Restoration of Dunston Staithes on Gateshead riverside begins at last

The first repairs have been carried out on the at-risk Tyneside industrial monument, the Dunston Staithes

Work has begun on repairing the Dunston Staithes
Work has begun on repairing the Dunston Staithes

The restoration of a Tyneside industrial monument has begun after decades of uncertainty over its future survival.

The first new timbers have been grafted on to Dunston Staithes on the Gateshead riverside as the first move in a £450,000 restoration programme.

Dunston Staithes, which is a scheduled monument and a listed structure, played a crucial role in the transport of millions of tons of Tyneside coal, but has been hit over the years by a series of arson incidents, putting the structure at risk.

In December, owners the Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust was given a grant of £418,900 by the Heritage Lottery Fund, with additional cash coming from English Heritage.

Now work has started in replacing six-metre long fire-damaged timbers in the first eight of the 526-metre long structure’s 98 frames.

These frames, on the land-based section of the staithes, have been damaged by several small-scale fires. Five timbers in each frame will be repaired. Bottom timbers will be renewed and parts of other beams replaced.

It has not been possible to use American pitch pine - the timber used in the original construction - because it cannot be acquired from sustainable sources. Instead ekki timber, which is from sustainable supplies, is being used.

Found in Africa, ekki is also known as red ironwood and is very hard. Sniffing the bark is used as a traditional treatment for headache.

The work is being carried out by Blaydon-based contractors Owen Pugh.

“It is wonderful that the work has started. Seeing the first timber piece go in was a joyous moment,” said trust manager Martin Hulse. “The staithes are an iconic symbol of the region’s industrial heritage.”

When work on the eight frames is complete next month, the contractors will tackle the top deck of the staithes where planking will be renewed.

The programme is then expected to move on in July to damage caused by a major fire in 2010 on a section over the river surface.

“This will be quite challenging technically, with beams under the decks being replaced,” said Mr Hulse.

It is hoped that once this phase is complete, at least part of the staithes will be available for the September Heritage Open Days event.

The last time the staithes was open to the public was during the 1990 Gateshead National Garden Festival.

Meanwhile, drilling work has been carried out across the whole structure to look for rot.

The next big issue for the staithes will be how to repair the gap left by the worst of the arson blazes, in 2003, when more funding will be needed.

The Dunston monument is the last of the many staithes along the Tyne which played a crucial role in the river’s dominance as a coal exporter.

Dunston staithes opened in 1893 and loaded its last coal in 1982.

At its peak in the 1930s, the staithes loaded more than four million tons of coal a year on to collier boats.

Next month, the staithes is due to be the focus of an ambitious artwork led by Newcastle University Professor of Contemporary Sculpture Wolfgang Weileder to raise the profile of the structure.

The HLF project also includes the reconnection of the staithes with the surrounding saltmarsh and wider natural environment allowing people to fully appreciate these special habitats, interpretation of the site’s history, telling the story of the staithes fully for the first time and the creation of a two-year education project for local schools, plus working with local youth groups and youth workers.


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