The North East in the 21st Century

The North East in the 21st Century

A new millennium. A new hope. New bridges. New developments. New authorities. Brexit, politics and a pandemic.

BALTIC, Sage Gateshead and the Gateshead Millennium Bridge
BALTIC, Sage Gateshead and Gateshead Millennium Bridge © David Simpson 2021

👈 1990-2000 | Timeline | Forward to the future 👉

Jan 1, 2000 – A new millennium

The new millennium is welcomed with a street theatre extravaganza in Newcastle and thousands of private parties elsewhere. As the clock strikes midnight, the North East erupts in a frenzy of fireworks.

May 2000 – Centre for Life

Her Majesty the Queen opens the new Centre for Life in Newcastle upon Tyne. It is a science village focused on life sciences and genetic research with its partners including the neighbouring Newcastle University and the NHS. Part of the site includes a popular science-based visitor attraction which hosts events and exhibitions.

29 Sep, 2000 – Billy Elliot

The movie Billy Elliot set in County Durham during the 1984-85 miners strike is released and will prove a critical success, nominated for three Academy Awards. Adapted from a screenplay by Tyneside writer Lee Hall it features the story of a young working class boy with a passion for ballet. The film stars Teesside’s Jamie Bell. Billingham-born Jamie receives the BAFTA award for best actor in a leading role. Scenes were filmed in Easington, Dawdon and Seaham, in County Durham along with Ellington and Lynemouth in Northumberland as well as Middlesbrough and Newcastle.

Dec 2000 – Teesquay Millennium Bridge

The Teesquay Millennium Bridge, an elegant cable-stay structure, opens across the River Tees at Stockton. It links the heart of Stockton town centre to the modern developments on the Thornaby side of the river where once there had been shipyards and ironworks. A little to the south along the riverside towards the Victoria Bridge had also been the home to the Cleveland Flour Mills. In the late 1980s much of the area on this side of the river was a wasteland where Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher made her ‘walk in the wilderness’.

Teesquay Millennium Bridge
Teesquay Millennium Bridge. Photo © David Simpson 2018

2001 – Gateshead Millennium Bridge

The beautiful Gateshead Millennium Bridge opens across the Tyne between Gateshead and Newcastle. It is a footbridge with two arches. One arch lies flat, linking the quaysides of Newcastle and Gateshead, forming a crossing for pedestrians and bicycles. The other arch forms an elegant span high above the Tyne. The whole structure can be tilted when required to allow vessels to pass through.

Gateshead Millennium Bridge
Gateshead Millennium Bridge : Photo © David Simpson

2001 – Lemington Bridge

A bridge opens across the Lemington Gut which enters the River Tyne to the west of  Newcastle.

Jun 7, 2001 – Election landslide for Blair

Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Labour Party win another landslide victory in the general election. There are no changes in the party political representation of the North East constituencies which apart from Hexham and Berwick upon Tweed remain solidly Labour. Even the constituency of Scarborough and Whitby in North Yorkshire, which Labour gained in 1997, remains in Labour’s hands.

Jan 2002 – Blyth Power Station closes

After more than forty years, Blyth’s coal-fired power station at Cambois closes and its landmark chimneys are demolished. It consisted of two power stations A and B which could be seen for miles along the coast.

2002 – Renewable energy at Blyth

Blyth becomes the headquarters of the National Renewable Energy Centre, established by the regional development agency, One North East. It will focus on the development of new and renewable forms of generating power such as offshore wind, wave and tidal energy.

2002 – BALTIC opens

BALTIC, an impressive gallery of contemporary art opens at Gateshead Quays. Overlooking the new Gateshead Millennium Bridge, it occupies the former Baltic Flour Mill building, commenced in the 1930s. The flour mill was not completed until the 1950s due to the interruption of the Second World War. This iconic building makes a splendid setting for the gallery and has superb views across the city of Newcastle and the Tyne.

