A History of North East Manufacturing

We’re proud to be part of the North East here at Cellular Solutions, and work with many fantastic organisations.

A great deal of the North East’s economy hinges on manufacturing, and there is a strong association with the region and this industry – especially in railways, ship-building and construction. In fact, there are 4,070 manufacturing businesses in the North East, which equates to 15.5 per cent of the region’s output.

We thought we’d share a history of the manufacturing industry in the North East, to show how the region has developed into the manufacturing hub that it is today.

The Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age, period (9000 – 5,500 BC)

This is one of the first periods during which manufacturing took place in the North East. Stone and flint tools were created to hunt for wild animals, while axes were made to chop trees down and make shelters.

Neolithic, or New Stone Age, Period (4000 – 2000 BC)

The production of a Langdale axe for cutting wood in Cumbria was a development during this period.

Bronze Age (2500 until c. 800 BC)

Industrial work involving metal began in the Bronze Age, with bronze being the product used at the time.

The production of other crafts was underway too, including pottery and carpentry.

Iron Age (800 BC – 10 AD)

The Iron Age, as with the Bronze Age before it, helped the people of the North East to produce goods made of metal. This included weapons, tools and buckets, alongside more ornamental goods.

Roman Period (43 – 410AD)

As well as evidence of coal mining being found during the Roman Period, there was also work taking place in quarries – this included the gathering of stone for the construction of homes and forts.

Medieval, or the Middle Ages, Period (1066-1540)

The Medieval Period in the North East saw the manufacture of stone to build churches, as well as the production of raw materials for manuscripts. Further craft started taking place too, including the production of shoes and pottery.

The extraction of lead in the North East took place as well, which was then used to make roofing and windows.

The mining of coal also presented the ability to make more iron works. A great deal of iron was found in the North East, which allowed for the manufacture of a number of iron products. This included anchors (the beginning of the shipping industry?) horse shoes and tools such as shovels and picks.

1700s to the present day

In the years that followed, a great deal of manufacture took place in the North East. A lot of this work was influenced by the Industrial Revolution, which took place from 1760 until around 1840.

Alkali manufacturing was in great demand after the Industrial Revolution, with the North East responsible for making alkalis from common salt. Chemicals were established in the early 1900s at Billingham too, which saw synthetic ammonia being made for fertilisers.

Plastics were also manufactured on a large scale in the 1930s, as well as petrochemicals in the 1960s.

Iron work continued long after the Iron Age, as people in the North East manufactured iron for the expansion of railways. There was then the introduction of steel in 1870s, which helped contribute to the growing rail industry.

Ship building in the North East started in the 1200s, where the region manufactured ships for the King’s fleet. This work, of course, continues today.

As of 2016, there are now 117,000 people employed in manufacturing, which equates to 9.8 per cent of the total North East workforce. Also of note is the fact that the North East makes £7.5 million revenue from advanced manufacturing and engineering.

The team at Cellular Solutions are experts at working with North East – and national – businesses. If you’re looking for manufacturing software for your organisation, get in touch with the team today. 


NE Times Magazine – Innovation issue – October 2016



North East England: a brief economic history – John Tomaney


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