North East England in the Fifties and Sixties 1950 to 1969
The 1950s and 1960s saw the advent of many things we now take for granted: rock ‘n’ roll, pop music, colour televisions, motorways, the contraceptive pill and concrete architecture. The Conservative Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan and former Stockton MP, claimed the British people “had never had it so good”. But the new days meant some old ways were to be consigned to history for many. While oil refineries were opening at the mouth of the River Tees to supply the booming petrochemical industry, coalmines and railways across the region were closing rapidly with huge consequences for the communities they supported.
Feb 23, 1950 – Labour win second term
The Labour party under Prime Minister, Clement Attlee is successfully elected to a second term in office but with a reduced lead. All the North East constituencies return Labour MPs except for Tynemouth, Newcastle North, Hexham and Berwick-upon-Tweed which elect Conservative MPs. Conservative, Winston Churchill, remains leader of the opposition.
1950 – Hetton Colliery closes
The famous Hetton Colliery (also known as Hetton Lyons Colliery) closes. Other colliery closures this year include Littleburn Colliery near Durham; Bryan’s Leap Colliery near Rowlands Gill and Woodside Colliery at Etherley near Bishop Auckland.
Apr 28, 1951 – Newcastle United win FA Cup
1951 – Durham’s ‘Category D’ pit villages
Durham County Council published its Development Plan this year in which it addresses the problems of 350 scattered villages which have grown up around small mines. The mines were no longer economic and the villages were losing people. A third of the villages were classified as ‘Category D’ because the council felt there was no way of sustaining them in the future. These villages were to be left to die without economic assistance. Many of the villages will be thriving decades later.
May 29, 1951 – 83 dead at Easington pit
Eighty-one men are killed in an explosion at Easington Colliery. ‘Fire damp’ and coal dust were ignited as a result of sparks emitted from cutters used as picks that struck pyrites.
1951 – Colliery closures
Hilltop Harvey Colliery near Langley Park; Arn Gill Colliery near Copley; Hargill Hill Colliery, Howden-le-Wear; Hareshaw Head Colliery near Bellingham in North Tynedale; Gloria Colliery near Hartley in south east Northumberland; Harsondale near Langley in the South Tyne valley and Hedley Park Colliery near Prudhoe all close this year.
1951 – Tyne Pedestrian Tunnel
The Tyne pedestrian tunnel has opened. Work on the tunnel began in 1947, following approval of a plan submitted by Durham and Northumberland councils in 1937. The tunnel plans also included a traffic tunnel, but restrictions on post war capital expenditure have delayed the construction and development of the main traffic tunnel.
1951 – Greggs
The first Greggs bakery shop in the country opens in Gosforth High Street, Newcastle. The Gregg family have a long connection with baking. In 1937 John ‘Jack’ Robson Gregg established a bakery in Newcastle.
Oct 25, 1951 – Churchill back in power
Clement Attlee holds a snap general election designed to increase Labour’s majority but it backfires as the Conservatives gain more safe seats. Winston Churchill is once again the Prime Minister. In the North East, Darlington and Middlesbrough West are gained by the Conservatives.
1952 – Andy Capp
Cartoon character Andy Capp, a stereotypical depiction of a Northern working class male, is created by Hartlepool cartoonist Reg Smythe. The cartoon becomes a regular feature of the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror newspapers from 1957.
May 3, 1952 – Newcastle retain FA Cup
Newcastle United Football Club reach the FA Cup final for the second year in a row and are once again the victors. This time they defeat Arsenal 1-0 at Wembley with a goal from Chile-born, George (Jorge) Robledo.
1952 – Colliery closes
Acomb Colliery near Hexham closes.
1953 – Pontop Pike
A prominent transmitter mast is built by the BBC on the top of Pontop Hill in north west Durham for the broadcasting of tv signals. It will broadcast the coronation of the new Queen, Elizabeth II. Many will buy TVs for the first time in order to view the grand event.
June 2, 1953 – QUEEN ELIZABETH II
Queen Elizabeth II is crowned. Some North Easterners who could afford it, purchased televisions for the first time to view the event. Many towns and villages across the region hold street parties to celebrate the new Queen. Through her mother, the Queen is descended from the Bowes Lyon family who have strong historic connections to the region including coal owning links.