Baltic Gallery
BALTIC, a former flour mill . Photo © David Simpson

Nov 2002 – The Gate

A new entertainment and leisure complex called ‘The Gate’ opens along Newgate Street in Newcastle featuring restaurants, bars, a cinema and casino. This glass fronted development stands close to the site of the Mayfair Ballroom music venue that was demolished in 1999. The development’s neighbour, in a rather contrasting architectural style is the huge Art Deco co-op building of 1932.

Newgate Street, Newcastle
Newgate Street, Newcastle, The Gate complex (2002) and Art Deco Co-operative building of the 1930s © David Simpson 2021

2003 – Dalton Park

A ‘factory outlet’ style shopping centre opens at Dalton Park, close to the A19 in east Durham between Seaham and Murton. Out-of-town shopping centres, both great and small, have become an increasingly common feature over the last decade or so and compete with traditional town centres. In the noughties and twenty-tens these shopping centres and town centres will increasingly face competition from online retail. These challenges will cause much rethinking on the role and future of traditional town centres.

2003 – Sunderland relegated

Sunderland football club are relegated from the Premier League after a run of four seasons in the top flight. In the first two seasons they secured a 7th place finish in the league partly due to the prolific goalscoring of Kevin Phillips who was awarded the European Golden Boot in 1999-2000 for his 30 goals that season.

Nov 21, 2003 – US President visits region

The brief state visit of US President, George Bush to Britain includes a trip to North East England. After visiting the Queen in London, the president heads north and lands by helicopter at the County Durham village of Trimdon Colliery, the home to Prime Minister, Tony Blair. After visiting the PM’s house and meeting Mr Blair’s neighbours, the President heads to Sedgefield in an armed motorcade and joins Mr Blair for a pub lunch of fish and chips in the Dun Cow before heading home on his jet from Teesside Airport.

The Dun Cow, Sedgefield © David Simpson 2018

Feb 2004 – Middlesbrough win League Cup

Middlesbrough Football Club defeat Bolton Wanderers 2-1 in the League Cup final at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, collecting the first major trophy in their history. Goals come from Cameroonian, Joseph-Désiré Job and Dutch international Boudewijn Zenden. Back in 1997 Middlesbrough had reached the FA Cup final and League Cup final, both for the first time in the club’s long history. Boro lost them both as well as suffering a relegation to boot. It has been a long wait for the Boro fans. Their club was established in 1876.

22 Apr, 2004 – End of an era for brewery

Scottish and Newcastle Brewery’s site in Newcastle closes. The Newcastle Breweries had occupied this site in the Gallowgate area of the town since 1890 and brewed Newcastle Brown Ale here from 1927. Brewing has taken place on the site since 1868. The brewing of the Brown Ale has been moved across the river to the Federation Brewery site at Dunston, Gateshead. The bottling of this beer will subsequently move to Tadcaster in 2007 and then to the Netherlands in 2017.

Newcastle Brown Ale © David Simpson 2021

2004 – Sage Gateshead opens

Sage Gateshead opens on the Gateshead quayside. Constructed from curved panels of stainless steel, it is a centre for music and conferences with state of the art acoustics.

Sage Gateshead
Sage Gateshead. Photo © David Simpson 2018

2004 – North East says ‘No’ to devolution

A referendum on whether or not an elected regional assembly should be established for North East England resulted in an emphatic ‘No’ vote. The vote included all the local council areas from Redcar and Cleveland to Berwick upon Tweed. Of these Darlington was the least in favour where only 14.8% of voters said ‘Yes’. Derwentside (in north west Durham) and Durham City had the most ‘Yes’ votes but still with only 42.4% and 40.6% respectively voting in favour. Durham-born political adviser, Dominic Cummings has been a key figure in the North East Says No (NESNO) campaign against the regional assembly.

2004 – ‘Science Central’ for brewery site

Chancellor, Gordon Brown announces a major development of what is called Science Central on the former Newcastle Breweries Tyne Brewery site near St James’ Park. Initially its development is slow. It will be rebranded as Newcastle Helix in 2018.

2004 – Locomotion

A new museum called Locomotion hosting an impressive collection of locomotives at Shildon in County Durham, is opened by Prime Minister, Tony Blair. It is a branch of the National Railway Museum.

