Event Details

The guided walk that took place on Saturday the 6th October brought together Northumbria University academics to give talks on all aspects of the past, present and future of the Tyne and its bridges. Below you can find summaries of the talks given and more detailed descriptions will be posted as soon as possible.

Bridging the Tyne Guided Walk Event – Saturday 6th October 2018.

The Redheugh Bridge – Annabel Woolf – Formation and Geology of the Tyne Drainage Area.

The Tyne is supplied by the North Tyne, which is rising on the Scottish border in Kielder Forest and the South Tyne originating from the northern Pennines.

The Pennines were uplifted mainly as part of the Alpine Orogeny (50 million years ago) and later during the Neogene. The uplifted mountain range was the first step for the formation of the Tyne and is functioning as a watershed between east and west until today. About 30 million years ago water streams started flowing towards the sea, carving their way through the landscape, growing larger and larger over the centuries.

Today the Tyne has a length of 118 km, a width between 100 and 400 m and a depth up to 17 m. On its way to the North Sea the Tyne is mostly flowing through Carboniferous to Permian limestones, which are building up the bedrock for the drainage area of the Tyne. These sediment were deposited in a marine environment before England rose above the sea level to its today’s position. The drainage area of the Tyne is covering an area of 2,300 km2 and feeding different rivers the (Allen, Derwent, North Tyne, Rede, South Tyne and the Tyne).

The King Edward Bridge – Mark Ashley Parry – Weather on the Tyne: Past, Present and Future.

The River Tyne is synonymous with Fog, which is where song lyrics “Fog on Tyne is all mine, all mine” originates from. However, in recent years we have seen a number of extreme weather events that have had impacts on the River Tyne. These can be observed during Thunder Thursday on the 28th June 2012 or the flooding of the Newcastle Quayside on the 5th December 2013.

But, these events are not new on the River Tyne. On the 16th and 17th November 1771, the North East was hit by intense rainfall for numerous hours; which resulted in the River Tyne being six feet higher than usual. This resulted in nearly all the bridges on the River Tyne been either destroyed or badly damaged; including the original Tyne Bridge, which had nearly half the bridge being washed away in the flood. This is despite the bridge being standing against the focus of nature for roughly 500 years.

In the future, it is expected that flooding on the River Tyne to increase. This is because that whilst the summers will become warmer and drier; the winters will become wetter, with an increase in the number of extreme rainfall events. In addition, it is expected that sea-level rise will increase. The combination of these two events will greatly increase the likelihood of flooding on the River Tyne.

The Queen Elizabeth II Bridge – Mark Stoddart – The ‘forgotten’ 1887 Great Northern Exhibition.

In 2018 Newcastle/Gateshead is holding The Great Exhibition of the North. The stated ambition is that it ”… The dramatic story of the North, … will instil local pride and inspire people to pursue exciting lives and careers in the North. By attracting visitors from near and far, it will transform global perceptions of Northern England…”

In 1887 Newcastle held another exhibition with remarkably similar aims. Yet this event is almost forgotten, even though it attracted over 2 million visitors, many on excursion trains from around the UK. The event was put together quickly with no public funding, and it featured a wide range of North Eastern products, from a 100 ton gun to a woollen needlework picture of Moses. It was fully lit by electricity, with an extensive art gallery and theatre.

Through contemporary accounts and diaries I will trace the development of the event and reactions to it, and explore how it came to be forgotten.

The High Level Bridge – Lara Green – When Stepniak met the Spence Watsons: Russian Revolutionary Terrorism and the North East at the End of the Nineteenth Century.

In February 1889, Robert Spence Watson invited the Russian terrorist and journalist Sergei Stepniak to lecture at the Newcastle Sunday Society, of which he was president, and to stay with him, his wife Elizabeth, and their children at their home in Gateshead. This meeting would contribute to the Spence Watsons becoming lifelong supporters of the Russian revolutionary cause. But how did the Spence Watsons, as Quakers and pacifists, come to support and fund pro-terrorist propaganda? And why has Elizabeth Spence Watson’s role in this been overlooked? This short talk will explore how Stepniak attracted foreign sympathisers to his cause and how he relied on help from women such as Elizabeth Spence Watson.

