Our May post is once again written by researcher Nigel McMurray and acts as a second ​installment to his post in February 2022. In this piece, Nigel looks at the wharves formerly found on the Tyne adjacent to the mouth of the Ouseburn. We are familiar with the names today as sites for sometimes contentious new housing schemes, but it is worth remembering their cargo heritage.

May 2022


The Tyne as it stretches past Newcastle, it could be argued, is a man-made river. Until 1850 ships could only navigate up to Walker, though boats of shallow draught could navigate further to the Georgian bridge of 1781. The formation of the Tyne Improvement Commission in 1854 ensured that over the next fifty years the Tyne was narrowed, straightened and deepened by continuous dredging. The Quayside wharves were under construction from1872 and were trading from 1880 with the exception of the Norway Wharf which was completed in 1913.

All of the river quays on each side of the Tyne were owned by the local corporations and leased out. From 1850 to 1950 the mile long Quayside commenced at the Aberdeen Wharf adjacent to the Guildhall and ended at the Norway Wharf at the Ouseburn. The Quayside was owned by Newcastle Corporation which leased the wharves to private enterprise firms via its Wharf and Finance Committees. These leases were generally renewable every three years. Later, in the 1930s, the Quayside was considered to extend further downstream to St Lawrence where the Spillers Wharf was located.

1940’s map of the quayside around the mouth of the Ouseburn. Alan Godfrey maps.

The wharves were originally named according to the areas they served and before World War Two [WW2] were named from west to east as follows; Aberdeen – Leith – Hull - London - Gothenburg – Antwerp, Hamburg & Rotterdam – Copenhagen (also called St Ann’s) – Malmo (also called Corporation) - Norway. The present-day London Wharf Promenade and the Copenhagen, Rotterdam and St Ann’s apartments are reminders of this. Corrugated iron warehouses and transit sheds were constructed on them. Steam winches and derricks, often using ships’ gear, worked ship to quay until 1838 when William Armstrong invented the static hydraulic crane. These were used first on the Quayside. Travelling cranes were invented in 1870 and by 1940 served the entire Quayside.

Cargoes were stored in the transit sheds and then loaded from the back of the sheds onto lorries or railway wagons. The railway tracks on the Quayside were owned by Newcastle Corporation and were linked to the Goods Yard at Manors Station by the Quayside Railway, opened by North Eastern Railway (NER) in 1870. All of these complexes have since been lost due to redevelopment.

In 1921 the Tyne Improvement Commission oversaw a major refurbishment of the Quayside involving standardisation of the wharves to enable better ship, rail and crane access. After WW2 the diversification of imports saw the wharves being identified by number and not by name which made it easier for ships and lorry drivers to find them. A ship approaching the Tyne would be directed to a numbered wharf by radio telephone from its owner (or owner’s agent) or the Quay Masters.

The Malmo Wharf (latterly Wharf 14) was on the west side of the Ouseburn and was fully operational with Scandinavian trade by 1882. In 1899 it had a surprising turn in its fortunes when it became the Newcastle Wholesale Fruit and Vegetable Market for the weekly auction of imports for the Newcastle green grocery trade. The then leaseholder Pyman, Bell & Co. (timber importers) found themselves sitting on a gold mine. The auctions were advertised in local newspapers and involved the sale of thousands of crates of produce such as oranges, apples, grapes, onions, rhubarb, coconuts and pomegranates from the USA, Canada, Egypt, Hungary and Spain all under the jurisdiction of Newcastle auction houses. Some fruit merchants chose to live near the Malmo. But things began to get out of control when furniture and garments were also up for weekly auction. Such was the disruption that the Corporation took part of it back under direct control as the Corporation Wharf though part always remained leasable as the Malmo.
Certain goods arriving at the Malmo were transported to upstream Ouseburn warehouses by direct transfer from ship to shallow draught wherries.

The mouth of the Ouseburn could not be deepened by dredging as it would have adversely increased its flow. This limited the size of vessels that could dock there. After WW2, vessel sizes increased to 10,000 tons gross tonnage which resulted in the transfer of some trade upstream or downstream from the Malmo and Norway wharves which could only cope with vessels up to 1,000 tons. Both of these wharves were used heavily, but not solely, by the Tyne Tees Steam Shipping Company Ltd. [TTSSC] and BJ Sutherland Ltd., both owned by Sir Arthur Sutherland. They played a pivotal role in the TTSSC’s trade from 1903 until Sir Arthur’s death in 1953. This trade involved, primarily, the import of iron ore and wood and the export of coal and coke, albeit the exports were via adjacent coal staithes.
The Swedish Steamer Agency, the Scandinavian Shipping Bureau and the Swedish Lloyd Line, all with offices on the Quayside, made arrangements with major Swedish ports trading with Newcastle, and directed vessels to the Malmo and Norway (though also to the Gothenburg and Copenhagen Wharves). Such was the heavy usage of the Malmo that the President of the Board of Trade opened an extension to it in 1933. After WW2 the TTSSC’s trade with Scandinavia virtually ceased and as the Scandinavian trade waned, the Malmo and Norway wharves dealt more with general cargo including silver sand for glass making from the Netherlands and a range of products from northern France, Denmark and the Baltic such as grain, fruit and vegetables and barrels of butter.