1953 – Colliery closure near Durham
New Brancepeth (Sleetburn) Colliery in the Deerness Valley near Durham closes.
1954 – Tyne collieries close
Axwell Park Colliery near Swalwell and Throckley Colliery, both to the west of Newcastle close this year.
1954 – Middlesbrough relegated
After 18 seasons in the top flight, Middlesbrough Football Club are relegated from Division One to Division Two. Middlesbrough had been promoted in 1929 but there were no football league games during the Second World War.
1955 – Pop Art
The exhibition by London artist Richard Hamilton (1921-2011) entitled Man, Machine and Motion makes its debut at Newcastle’s Hatton Gallery and is hailed by many as the beginning of the Pop Art movement.
April 6, 1955 – Eden is Prime Minister
Anthony Eden is the new Conservative Prime Minister following the retirement of Winston Churchill. Eden was born at the Eden family seat of Windlestone Hall, County Durham, and is a member of a well-known Durham family. He calls a snap general election on May 26 which the Conservatives win. The party political representation in the North East remains the same as it did in 1951 except for Sunderland South where a Conservative who was elected in a by-election of 1953 retains the seat.
May 7, 1955 – Newcastle United win FA Cup
Newcastle United win the FA Cup for the sixth time, in their tenth cup final appearance, defeating Manchester City 3-1 in the final at Wembley. The Newcastle goals come from Ashington’s Jackie Milburn; Scotsman, Bobby Mitchell and Liverpool-born, George Hannah. Newcastle United reached the final after defeating York City 2-0 in a semi-final replay at Roker Park, Sunderland, following a 1-1 draw at Hillsborough, Sheffield. Manchester City defeated Sunderland in their semi final at Villa Park, Birmingham.
Aug 1955 – Gateshead Stadium opens
Gateshead Stadium opens. In time it will come to be be renowned for its top class athletics.
1955 – Colliery closures
1955 – Ad Gefrin
The Royal Anglo-Saxon palace and town of Ad Gefrin associated with King Edwin of Northumbria is excavated near Wooler.
1955 – Peterlee the place to be
Victor Pasmore, the internationally-renowned artist, joins the architectural team designing the new-town of Peterlee which is being built to soak up populations from the scattered Category D settlements that are expected to wither away. Peterlee is advertised as ‘the place to be’. Peterlee is named from Peter Lee (1864-1935), a former miners’ leader and the one time leader of Britain’s first all Labour Council at Durham.
1956 – Blaydon Burn and Bildershaw
Blaydon Burn Colliery on Tyneside; Bildershaw Colliery near West Auckland; Newbottle Colliery (Neasham’s Main) near Houghton-le-Spring and Throckley Blucher Colliery west of Newcastle all close this year.
1957 – Wear ‘half penny’ ferry service ends
A ferry service across the River Wear between Old Sunderland and Monkwearmouth ceases to operate. A ferry seems to have operated in this area since the time of Bede. From the 1700s through to 1957 it cost half a penny to cross the river by ferry here.
1957 – Colliery closure
1958 – Sunderland relegated
Sunderland Football Club founded in 1879 are relegated for the very first time in their history, after nearly seven decades and 58 seasons playing in the top tier of English football. The club had joined the league in 1890-91 when it was a single division and although a second division was added two years later Sunderland have continued to play in the top flight. There were of course no league games during the war years. In the late 1940s and early 1950s the club had become noted for its exceptionally high expenditure on players and came to be known as ‘The Bank of England Club’, a nickname previously given to Arsenal in the 20s and 30s. In 1957 the club was involved in a financial scandal after paying player salaries above the maximum football wage. Ironically, despite the expenditure and finishing third place in the top division in 1950, all the great North East football successes of the 1950s went to local rivals Newcastle United in the FA Cup.
1958 – Colliery closures
South Shildon; Hamsteels near Esh Winning; West Brandon near Durham; Stagshaw Bank near Corbridge; Lambley in South Tynedale and Nelson Colliery near Cramlington are North East collieries that closed this year.
1958 – Blyth Power Station
The first part of Blyth Power Station (Station A) is built at Cambois near Blyth and will be followed by a second adjacent power station (B) in 1962.
