The name Ashington possibly originates from Essendene which has been referenced since 1170, but may instead have originated from Æsc, a Saxon invader who sailed from Northern Germany to the River Wansbeck and settled in the deep wooded valley near Sheepwash. But it could also have come from "Valley of Ash Trees" - these would have lined the valley and the Saxon word Dene means valley giving the name 'Ash Dene'. In the 1700s all that existed of Ashington was a small farm with a few dwellings around it.
The Anglo Saxon theory is the most likely. The suffix "ington" denotes a settlement (usually a farm) belonging to an Anglo Saxon. There are numerous "ington's" nearby that would seem to discount the "Ash tree" theory as well as "Essendene". Examples are: Bedlington, Choppington, Cramlington, Barrington, Whittington, Acklington, Stannington etc.
The first evidence of mining is from bell-shaped pits and monastic mine workings discovered in the 20th Century during tunnelling. Ashington developed from a small hamlet in the 1840s when the Duke of Portland built housing to encourage people escaping the Irish potato famine to come and work at his nearby collieries. As in many other parts of Britain, "deep pit" coal mining in the area declined during the 1980s and 1990s leaving just one colliery, Ellington which closed in January 2005. In 2006 plans for an opencast mine on the outskirts of the town were put forward, although many people objected to it. During the heyday of coal-mining, Ashington was considered to be the "world's largest coal-mining village". There is now a debate about whether Ashington should be referred to as a town or a village; if considered as a village it would be one of the largest villages in England.
As coal mining expanded, more people left the countryside and settled in Ashington. This led the Ashington Coal Company to build parallel rows of colliery houses. Some newcomers came from as far as Cornwall to make use of their tin-mining skills.
With the growing coal industry came the need for a railway link. Ashington was linked to the Blyth and Tyne Railway in the 1850s, and also to the East Coast Main Line near Ulgham (pronounced Uffham). The railway was also used by passenger trains until the Beeching Axe in 1964 closed the railway station, called Hirst railway station, which had opened in the 1870s. The railway line runs south towards the steep-sided River Wansbeck valley, originally crossed by a wooden viaduct, which was replaced by today's steel-built Black Bridge.
In 1913 the original Ashington Hospital was built. It was about 1/4 mile from the town centre. The hospital was expanded in the 1950s and '60s with large new wings. This hospital was closed in the mid 1990s and replaced by the new Wansbeck General Hospital which opened on a green-field site on the eastern edge of the town with better links to the A189 Spine Road. The last of the old buildings were demolished in 2004.
Traditionally the area to the east of the railway was called Hirst and that to the west was Ashington proper. Although collectively called Ashington, both halves had their own park: Hirst Park (opened in 1915) in the east and the People's Park in the west.
The colliery-built houses followed a grid plan. The streets in the Hirst End running north to south were named after British trees, such as Hawthorn Road, Beech Terrace, and Chestnut Street. The east-west running streets were numbered avenues, starting with First Avenue near the town centre, finishing at Seventh Avenue towards the southern end. After the 1920s houses in Ashington were built by the council and were most often semi-detached houses, such as Garden City Villas. These occupied much of the fields in the Hirst area. New estates were built in different areas. The biggest building programme was in the late 1960s and saw Ashington extend south from Seventh Avenue opposite the Technical College towards North Seaton and south eastwards towards the A189. Some of the houses at the north end of Alexandra Road were private homes. During this building programme several new schools were built, for example Coulson Park, Seaton Hirst Middle. Community shops and a social club (the Northern) were built off Fairfield Drive. The late 1970s and early 1980s saw construction of Nursery Park opposite the North Seaton Hotel. The late 1980s and 1990s saw the building of the Wansbeck Estate between the River Wansbeck and Green Lane as well as the large Fallowfield Estate.
In the late 1960s the area by the railway station was developed into Wansbeck Square, housing a supermarket, council offices and a public library, built partly over the railway line.
In 1981 the Woodhorn Pit closed and its chimney was demolished. In the late 1980s this became a museum. In 1988 Ashington Pit was closed and is now occupied by a business park. In the early 2000s maisonette flats in various parts of Hirst were demolished and parts of the Moorhouse and Woodbridge estate opposite Woodhorn Pit were demolished.
