Dunston Staiths on the River Tyne is believed to be the largest timber structure in Europe, at its height, 5.5m tonnes of coal a year was taken by rail from the Durham coalfields and loaded from the Staiths onto ships waiting on the river, which transported coal around the British Isles and Internationally.
The North Eastern Railway Company opened Dunston Staiths in 1893 to meet the growing demand to export coal and to save the rail journey to the docks at the mouth of the river. A second set of Staiths was built adjoining the first in 1903 and a tidal basin dug out, providing six berths in all, where colliers could be loaded at all states of the tide.
Dunston Staiths fell into disrepair during the latter half of the C20th, as the coal industry declined. It was fully restored in the 1980’s with the gantries repaired and redecorated, but in a non-operational condition. Used as a focal point for the National Garden Festival held in Gateshead in 1990, the public could then walk along the top of the structure and view the chutes and other machinery used in loading the ships, it was also a performance area and art gallery.
A fire in 2003 seriously damaged the monument, destroying a section which detached the eastern end to create an island.