Locomotives at Shildon
Locomotives at the National railway Museum, Shildon Photo © David Simpson 2018

Jan 26, 2005 – Region’s last mine closes

Ellington Colliery in Northumberland closes. It is the region’s last remaining colliery. The closure of this large mine, known as the ‘Big E’, brings an end to centuries of deep mining in the North East of England, although opencast mining still takes place across the region.

2005 – Sunderland promoted

Sunderland Football Club are promoted from the second tier league (now confusingly renamed ‘The Championship’) to the Premier League.

May 5, 2005 – Reduced majority for Blair

Prime Minister and Sedgefield MP, Tony Blair conclusively wins a third general election for Labour although his majority is now reduced. However, there is no party-political change in the North East constituencies. Nevertheless, Labour do lose the seat of Scarborough and Whitby in neighbouring North Yorkshire to the Conservatives. In the far north, Conservative MP, Peter Atkinson retains the seat of Hexham while Liberal Democrat, Alan Beith retains Berwick-upon-Tweed. These are the only two non-Labour MPs in the region other than those in the solidly Conservative constituencies of North Yorkshire.

2005 – Britain’s best park

Saltwell Park in Gateshead is awarded the accolade of Britain’s best park.

Saltwell Towers, Saltwell Park Gateshead
Saltwell Towers, Saltwell Park, Gateshead © David Simpson 2022

2006 – Sunderland relegated

Sunderland Football Club are relegated from the Premier League back into ‘The Championship’ after a single season.

10 May, 2006 – UEFA Cup final woe for Boro

Middlesbrough Football Club are defeated by Spanish club Sevilla in the UEFA Cup final held at the Philips Stadion in Eindhoven in the Netherlands. It is the first appearance in a European cup final for both clubs.

27 Jan, 2007 – MIMA

The Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA) opens in Central Square near Middlesbrough Town Hall. It is situated near Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Bottle of Notes sculpture which dates from 1993. The new gallery includes the Middlesbrough Collection featuring works from earlier galleries in the town.

Centre Square with Middlesbrough with MIMA to the right
Centre Square, Middlesbrough with MIMA to the right © David Simpson 2021

2007 – Sunderland promoted

Sunderland Football Club are promoted from the Championship back into the Premier League after a single season, following their relegation last season.

2007 – City Campus East

The City Campus East building of Northumbria University is completed and becomes home to the schools of law, design and business. It is linked to the city centre by a brand new footbridge which crosses both the central motorway and East Coast Main Line railway.

East Campus University of Northumbria
East Campus University of Northumbria, Newcastle © David Simpson 2021

10 May, 2007 – Blair announces resignation

In a speech at Trimdon Labour Club in County Durham, Tony Blair announces his resignation as both Prime Minister and leader of the Labour party. In June, Blair is succeeded as Prime Minister and Labour leader by Gordon Brown.

Nov 2007 – ‘Couple’ at Newbiggin

A curious new sculpture called ‘Couple’ at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea created by artist Sean Henry features two identical standing couples. A small version of the couple (a female and cloth-capped male looking out to sea) stands on the shore and is duplicated in a much larger version of the couple standing on an elevated structure out at sea.

'The Couple', Newbiggin
‘The Couple’, Newbiggin Photo © David Simpson 2018

July 23, 2008 – Canoe crime couple jailed

In one of Britain’s most notorious fraud cases, a husband and wife, John and Ann Darwin, were sentenced to jail for falsely claiming life insurance from the faking of Mr Darwin’s death. In March 2002, Hartlepool resident, John Darwin had gone missing off the coast at nearby Seaton Carew after canoeing out to sea, where the wreckage of his kayak was later found. For a time, following his reported ‘death’ Darwin hid in a bedsit next to the family home and the couple planned to move abroad, with Mr Darwin using a false name. The couple began their move to Panama in 2006. However, changes in Panama visa identity laws forced Mr Darwin to return to the UK where he reported to a London police station in December 2007, claiming to have amnesia.