The railway was used until recently by the Alcan Aluminium plant nearby which has now closed. There have been calls to restore the railway station for passenger use with services to Newcastle.
Ashington Urban District was created in 1896, covering part of the parish of Ashington and Sheepwash and part of the parish of Bothal Demesne, and incorporating Hirst. In 1900 the urban district was enlarged to include North Seaton; then Sheepwash, most of Woodhorn and the remainder of Bothal Demesne in 1935. The urban district survived until 1974, when under the Local Government Act 1972 it became part of the Wansbeck district.
In October 2008, plans to opencast 2m tonnes of coal in Ashington were approved. UK Coal's plans which were first submitted in 2005, would create 60+ jobs.
Ashington is located in south east Northumberland, which is a largely urban area adjacent to Newcastle. Most of the area is of flat, non-undulating ground formed during the Carboniferous period when ancient tropical swamp forests were buried and formed the coal seams that have given this area its significance. The local geology is of yellow sandstone. The topography of the town is quite flat. The land to the north west of the town is slightly undulating due to mining subsidence, which sometimes causes farmland to be flooded. The south east part of the town is slightly raised giving views to the north. From certain parts of town the Cheviot Hills are visible about 30 miles (48 km) to the north.
The town is roughly square in shape, lying north to south. The town centre is in the north of the town. South of this are residential areas. Farmland is on both east and west flanks. The south part is residential bordered by the River Wansbeck to the south. To the east of the town is the small coastal town of Newbiggin and to the west is the small village of Bothal, also on the River Wansbeck. South of the town is the small village of North Seaton which once had its own pit. North of the town about 2 miles is the village of Linton and north east of the town is Lynemouth.
To the north of the town is Queen Elizabeth II Country Park which contains a lake surrounded by pine woodland plantation. The original Ashington Colliery was on the north west of the town and the smaller Woodhorn Pit was on the north east.
The climate is cool temperate. Summers are drier than on the west coast of Britain, but cooler than southerly areas. Winters are cold at times, sometimes with snow. The soil is of a dark brown colour, free draining and gritty. It is very good for growing vegetables. Tender perennials are rare; some palms will grow, but need winter protection. Although Phormiums (New Zealand flax) grow in displays in Newbiggin, salt-laden winds may afford them some protection. The most exposed part of the town is to the east. High trees in Hirst Park give considerable shelter. The west part is much more sheltered, especially the wooded valley of the River Wansbeck. Climate in this area has mild differences between highs and lows, and there is adequate rainfall year-round. The Köppen Climate Classification subtype for this climate is "Cfb" (Marine West Coast Climate/Oceanic climate).
Working in a clockwise direction from the north west of Ashington are the following places.Linton, a small village, originally developed for mineworkers at the Linton Colliery. This village looks unusual from the air: it is almost square and its streets are in a parallel grid-plan.
Ellington, a newer village which was located next to Ellington Colliery.
Lynemouth, close to the coast; this village is next to the Alcan Lynemouth Aluminium Smelter and Lynemouth Power Station.
Woodhorn, a tiny hamlet with a church on the road to Newbiggin. Some of the area of Ashington adjacent to Woodhorn pit museum is also called Woodhorn.
Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, a small town or village, this is a former seaside resort, visited by locals. It has a beach and, following coastal erosion, a large sea wall was built in the late 1980s. Newbiggin offers bed and breakfasts, cafes and some shops.
Cambois (pronounced Cammus) is a small village south of the River Wansbeck. It is quite spread out. Cambois has some fishing cottages at the mouth of the river. It has a beach and views along the coast towards north Blyth and Blyth.
North Seaton, a village on the north banks of the River Wansbeck. It was formerly a mining village, but most of its population moved to Ashington. North Seaton had its own small colliery.
Stakeford, originally a small village south of the River Wansbeck, this is mainly an area of residential estates.
Guide Post, a residential village on the road towards Morpeth, it has a school and some shops.
Sheepwash, a crossing point on the River Wansbeck before it flows west towards Bothal.
Bothal, a quaint, historic village on the wooded banks of the River Wansbeck. Bothal has cottages and a 14th Century castle, Bothal Castle. Riverside walks can be taken along the wooded riverbank.
