North East England 1950s and 60s

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, 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.

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Easington Colliery nature reserve
Easington Colliery nature reserve on the site of Easington Colliery. Photo © David Simpson 2018

1950 – Colliery closure

Littleburn Colliery near Durham closes.

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. The Plan classified a third of the villages 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.

Apr 28, 1951 – Newcastle United FA Cup winners

Newcastle United Football Club defeat Blackpool 2-0 at Wembley in the FA Cup final with both goals from Ashington-born Jackie Milburn.

May 29, 1951 – 83 dead in Easington pit explosion

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 – 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.

Andy Capp sculpture at Old Hartlepool. Photo © David Simpson 2018

1952 – Andy Capp

Cartoon character Andy Capp, a stereotypical depiction of a Northern working class male, is created by Hartlepool cartoonist Reg Smythe.

May 3 1952 – Newcastle United win FA Cup again

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.

1953 – Colliery closure near Durham

New Brancepeth Colliery in the Deerness Valley near Durham closes.

View from Pontop looking towards Pontop Hall farm © David Simpson 2018

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 – 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.

1954 – Tyne collieries close

Axwell Park and Throckley Collieries along the Tyne to the west of Newcastle close this year.

Anthony Eden

April 6, 1955 – Eden is Prime Minister

Tory MP Anthony Eden is the new Prime Minister of Great Britain. Eden was born at the family seat of Windlestone Hall, County Durham, and is a member of a well-known Durham family.

Jackie Milburn

May 7, 1955 – Newcastle United FA Cup winners

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 in 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.

Peterlee town centre
Peterlee town centre. Photo © David Simpson 2018

1955 – Peterlee is 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.

1955 – Colliery closure

New Delaval Colliery in Northumberland closes.

1956 – Blaydon Burn and Bildershaw

Blaydon Burn Colliery on Tyneside and Bildershaw Colliery near West Auckland close.

The River Wear at Sunderland. Photo © David Simpson

1957 – River 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

Greencroft Tower Colliery near Annfield Plain in north west Durham closes.

1958 – Sunderland Relegated

Sunderland Football Club, founded in 1879 are relegated for the very first time in their history, after almost seven decades playing in the top flight. 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 closure

South Shildon Colliery in County Durham closes.

1958 – Blyth Power Station

The first stage of the Blyth Power Station opens. It is situated across the River Blyth from the town of Blyth at Cambois.

The old Tyne Tees Television logo

January 1959 – Tyne Tees Television

Tyne Tees Television begins broadcasting to the region.

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.

1959 – More mines cease to operate

The North East collieries closing this year were Castle Eden; East Hedleyhope; Montagu Colliery (at Scotswood, Newcastle); New Hartley in Northumberland and Ramshaw near West Auckland.

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 the Eldon Square shopping complex at its centre, his aim being to drag Newcastle into the 20th Century. Later he heads the Northern Economic Planning Council and his influence spreads across the whole region.

1960 – Colliery closures

Dinnington Colliery in Northumberland and Ushaw Moor Colliery near Durham close.

Sculpture of Vikings in Jarrow town centre
Sculpture of Vikings in Jarrow town centre. Photo © David Simpson

1961 – Jarrow Vikings

Designed by Colin M Davidson, the Jarrow Viking sculptures are unveiled in the town.

1961 – Colliery closure

Malton Colliery near Lanchester closes.

1962 – Barracks vacated

The Northumberland Fusiliers vacate the barracks near Newcastle’s Barrack Road.

ICI Billingham.
ICI Billingham, pictured from the Ferryhill area of County Durham. Photo © David Simpson 2018

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 Petro-chemicals on Teesside.

1962 – New dock

Tees Dock opens, replacing the old Middlesbrough Dock further downstream.

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 near Gateshead; Seghill to the north of the Tyne; Tanfield Lea and Wingate Grange in County 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.

Former Lanchester railway station
Former Lanchester railway station in County Durham, is now a private house. It closed in 1965. Photo © David Simpson

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 like the Darlington to Barnard Castle line and the loss of thousands of jobs.

