Surprisingly, the region defined as the North-East of England by the UK government corresponds fairly well to a recognisable cultural area. Most of the inhabitants live in areas focused on the lower reaches of the Tees, Wear and Tyne, the major rivers of the area. However, the sea-passage to London and the surrounding area allowed access to a market for bulk products such as COAL
The wealth of the region was built upon coal and its exploitation required an extensive system of waggon-ways to carry the coal to coastal harbours or to the banks of the river Tyne where it was carried downriver by small boats known as keels. The ready availability of coal lead to other industries such as glass making, and ironworks, and the waggonways were an important factor in the development of railways, where local companies led the world. Bridge-building, ship-building and the invention of the steam-turbine were among the factors which which ensured the status of the region as a leader in engineering.
In contrast to the industrial regions around the lower reaches of the Tyne, Wear and Tees, the rest of the region is thinly populated. The fells to the west; the Cheviots and agricultural regions to the north and the hills and plains of North Yorkshire to the South, ensured a degree of isolation which allowed the development of a local identity shared by a very diverse population. These wilderness areas have provided opportunities for recreation and inspiration and are much treasured by many of those who live in the densely populated areas.
Currently, the region is divided between the Ceremonial Counties of Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, County Durham and the small part of North Yorkshire which was for a while part of the administrative area called Cleveland. Of these, Tyne and Wear is a fairly recent invention, bringing together the Cities of Sunderland and Newcastle upon Tyne, ancient rivals for a variety of reasons. These two spearheaded the economic development of the region and were closely followed by the area around the Tees.
Somewhere between the Romans and the Normans, this region formed the core of the kingdom of Bernicia. In the political upheavals of the time it combined with the kingdom of Deira which lay to the south and extended as far as the River Humber. Thus was formed the kingdom of Northumbria, one of the 7 Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. At times it extended further north, almost as far as the site of Edinburgh and west into Rheged. which we now call Cumbria. Nowadays the term Northumbrian can refer either to the County of Northumberland or take on a wider regional meaning depending on the context.