Pegswood, village on the main East Coast Main Line. The village has a station served by local trains.
Longhirst, a small hamlet on the East Coast Main Line.
Until the Beeching Axe of the 1960s, Ashington was on the British Rail passenger network, with passenger trains to Newbiggin and Newcastle. The railway is used now by goods trains, but there have been calls for the railway station to re-open. The nearest mainline railway station is Pegswood on the East Coast Main Line, about 3 miles from the town centre. Local services from here go to Newcastle, Cramlington, Morpeth, and Alnmouth.
At the east end of the main shopping street is the bus station, with local Arriva North East and Go North East buses linking to the rest of Northumberland and to Newcastle. National Express services also arrive and depart from the bus station.
Ashington is well served by roads. The A189 (Spine Road) to the east of Ashington runs south via Blyth and North Tyneside to Newcastle, and via the A19 Tyne Tunnel to South Tyneside and the A1(M). The A189 also runs north along the coast to Alnwick and Berwick. The A196 runs west towards Morpeth and the A1 which goes north to Scotland and Edinburgh or south to the A1(M) near Newcastle on towards Durham and Yorkshire and the South.
The nearest airport is Newcastle Airport, which provides scheduled domestic flights, flights covering many major cities in Europe, long haul international flights and also holiday charter flights. There is a ferry port in Newcastle with services to Rotterdam and Norway.
A reasonable-sized public library is based in the Leisure Centre on Lintonville Terrace at the northern fringes of the town. The local museum is at Woodhorn pit. It is mainly a museum of the town's mining history with pictures and models. There are also various arts exhibits in the museum, including a permanent exhibition of the Pitmen Painters' paintings, and information on local history.
Ashington has several sports facilities and numerous sports clubs. A new leisure centre was erected on the former Asda site in the town centre, it opened in December 2015.
Hirst Park provides two good quality bowling greens as well as tennis and basketball courts. Ashington A.F.C. now play at Woodhorn Lane having moved from Portland Park to make way for the new Asda superstore in 2008. Rugby is played at a ground on the north west edge of the town and cricket is played off Kenilworth Road not far from the town centre.
In recent years a new community facility has been created from the former Miners Welfare centre on Alexandra Road. The Hirst Welfare Centre is a multi-use community facility with training facilities, office space, a cafe, community hall, gym and dance studio. The Centre also has an external all-weather, floodlight synthetic football pitch with additional grass pitches.
There are some bed and breakfasts in Ashington. To the north side of Queen Elizabeth lake is a motel with pub and restaurant and located on the site of the QE2 is a Premier Inn hotel/restaurant. There is also a holiday centre/caravan site near Sandy Bay off the A189 about 3 miles to the south east of the town centre.
Riverside Park provides a peaceful riverside setting in which to relax or take walks. The park runs along the Wansbeck River. There are public footpaths and bridleways from here towards the quaint village of Bothal with its photogenic castle above the river.
The People's Park near the leisure centre off Institute Road is a large green field suitable for recreation. Hirst Park is located off Hawthorn Road; it provides summer floral displays, bowling greens and is sheltered by tall trees, to the north of the park is a large green sports field.
At Woodhorn is the Queen Elizabeth II Park. This is surrounded by pine wood and has a large lake with a narrow-gauge railway. Walks from here head out towards Linton and eastwards towards the seaside town of Newbiggin following the old railway line.
Ashington enjoys a good location within Northumberland allowing good access to the countryside. The town is situated near the coast, enabling short journey times to beaches such as Druridge Bay and Cresswell. Northumberland National Park is also close by.
The previous system of first school, middle school and high school used in Ashington was phased out in September 2015, with Bothal Middle School and Hirst Park Middle School closing. First schools became primary schools while Ashington High School became a full secondary school. Schools were first built by the Ashington coal company, but many have since been replaced.
Northumberland College (formerly, Ashington Technical College) is the main further education provider in the town, and offers A levels, NVQs, vocational courses and various evening classes.
There are many General Practitioner (GP) surgeries in Ashington. The main Wansbeck General Hospital in Ashington is located at the north east of the town near Woodhorn. Major treatments are provided at hospitals in Newcastle. A&E services are provided at the Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in nearby Cramlington.
