Our Gateshead



     'Gateshead Through Time'

   By Nick Neave


Samuel Johnson once described Gateshead as 'a dirty lane leading to Newcastle' and unfortunately such an image has long persisted. It is often assumed by visitors to the area that Gateshead is an offshoot to Newcastle, created by Newcastle spreading south of the river. This is not the case. Gateshead has long been an industrial and urban centre in its own right, with a proud history, and a rich heritage. Gateshead is first mentioned in Bede's History of the English Church and People and the first settlements lay along the river Tyne close to where the Tyne and Swing Bridges now stand.

 By 1344 coal-mining had become a significant feature of the area, and wharves were constructed along the river at Pipewellgate to transport the 'black gold'. Gateshead continued to develop in the 1600s but during and after the Civil War the town began to decline, as it was no longer economical to mine the deeper coal seams further inland that were now all that remained of its coal riches. It was not until the mid 1700S that technological advances meant that such reserves could be exploited, and Gateshead once more began to prosper. Coal mining led to ship building which in turn led to rope-making; other important industries consisted of mills, quarries, potteries, ironworks, brickworks and chemical works.

The cumulative effect of this industrial development was to create a dramatic increase in the population, and by the 1800s citizens were packed into poor insanitary housing that bred a host of social and health problems; outbreaks of cholera for example being distressingly common. By the 1860s, more land to the south and east became available for public housing and so Gateshead gradually spread from its original heart. Communities were established at Low Fell and Sheriff Hill and Saltwell Park was created for public benefit in 1877. Imposing residences were constructed for the well-to-do industrialists who had triggered Gateshead's expansion, and the Housing Act of 1909 led to the clearance of some of the overcrowded slum areas. After the First World War other areas of poor housing were demolished and new communities established in Carr Hill, Wrekenton, Deckham and Lobley Hill, with the construction of the Tyne Bridge in the 1920S the slums of Pipewellgate and Bottle Bank were finally cleared.

From the 1920S Gateshead began a slow industrial decline as the traditional heavy industries began to fail, and an attempt was made to improve matters with the creation of the Team Valley Trading Estate in the 1930s. During the 1950S, attempts to solve the chronic housing shortage led to the construction of tower blocks, and 'village' concepts, though they generally led to a collapse of the community spirit and greater social problems. During the 1960s and 1970S the old heart of Gateshead was largely cleared to provide relief roads, flyovers and bypasses that seemed only to exist to enable people to reach Newcastle with greater ease, leaving Gateshead even more isolated and resentful.

From such bad times Gateshead has experienced a slow regeneration, not only of its landscape but also of its pride. The building of the Metro Centre in 1986 and the National Garden Festival in 1990 kick-started further civic and social developments and more recent high-profile developments along the quayside such as the Millennium Bridge, the Baltic and the Sage and the sculpture the 'Angel of the North' have further led to a rise in civic pride.

The folk of Gateshead have endured years of boom and bust and their town has undergone many dramatic transformations. By putting together old and new photographs the reader may come to appreciate the extent of such changes and how they have influenced the citizens of Gateshead. What is clear from comparing the old and new images is that while some parts of Gateshead have experienced significant regeneration, some elements remain virtually unchanged. It is also clear that some of the regeneration may have been in the 'name of progress' but it has not exactly led to an improvement in the environment.





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