Welcome to Blyth, the underdog of North East England

I’d like to transport you to a place a few miles up the road from where I grew up. It’s a tiny, windswept port town that had its heyday up until the 1960s. After that, the industries shifted outwards, like the dunes that shield Blyth from the North Sea, switching from mining coal to farming wind. 


The photo above is the beautiful municipal library in the middle of town – a lifeline for many who use it as a community centre too. Old men stop in to read the paper in the morning before heading to the working men’s club for a pint before lunch. Mothers take their youngest children to the Kids’ section and, in a brief moment of relief, get a chance to catch up on the Facebook gossip. People of all ages use the library’s computers to search for jobs, alongside elderly locals sifting through the archives for details of what I’m about to tell you…

Trains pass, but they don’t stop…

Blyth remains a misunderstood community responding to decades of isolation. It lost its railway station in 1964, and a promised connection to the metro still hasn’t materialised. Around a third of Blyth residents don’t own a car, and the 308 bus (the one I’m on in the video) is a lifeline to the City of Newcastle, but the journey takes over an hour.

There are just 17 Black people…

In the 2011 census, the population of Blyth (around 40,000) is 98.4% white. Just 362 residents are Asian, 186 are mixed and just 17 residents are black. I stand out.

The offshore winds…

Blyth is windy, sparse and fairly featureless but for the wind turbines whirling in the distance.

I used to teach in a secondary school here, where the children I taught had dreams but struggled to believe they could achieve them. Most were to be the first in their family to have a degree, if that’s what they wanted, which many didn’t. Manufacturing, construction, healthcare and social work make up a lot of what people do in Blyth.

Today, aside from wind energy, Blyth’s main heavy industry is pulping paper from Scandinavian countries. But until very recently, it had an industry in black gold.

The long-lost coal mining industry…

Blyth still has many ghost mines, whose closure impacted the town significantly. There were discussions of reopening them recently, in the wake of Brexit and concerns over coal trade deals and job insecurity. But the town decided against it.

There’s a monument to all the former miners in the town: a miner made of wood, carrying a canary in a cage to test the air. His beard is made of fishing nets and he has coal around his feet. And lest we forget the poppy on his head – a symbol of remembrance of those who fought in World Wars One and Two.

The architectural heyday of the 1960s…

A well-preserved Puck matches ghost sign from the 1960s stands tall in the centre of the town. It seems to have faded a lot in just the past few years, particularly around the ‘P’. But Blyth has held on to a lot of its history – its architecture is a portal to the successes of its 1960s heavy-industry heyday, even if many of those original buildings are now derelict.

A stroll through Blyth on a cold, wet and windy day…

Scroll through the rest of my photos of Blyth and take them in slowly. Notice the details, such as the pigeons sitting on the roof, the rooftop guerrilla garden, the market belts tilted at an angle (yep – it was that windy) and the derelict pub…

Have you ever seen a more no-frills menu?

Blyth is an underdog town in an underdog region, misunderstood for decades. When I can, I bring the noise-creating skills I picked up while defending Madrid back to where I’m from, and I’m going to keep using them until the trains rolling past finally stop.


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1 Comment

  • Fascinated to find the Madridnofrills website via a link in a Guardian article about the weekend’s huge snowfall in Spain. I was born and brought up in Blyth and recognise all the places featured in your photos – and taught in Madrid in 1977 when Spain was only just emerging from Franco’s rule. It was always a cold city during the winter and I recall an especially chilly day out at the Escorial – a cold building in every sense …

    I’d love to know more about the author of the Blyth article whether our paths might have crossed in one or other of these places!

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