The local newspapers are: the Evening Chronicle, The Journal. These papers cover Tyneside and south east Northumberland. The News Post Leader covers mostly Wansbeck.
There are also several radio regional stations providing local broadcasts.
Local news on television is provided by ITV Tyne Tees and BBC Look North. These TV stations cover most of the north east, County Durham, Teesside, Tyneside and Northumberland.
As of 2010 the local member of parliament is Ian Lavery of the Labour party. Ashington elects six County Councillors (One with part of West Newbiggin) to Northumberland County Council as of 2014, these seats are held by Labour Party candidates. Ashington Town Council is made up of six wards each electing three councillors, as of 2014 seventeen of these are held by the Labour Party.
Until 1988 the majority of the town's male population was employed in the mining industry. The closure of the pits led to large scale unemployment. However limited coal mining was carried out until recently at Ellington Colliery and opencast coal extraction is carried out at Butterwell Opencast.
The former site of Ashington Colliery became part of a regeneration project and saw the development of Wansbeck Business Park. This park now houses a number of companies with local, national and international profiles. These include Polar Krush NICC Ltd, Thermacore Ltd, Sugarfayre Ltd, Zodiac Automotive (UK) Ltd and Torque Tension Systems Ltd. The park includes a variety of wildlife with a large pond at its centre.
Ashington's close proximity to Newcastle upon Tyne makes it an ideal commuter town for people working in the city.
In 1934 some of the Ashington miners enrolled in painting classes as an alternative pastime and then began to produce paintings to sell at local markets to supplement their poor wages. They achieved unexpected success and approval from the art community and were given prestigious gallery exhibitions during the 1930s and 1940s under the name "The Pitmen Painters", although the group had called themselves the "Ashington Group". In the 1970s the group's work was "rediscovered" and popularised as "workers' art" and given international exhibitions. On 26 October 2006 a new £16m museum housing the work was opened in Ashington by The Princess Royal.
The book Pitman Painters by William Feaver, recording the development of the Ashington Group, 1934 to 1984, has been made into a stage play by Lee Hall, well known for Billy Elliot. The play premiered at the Live Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne, in 2007 and subsequently was produced at the Royal National Theatre, London in 2008 and 2009. A German translation by Michael Raab premiered at the Volkstheater in Vienna, Austria, in April 2009. In 2011 Oscar/BAFTA award winning Film Director Jon Blair made a film for ITV1's Perspectives Arts series, entitled Robson Green and The Pitmen Painters giving an insight into the lives and work of The Ashington Group including rare film footage of the group in their Hut including interviews with Oliver Kilbourne and Harry Wilson.
Ashington has appeared in various films and TV programmes, such as Spender starring Jimmy Nail, Our Friends in the North in 1996, The Fast Show on BBC2 and the Alcan chimneys were seen in the movie, Billy Elliot.
We Never Had It So Good by David Williams published by Zymurgy is a collection of short stories about a young boy growing up in Ashington in the late 1950s.
The mining workers of Ashington gave a 'Hooky mat' to their friends in Ashington, West Sussex, where it is now displayed in the village hall.John Ashenden, 14th-century astrologer
Robert Huntley, first Head of Scotland Yard's Bomb Squad
Ian Lavery, President of the National Union of Mineworkers
William Timlin, author and architect
Johnny Whitehill, blues guitarist
Ashington has produced a number of professional footballers, notably Jack Milburn, Jackie Milburn, Mark Cullen, Jimmy Adamson, Jackie Charlton, Bobby Charlton, (Cecil Irwin), Colin Ayre, David Thompson, Chris Adamson, Martin Taylor and Peter Ramage. Premier League referee Michael Oliver, the youngest in the league's history, was born in the town. Property developer Sir John Hall, former Chairman and Life President of Newcastle United Football Club, was born in North Seaton village on the outskirts of the town in 1933.
Cricketing brothers Steve Harmison and Ben Harmison are also from the town, as are fellow cricketers Mark Wood and Simon Smith.
Golfer Kenneth Ferrie, who has played on the PGA Tour, is also from Ashington.