The Norway Wharf (latterly Wharf 15) was constructed on the east side of the Ouseburn mouth in 1913. It was a major enterprise necessitating, in 1908, the removal of the stone Old Glasshouse Bridge (1669) spanning the Ouseburn to be replaced by the steel Low Level Bridge able to carry the railway tracks.

Construction of the new Low-Level Bridge at the mouth of the Ouseburn. Newcastle City Libraries 1908

Its warehouses, 637’ x 70’, were the largest on the Quayside and warranted their own travelling crane from 1913. The TTSSC was one of the first British companies to ship Swedish ore via the ice-free Norwegian port of Narvik and this regular trade brought thousands of tons of ore to North East furnaces and steel works, some of which come into the Norway Wharf.

Cargo ship 'Capella' moored alongside B & N Line warehouse at Norway Wharf. The 'Capella' was built in 1885 in Bergen. The B & N Line was an early steamship company. They ran regular sailings between Bergen (Norway) and Newcastle. Newcastle City Libraries 1913-1919

Sir Arthur Sutherland was a prime mover in fostering Tyneside trade with Scandinavia and in 1936 he was conferred with the honour of Commander of the Order of St Olaf by King Haakon VII and was inducted by Paul Visness the Norwegian Consul for Trade to the North East. Nothing now remains of the Norway wharf except for a few railway tracks adjacent to what is now the Cycle Hub as a reminder of its past glories.

Warehouse and travelling cranes at eastern end of Norway Wharf (now Spillers Quay) with Spillers Mill on the right. 1965

Downstream from the Norway was Spillers Wharf serving the Spillers Tyne Mill which was completed in 1938. Designed by Oscar Faber & Partners (when Faber was President of the Institution of Structural Engineers and a pioneer of the use of reinforced concrete) it was the most modern flour mill in Europe and the tallest in the world. Its silos could contain 150,000 quarters [quarter=28 lbs.] of wheat. Above the Warehouse was the Flour Mill and adjoining it the Provender Mill where Spillers Balanced Rations for Livestock and Dogs were made. The Norway’s railway tracks were extended to it. The Mill was demolished in 2012 although the name Spillers Quay has been retained. It is the site for the proposed Whey Aye Wheel development https://wheyayewheel.co.uk/

Virtually all of the Quayside transit sheds were demolished in the 1960s and 1970s. After an international competition won by Napper Architects of Newcastle, most of the area of the former Malmo was replaced in 1977 by a development of luxury apartments called the Mariner’s Wharf. However, the entire area was not subject to reconstruction as the warehouses of the Norway and some of the Malmo remained derelict but intact. These were used as exhibition areas during the 1986 Tall Ships Race when it visited Newcastle. Some of the ships were moored at these wharves. Final demolition took place after that race.

Boats moored alongside Malmo Quay at the mouth of the Ouseburn In the background are Mariner's Wharf residential apartments (left) and the Sailors Bethel (centre). John Robert Hipkin, 2019)

The Sailors Bethel on Horatio Street overlooked the Copenhagen, Malmo, and Norway wharves and served the spiritual and social needs of Scandinavian seafarers.

The Ouseburn wharves were the very heart of Newcastle’s pre-war trade with Scandinavia and the Spillers Wharf was, in the immediate pre and post-war eras, home to one of the largest flour mills in the world. Many changes have been made since the old industries departed. As to the future? Both the remaining section of the Malmo and the former Norway Wharf areas are currently subject to planning permission for redevelopment [2022]. Consultations, with the involvement of the Ouseburn Trust, are underway. The Ouseburn story goes on.

People

  • John DOBSON. Maritime Historian.
  • W Kirby ROBINSON. Former Chief Accountant of the Tyne-Tees Steam Shipping Company Ltd.

References

  • BRITISH NEWSPAPER ARCHIVE. Various articles.
  • OLD ORDNANCE SURVEY MAPS. Tyneside Sheets 12 (1913), 18 (1894 and 1940) and 19 (1895 and 1913). Alan Godfrey Maps. [2019].
  • River Tyne. Its Trade and Facilities. Johnson, RW & Aughton, Richard. Editors. 1925. 1934.
  • BRIGHT, Sue. Bridging the Ouseburn. Ouseburn Ancestors Publishing. 2013.

Further reading

Quayside Railway.

https://www.ouseburntrust.org.uk/quayside-railway-1870-to-1969 

Butter Boats.

https://www.ouseburntrust.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=7f8eb6ce-0940-48f2-bf03-3805934f73b2 

Living and working on the Quayside early in the Twentieth Century.

https://www.ouseburntrust.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=928c08d1-f640-46a8-98f7-aa60f4f98edd 

Sailors Bethel