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.

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