Elswick Snow
Boy on bike, West View

Winter
Sat. 30th Dec., 2000

The snow arrived this week, and as is usual, in the soft south of England the snowflakes brought the capital to a standstill.

Here in the north we are used to snow and life just goes on. The last really heavy snowfall was 1982, but there have been little flurries since then.

Today I decided to walk into the city, and these pictures chronicle that bracing amble.

This is the top of West View, built in the 1880s, and named "Gluehouse Lane". The new residents rejected this in favour of the flowery version. The wall on the right is Elswick Cemetery boundary.

Elswick Cemetery gate arch is shored up with large timbers as it threatens to topple over. When built, this was in a leafy area with a gravel pit to the north and some market gardens nearby. Today it is surrounded by housing.

My 1930s house stands on the edge of the now filled in gravel pit on a site previously occupied by greenhouses.

The road is Elswick Road (pronounced "Ells-ick") stretching from Westgate Road near the city and Adelaide Terrace in Benwell to the west. This picture is of the junction of Grainger Park Road.

Elswick Cemetery Gates
Elswick Park

Elswick Park used to be the grounds of Lord Armstrong's town house, a massive mansion set in a wood, surrounded by the Newcastle equivalent of rolling pastures. His grand pile was finally demolished in 1980 and the park has a sports pavilion, tennis courts, football pitches, safe area for the little children to play, and a leisure swimming pool. Below is the rear of the Stephenson Library building, now a community resource and adult learning centre.

Stephenson Library
Top of Beech Grove Road

Here we look back at the junction of Beech Grove Road and Elswick Road. The vacated National Westminster Bank is on the corner with the Stephenson building beyond.

To the right, opposite the old library, is the pharmacy and just out of shot to the right is the Elswick Health Centre, built in 1978, replacing some crumbling slums in Malvern Street and Meldon Street.

There is an open space to the left, beyond that standing man, where housing was demolished in 1995. This was the tail end of the "Structure Plan" evolved by the then Tyne & Wear County Council before its demise in 1985, thanks to the Tory Thatcher's hatred of ordinary people having a say in their local government.

Jubilee Estate

This section of Elswick Road is now provided with pinch points to slow traffic. The housing was put up during that slum clearance in 1978. It had been planned to have it finished the previous year, hence the name, derived from Queen Elizabeth II's 25 year Jubilee celebrated in 1977. Since then the estate has been subject to a couple of facelifts. A minority of residents considered criminality and vandalism a worthy pursuit, but that is now not so evident.

Site of Elswick Cinema

That wall behind the bus shelter is all that now remains of the Elswick Picture House, a local cinema with a grand 1930s entrance and double stairway approach. It was a pity that this community resource was demolished rather than developed. At the end it was well past its best, being a "flea pit", and then when the plan for demolition was finalised it became an abandoned and derelict hulk. In the 24 years since its removal the site has remained a roughly landscaped pile of rubble.

On the opposite side of the road is Ashfield School, for the really small ones. Originally part of a Catholic run refuge for "fallen women" and their tiny tots, the residential block and mini convent have now gone.

Pictured here is the area of Elswick Road that was subject to some rioting during 1991 when a spontaneous reaction broke out in various parts of Britain born of frustration with the excesses of the Tory Thatcher government taking from the people and giving untold wealth to the already rich.

A recently vacated pub, the Dodd's Arms, that stood just to the right of that telephone kiosk was set to the torch, and fire engines were held at bay at that small roundabout.

Site of Dodd's Arms
Blue Man, Aidan Arms
The Big Lamp

This is the Blue Man public house, so called because there was a blue painted effigy sticking out of that cylindrical oriel window above what was the main entrance. My guess at the date of the building is 1860. It is presently empty, all recent efforts at use as an ale house have failed due to lack of trade. There were many pubs, shops and banks at this section of Elswick Road, but the client base has evaporated with the vanishing housing. Newer dwellings have a much lower density.

The low wall to the right is the boundary of Westgate Cemetery, now no longer used for burials.

This section of town is called The Big Lamp in recognition of one of the first electric street lamps. Its source of power was a generating station just beyond the junction up ahead, intended to give electricity to the then new fangled tram system.

The big arc lamp stood in an arched iron structure on a pole at the junction. In an era of flickering gas mantles it must have seemed magic, bringing a pool of "daylight" in the night. Only the very rich and adventurous had electric power to their houses. None of the dwellings in this vicinity would have the new wires for many years.

The incandescent electric light bulb was invented in this city by Joseph Swan in 1860, but due to lack of good vacuum and a reliable electric supply was not widly adopted. In 1880 T. A. Edison revamped the design.

Straight ahead is the Prudhoe Mission, an Evangelical church with pretensions of social improvement. Its imposing structure, dating from 1903, caters not only for worship, but also for soup kitchen, education, and short stay hostel accommodation.

The building on the right, of similar vintage, was a bank  until 1990. It is now a saw factory.

The road to the right is Westgate Hill, and is the home of of many motorcycle shops. On Saturday Summer afternoons the pavements are full of rugged types in leather, and the road resounds to the beat of bike pistons. Although not good biking weather, the shops were still open for business, if a little bereft of customers.

Prudhoe Mission
Westgate Hill
Westgate Hill Terrace

Small streets lead off Westgate Hill to a 19th century housing enclave behind. Originally constructed for the factory owners and their families, it is now a desirable middle class area. Outspoken Female Labour member of Parliament, Mo Mowlem, lived here before moving on to more salubrious surroundings nearer the capital.

Almost at the foot of the hill here, and the mix of building styles is apparent.

M & S Motorcycles' building has been extensively rebuilt during the last three years. Next to it, that neo Georgian fašade is newer than it looks, being tacked on to an early twentieth century extension to a nineteenth century carcase.

During the days of trolley buses the almost silent vehicles whizzed up this hill. Their acceleration and pulling power has yet to be rivalled. Today's buses crawl up and shake everything with their straining internal combustion.

The final shot, although I stress not my destination on this walk into the city, is this 19th century terrace, typical of the housing in parts of this road, but only on the northern side. This house is given over to a brothel. Two large dwellings have been internally linked to give (I estimate) at least twenty bedrooms on the upper floors, and ample room for the salon and administration on the ground floor.

This is now the end of the terrace, but only since the new radial route, St. James' Boulevard, was built 1997-99.

With this shot I leave the 20th century and move on with optimism to the 21st, and I wish all visitors a prosperous and happy new century.

M & S Motorcycles
House of ill repute

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