Tuesday, 17 September 2013

‘New’ Durham Road (north & south of NZ257604)

Anyone coming north though the suburbs of Gateshead towards the bridgehead with the River Tyne will usually take the A167 – a route which carries the traveller from the Angel of the North in an almost perfectly straight line through Harlow Green, Low Fell, Shipcote and the like, until the town centre itself is reached on the banks of Tyne. It is an almost constantly busy road, strewn with junctions, shops, rather grand houses and many other features of suburban sprawl.

It could have been there for ever – built by the Romans, you might think, due to its arrow-like trajectory through the heavily build-up streets. Surprisingly, though it was thrown down as recently as the 1820s – to replace the undulating nature of its predecessor a little to the east (and now known as Old Durham Road).

The ‘new’ Durham Road was, quite simply, driven straight through the almost entirely rural landscape of the time, from Birtley in the south to Gateshead town centre in the north. Low Fell grew to be its primary settlement, situated about half-way along the new thoroughfare, but still separated by gaping farmland to all around it – including Gateshead itself, a good mile or so up the road. Construction of the new highway commenced in December 1824, with the mail coach making first use of the road in the summer of 1826.

In the years and decades that followed, the newly-laid road became a magnet for urban sprawl. Initially, it was the wealthy who sought out plots on the new ribbon development – hence the profusion of stately affairs found hereabouts, built by the wealthy families of Newcastle to escape the grime of urban living. A great many of these buildings remain, and are Grade II listed.

Gradually, the yawning gaps of greenery around and about were swallowed up as the lower classes leaked out into what was once rolling countryside – fell land, in fact – and the town/suburb we now know as Low Fell was truly born. Licences were granted for the construction and opening of new pubs, and houses of all shapes and sizes sprung out of the ground. One notable exception was the area put aside for Saltwell Park, which was created from land sold by William Wailes to the town council in the 1870s.

The ‘old’ road through Wrekenton and Sheriff Hill became a backwater of sorts for a while, but the twentieth century population boom ensured that it remains an important highway in its own right.

No comments:

Post a Comment