The Swing Bridge – Leona Skelton – Lord William Armstrong, the Swing Bridge and Industrialising the upper Tyne estuary.

The replacement of the stone arched Tyne Bridge with William Armstrong’s pioneering, hydraulic Swing Bridge enabled the industrialisation of the river west of Newcastle and Gateshead in the upper estuary. The desire to dredge above the bridge increased following the opening of the bridge in 1876 because crucially it rotates 180 degrees to enable ships to pass on either side. Before its construction, smaller barges and keel boats which could fit under the small stone arches of the Old Tyne Bridge moved raw materials slowly from upriver businesses to larger ships waiting below the bridge.
Following Lord Armstrong’s death in 1900, the Tyne Improvement Commission, appointed by Parliament in 1850 to improve and re-engineer the Tyne estuary, confirmed the large influence of Armstrong and his works on their decision to dredge above Newcastle, including the removal of the Tyne islands, notably King’s Meadows at Elswick:
I do not know that the Commissioners would really have committed themselves to the important work of the dredging in the upper reaches of the river beyond [i.e. west of] the swing bridge but for the fact that those colossal works had been put there at Elswick [i.e. Vickers-Armstrong Works]. … There is no doubt that the operations of the commission to which I have alluded were to our mutual satisfaction.

Pressure to dredge the Tyne above Newcastle continued in earnest through¬out the late nineteenth century.

The Tyne Bridge and the Millennium Bridge – Hannah Martin – The ‘iconic’ landmark and the post-industrial cultural regeneration of the Quayside: The Tyne Bridge and  its place in local and global identity and culture. 

The 10th of October 2018 marks the 90th anniversary of the official opening of the Tyne Bridge, one of the greatest engineering feats of the 20th century. But how, and why, did these seven tonnes of green steel, bridging the banks of Newcastle and Gateshead, come to be such an international icon and an integral part of the physical and emotional fabric of Tyneside and the Geordie identity?

In the early 20th century, before the construction of the Tyne Bridge, there were only three bridges crossing the Tyne in central Newcastle. From the early 1920s it became clear that a new bridge was urgently needed  to accommodate increasing vehicular transport as large queues were a constant at the Swing bridge due to it having to open up to 30 times each day.

Despite the practical uses of the Bridges of central Newcastle they have become so much more than simply structures used to aid the crossing of the Tyne. These bridges, especially the Tyne Bridge, have become cultural markers, identity shapers and have had a significant influence on social mobility and the regional economy.

If you were to look at images of the Newcastle Tyne Bridge and the Sydney Harbour Bridge in parallel, it is evident that they were both products of the same firm, Mott, Hay and Anderson. Yet, contrary to Geordie myth, the Tyne Bridge did not inspire the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Sydney Harbour Bridge is three times as long, three times as wide and over twice as high as the Tyne Bridge. Although the Tyne Bridge was regarded as a trial for the Sydney Harbour Bridge, it is fair to say that there are not many other bridges in the world that have become as deeply ingrained into local life and regional culture as that of the Tyne Bridge.

From the outset, the new Tyne Bridge was celebrated as a symbol of Tyneside’s international reputation for industrial excellence. Opened in 1928 by King George V, whose car was the first vehicle to cross the bridge after the official ceremony, it immediately acquired a dominant place in the hearts and minds of the local people. George V’s speech on 10 October 1928 described the bridge as a ‘lasting testimony to the unrivalled capacity of British engineering trade and its workers of all grades.’ The Tyne Bridge is an icon that symbolises and bonds together both the industrial past of Tyneside and its post-industrial cultural regeneration.

