One of the biggest and most impressive landmarks to Tyneside’s industrial past could be saved from an uncertain future thanks to joint funding.
The enormous wooden Dunston Staiths, that once played a crucial role in the transport of millions of tons of Tyneside coal, could be brought back into public use following the announcement of crucial support from English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). English Heritage has offered Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust, which owns Dunston Staiths, a grant of £176, 819 to carry out investigative works and repairs to the first six bays of the structure which test out techniques that can be used in the rest of the monument. Dunston Staiths is a scheduled monument which is on English Heritage’s Heritage at Risk Register. Work is likely to start on site early in 2014.
The Trust has also been awarded initial support* from the Heritage Lottery Fund which includes a development grant of £48,200. This will allow the Trust to develop project plans further that aims to bring the first 38 bays of the 1, 709ft long staiths into public use and linking them to the Keelmans Way and Saltmarsh Gardens. The Saltmarsh garden is one of the few remaining areas of Saltmarsh in the Tyne area and as a result is of significant conservation interest. The mudflats, which were naturally created when the staiths closed and dredging ceased, provide an undisturbed roosting area for a range of bird species including grey heron, lapwing and redshank.
Secretary of Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust, Martin Hulse, said: “Dunston Staiths is one of the great icons of the River Tyne and is an incredible feat of engineering. We are keen to hear from people who used to work on the structure to help bring the structure back to life. Most of all I am looking forward to the day when we can open the gates and let people back on the Staiths as the view from the top is incredible.”
The 130 year old staiths is now reckoned to be the largest timber structure in Britain, a title it also held when built by the North Eastern Railway at a cost of £210,000. Constructed of pitch pine the staiths shipped over 1.5 million tons of coal in its first year alone and peaked at almost 4 million tons a year in 1939.
Downturn in coal trade meant that by 1973 coal shipments were down to 400,000 tons and in 1977 coal shipments ceased. The staiths were officially closed in 1980 and a later attempt to reopen them failed. The structure found a new role as one of the centre pieces of the Gateshead Garden Festival in 1990 but its deteriorating condition and two major fires has since left the structure closed and with an uncertain future. Opportunities for public access have been limited to a small number of organised visits.
Gateshead Council cabinet member for culture, Cllr Linda Green, said: “Dunston Staiths are probably the biggest monument to the coal industry that played such a massive part in centuries of Tyneside history. We’ve been working hard with Tyne & Wear Building Preservation Trust for some time now in order to secure a positive, long term future for the structure.
“These announcements of support from bodies as respected as the Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage is great news. There’s a lot of hard work still to do and more funding to secure, but perhaps the day when the public can once again appreciate Dunston Staiths up close is not too distant.”
Carol Pyrah, English Heritage’s Planning & Conservation Director North East said: “We have been supporting the Council and the Trust for some years with specialist advice and our grant gives the Trust the chance to test techniques for repair on the first 6 bays. Conservation of such a unique monument is a complicated business and English Heritage’s involvement will ensure the best conservation brains are working to find out the right way to repair it.”
Ivor Crowther, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund North East, said: “We at the Heritage Lottery Fund are delighted to be giving our initial support to this project that aims to bring the historic Dunston Staiths back to life and back into use for local people. It’s great to know that plans include conserving not only the wooden structure but also helping the surrounding natural environment to thrive. We are looking forward to seeing these plans progress over the coming months.”