Blyth Tall Ship is a pioneering project that sets out to recapture the spirit of adventure and global entrepreneurship that was employed in Blyth to discover the Antarctic land mass 200 years ago in a sailing ship called the Williams. It sets out to inspire future generations to fulfil their potential by:

1. Setting up and running a traditional workshop that introduces engineering skills through the medium of traditional boat building, working alongside retired engineers and craftsmen.

2. To recreate the original voyage and conduct an expedition to celebrate the discovery of Antarctica from in 1820 by restoring and refitting a tall ship and repeating the original voyage with young people from the Blyth, the North East and around the UK.

3. Develop a museum and visitor attraction alongside our partners on the quayside at Blyth.

Exploring our future, inspired by our past

200 years ago, Captain William Smith, raised the funds to build a state of the art sailing vessel in Blyth and embarked on a voyage to trade around the world. Having been pirated by the Spanish in 1818 he tried to recoup his losses by taking cargo around Cape Horn (the most treacherous seas in the world) and was met by westerly gales. During a desperate attempt to sail around the storms, he discovered the first land in Antarctica, now called the Southern Shetland Islands. Sadly, he was never recognised for his discovery and died a pauper. We intend to put him back in his rightful place in history by repeating his voyage and boat building endeavours.  

Today Blyth is still suffering 3rd generation unemployment after the collapse of the coal and ship building industries with many young people struggling to identify with their future and aspire to the opportunities that are developing in the port.

The light at the end of the tunnel is the emerging Off Shore and Engineering sector that is growing in the area and the expanding Port of Blyth.

Sadly, there is a skills gap between those leaving formal education and these growing businesses.

Back in 2009 an innovative experiment was conducted by the extended services team from Northumberland County Council working with young people identified as likely to become 'NEET' (not in employment, education or training) to see if working on a project to build a small traditional sailing boat could impact the potential for continuing in education. It was a great success and we have extended this innovative and inspirational approach, working with hands on traditional skills, boats and experienced craftsmen to engage a wider audience from 12 to 28-year olds through a variety age appropriate inspirational experiences.

We are now delivering 1-day curriculum benchmarked schools experiences for 8 to 14-year olds and foundation learning in engineering skills for 14 to 28-year olds, through the medium of heritage boat building, as an inspiration for change.

We are already supplying newly trained young people as apprentices or in to full time jobs in the local engineering and offshore sector with over 20% gaining employment and 40% taking on further learning.

So, by combining the heritage experience of reliving Captain William Smith's adventures and working with the growing businesses and the community in Blyth, we hope to see both the community and the unsung hero find new and exciting futures.

Learn To Build Boats!

There is a huge renewed interest in our local maritime culture across the UK. In Blyth, North East of England we are supporting people to learn traditional boat building and shipwright skills. Blyth has been a busy port for many hundreds of years and boats that were built here traded across the world’s oceans. Indeed, a boat from Blyth discovered Antarctica. We want to continue that tradition and encourage a whole new generation into traditional boat building.

We offer a free Level 1 NVQ course in our heritage boat yard, paid 6-month traineeships to level 2 NVQ and the opportunity to work up to level 3 NVQ. welcome anyone who would like to visit us and learn more. This can be a springboard into whole new area of personal or career development.

Please call 01670 352227 to arrange a visit and we look forward to showing you the ropes.

Blyth Tall Ship Building

The Ridley Family

The estate was acquired by the Ridley family who enlarged the quays and started manufacturing salt on a large scale.

Coal and salt

Customs books from 1723 record trade consisting of solely coal and salt.

Early ship building.

Earliest record of a ship being built at Blyth. The vessel was the 44 ton sloop 'Constant Ann'.

First Breakwater.

The first breakwater was established which was a roughly built stone structure intended to break the force of the sea in an easterly gale. It was known as North Dyke.

The First Staiths

The first staiths were built with an elevated loading point. High Lighthouse was also built which served untill 1984.


A poem is printed entitled 'A tribute to the Memory of Captain George Robinson'.

More and more vessels.

An increasing number of vessels were using the river. This led to the purchase of a steam vessel to tow sail vessels back to the sea.


Shipbuilding continues with three shipyards operating. The site became known as Wimbourne Quay.

Blyth Lifeboat

Blyth's first lifeboat is established.

Railway links

Blyth & Tyne Railway Company built the first rail linked staith on teh south side of the river resulting in coal shipments growing rapidly over the next few years to around 200,000 tons per annum.

First ferry.

The first chain ferry, known as Low Ferry, started operating. This ran for 23 years.

Port Management

"As trade continued to develop, growth clearly had to be managed. In 1854 the Blyth Harbour and Dock company was formed, given powers to develop the port and to levy dues and charges."

Harbour dredging.

The Harbour Act was passed allowing the dredging of the Harbour to really begin.

Further improvements

Further improvements to the harbour were carried out.

Iron Ships

The first two iron ships, known as hoppers, were built for the Russian Government by Messrs Hodgson & Soulsby at Cowpen Square. Launch dates were 22nd & 27th April.

Swipe left and right

The connection between Blyth and Antarctica is a fascinating one. The community initiative utilising its rich history of exploration to transform young lives raised in difficult circumstances is a truly inspiring endeavour. I am delighted and honoured to give it my enthusiastic support. 

Sir Chris Bonington

Tall ships, adventure and active learning, all aimed at getting young people in to new jobs. This is an inspirational project for Northumberland and we should all back it.

The Duchess of Northumberland

This is an exceptional project. This story of the British first sighting of the Antarctic land mass deserves to be celebrated.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes

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