of gooseberry called Whinham’s Industry, which was bred by Bedlington man, Robert Whinham, in the 1830s and is still popular. Even Cleopatra’s Needle was brought to London from Egypt by John Dixon, last owner of Bedlington Ironworks.
This was as entertaining and informative a talk as we could have asked for.