Ashington is a town with a very interesting and proud history!
Ashington currently has a population of approximately 28,000, one of the largest towns in Northumberland, and is located 15 miles (24km) north of Newcastle upon Tyne and 3 miles (5km) from the North Sea coast via the historic coastal town of Newbiggin by the Sea. It lies to the west of the A189 Northumberland Spine Road with links to the major UK road network. To the south of Ashington is the picturesque River Wansbeck where lies the small village of Bothal, with its 14th century castle and 9th century church. Near the mouth of the river is North Seaton Colliery and the holiday park Sandy Bay.
Ashington sits on mainly flat ground formed during the Carboniferous period when ancient tropical swamp forests were buried forming coal seams that give the area its significance.
The name of Ashington possibly originates from Essendene which has been referenced since 1170 although also know as Aschendenu or Essington. There are possible links to the Saxons who sailed from Germany to the River Wansbeck and settled in the wooded valley near Sheepwash. In the 1700's all that existed of Ashington was a small farm with a few dwellings. The Anglo Saxon theory is the most likely as the suffix 'ington' denotes a settlement belonging to an Anglo Saxon. Ashington 'village' also went by the name Fell 'em Doon.
Ashington developed from a small hamlet in the 1840's as the wealthy Duke of Portland built housing to encourage people to come and work at his nearby collieries. In 1867 the Bothal Mining Shaft was sunk and as coal mining expanded five collieries were developed in the Ashington area. The year 1867 is therefore significant to the subsequent development of the town.
Ashington Coal Company built parallel rows of colliery housing and newcomers came from the countryside and as far away as Ireland and Cornwall. The colliery housing in the Hirst End were named after trees such as the Hawthorn and Chestnut. The town became a centre for the coal mining industry and was considered to be the 'world's largest coal mining village' with many inhabitants having a distinctive dialect known as 'Pitmatic'. The growing coal industry also necessitated a rail link and passenger rail services were also provided.
In 1888 Ashington became a separate parish and the town's main shopping area Station Road (pictured) developed. Station Road housed several department stores and five cinemas and at one time was described as the largest shopping area between Edinburgh and Newcastle upon Tyne. Landmark buildings such as the Grand Hotel, Town Hall, Central Arcade, Holy Sepulchre Church and Central Hall Methodist Church were built.
New housing estates were built, mostly of semi-detached design, with significant building taking place in the 1950's and 60's with housing developed towards North Seaton to the East. A number of new schools were also built in this period such as Coulson Park and Seaton Hirst. The 1970's to the 1990's saw significant building of private housing estates to the South and West of the town.
In 1913 Ashington Hospital was opened and served the community until the new Wansbeck General Hospital opened on the outskirts of the town in 1993. Another landmark building was the Northumberland Technical College, opened in 1957, and today still provides higher and further education for people across the North East.
In 1934 some of the Ashington miners enrolled in painting classes as an alternative pastime and began to produce paintings to sell at local markets to supplement their wages. They achieved unexpected success and approval from the art community and were given prestigious gallery exhibitions under the name 'The Pitmen Painters' although the group had called themselves the 'Ashington Group'. The book 'Pitmen Painters', by William Feaver, recorded the development of the Ashington Group and was subsequently made into a stage play by Lee Hall, of Billy Elliot fame. The play has now been seen in places from Broadway to Buenos Aries.
The 1970's and 80's saw the rapid decline of the coal industry and the job losses had a significant effect on the community. Major land reclamation of colliery sites, the largest in Europe at the time, saw the development of the QEII Country Park and the Ashington Community Woodland. The closure of Woodhorn Colliery, in 1981, gave opportunity for a mining museum to be developed using the old colliery buildings. Following an investment of £16m 'Woodhorn', as it is now known, re-opened in 2006 to provide a quality setting for the Ashington Group of paintings as well as a home for the Northumberland Archives and is well worth a visit. A landscaped business park was also created on the site of the former Ashington Colliery which finally closed in 1986.
As well as the woodland setting of the QEII Country Park the town also has Wansbeck Riverside Park on its doorstep as well as the award winning Hirst Park, which opened in 1915, and Peoples Park with its large sports field. The Ashington Community Woodland has now developed into a fantastic green space boasting a colony of red squirrels and other wildlife.
The Ashington Memorial Garden opened in time for Remembrance Day 2015 and is based around the town's War Memorial. The Memorial Garden provides a fitting tribute to over 1,000 people from Ashington who gave their lives in the two world wars. A memorial recognising service given since 1945 was also developed as part of the plans. The area now provides an area of quiet reflection close to the town centre.
Hugh Cairns was awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) for his bravery in the final days of action during World War I. The VC is the highest award award for gallantry, in the face of the enemy, for British and Commonwealth forces. Hugh had become a sergeant in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and his VC is displayed at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. An information board on Hugh's exploits is included within the Ashington Memorial Garden as well as five other boards relating to Ashington's military history that were developed by schoolchildren from the town.
After WWII Ashington, with Newbiggin by the Sea, was one of the first towns to be twinned with a German area. In 1952 connections were made with the City of Remscheid and strong links continue to this day. New town twinning documents were signed in 2015 reaffirming these relations and one is placed within Ashington Town Hall. In recent years Ashington and Newbiggin by the Sea hosted a visit from the Luttringhausen Church Brass Band and junior football teams from Ashington have visited Remscheid for football competitions as well as a number of school and youth exchange visits taking place.
The town is home to Ashington Community Football Club and the town has produced some notable footballers throughout the years including the legendary 1966 England World Cup winning brothers Jack & Bobby Charlton who developed their footballing skills at Hirst Park. The town was also home to Jackie Milburn of FA Cup fame with Newcastle United, Cecil Irwin who made over 300 appearances for Sunderland AFC and Jimmy Adamson who later went on to manage both Leeds United and Sunderland AFC. Ashington has a renowned cricket club and is the hometown of former England international cricketer Steve Harmison as well as current international Mark Wood. Ashington is also the hometown of entrepreneur Sir John Hall, who developed the Metro Centre, which he said was based on Station Road, as well as the renowned opera singers Sheila Armstrong and Janice Cairns.
Ashington has featured on television and film including the The Captain's Tale, Our Friends in the North and Unlucky Alf, from the BBC's Fast Show, has also visited!
In recent years the Football Club has moved to a new complex at Woodhorn Lane to enable the development of a large Asda superstore in the town centre and the Hirst Welfare Centre, a multi-use sports & community facility, has opened providing a range of facilities and activities. The state of the art Northumberland Church of England Academy opened in 2012 and provides an excellent educational resource for the town and significant building work has also taken place to improve Ashington High School.
In 2016 the £21m Ashington Leisure Centre opened as well as a £13m retirement complex on the site of the old Ashington Hospital. Major work to regenerate Ashington Town Centre was also completed with Station Road re-opened to traffic.
Two quality housing developments are underway on the outskirts of the town and further housing development is planned. Northumberland County Council has taken the decision to build its new corporate HQ in the town with work commencing on site in February 2017 ahead of a planned opening in 2019. Work is on-going to reinstate a passenger rail service back to the town as well as a project to significantly improve the historic Hirst Park. The story continues...