Whickham View

Mediaville
Sat. 7th Sep., 2002

The western edge of the City around north Scotswood suffered from adolescent bad behaviour during the latter dreadful decade of Thatcherism and enforced Tory decline. These police cameras scan the now tranquil scene. That people in general now feel more included has more to do with Tory demise than spy cameras and traffic calming.

The road now called Whickham View, from the cross Tyne vista, is a continuation from Benwell Lane which until the dawning of the 1930s fizzled out into a collection of farm tracks.

The nearby Scotswood and South Benwell estates were full and a housing boom driven by manufacturing took place.

Spy in the sky
Typical Thorntree Housing

Two local lads, who were time served joiners, pooled their assets and enthusiasm to form a development company. Longstaff and Bain successfully built the homes in the Thorntree Estate, and provided a spacious cinema, rivalling some City centre venues for capacity, and then ran it themselves as a private passion.

They erected over 600 houses here by 1936 and were receiving interest at 4.5% from the mortgages. They moved on to Chapel House Farm, virgin fields further to the west. There they built almost double the houses and finished a successful and rewarding career for two working men who saw an opportunity to improve housing conditions at affordable prices and beat the robber barons and greedy banks, thus denying the parasite shareholders their pocket linings for no effort.

Not all of the housing was privately developed. The City Council built these substantial Tyneside Flats at the same time. The gentle slope and green field site allowed a spacious arrangement, and the main thoroughfare was given unusually generous proportions.

Whickham View connects Benwell with Denton Road, an older route to a river crossing from the General Wade West Road, running to the north of here.

The gradual shift from Council tenant holding to owner occupier tenure has increased respect in the built environment. Those once teenagers who terrorised the neighbourhood have spawned snivelling noses of their own and now, however reluctantly, have assumed responsibilities and experience their quelling effect.

Whickam View Council Flats
Shops were part of the plan

As in developments of this kind, shops were part of the plan. The nearest shopping area was Benwell, 1.5 Km to the east, and the small village of Denton to the north west was yet to become more than a collection of farm dwellings.

Today's council keeps the place clean and floral with these cheerful planters. It is an indication of the improvement of this area that these touches of civic decoration remain free of vandalism. This would have been unthinkable ten years ago.

The road leading away is Ferguson's Lane, an older road, used for cattle and taken over for the housing estate. The road in the immediate foreground is a modern invention and was given the name Broadmead Way, in recognition of the fields that it cut across.

wiggle through the chicane
Looknig west from Ferguson's Lane junction

Above is an example of the almost universally hated pinch points, engineered by the Council to slow down kiddies in stolen cars.

The two in Whickham View were the first to be constructed in a normal residential but through route. The view on the left shows a driver's eye view, and demonstrates their near invisibility on approach. The poles and bollards have been demolished and replaced countless times and many are the innocent motorists who have had their cars wrecked by these ill considered, appallingly executed and unnecessary artificial hazards.

The Council is stubborn in its adherence to this topsy-turvy attitude to road safety,

Art Deco was a popular style of design and decoration during the mid 1920s until the forced austerity of the Second World War in 1939.

It was a development from the previous Art Nouveau, a style that peaked at the turn of the twentieth century. The name Art Deco was coined at the 1925 Paris Exhibition of Decorative Arts.

It is no surprise to see this purpose built secondary school complex built during 1936 displays much of this height of modernity for the time. The white painted metal window frames are a riot of Deco detail. The octagonal tower, curved bay windows, and citadel formed from lapped rectangles are typical of this style. The ground plan is two facing upper case D shapes meeting at the tower.

John Marley Centre
Marley Main Entrance
Curved windows and rectangle chunks

A couple of generations of scholars have passed though these main entrance doors during its being formerly a secondary school and latterly a comprehensive. It closed its doors to mainstream children in 1992.

It was known by all as John Marley. It was named after Sir John Marley who defended the King's interest in the town during the
Civil War and later became Mayor.

During the 1644 Siege of Newcastle the Scots, in taking the town for Parliament, threatened to destroy the tower of St. Nicholas Church with cannon-fire to quell resistance.

Sir John Marley proceeded to place Scottish prisoners within the structure to save its very existence - and save it he did!

The town was surrounded, the Roundheads had their local headquarters at nearby Sunderland. The Royalist garrison rejected commands to surrender and at 1700hrs on the 19th October 1644, after a day of artillery bombardment and mine explosions had left huge gaps in the defensive walls, the town was finally stormed and captured. John Marley and some of the garrison retreated to the castle keep and resisted for a few more days before surrendering.

In 1994 the site was reopened as part of Newcastle College and local modern composer and performer, Mark Knopfler, officially opened the Centre for Popular music. Mark was a founder member of the internationally renowned group, "Dire Straits". One of his lyrics reads "Get your money for nothing and your chicks for free" but I don't think life is like that for most of us!

Refectory in fabulous nosh-o-rama

The College invested further funds and an additional Media Centre was opened in February 1998. Students study film, TV and radio here. Live community radio broadcasting licences have been granted and the budding broadcasters have been let loose on the airwaves.

The refectory retains its Art Deco feel with new materials, brushed chrome. The 1930s theme is reinforced by the poster featuring the bow of the ship "Atlantique" for the Compagnie de Navigation Sud-Atlantique steaming forward behind a tugboat. The artist was Adolphe-Jean-Marie Mouron Cassandre and dates from 1931. His "Normandie" from the same vintage is also on display.

Those local builders, Longstaff and Bain, built the Embassy Cinema on the junction of Whickham View and Thorntree Drive. It was designed by local architect Robert Burke and my father worked on the interior decoration, being then a partner in the Nottingham firm of Fred Foster.

For many years it showed features after their city centre runs and was conveniently placed on two major trolleybus routes. These two routes now run by Stagecoach motorbuses are essentially similar being today numbered 30/31 (successor to 33/36) and 38.

The two pals ran the cinema as a labour of love for many years and it finally closed as a cinema in 1960.

Refectory sailing away
Hasienda arch and bulbous brick blobs
Embassy side view

The plans to demolish the building and put up a bowling alley never materialised and it opened as a bingo hall in 1963, and remains successfully so at present. Today's patrons enter through that small hole in the side, but the grand entrance during cinema days was round the left corner of this view. Five sweeping steps lead to three sets of of double swing doors into the spacious foyer with its classical decoration including cornice trompe l'oeils and rustic views.

With the conversion of the old school to a media and music centre this part of today's Newcastle maintains a creative tradition that has been under the surface since its inception as a housing estate.

Click here to see high quality album copies of these and other photographs from the same shoot

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