Seaton Carew beach and the Redcar steelworks across the other side of the Tees
The beach at Seaton Canoe with the Redcar steelworks in the distance © David Simpson 2022

2008 – Gateshead heritage

St Mary’s church in Gateshead near the Tyne Bridge becomes a heritage centre for the town.

2009 – Newcastle United and Boro relegated

Newcastle United and Middlesbrough football clubs are relegated from the Premier League into the Championship. Sunderland only just finish above their rivals, in sixteenth place. It is Newcastle United’s first exit from the Premier League in which they have played for sixteen consecutive seasons. Middlesbrough have been in the league for eleven consecutive seasons.

2009 – Farewell Sir Bobby

The world of football mourns the loss to cancer of Sir Bobby Robson, the Sacriston-born (and Langley Park raised) former footballer and football manager. Robson, who managed England and clubs such as Ipswich Town, Barcelona and FC Porto, was one of Britain’s most successful football managers. Later in his career he would manage his boyhood heroes, Newcastle United from 1999 to 2004. In March 2008, the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation cancer research charity had been established in his name.

2009 – Great North Museum

The Great North Museum opens in the former Hancock Museum in Newcastle upon Tyne. It includes features from the earlier museum but with a much more modern feel.

Great North Museum, Newcastle
Great North Museum, Newcastle © David Simpson 2021

2009 – Infinity Bridge

The Infinity Bridge opens across the River Tees at Stockton-on-Tees. It is named from its resemblance to the scientific symbol for infinity.

Infinity bridge, Stockton.
Infinity bridge, Stockton. Photo © David Simpson 2018

2010 – Newcastle United promoted

Newcastle United football club are promoted back into the Premier League after just one season in the Championship.

6 May, 2010 – Cameron’s Conservatives

Conservative, David Cameron is the Prime Minister following the defeat of Gordon Brown’s Labour party in the general election. However, the only party political changes in the North East are Labour’s loss of the Stockton South constituency to the Conservatives and Redcar to the Liberal Democrats. Hexham remains a Conservative seat and Berwick-upon-Tweed remains loyal to Liberal Democrat, Alan Beith, who has held the seat since 1973.

10 Jul, 2010 – Manhunt ends

A manhunt ends with the death of fugitive, Raoul Moat at Rothbury. Moat was released from Durham Prison on July 1 and at Birtley, two days later, shot and injured his ex-girlfriend, killing her new partner. He then shot and permanently blinded a police officer at West Denton and threatened to go on a killing spree. With 160 police officers on the case, Moat was traced to Rothbury in Northumberland, hiding in the countryside. After a standoff, Moat took his own life, despite the pleas of football star Paul Gascoigne who had visited Rothbury and tried to encourage Moat to give himself up.

Rothbury from Lordenshaws
Rothbury © David Simpson 2021

2011 – Tyne Tunnel Two

A second Tyne Tunnel has opened alongside the original to improve the efficiency of traffic flow.

2011 – Turner Prize

BALTIC in Gateshead hosts the prestigious Turner Prize for contemporary art, the first time the event has been held outside London or Liverpool.

2011 – Chinese Northumbrian Water

The Northumbrian Water Group which supplies water and treats sewage across the whole region (except for Hartlepool) is acquired by the Chinese, Hong Kong-based company Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings.

2012 – Lady of the North

The 1,300 feet long Northumberlandia or ‘Lady of the North’ sculpture is completed near Cramlington within a 44 acre park on a reclaimed opencast coal mining site.

Northumberlandia, the Lady of the North
Northumberlandia, the Lady of the North. Photo © David Simpson 2018

2013 – Higgs Boson Particle proven

The existence of the Higgs Boson Particle, an important feature of theoretical physics first proposed by the Newcastle-born theoretical physicist, Peter Higgs, is proven by the Large Hadron particle collider near Geneva in Switzerland.

2013 – Redcar Beacon

Described as a ‘vertical pier’ the helter-skelter like Redcar Beacon is a new feature of the Redcar seafront.