Jan 1959 – Tyne Tees Television
Tyne Tees Television begins broadcasting to the region.
1959 – More mines cease to operate
The North East collieries closing this year were Castle Eden in east Durham; East Hedleyhope near Durham; Ouston near Pelton; Montagu Colliery (at Scotswood, Newcastle); New Hartley near Seaton Delaval in Northumberland; Blackhill at Unthank near Berwick; Ventners Hall near Greenhead and Ramshaw near West Auckland.
Oct 8, 1959 – Conservatives elected again
The Conservatives under the leadership of former Stockton-on-Tees MP Harold Macmillan are once again elected. Macmillan had succeeded Anthony Eden as Prime Minister after Eden resigned following the Suez Crisis in 1957. In addition to the North East seats held by the Conservatives in the 1955 election, the Hartlepools and Newcastle East now have Conservative MPs. New Prime Minister Macmillan (who will become the 1st Earl of Stockton in 1984) had been MP for Stockton-on-Tees from 1924 to 1929 and again from 1931 to 1945. He is the MP for Bromley from 1945 to 1964.
1959 – Little Donkey
The Christmas song Little Donkey, by Sunderland songwriter Eric Boswell becomes a big Christmas hit with recordings by Gracie Fields and the Beverley Sisters.
1960 – ‘Mr Newcastle’ : T Dan Smith
T Dan Smith is beginning a four year term as leader of Newcastle City Council. He begins demolishing slums and redesigning the city with a new Eldon Square shopping complex at its centre. His aim is to drag Newcastle into the twentieth century. Later he heads the Northern Economic Planning Council and his influence spreads across the whole region.
1960 – Colliery closures
1960 – Alzheimer’s discovery
Scientists at Newcastle University identify the biochemical causes of Alzheimer’s Disease.
1961 – Newcastle United relegated
Newcastle United FC are relegated from Division One to Division Two after 13 consecutive seasons in the top tier. The club’s last season in Division Two had been in the 1947-48 season.
1961 – Jarrow Vikings
Designed by Colin M Davidson, the Jarrow Viking sculptures are unveiled in the town.
1961 – Colliery closures
North East colliery closures this year are Malton Colliery near Lanchester; Westerton near Bishop Auckland; West Wylam (Prudhoe Main) near Stocksfield; North Seaton near Ashington and Hartford near Bedlington.
1961 – Sweet factory closes
The Horner’s sweet factory at Chester-le-Street, famed for its Dainty Dinah brand and huge factory chimney closes.
1962 – Barracks vacated
The Northumberland Fusiliers vacate the barracks near Newcastle’s Barrack Road.
1962 – Oil replaces coal at Billingham
Coke ovens at Billingham chemical works have been replaced by new plants utilising the Steam Naphtha process which uses crude oil. This is a much cheaper process for producing ammonia. It marks the beginning of the petro-chemical industry on Teesside.
1962 – Tees Dock
Tees Dock opens in Teesside’s commercial and industrial heartland and is much further downstream, closer to the river mouth than the old Middlesbrough dock at Middlehaven.
1962 – Sunderland Airport
An airport opens at Sunderland on the site of the former RAF Usworth near Washington.
1962 – Colliery closures
Colliery closures this year were Randolph Colliery near Evenwood; Ravensworth Shop (Allerdean) near Lamesley; Victoria Garesfield near Rowlands Gill; Seghill near Cramlington; Barmoor near Morpeth; Gordon House near Cockfield; Horton Grange near Bebside, Blyth; Sleekburn near Bedlington; Tanfield Lea in north west Durham and at Wingate Grange in east Durham.
1962 – New ICI plant
ICI has purchased land at Seal Sands near the mouth of the Tees on which to develop a new chemical plant.
1963 – Beeching axe hits branch lines
A third of Britain’s railway tracks are to be dismantled. Dr Richard Beeching, chairman of the British Transport Commission, has decided. In the North East this means the closure of 95 stations and halts and the disappearance of branch lines and a loss of thousands of jobs.
1963 – Newcastle University goes alone
Durham University’s King’s College, Newcastle, has become the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and will now be independent of the University of Durham.
1963 – Newcastle Development Plan
A detailed Newcastle Development Plan that has been formulated since the beginning of the decade is approved. It includes two city motorways (east and west) designed to draw through-traffic away from the heart of the city centre. Ultimately, only the eastern motorway will be built from the Swan House roundabout to Jesmond.
