Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The King’s Meadows (NZ230628)

The steady uninterrupted flow of the River Tyne – both its general sea-ward course and the ebb and flood of its tidal stretch – has not always been as stable and balanced. There was a time when its banks angled gently into relatively shallow depths, its bends choked with silt rendering passage difficult for all but the smallest of vessels.

As the Industrial Revolution gathered pace in the Victorian era, though, Tyneside’s industrialists began to worry about access to their growing network of factories and shipyards. The river needed to be cleared of all encumbrances … and that meant a major programme of dredging. So, in 1850, the Tyne Improvement Commission was established.

The TIC improved and maintained the river – and the Port of Tyne as a whole – for more than a century. Navigation of the waterway for the industries of Tyneside was made a good deal better and helped make the region the powerhouse in became in the latter half of the 19th century. Of the many straightening and clearance works that were carried out in this period the most famous was perhaps the removal of the river’s most prominent island, the King’s Meadows.

This long, thin landmass extended some 2,000m in the middle of the Tyne between the villages of Dunston to the south and Elswick to the north. It amounted to some 30 acres and even had its own pub, the Countess of Coventry, whose landlady grazed cattle on the island which produced milk for the locals. Occasionally, horse racing meetings and regattas would be held on and around this little sliver of dry land – all served by a ferry service.

But the march of Victorian industry showed no sentiment toward the famous landmark, and it was eaten away by one of the new-fangled steam dredgers in the late 1870s. Nearby Clarence and George Islands (also known as Annie and Little Annie) were also swept from the riverscape, and the region lost a little more of its old-fashioned charm. But at least the businessmen were happy.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Accident on the High Level Bridge, 1849 (NZ251637)

From the Monthly Chronicle of North-Country Lore & Legend, August 1887:-

Not fewer than 1,300 workmen were at one time employed in the construction of the High Level Bridge across the Tyne. Amongst them was a man named John Smith, a ship carpenter, who, finding work slack at his own vocation, accepted an engagement at the High Level. To him a remarkable accident occurred on July 28, 1849.  
While at work he stepped upon a loose plank, which canted over, and he was thrown headlong from the bridge. In his descent, the leg of his trousers caught a large nail which had been driven into the timber just upon the level of the lower roadway, 90 feet above the river, where he hung suspended for a considerable time until rescued by his fellow-workmen.  
Doubtless Smith owed his marvellous escape to the toughness and strength of the fustian trousers he wore at the time; and a well-known firm of Newcastle clothiers, long since retired from business, asserted in one of their advertisements that the wonderful “fustians” had been made and purchased at their establishment. Smith, however, contradicted this assertion through the local papers, giving the name and address of the tradesman who had supplied him with the “lucky bags” in question.  
We are sorry to have to add that poor Smith was killed by an accident after all. Falling down a ship’s hold in the Tyne early in 1878, he died soon after from the injuries he then received. Shortly after his providential escape on the High Level, Mr Smith was induced to join the Wesleyans, and it was not long ere he became one of the most valued local preachers in that body. Mr Smith had been asked by a minister to occupy his pulpit on the Sunday, but he declined, on the ground that he had been working hard and needed rest. On that very day he died from the result of the accident we have mentioned.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The Tyne Bridge Myth (NZ253638)

One from the archives: the Tyne Bridge (& other bridges!) 
from the Milk Market, as photographed by the 
author in 1984.

Constructed during 1925-28 and opened on 10th October 1928, the Tyne Bridge which spans the gorge between Newcastle and Gateshead is undoubtedly Tyneside’s greatest landmark. It was on the drawing board for more than 60 years before the councils of the two towns pushed through their final plans – the design being by Mott, Hay and Anderson (architect R.Burns Dick), and the contractors Dorman, Long & Co. of Middlesbrough.

The three-year construction programme cost some £1.2million and the life of a single worker (Charles Tosh). Its distinctive form made it an instant hit, and it has remained so ever since – and it was the largest single span bridge in the country at the time of its unveiling.

It is commonly believed that the Tyne Bridge was the model for the much larger Sydney Harbour Bridge, but this is not so. Sydney’s bridge was actually begun first (in 1923), but completed much later (in 1932). The only obvious link between the two structures is the identity of the constructors, Dorman, Long & Co. – which is possibly where the common confusion arose. If anything, because of the respective timelines, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was a model for the Tyne Bridge!

In actual fact, the bridges don’t really resemble one another anyway – well, not when you look at the Sydney Bridge’s true inspiration, the Hell Gate Bridge in New York (built during 1912-16). Now there’s a model for the Ozzie landmark if ever there was one!

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Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Gateshead Town Hall Debacle (NZ254634)

The building in central Gateshead now known as the Old Town Hall was designed and built by way of a torturous procedure during 1867-1870. An Act of Parliament, a design competition and the appointment of the appropriate officials all preceded the commencement of work – which led, eventually, to the building opening for business in February 1870. It remained the centre of local government for over 100 years.

The superstitious among the residents of the town may, however, have feared the worst for the future when an extraordinary accident befell the gathered throng on 11th June 1868 during the laying of the foundation stone. Officials, various hangers-on and a sizeable chunk of the town’s population turned up for the event, and the organisers thought it a good idea to erect two special platforms at the construction site to accommodate the crowd.

After refreshments at a local pub, the slightly tipsy officials turned up at around 3pm and took their places – along with several hundred others – on the aforementioned platforms. The mayor, Robert Stirling Newall, was handed a silver trowel with which to perform the ceremonial duties. This he did without incident, then the usual round of speeches commenced.

Everyone’s attention was soon diverted, however, by a loud creaking noise. To the general horror of all present, one of the platforms began to lurch groundward, taking around 500 unfortunates with it. After the dust had settled the site was carefully cleared, and twenty or so folk were wheeled off to the Dispensary. One fatality followed – that of 70-year-old Mr Barnet of Windmill Hills, who died a few weeks later following a blood infection caused by bruising to his feet.

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Tuesday, 3 December 2013

'Get Carter' Car Park (NZ256632)

© Copyright philld and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Gateshead’s Trinity Square Car Park (to give it its proper name) was constructed during 1964-69 and demolished as recently as 2010. It was always controversial: from its troubled construction, through its fitful existence, until, finally, the furore surrounding its planned and actual destruction. Yet it remains lodged in the minds of all North-Easterners of a certain age as the scene of the region’s most famous moment in the history of film.

The Owen Luder Partnership was responsible for its design, dreamt up, as it was, as a rival for Newcastle’s planned Eldon Square Shopping Centre. For the car park itself was only a part of a greater whole, sitting, as it did, atop the Trinity Square shopping precinct. The latter opened in 1967, the car park suffering construction problems which delayed its opening until 1969.

For four decades thereafter it dominated Gateshead’s skyline, to the delight of few and the distain of many. It found international fame as the starring venue of the 1971 gangster flick Get Carter, from which Michael Caine famously hurled Bryan Mosley’s character to his death.

Atop the car park stood the shell of a restaurant which was never actually used due to its inaccessibility. The shopping centre was utilised reasonably well throughout its lifetime, but the car park – unused for long periods – was never well liked and soon became unsightly.

Once hailed by experts as a Brutalist classic, it slowly fell into a state of dangerous dilapidation. Its film fame helped it stave off demolition for years, until it was finally dismantled during 2010 during phase 1 of the town centre’s long-term redevelopment.

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