2013  – Mass grave at Durham

A mass grave is discovered on Durham’s Palace Green near the cathedral, identified as members of the Scottish Covenanter army taken prisoner by Oliver Cromwell’s forces following the Battle of Dunbar in 1650. Cromwell had shown little regard for the prisoners or the sanctity of Durham cathedral which he had utilised as a prison.

2014 – Blue Tower

New high rise buildings are appearing on the west side of Newcastle city centre in Barrack Road near St James’ Park football ground. The latest development, completed this year, is the distinct blue-coloured Newcastle University student accommodation called The View. It is inevitably nicknamed ‘Blue Tower’. The building stands close to the Newcastle University Business School and Sandman Signature boutique hotel, both of which opened in 2011. The new developments stand at the entrance to the Science Central area (later renamed Newcastle Helix), a major development on the former Scottish and Newcastle breweries site.

Barrack Road. Newcastle © David Simpson 2019

May 2014 – Tommy recalls the ‘Great War’

One hundred years after the outbreak of the First World War, a corten steel sculpture by artist Ray Lonsdale goes on temporary display in the town of Seaham in County Durham, recalling the British soldiers or ‘Tommies’ that served in that war. It will be purchased by the people of Seaham later in the year and go on permanent display at a new location in the town in 2015.

'Tommy' by Ray Lonsdale.
‘Tommy’ by Ray Lonsdale at Seaham © 2018 David Simpson

Aug 1, 2014 – Norman Cornish

Former coal miner and artist Norman Cornish of Spennymoor (born 1919) has passed away leaving an extraordinary legacy of much-loved paintings featuring the life of communities in the Durham coalfield.

Norman Cornish

7 May, 2015 – Conservatives win again

The Conservatives under Prime Minister, David Cameron win the general election. In the North East Labour still dominate and the constituency of Redcar, previously Liberal Democrat, is retaken by Labour. Hexham of course remains Conservative but for the first time since 1973, Berwick-upon-Tweed also votes for a Conservative candidate. The Liberal Democrat MP, Alan Beith, who had held the Berwick constituency since 1973 did not stand in this election. A most striking aspect of the election is the almost complete dominance of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) in constituencies north of the border. The leader of the SNP since November 2014 is Nicola Sturgeon who has family roots in the North East (of England). Her grandmother, Margaret Mill was born in Ryhope to a shipwright who resided in one of the single-storey ‘Sunderland cottages’. Margaret married Scotsman, Robert Sturgeon at Ryhope in 1943 before moving north of the border.

2015 – Keel Square

A new square called Keel Square opens in the heart of Sunderland as a focus for a number of new cultural developments. These will include the conversion of the nearby former fire station into a new hub for music, culture, drama and dance.

Keel Square. Sunderland © David Simpson 2017

12 Oct, 2015 – Steelworks close

The Redcar steelworks close on Teesside with a loss of around 2,000 jobs. It brings an end to an epic era of iron and steel making on Teesside.

Steelworks pictured from Redcar beach
Steelworks at Warrenby pictured from Redcar beach © David Simpson 2021

1 April, 2016 – ‘Tees Valley’ Combined

The Tees Valley Combined Authority is formed, combining the local authorities of Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland, Stockton-on-Tees, Hartlepool and Darlington under a directly elected mayor.

2016 – Boro up, Newcastle down

Middlesbrough are promoted to the Premier League. Newcastle United football club are relegated from the Premier League into the Championship after a run of six seasons in the top flight. Sunderland escaped relegation from the Premier League, finishing one place above Newcastle.

23 June, 2016 – Region votes to ‘leave’ EU

The national referendum introduced by Prime Minister, David Cameron on whether or not Britain should stay in the European Union results in a ‘leave’ vote or ‘Brexit’ as the hotly-debated issue is colloquially known. In the North East there is a 69.3% turnout with 562,595 voting to remain and 778,103 voting to leave. The leading strategist and campaign director of the Vote Leave campaign has been the Durham-born political adviser, Dominic Cummings.

23 June, 2016 – Newcastle voted ‘remain’

Of the 12 North East local authorities (Newcastle, Northumberland, County Durham, North Tyneside, Sunderland, South Tyneside, Gateshead, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Stockton, Darlington, Redcar & Cleveland), only the people of Newcastle upon Tyne voted to remain. The vote in Newcastle upon Tyne, which is home to two major universities, was 65,405 in favour of staying in the European Union and 63,598 voting to leave.