1963 – New towns
Northumberland County Council begins the construction of Cramlington New Town. Although Cramlington is not officially a government designated ‘new town’ it receives governmental approval. Last year Killingworth new town was begun and next year Washington will begin.
1963 – Colliery closures
Colliery closures this year were Addison Colliery at Ryton; Crookhall near Consett; Heworth near Gateshead; Roddymoor (Pease’s West) near Crook; Wooley also near Crook and Stargate Colliery (Towneley Main) near Ryton.
1963 – Kingsgate Bridge
Kingsgate Bridge, a footbridge designed by engineer Ove Arup opens across the River Wear beneath the cathedral in Durham City. It is Arup’s favourite work.
1964 – House of the Rising Sun
The House of the Rising Sun becomes a huge hit for North East band The Animals, featuring the vocals of Eric Burdon. It reaches number one in the UK and US charts.
1964 – Cleveland’s last ironstone mine closes
The North Skelton ironstone mine closes bringing an end to an industry that dominated much of the Cleveland coastal area and neighbouring moors. The industry gave rise to numerous mining communities – both towns and villages – across the district. Iron from East Cleveland supplied the industries of Tyne, Wear and Tees.
1964 – Colliery closures
Collieries closing this year were Hazlerigg Colliery near Dinnington,; Louisa Colliery at Stanley; Morrison Colliery at Annfield Plain; South Pelaw Colliery near Chester-le-Street and Watergate Colliery near Whickham.
1964 – Sunderland promoted
Sunderland Football Club, who were elected to the then single division Football League in 1890 and who played in the top tier up until their first ever relegation in 1958 now experience the very first promotion in their history with a return to the top flight after an absence of six seasons.
Oct 15, 1964 – Labour government
Labour, under the leadership of Yorkshireman Harold Wilson, win the general election. Newcastle East, Sunderland South, Darlington, the Hartlepools and Middlesbrough West all now have Labour MPs although Tynemouth, Newcastle North, Hexham and Berwick-upon-Tweed remain Conservative.
Dec 1964 – The Likely Lads
A popular new television situation comedy The Likely Lads filmed in black and white and set on Tyneside is launched on BBC 2. It features two working class lads, Terry Collier (James Bolam) and Bob Ferris (Rodney Bewes). Written by Dick Clement and Tynesider Ian La Frenais, a follow-up series in colour called Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? will air in 1973-74.
1965 – Gibside
The National Trust acquire the estate of Gibside Hall and its gardens near Whickham.
May 14, 1965 – Motorway near Darlington
The Darlington bypass, partly following the route of the old Merrybent railway near Low Coniscliffe becomes the first section of the new A1(M) motorway to open in the North East. It will become the primary road of the region. The first part of the A1(M) motorway to open had been the Doncaster bypass, which opened in 1961. A bridge across the River Tees for the motorway was recently completed in 1963 and is now in use. The newly opened section of the motorway includes Junction 56 at Barton near Scotch Corner and a motorway spur – the A66(M) – which links to Darlington at Junction 57, both of these being south of the Tees. Also opening to the north of the river in County Durham are Junction 58 linking to the Bishop Auckland-Corbridge A68 Road and Junction 59 at Newton Aycliffe.
1965 – Newcastle United promoted
Newcastle United football club are promoted back into Division One from which they had been relegated in the 1960-61 season.
1965 – Mining ends at Harraton
Colliery closures this year included mines in the Harraton and Bournmoor (Lambton) areas where there has been mining since at least the eighteenth century. Other closures were at Shildon; Middlestone Moor near Spennymoor; Pelton near Chester-le-Street; Sherburn Hill near Durham; East Tanfield near Tantobie; West Thornley near Tow Law; Seaton Burn north of Newcastle and Stobswood near Widdrington, Northumberland.
March 31, 1966 – Labour win snap election
Prime Minister, Harold Wilson calls a snap election and successfully increases his small majority in parliament. There are no changes in the party political representation in the North East constituencies.
1966 – Briggflats
Scotswood-born Basil Bunting’s acclaimed poem Briggflats, which is strongly influenced by northern dialect and history is published.
