Our History

Looking back
through time

Humble Origins

The modern Port of Blyth has more humble origins with the first recorded reference being in 1138 when the monks of Newminster Abbey near Morpeth exported salt from the pans on the north side of the River Blyth. This was encouraged by the convenient supply of local coal used in the evaporation of the brine.

The shipment of coal itself began during the 14th century and by the close of the 16th century coal mines were recorded at Cowpen and Bebside. During 1609 in the reign of James 1, a total of 21,571 tons of coal were shipped from Blyth, a significant quantity for the period, and this trade steadily replaced the shipment of salt which was in decline during the late 16th and early 17th century.

The oldest remaining chart of the harbour is from 1682 which in particular highlights the first “major” commercial quay, Blyth Quay, more commonly described as “Bishop’s Quay”. During this period the river was not deep enough for most vessels to load full cargoes, so loading was often undertaken from boats known as “keels”, a type closely linked with the history of Northumberland.

1138 First recorded reference - Monks export salt from north of river Blyth
1682 First ‘major’ commercial quay established

Steady Development

Steady development continued in the 18th century and by 1730 coaling and ballast quays, a pilots watch house and a lighthouse had been established followed in 1765 by the first breakwater known as “North Dyke”. This was a roughly built stone structure intended to break the force of the sea in an easterly gale. Twenty years later, in 1788, came the building of the first staith with an elevated loading point together with the erection of the High Lighthouse which served as one of the leading lights until July 1984.

Blyth was now becoming a prominent port and the increasing number of vessels using the river led to the purchase of a steam vessel to tow sail vessels back to sea in 1819 and the rebuilding of the stone breakwater three years later which had become dilapidated. In this period shipbuilding had also commenced and a plan from 1813 clearly shows three such shipyards operating.

1730 Coaling and ballast quays, pilots watch house, and lighthouse established
1788 First Staithes with elevated loading point are built

Full steam ahead

The next significant development came in the mid 19th century with the arrival of the railways. The Tyne and Blyth Junction Railway built the first rail linked staith on the south side of the river in 1849 and coal shipments grew rapidly over the next few years to around 200,000 tons per annum. This growth clearly had to be managed and in 1854 the Blyth Harbour and Dock Company was formed, given powers to develop the port and to levy dues and charges.

In the latter part of the 19th century the shipping industry as a whole, and in particular the coal trade, continued to develop at an alarming rate and it soon became clear that the existing Company was unable to raise sufficient capital to keep Blyth’s facilities up to the necessary standard for large volume shipments. As a result they promoted a Bill to “constitute and incorporate Commissioners for the management of Blyth Harbour” on the basis of a trust, as operated on other North East coast rivers. The Bill received Royal Assent on 19th June 1882, constituting the birth of the current Blyth Harbour Commission and which as an initial task undertook the construction of South Harbour to accommodate expanding trade.

1854 Blyth Harbour and Dock company formed to manage growth in coal shipments
1882 Blyth harbour Commission established by an act of parliament


During the early 20th century coal continued to dominate trade through the Port although shipbuilding had also grown into one of the largest centres in the Northeast with the 2nd Ark Royal being built at Blyth in 1914. The Port also became an important submarine base during both World Wars.

By the 1930s Blyth was exporting 5.5 million tonnes of coal per annum and had become the largest coal exporting port in Europe when the trade reached it’s peak in the early 1960s at over 6 million tonnes per year.

A period of decline ensued during the late 1960’s with coal trade reducing significantly as local mines began to close together with the last remaining shipyard, Blyth Shipbuilding Company which ceased operation in 1966.

The 1970s saw a reversal of this trend with Alcan establishing a major aluminium smelter 5 miles north of the Port together with an import terminal of the river to handle large volumes of bulk raw materials. At the same time Blyth started to expand it’s paper import trade from Finland and grew to a peak of over 0.5 million tonnes in 1998 making the Port one of the major paper terminals in the UK.

The loss of a large proportion of this paper trade in 2000 was a major blow but the Port re-invented itself again rapidly expanding into container handling, plywood, project cargo, coal and other dry bulk commodities.

Another blow occurred in 2012 with the closure of the RioTinto aluminium smelter just up the coast at Lynemouth. The smelter had long been a major customer for the Port but given the level and diversity of trade growth, the effects were minimalized with even a record turnover being produced the following year.

1930 Largest coal exporting port in Europe
2000 Expanding services container handling

A new beginning

From the late 2000’s onwards the energy sector became an important focus for the Port with large numbers of wind turbine components being handled for onshore and offshore wind farms, while the 2015 opening of a major marine fuels terminal added another vital service.

Blyth rapidly established itself as a base for the oil and gas sector with frequent visits from supply vessels and related engineering companies relocating to the Port, helping to develop the modern offshore energy support base that the Port of Blyth is known as now.

The emergence of the renewables sector in the North East of England – including offshore wind opportunities and engineering excellence – together with both the rapid development of the neighbouring Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult and the growth in the supply chain in Blyth, presented the port and the town with a unique opportunity to benefit from and contribute to a huge economic opportunity.

2010 Energy sector component handling
2015 Major marine fuels terminal opens

major offshore energy hub

While the North Sea Tall Ships Regatta of 2016 attracted half a million visitors to Blyth and generated £25m for the local economy, the Port continued to grow a reputation throughout the 2010’s for providing an excellent service to clients throughout the offshore energy and renewables sectors.

It added a fully licenced decommissioning facility in 2018 to support a growing revenue stream and thanks to a £3m redevelopment programme established the Bates Clean Energy Terminal in 2021. With 7HA of land redeveloped and plans for a number of exciting low carbon developments on site, it is hoped the terminal will prove to be a huge draw for incoming companies over the coming years.

The Port of Blyth of today is almost unrecognisable from that of 20 years ago and the part it will play as the UK seeks to achieve net zero carbon output in the coming decades will be significant.

The Port’s history demonstrates the need to constantly evolve and adapt in the face of major challenges along the way and this is probably key to why a modern, successful and expanding Trust Port still exists to this day.

2016 Tall Ships Regatta attracts half a million
2021 Bates Clean Energy Terminal opens