Two hundred years ago, a group of merchants manufacturers and shipping magnates gathered at Newcastle’s Guildhall to discuss the issues facing them as businessmen, and launch a society that would further their aims.
The 53 members of the new society – the Newcastle Chamber of Trade – were led by president John G Clarke, with three vice presidents, a committee of 12 members, a treasurer and a secretary (all male).
They agreed the rules to govern the new body and said that the “purposes of the present institution are the redressing of all grievances in any wise affecting the trade of this port, the facilitating of any measures calculated to promote the interest and prosperity of our local commerce, and generally the attainment of such objects, connected with the commerce of the port, as the exertions of individuals may be les adequate to accompanish.”
Those first 53 members would little dream, of course, that the body they had formed would grow over the next two centuries to an organisation covering the whole of the North East, with 4,000 members and a powerful national voice.
The merchants and shipping magnates of 1815 are now offshore engineering firms, digital marketing start-ups and management consults. Now their concerns include broadband access, transatlantic flights and reforming the EU, but what has remained constant is that belief voiced at the chamber’s first ever meeting that businesses, though inherently competitive in nature, can often benefit from coming together.
As the Chamber kicked off its 200th anniversary celebrations with a day of events on the banks of the Tyne yesterday – including 100 members posing for photographs on the Gateshead Millennium Bridge and a recreation of the chamber’s first meeting at the Guildhall – chief executive James Ramsbotham was keen to stress that sense of strength in numbers.
He said: “Today is about celebrating the past but recognising it as a foundation for the future. What we’ve achieved over the last 200 years has given us a platform to do so much going forward.
“We want to acknowledge the statement made at our first meeting that we can achieve so much more together than we can individually. This is a rallying call to all North East businesses to come together and work for the region.”
As part of yesterday’s celebrations, the chamber issued a manifesto for 2015, which contained a list of 29 demands which set out “how the assets of the North East can be maximised for the benefit of the region and the country”.
Those demands vary in their ambition, from faster payment in supply chains – something The Journal has championed through its Fair Pay campaign – through improved career advice for young people to increased Government support for carbon capture.
But a look at the Chamber’s history would suggest that many of the issues it has faced over the last two centuries have not gone away.
A year into its history, the Chamber lobbied for a direct mail service from Newcastle to London (with connectivity at the time consisting of a direct link only to Sunderland). Now it calls for faster rollout of superfast broadband and 4G in rural areas.
The chamber changed the face of Tyneside dramatically in 1834 when it insitgated and then funded works to dredge and straighten the Tyne, and to build the modern Newcastle Quayside to boost shipping trade.
Keeping the region connected with international trade is still on its agenda, though now it is calling for better roads and improve rail and air links. During its long history, the Chamber has influenced North East life in many other ways, assisting in relief efforts following the Great Fire of Newcastle and Gateshead in 1854, raising and equipping three batallions of the Northumberland Fusiliers in World War One, and lobbying for a more effective electricity supply for Northumberland and County Durham in the 1918.
In the 1920s, the Chamber both supported proposals for what would become the Tyne Bridge and helped set up airports at Newcastle and on Teesside, while it played an important role in establishing the Team Valley trading estate in 1938 and, in the 1970s, opposed re-development of Newcastle’s historic Grainger Town to help save buildings at risk.
Over its history, the initial body, the Newcastle Chamber of Trade, would merge with similar bodies in other parts of Tyneside. It also inspired the formation of a chamber on Teesside and, in 1995, chambers on Tyne and Wear, Teesside and Tynedale merged to create the modern Chamber.
Chamber president Dave Laws said: “2015 will be the year of North East business. We are a constant and passionate evangelist for our members and the groundbreaking work they are doing in our region, but throughout our 200th anniversary, NECC200, we will be celebrating every business success, from the smallest one-man band to the largest multi-national.
“When our founders first came together, they aimed for ‘the attainment of objects the exertions of individuals may be less adequate to accomplish’.
“For the two centuries since then, NECC has enabled businesses in our region to exercise collective influence that goes well beyond that which they could wield by themselves. We have achieved an enormous amount of change for the benefit of our region’s economy.”
200 YEARS OF CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
January 5, 1815: Inaugural meeting of the Chamber of Commerce at the Guildhall in Newcastle.
March 1816: Lobbied for direct mail service from London to Newcastle.
March 1833: Successfully petitioned for a licence for Newcastle to trade with the East India Company, enabling ships to come into Newcastle from the Empire.
July 1834: Began work to build the modern Quayside and dredge and straighten the Tyne.
October 1857: Ferdinand De Lessops visits chamber to lobby for investment in building the Suez canal; Chamber supports him.
Mary 1903: Lobbied for better telephone service between Newcastle and Glasgow.
August 1914: Chamber raise, equip and pay for three batallions of the Northumberland Fusiliers. Also sets up a widows and orphans fund.
February 1916: sets up a Chamber armaments factory so workers could volunteer in their spare time.
February 1924: Teesside Chamber hosts a delegation from Australia, providing tours of local steelworks.
May 1926: General strike: Chamber organised volunteers to keep essential services running.
June 1938: Royal Commission on industrial population; Chamber fights hard for the construction of the Team Valley industrial estate.
November 1946: Supported construction of a Tyne Tunnel.
October 1951: Chambers came together to lobby for greater electricity generating capacity in the region: Teesside power station opened shortly afterwards.
March 1963: Worked with Lord Hailsham on his North East Development Report, which brought upgrades to the A1 and A19, Cramlington and Washington new towns, and expansion of Newcastle and Teesside Airports.
February 1984: Chamber works with Sunderland Council and UK Government to bring Nissan to Sunderland.
January 1995: Merger of Tyne and Wear, Teesside and Tynedale chambers creates NECC.
November 2005: NECC runs Go for Jobs campaign with The Journal to lift Highways Agency article 14 orders estimated to be blocking £1bn of investment and 10,000 jobs in the region.
April 2011: Again working with The Journal, smashed target to create 100 apprenticeships in 100 days with over 1,355 positions.