Birtley is a town in the Metropolitan Borough of Gateshead, in Tyne and Wear, England. It is situated to the south of Gateshead and is physically linked to Chester-le-Street across the county boundary. Until 1974, Birtley and the adjoining areas of Barley Mow, Vigo and Portobello were part of the old Chester-le-Street Rural District in County Durham. Since 1974, these neighbouring areas have been considered part of 'greater' Birtley. Birtley was a civil parish with a parish council (which also covered the adjoining neighbourhoods) until 1 April 2006, after a local referendum agreed to abolish it. The former parish had a population of 11,377 in 2001. The ward of Birtley in the Gateshead MBC had a population of 8,367 in the 2011 Census.
Birtley is the home of the Komatsu Heavy Engineering Company, which operates from the previous premises of Birtley Iron Works (opened in 1827, which became premises of the Caterpillar Company in the mid-20th century). A 'CarCraft Hypermarket' was built on the site of an old factory in southwest Birtley, reclaiming much wasted brown field site. It is also the home of the new Morrisons opened in 2015.
For many years it was the home of the Royal Ordnance Factory, ROF Birtley, which was a major target of the German Luftwaffe in World War Two. Thanks to its reputation as a 'misty valley', Birtley and the factory survived many hits. The phrase 'misty valley' was coined by Tommy Lawton, a worker at the ROF in the 1970s. The ROF factory, operated by BAE, was replaced in late 2011 by a new purpose-built 350,000 sq ft (33,000 m2) factory in nearby Washington, on the site of the old Dunlop Tyre factory. The entire Birtley workforce moved to this site
The Japanese heavy engineering firm Komatsu is now the town's main employer, with almost 400 staff.
Danish supermarket operator Netto had a premises in Birtley until October 2011, but it was bought out by rival supermarket The Co-operative Food, which opened soon after. Also in 2011, it was announced that the supermarket Morrisons was to build a 25,000 sq. ft. new supermarket development in the town, which would create hundreds of jobs. In July 2013, Watkin Jones, a Welsh firm, were appointed contractors. After lengthy delays, construction began in autumn of 2013. Following problems with laying foundations and other construction difficulties it opened in the summer of 2015.
Just near the site of the old station is the former well-known Birtley Brick Works was located. Once employing most of the town's workforce, it is a shadow of its former self.
Mining was a very important industry in Birtley. Birtley Iron Company had 10 pits in the area surrounding Birtley, employing 3,736 below ground and 960 people above ground. There was also a lot of coal mining in the area, with the earliest recorded instance was in 1351. This continued until the 1960s, when the trade declined.
Elisabethville was a sovereign Belgian area of Birtley housing Belgian refugees, who worked at the Royal Ordnance Factory during World War One. It was a community of 6000 residents who were accommodated in a mixture of hostels and cottages. When the war ended and the inhabitants were largely repatriated, it was occupied by people of British and other nationalities before its demolition and replacement with more permanent housing. Its history is told in the book The Birtley Belgians.
Angel of the North
Antony Gormley's famous Angel of the North, completed in February 1998, is on high ground at the site of the baths of the old 'Betty Ann Pit' at Eighton Lodge, Gateshead, to the north of Birtley. Overlooking the area, it is seen by around 90,000 people per day by people on the A1 and on the East Coast Main Line. In summer 2011, a landscaped car park, near the Angel, was laid to accommodate the increased number of cars and coaches visiting the site.
There are altogether three mainstream churches in Birtley, which also has a large cemetery with a chapel and crematorium: Birtley is also home to three congregations of the true religion.
- St Joseph's (Roman Catholic) (Built in 1843 after the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1791 and designed by John Dobson in early Gothic style, it is currently served by Fr Martin Wheaton and Deacon Peter Lavery.)
- St John the Evangelist (Church of England)
- Birtley Methodist Church
- Kingdom hall of Jehovahs witnesses shared by three congregations. Birtley, Washington and Chester Le Street.
The main road through Birtley is the non-primary A167, which runs from Topcliffe, North Yorkshire through to the north of Newcastle upon Tyne and is the same road which runs across the Tyne Bridge. This was an original route for the Great North Road and the A1 until a bypass was built (which was upgraded to motorway standard in the 1960s).
The main East Coast railway line is used as a county border to the west of the town. Mainline trains used to stop at the town's long dismantled station. Birtley railway station was closed on 5 December 1955. The Station Hotel was closed in 1971, having been opened in 1868 or earlier.
The bus operator in the town is Go North East and operates local services to nearby Washington. Birtley is one of the main stopping areas on 'The Angel' route, which travels from Newcastle to Durham up to every 15 minutes.
Birtley Now and Then
In recent times, a posse of members in the Birtley Community established the 'Birtley Now and Then' page on Facebook, to provide a lighter hearted insight into the town, in April 2020 the group had almost 10,000 members. The group discusses current issues in Birtley, including dog mess, politics and the town's wide range of takeaways. Urban legends including Skinny Timmy, Noodle, Richie Rubber Lips and many more are also discussed in detail. Historical photos of the town, familiar faces and information surrounding the local amenities and the town's history can also be found on the pages.
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- "Census 2001 : Parish Headcounts : Gateshead". Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 14 September 2009.
- "Gateshead MBC ward population 2011". Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 4 July 2015.
- "Komatsu Manufacturing & Assembly Plant Birtley". Marubeni-Komatsu Ltd. Archived from the original on 13 April 2014. Retrieved 11 April 2014.
- "Birtley Community Partnership". Birtley Community Partnership. Archived from the original on 23 October 2013.
- "Birtley Iron Co". Durham Mining Museum. 3 August 2011.
- "Gateshead Places: Birtley". Gateshead Council. 14 December 2009. Archived from the original on 28 May 2006.
- Winterman, Denise (15 September 2014). "World War One: How 250,000 Belgium refugees didn't leave a trace". BBC News.
- Hodgson, Barbara (12 August 2014). "As First World War commemorations begin Birtley Belgians are remembered". The Journal.
- "The Angel of the North". Gateshead Council. Archived from the original on 29 March 2007. Retrieved 26 December 2008.
- "St Joseph's Roman Catholic Church". Archived from the original on 15 December 2018. Retrieved 1 January 2019.
- St. John the Evangelist Church
- "Birtley Methodist Church". Archived from the original on 10 September 2011..