Our great northern inventions

AS he drove through a storm on his journey home to the North East from the 1908 Cup Final, Gladstone Adams became aware of a great need.

James May with a replica of Stephenson's Rocket

AS he drove through a storm on his journey home to the North East from the 1908 Cup Final, Gladstone Adams became aware of a great need.

The Newcastle United club photographer was struck by an idea that would change the motoring world.

How much easier things would be, he thought, with a device that could clean the snow from the windscreen as he drove.

And so the windscreen wiper was invented.

His often forgotten story is just one of the life-changing inventions that came from the region.

Most people can recall former Newcastle and England midfielder John Barnes once famously saying it was his Lucozade that helped him recover after “90 minutes of sheer hell.”

But fewer people realise that the drink was invented here on Tyneside.

It started life in a small chemist’s in Newcastle and was originally called Glocosade.

Pharmacist WW Hunter was the man behind what is now the footballers’ favourite beverage.

He was working for Barras Bridge pharmacy WW Owen & Son Ltd, in Newcastle’s East End, when he came up with the original recipe in 1927.

It is now owned by Smith Kline Beecham.

Of course, perhaps the most famous invention to come out of the region was Stephenson’s Rocket.

Robert Stephenson, the ‘father of the railways’, was instrumental in designing the famous engine in 1827, the fastest train of its time.

When the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was nearing completion in 1829, the directors organised a competition to see whether stationary steam engines or locomotives would be used to pull the trains.

Held in what is now Merseyside, at the trials Robert and George Stephenson’s Rocket beat its rivals Sanspareil, Novelty, Perseverance, Cyclopede, and Manumotive to launch the age of the steam locomotive.

And so the passenger railways were invented and transportation the world over was revolutionised.

The lightbulb is also another North East success.

Although the subject of much debate, most people agree that the light bulb was also invented in the North East.

Issues surrounding patents saw American Thomas Edison claim that he was its inventor, while Gateshead’s Sir Joseph Swan protested that he had beaten him to it in 1878.

Undeterred, Edison still brought out his patent a short time later which, he claimed, was an improvement on the original design.

The Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle was the first public building in the world to be lit by electricity.

The safety match was also born here around 1826.

John Walker was a well-known chemist and inventor who was educated in Stockton and became apprenticed to Watson Alcock, the town’s principal surgeon.

However, he came to dislike this work, and, as he was interested in botany and chemistry, he opened a chemist and druggist’s shop in Stockton in 1819.

Walker also enjoyed experimenting with chemicals and one day he prepared a mixture in which a dipped splint — probably used as a stirrer — became coated and dried.

The composition of this mixture was antimony sulphide and potassium chlorate mixed with gum arabic, starch, and water.

When the splint was scraped on the hearth it suddenly sparked and caught fire. Realising that he had found a simple method of making an instant sustainable flame or light, he decided to prepare further splints that he could sell or give away.

And of course, in recent years, there’s been the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, the world’s first tilting bridge.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer