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Blyth, which is a small seaport town on the coast of Northumberland, and about thirteen miles north-east of Newcastle, derives its name from the river Blyth, on the south side of which it is built. The principal trade of Blyth is in coals, of which more than 120,000 tons are now annually exported. The earliest notice of Blyth as a harbour occurs in Bishop Hatfield’s Survey in 1346, from which it appears that the Bishop of Durham claimed fourpence for every ship which anchored there, and that the sum received for that year was 3s. 4d. At what time the coal-trade was first established there is uncertain, but as early as 1610 a complaint appears to have been made to Parliament on account of a late imposition of a shilling a chalder levied on coals shipped at Blyth and Sunderland, “not by virtue of any contract or grant, as in the coals of Newcastle, but under the mere pretext of his majesty’s royal prerogative.” In 1624, Blyth is again mentioned in a proclamation, as a place exporting sea coals ; and in 1643 an order of Parliament prohibits ships from bringing coals or salt from Newcastle or Blyth, as those places were then in the hands of the Royalists.
Within the last forty years the trade of Blyth has much increased in consequence of the opening of new collieries in the neighbourhood. A commodious dry dock was formed in 1811; and there are several slips for the building and repairing of ships. A considerable quantity of articles of cast and malleable iron, manufactured at Bedlington, about three miles up the river, are shipped at Blyth.
Blyth is a member of the port of Newcastle; and a number of vessels belonging to persons residing there are registered at the latter port. Nearly the whole of Blyth is the property of Sir M. Ridley, Bart. At spring tides there is about fourteen feet water on the bar, and about twelve at neaps; but at low water the bar is nearly dry.
It may be interesting to contemplate a few facts and figures in connexion with that trade which forms the principal occupation of Blyth and Its neighboring ports. From the evidence of an experienced coal-engineer,* given a few years since before a Parliamentary Committee, we learn, “that the number of persons employed under-ground on the Tyne are — men, 4,937; boys, 3,554; together, 8,491: above-ground — men, 2,745; boys, 718; making 3,463: making the total employed in the mines above and below ground, 11,954, which in round numbers I call 12,000, because I am pretty sure there were some omissions in the returns. On the river Wear, I conceive there are 9,000 employed; making 21,000 employed in digging the coal, and delivering it to the ships on the two rivers. From the best calculations I have been able to make, it would appear that, averaging the coasting-vessels that carry coals at the size of 220 London chaldrons each vessel, here would he 1,400 vessels employed, which would require 15,000 seamen and boys. I have made a summary. There are, seamen, 15,000; pitmen and above ground people employed at the collieries, 21,000; keel-men, coal-boatmen, casters, and trimmers, 2,000: making the total number employed in what I call the Korthern Coal Trade, 38,000. In London, whippers, lightermen, and so forth, 5,000; factors, agents, &c., on the Coal Exchange, 2,500; — 7,500 in all, in London. Making the grand total in the North country and London departments of the trade, 45,500. This does not, of course, include the persons employed at the outports in discharging the ships there.”
* Mr. Buddle, of Wallsend, who’s Statistics of the coal-trade have been quoted by M’Cullocu and other writers on the subject.