The construction of the Tyne Bridge took place in a period where the inter-war recession was hitting the industries of the Tyne severely, levels of unemployment were rising and working class distain was apparent. Throughout the years of its construction, the Tyne Bridge provided employment for hundreds of local skilled labours.  From employing local ship builders to work on the bridge, to using steel from Middlesbrough and paint from Gateshead, the construction of the Tyne Bridge was truly a product of the North-East. This led to the Tyne Bridge being perceived locally as a symbol of great economic significance, in essence it was the Bridge that was there to provide a livelihood for many whom were facing dire employment opportunities and uncertain futures. As he opened the bridge, George V expressed his hope that the bridge would ‘help to bring back to the City the full tide of prosperity’. For the people of Gateshead, however, the bridge had resulted in the loss of their commercial and industrial centre. Bottle Bank, a steep but busy street that swept down to the Tyne, was largely destroyed to facilitate construction. From a global viewpoint, it was seen to be a structure demonstrating cutting edge technology and the prowess of industrial capabilities.

The iconic parabolic arch structure has now been forever memorialised in numerous images, works of art, local song and in television and film. The image of the Tyne Bridge can be seen on everything from Newcastle Brown Ale’s famous logo to a recent Sky TV advert this had led to the Bridge gaining global as well as local fame. Ships from all over the world have sailed under its green arch, celebrated aircraft, such as the Red Arrows, have flown over it and millions have made the journey across the Tyne Bridge by all means of transport. Even a colony of 700 pairs of endangered Kittiwakes have made their home under this icon of the North.

Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the economically entwined industries of Tyneside – coal mining, engineering, shipbuilding and metal making – made an international contribution to modernisation and industrialisation. However, by the late twentieth century the landscape of the North-East was one associated with post-industrial decline as the ‘old industries’ for which Tyneside had gained global fame in the 19th and early 20th century began to close down. Throughout this period, though, the Tyne Bridge has stood firm as an symbol of Tyneside resilience and of the cultural regeneration of the 1990s and early twenty-first century. Therefore, Newcastle was, and still is, constantly imagined and defined just as much for what it had once been, as what it has now become.

When the Tyne Bridge was opened in 1928, the banks of the river in central Newcastle were proliferated with thriving industrial businesses that provided work for those living across the area. The rapid industrialisation of the economy in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, encouraged mass migration from those living across Britain, Europe and Scandinavia attracted by the prospect of high wages and reliable employment. This presence of a diverse working class population greatly contributed the creation and maintenance of the iconic Geordie identity. Northern identity is founded upon honesty, pride, hard work and trustworthiness and even in declining economic circumstances; this has always remained a constant.

One of the areas which was significantly altered following the decline of industry on the Tyne was the Newcastle Gateshead Quayside. The riverbanks that are located below the iconic Tyne Bridge are full of spaces which commemorate the industrial past of the city while providing the means to commercially reconnect with the Quayside in the present. Where there used to be flourmills, ship yards, docks and fish markets, there are now restaurants, bars, world-renowned art galleries and music venues. Although now clearly a space that is well accustomed to change, sociability has always been a constant on the Newcastle Gateshead quayside. This space does much justice to the industrial past of the city as well as its regenerated present, and future aspirations.

The Millennium Bridge, the BALTIC and the Sage Gateshead are all symbols of the future which have been rooted in the celebration of the past. These three spaces have become iconic pieces of architecture and synonymous with the image of the city and the local identity.

The Baltic flour mill was completed in 1950 and was built to a late 1930s design. It was one of several mills located along the banks of the Tyne and due its size became a prominent local landmark. The regeneration of the old flour mill began in the late 1990s and in 2002 The BALTIC centre for contemporary art was opened. The new contemporary art centre, costing £46 million, was financed by the Arts council national lottery funding and sought to revitalise the Newcastle Gateshead Quayside. The BALTIC has no permanent collection and boasts five generous spaces which showpiece work from artists across the world and now attracts over 40,000 visitors annually. It has also become a much sought after venue for everything from weddings and international conferences to private dining and a spot to enjoy a coffee overlooking the Tyne and its bridges.

