Like most of the towns in South East Northumberland, Ashington has always had a less than glamorous image. With its close neighbours, Bedlington and Blyth, it was a major coal producing centre, and life was hard for its residents. Since the closure of the mines (the last one, Ashington Colliery, in 1988), towns like Ashington have had to find their way again.
Ashington was originally just a collection of farms, but once coal was discovered it grew into a village, and then into a town, once known as the ‘largest mining village in the world’. The streets bear witness to this, with long, long rows of colliery houses, actually known as ‘colliery rows’. These houses are still lived in, but modernised by their owners – with no sign of the original earth closets, and the outside washhouses now used for storage.
Efforts have been made to cope with the loss of the mines by building a Business Park. This has been constructed on the site of the old colliery, and is intended to bring new businesses, new endeavours and new ideas to the town. Ashington, like the other towns mentioned, is also a dormitory town for Newcastle, with many workers commuting every day.
The centre of the town is pedestrianised, which has had positive and negative effects; the shops are easier to access for pedestrians, but the lack of traffic means that some passing trade has been lost. Ashington has a good market, held on Tuesdays, and attracts visitors from the surrounding areas.
The recently built Ashington Hospital has all medical facilities on site, and Northumberland College draws students from all over the local area.
Where Ashington scores highly is in recreational facilities. It has not one, but two leisure areas; Wansbeck Riverside Country Park, a well loved and picturesque place, and The Queen Elizabeth ll Country Park at Woodhorn, which has the Queen Elizabeth ll Country Park Railway.
The nearby Woodhorn Colliery has been developed as a museum, chronicling the history of the area, and in particular the ‘Pitmen Painters’. In the 1930s, the Ashington Group, as they became known, were miners who attended evening classes in art, and produced wonderful pictures of the life they knew. This was turned into a play by Lee Hall, the creator of Billy Elliot, and has played both locally, and at the National Theatre, and also on Broadway. The paintings can be seen in Woodhorn Museum.
Ashington is famous for producing great sportsmen, including Jack and Bobby (now Sir Bobby) Charlton. Some would say that the most famous is Jackie Milburn, whose statue stands in the main shopping area. Others are cricketers Steve and Ben Harmison and the golfer Kenneth Ferrie.
It can be said that what Ashington lacks in glamour, it more than makes up for in character and history.