Barter Books occupies the former Alnwick Railway Station.
Barter Books, a huge second hand books store now occupies the former Alnwick Railway Station which closed in 1968. Photo © David Simpson 2018

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.

The Arches, Newcastle University
The Arches, Newcastle University. © David Simpson 2021

1963 – New towns

Northumberland County Council begins the construction of Cramlington New Town. Last year Killingworth new town was begun and next year Washington will begin.

Killingworth Lake
Killingworth Lake. Photo © David Simpson 2018

1963 – Colliery closures

Colliery closures this year were Addison Colliery at Ryton; Crookhall near Consett; Heworth near Gateshead; Roddymoor near Crook and Stargate Colliery to the west of Newcastle.

Eric Burdon

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.

Spirit of East Cleveland : Ironstone miners sculpture by William Harling
Spirit of East Cleveland : Sculpture at Skelton recalling the iron stone mining industry of East Cleveland by William Harling. Photo © David Simpson 2021

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

Colliery closures this year were at Hazlerigg  near Dinnington, Northumberland and South Pelaw Colliery near Chester-le-Street.

1965 – Motorway opens

The Darlington bypass, following the route of the old Merrybent railway, is the first section of the new A1(M) motorway which will become the main road through the North-East.

1965 – Mining ends at Harraton and Lambton

Colliery closures this year included mines at Harraton and Lambton,  where there has been mining since at least the 18th century. Other closures this year were at Middlestone Moor near Spennymoor; New Shildon; Pelton near Chester-le-Street; Sherburn Hill near Durham and West Thornley near Tow Law.

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.

Old Hartlepool
Old Hartlepool. Photo © David Simpson 2018

1966 – The Hartlepools merge

The Hartlepool Order merges Old Hartlepool with West 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.

Byker Wall
Byker Wall (top) Photo © 2015 David Simpson

1966 – Byker Wall begins

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 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 mines closing this year were Barcus Close (Burnopfield); Beamish Mary; Choppington in Northumberland; Chopwell; Clara Vale; Dean and Chapter (Ferryhill and Chilton); East Walbottle (west of Newcastle); Lumley (where coal has been mined since medieval times); Ryhope near Sunderland; Waterhouses near Durham and Witton Colliery at Sacriston.

1966 – Shipyard closures

Between 1960 and 1966 six shipyards closed in the region.

Tynemouth Town
The town of Tynemouth from the castle. © David Simpson

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.

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.

1967 – Another busy year for mine closures

There have been mine closures at Bowburn; Brancepeth (Willington); Chester South Moor; Deaf Hill (Trimdon); Kimblesworth (near Sacriston); Leasingthone (Coundon); Newbiggin; Thrislington and West Auckland.

Newcastle Civic Centre
Newcastle Civic Centre Photo © David Simpson 2018

1968 – King Olav opens the 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 – 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.

The F Pit Washington
The F Pit Washington : Photo © David Simpson

1968 – Further pit closures

Collieries closed this year at Brandon and Brandon Pit House near Durham; Burnopfield; Cambois; Esh (at Esh Winning); Hamsterley; Handenhold; Linton (near Ashington); Mainsforth (near Ferryhill); Trimdon Grange; Washington F Pit (which opened in 1777); Wheatley Hill and on the coast at Whitburn Colliery (also called Marsden Colliery).

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.

Eldon Square
Eldon Square. Photo © David Simpson 2015.

1969 – Eldon Square

Construction begins on Eldon Square, a new shopping centre in Newcastle.

1969 – Newcastle Polytechnic

Newcastle Polytechnic is established from a merger of colleges that include Rutherford College of Technology.

11 June 1969 – Newcastle win Inter-Cities Fairs Cup

Newcastle United win the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, defeating 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 Division One 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 – End of the Rising Sun

Coal mines closed this year at Crofton Mill (Blyth); Harton (South Shields) 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 bank of the river.

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North East England History and Culture