Work has begun on a £600,000 makeover of Blyth’s historic docks.
The removal of a 70-tonne gate, between the dry-dock and Blyth Estuary, is the symbolic first step of the ambitious project to give a new lease of life to the former shipbuilding site.
The site, now occupied by offshore renewables technology and innovation centre ORE Catapult, has a heritage of being a home for pioneers.
Legendary mariner William Smith, who discovered Antarctica, called Blyth his home port and the world’s first modern-style aircraft carrier, HMS Ark Royal, was built there.
Over the past five years, the docks have been the testing ground for some of the latest next-generation technologies being developed for the offshore renewables sector.
ORE Catapult’s David Hailes, who is managing the project, said: “The history of the harbour is a source of great pride for everyone working here and it’s a constant source of inspiration to hear some of the stories from its past. This extensive refurbishment will mean we can continue to be at the forefront of innovation for years to come.”
Removing the dry-dock gate required a 750-tonne crane, with local consultant Fairhurst working alongside contractors KGAL and AMCO to complete its refurbishment.
David added: “Blyth harbour is at the very heart of this community so from the beginning we’ve determined to use local contractors wherever possible. We want as much of the local area to benefit from this extensive refurbishment as possible.”
The investment programme will also see significant upgrades to the Catapult’s state-of-the-art renewable energy test and demonstration facilities, which includes 50 and 100m blade testing halls, large-scale drive train test facilities, and world-leading materials and electrical laboratories.
The Port of Blyth dates back to the 1100s, with the first recorded mention of it as a haven for ships being made in 1138.
Like much of the North East, coal was a mainstay of its operations from the 14th century, peaking at 5.5million tonnes per annum in the 1930s, making it the largest coal exporter in Europe.
The famed mariner William Smith was born in Blyth and his ship, The Williams, was built and launched there in 1811.
It was on that vessel in 1819 he discovered Antarctica while trying to take a quick route back home. He named King George Island and the South Shetland Islands.