Not as the result of urban protest, but one of the late major spasms of 're-development' sweeping Newcastle inspired by the grandiose dreams of T. Dan Smith. Great Victorian mansions were being torn down and their wooden bits pieces and floorboards were heaped up and burnt on newly cleared earth. By twilight homeward bound school children danced around the flames.
Many years later I had a conversation in a bar with an architectural salvager; he told me he had gone into a large Victorian house on Rye Hill to see two workman swinging away with sledge hammers, smashing to bits a newel post carved from a piece of green Connemara marble at the foot of a formerly grand staircase ...
The great and good of Newcastle had lived on Rye Hill when today's smart addresses were meek suburbs on the outskirts or even more modest villages further afield.
Now Rye Hill is a housing estate on the road to Cruddas Park. Newcastle's 'West End' as a whole has suffered a catalogue of problems that are usually bundled up in the evasive shorthand term "inner city".
I took a stroll with my camera this week when a high pressure front brought the first clear blue sky for weeks. Rye Hill was only part of my exploration. I wanted to record and comment on developments in and around Newcastle College, a rapidly expanding Further Education college. The excellence of the work I have seen over the past few years at student's final shows has impressed. Testimony for the college has filtered down to me. But welcome as the news about course standards are, I am pre-occupied with something else. Good and bad transformations of urban space and the 'unitended' consequence that comes from neglect as much as it ever did from planning.
The old settled Victorian community has vanished. It went long before the arrival of the wrecking ball; by the era of Smith's vaulting ambition, the huge staterooms and multiple floors of these mansions, high above the Tyne to the west of the city, were dosshouses and worse. Like the bleak home of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, time and history had by-passed them. A few streets of smaller Victorian terraces somehow or other survived, tucked away beside Summerhill Square and to my eyes offering a reproach to the newcomers constructed on the cheap in fish paste coloured brick, houses that have had several expensive facelifts, award winning designs that appealed to panels of planners and architects yet proved virtually uninhabitable as completed. What, one thinks, is new?
Part II to follow.
For details of the late "Mr Newcastle", T. Dan Smith, see earlier posts or simply google it yourself.