Another structure situated on the banks of the Tyne that has become a local and global representation of the city is the Sage Gateshead. At a cost of almost £70 million, it is by far the most expensive construction sought to regenerate and revitalise the Newcastle Gateshead Quayside. The Sage is much more than a simple music venue, it is also a home for the Royal Northern Sinfonia and Folkworks as well as a Music Education Centre.

The linking of the two banks of the Tyne was further supported by the opening of the Millennium Bridge in 2001. The bridge, built at a cost of £22 million, was internationally recognised for its innovative and modern design and won the RIBA Stirling Prize for architecture in 2002. In combination, these developments have given new life to Newcastle Gateshead Quayside, providing the region with a renewed public focal point and served to redefine, in both local and global perspectives, and area of an industrially depleted city.

The Millennium Bridge, the BALTIC and the Sage Gateshead are symbols of the future of Newcastle and Gateshead but which are clearly rooted in the past.

Global circumstances and the deindustrialisation of the north-east created a set of conditions in which regional particularity had to be transferred from production to consumption and this was an essentially divisive process. The regeneration of the Newcastle Gateshead Quayside has not only created hundreds of jobs for people from across the region, it has also become a focal point for which to reimagine their collective local identities. The newly developed and ever changing iconic landscape of the Tyne and its bridges has allowed individuals to incorporate these spaces into their local identities and this demonstrates the relationship between people and place, more than simply the product of wider cultural and economic change.

A northern upbringing frequently involves the presence of an unusually powerful set of attachments to place deeply rooted in the physical, social and cultural environment. Throughout a childhood situated in the North-East, a strong association with place based culture is apparent in the way families negotiate the spaces of central Newcastle, especially the Quayside. Going for family walks along the waterfront to experience the market on the weekend, and visiting the local museums and galleries with grandparents, which display the industrial heritage of the region, suggests that you learn to be ‘Geordie’ by the culture you experience in your formative years. Those living across Newcastle and Gateshead actively construct their own understandings of the spaces that are part of their everyday lives. These spaces, places, buildings and structures become part of their ‘home’ identity.

Pride is taken in the iconic landscape of our city, especially when the past is remembered collectively. The local culture surrounding the history of Newcastle is constant, appearing in multiple forms and is made accessible to all. From local exhibitions on Geordie Heroes, one of which is being held this weekend in St Mary’s Heritage Centre, to the nationally situated Exhibition of the North which took place across the city this last summer, it is clear that we are proud of our history, our present and our future.

Therefore, what on the surface may appear to simply be a bridge, a beautiful landmark and a practical aid to transport, can, under the conditions of post-industrial regeneration and wider historical and socioeconomic contexts, become the keystone in an iconic cultural landscape and identity. Steeped in past representations but very much situated in the present. Arriving into Newcastle after a long train journey, and seeing the green arch of the Tyne Bridge, evokes a comforting sense of home and familiarity that I am sure all Geordie’s have experienced over the last ninety years and will do so for many years to come.

Guided walk speaker schedule:

Location Speaker Title
Redheugh Bridge Hannah Martin Welcome and introduction.
Redheugh Bridge Annabel Woolf The origins of the Tyne and the route it takes to arrive in Newcastle.
Kind Edward Mark Ashley Parry Weather on the Tyne: Past, Present and Future.
Queen Elizabeth II Bridge Mark Stoddart The ‘forgotten’ 1887 Great Northern Exhibition.
High Level Bridge Lara Green Russian Revolutionary Terrorism and the North East at the End of the Nineteenth Century.
Swing Bridge Dr Leona Skelton Lord William Armstrong, the Swing Bridge and Industrialising the upper Tyne estuary.
Tyne Bridge Hannah Martin The ‘iconic’ landmark: The Tyne Bridge and its place in local and global popular culture.
Millennium Bridge Hannah Martin De-industrialisation and the future of the Tyne.
The Sage Tea, coffee and biscuits.