1966 – Darlington works closed
Darlington railway workshops in the town’s North Road close, a victim of the Beeching Axe. It ends an important industrial era in the town and means the loss of 2,150 jobs.
1966 – Hartlepools merge
An act of parliament called the Hartlepool Order merges Old Hartlepool with West Hartlepool. The two, formerly separate places are now simply known as Hartlepool.
1966 – Swan Hunter Group
The Swan Hunter Group of shipyards is formed from the merger of Swan Hunter, Wigham Richardson and Smiths Dock.
1966 – Slum clearances
Slum clearances and urban redevelopments take place in the region’s urban areas during the 1960s. Clearance of Cannon Street and Newport Road in Middlesbrough takes place in this year.
1966 – Boro relegated
Middlesbrough Football Club are relegated from Division Two to the third tier of English football.
1966 – Byker Wall begun
Architect Ralph Erskine begins the construction of new housing called ‘the Byker Wall‘ to the east of Newcastle on the site of around 1,200 houses that were no longer suited to modern standards. The distinctive housing would be completed in the early 1970s.
1966 – World Cup
Ayresome Park, Middlesbrough and Roker Park, Sunderland are venues for World Cup football matches. England eventually defeat West Germany 4-2 in the final at Wembley with a team that includes the Ashington-born brothers Jack and Bobby Charlton.
1966 – More mines close
North East collieries closing this year were Barcus Close (Burnopfield); Beamish Mary; Choppington in Northumberland; Chopwell in Durham; Chilton; Dean and Chapter at Ferryhill; Clara Vale near Wylam; Greenside near Blaydon; North Tees at Winston; East Walbottle near Newcastle; Prestwick near Ponteland; North Bitchburn at Howden-le-Wear; Hauxley near Amble; Weetslade near Dudley; Lumley (where coal has been mined since medieval times); Ryhope near Sunderland; Algernon Colliery at Backworth; Waterhouses in the Deerness Valley near Durham and Witton Colliery at Sacriston.
1966 – Shipyard closures
Between 1960 and 1966 six shipyards closed in the region. Blyth’s last shipyard, owned by the Blyth Shipbuilding Company, closed this year.
Jan 5, 1967 – Gangland murder
The body of Angus Sibbet is found in the back of his Jaguar car beneath Pesspool Bridge near South Hetton. The murder is linked to criminal gangs in the region. Two men are later convicted.
1967 – Fish and Chips for Hendrix
The famed guitarist Jimi Hendrix sampled fish and and chips from a fish and chip shop in Tynemouth Front Street.
1967 – Boro bounce back
Middlesbrough Football Club, relegated to Division Three last season are promoted back into Division Two.
1967 – Derwent Reservoir
The three mile long Derwent Reservoir in the Derwent valley straddles the Pennine border of Northumberland and Durham and becomes the largest reservoir in the region. It will later be eclipsed by the massive Kielder Water reservoir in Northumberland.
Oct 19, 1967 – Tyne Tunnel
The Tyne Tunnel is officially opened by Her Majesty the Queen. Work started on the tunnel in 1961.
1967 – Steel merger
Dorman Long, South Durham Steel and Iron Company, Stewarts and Lloyds announce a £311m merged company which becomes part of the British Steel Corporation.
Nov 14, 1967 – Dr Martin Luther King honoured
African-American civil rights spokesperson and Baptist Minister, Dr Martin Luther King Junior is awarded an Honorary degree by Newcastle University. Addressing a congregation at the university, Dr King spoke of how legislation could not change a man’s heart but that it could “restrain him from lynching me.” Sadly, less than five months later he would be assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.
1967 – Mine closures continue
Collieries closing this year are Bowburn; Brancepeth at Willington; Chester Moor near Chester-le-Street; Deaf Hill at Trimdon Station; Kimblesworth near Sacriston; Leasingthone near Coundon; Newbiggin near Newbiggin-by-the-Sea; Newton Cap or ‘Toronto’ near Bishop Auckland; Thrislington (also called West Cornforth) and West Auckland in south west Durham.
1968 – Ethylene pipeline
A 138 mile long pipeline is constructed linking the chemical industries of Teesside with those at Runcorn in Cheshire for the transportation of ethylene.
1968 – King Olav opens Civic Centre
Newcastle Civic Centre, designed by George Kenyon, is opened by King Olav of Norway.
April 1968 – Teesside created
The County Borough of Teesside has been created uniting the Durham towns of Stockton and Billingham with the Yorkshire towns of Redcar, Thornaby and Middlesbrough.
1968 – Further pit closures
The collieries that ceased operating this year were Brandon and Brandon Pit House near Durham; Brusselton near West Auckland; Byermoor and Burnopfield near Tanfield; Esh (at Esh Winning); Hamsterley in north west Durham; Handenhold near Pelton; Mainsforth (near Ferryhill); Trimdon Grange and Tursdale Collieries in south east Durham; Washington F Pit (which had opened back in 1777); Wheatley Hill in east Durham; Emma Colliery (Towneley) near Ryton and on the coast, Marsden Colliery also known as Whitburn Colliery. In Northumberland, North Walbottle at Westerhope, near Newcastle; Cambois Colliery near Blyth and Linton Colliery near Ashington were also closed.
1968 – Oil refineries at Teesmouth
In the past four years three oil refineries have been built at the mouth of the River Tees to supply the chemical industry.
1968 – DLI disbands
The Durham Light Infantry is disbanded.
1969 – Eldon Square
Construction begins on Eldon Square, a new shopping centre in Newcastle.
1969 – Polytechnics for Tyne, Tees and Wear
Newcastle Polytechnic is established from an amalgamation of Rutherford College of Technology (established 1880); the College of Art & Industrial Design and the Municipal College of Commerce. Sunderland Technical College (established 1901) becomes Sunderland Polytechnic while Constantine Technical College in Middlesbrough (established 1930), becomes Teesside Polytechnic. The three polytechnics will eventually become universities in 1992.
June 11, 1969 – Newcastle win Inter-Cities Fairs Cup
Newcastle United win the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, defeating Hungarian side Újpesti Dózsa in a two leg final. Newcastle won the first leg at home 3-0 and the second leg in Budapest 3-2. Newcastle qualified for the competition in 1968 along with three other English teams, despite finishing tenth in the First Division. The qualification was due to a ‘one-city one-team’ rule. Only first division champions Manchester City and runners up, the second-placed Manchester United qualified for the prestigious European Cup. The other runners up teams included three London clubs and two Liverpool clubs and only one club from each city could qualify for the Fairs Cup. Despite the peculiar terms of qualification Newcastle performed outstandingly well, knocking out (amongst others) Feyenoord of Rotterdam in the first round, Spanish side Real Zaragoza in round three and Glasgow Rangers in a heated two-leg semi final.
1969 – Swan House completed
Swan House, situated within a roundabout of Newcastle’s central motorway (see 1963) off Pilgrim Street, just to the north of the Tyne Bridge is completed. There is perhaps no building so symbolic of the 1960s era in Newcastle upon Tyne. First planned in 1961, it was constructed from 1963 to 1969. Sadly, the construction of the roundabout and motorway resulted in the demolition of John Dobson’s fine Royal Arcade of 1832 off nearby Mosley Street. The ground floor of Swan House included a poor replica of Dobson’s arcade but the isolated location resulted in the eventual removal of the imitation arcade. Swan House was renamed and rebranded with the new name ’55 Degrees North in 2002.
1969 – Apollo Pavilion
Victor Pasmore’s abstract concrete public art scupture called the Apollo Pavillion is completed at Peterlee during the summer of 1969. It is partly inspired by the recent Apollo 11 moon landings.
Sept 17, 1969 – Durham motorway
Durham sections of the A1(M) motorway open from Newton Aycliffe (Junction 59) to Chester-le-Street encompassing Junction 60 at Bradbury; 61 at Bowburn; 62 at Carrville and 63 at Chester-le-Street. The crossing of the Skerne Valley north of Aycliffe, the site of a post glacial lake, posed a geological challenge for the engineers.
1969 – End of the Rising Sun
The collieries to close this year were Crofton Mill (Blyth); Pegswood near Morpeth; Harton near South Shields; Craghead in County Durham and the Rising Sun Colliery at Wallsend. The closure of the Rising Sun Colliery signifies the demise of the last ever Tyneside colliery on the north side of the river.