July 2, 2016 – Kynren

The first performance of a spectacular new outdoor show called Kynren takes place near Auckland Castle in Bishop Auckland. Financed and created by philantropist Jonathan Ruffer, Kynren is described as an ‘epic tale of England’ and features a crew and cast of a thousand local volunteers telling the story of English history.

Kynren © John Simpson 2016

2016 – Dockland housing

Modern housing developments have been approved on a sought-after riverside site that was formerly the home of the Smiths Sock shipbuilding company at North Shields. The development is to include around four hundred waterside apartments and over three-hundred family homes as well as shops, cafés, restaurants and water sports facilities focused around the three historic docks.

Oct 2016 – The Word

The Word, National Centre for the Written Word, a library and community amenities location in South Shields opens.

2017 – Football ups and downs

Newcastle United are promoted after one season in the championship. Sunderland football club are relegated from the Premier League after 10 consecutive seasons in the top flight. Middlesbrough are also relegated from the Premier League into the Championship, after just one season.

7 May, 2017 – Tees Valley mayor

Conservative, Ben Houchen is elected as the first Mayor of the Tees Valley Combined Authority.

8 June, 2017 – Conservatives win election

The Conservatives under Theresa May, who became Prime Minister and Conservative leader in July last year after David Cameron stepped down, win a third general election in a row. There is little change in the political make-up of the North East constituencies, except that Labour gain Stockton South from the Conservatives and lose the Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland constituency to the Conservatives. Scottish Nationalists lose several seats north of the border but still retain a strong presence.

7 July, 2017 – Farewell Bradley Lowery

A young North East football fan whose infectious smile and joy for life had touched the hearts of the nation lost his battle with a rare form of neuroblastoma cancer. Six-year-old Sunderland fan and club mascot, Bradley Lowery of Blackhall Colliery in County Durham had become a mini celebrity in his short life, notably forming a close friendship with Sunderland footballer, Jermain Defoe. In August 2017, the Bradley Lowery Foundation was formed by Bradley’s mother, Gemma to raise funding, provide support and raise awareness of children in need of treatments that are not available through the National Health Service.

Bradley Lowery remembered at Stadium of Light
Scarves and football shirts of various football clubs placed outside Sunderland’s Stadium of Light in July 2017 in memory of Bradley Lowery © 2017 David Simpson

6 Sep, 2017 – Farewell Mike Neville

North East regional TV mourns the loss of Mike Neville, who has been the face of North East regional news programming since 1962. Neville was a presenter for BBC Look North from 1964 to 1996 and a presenter with Tyne Tees Television from 1962-1964 and again from 1996 up until his retirement in 2005.

Tyne Tees Television studios. Gateshead
Tyne Tees Television studios. Gateshead © David Simpson 2022

2018 – Sunderland relegated again

Sunderland Football Club are relegated for the second season in a row dropping down from the Championship into the third tier league of English football that is confusingly known as Division One.

2 Nov, 2018 – North of Tyne Authority

The North of Tyne Combined Authority is established. The combined authority covers Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland and North Tyneside. A broader authority had been proposed that would have included Durham County, the City of Sunderland and the Boroughs of Gateshead and South Tyneside, but those councils were not satisfied with the plan due to concerns over funding.

2018 – Northern Spire

An impressive new bridge opens in Sunderland linking Pallion on the south side to Hylton and Castletown.

The Northern Spire
The Northern Spire bridge across the River Wear in 2017 © 2017 David Simpson

2 May, 2019 – North of Tyne mayor

Middlesbrough-born Jamie Driscoll, representing the Labour and Co-operative parties is elected as the first mayor of the combined North of Tyne Authority.

12 Dec, 2019 – Election throws up surprises

The Conservatives win the general election under the leadership of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson MP, a former mayor of London. Known simply as Boris Johnson or popularly just known as ‘Boris’, he became Conservative leader and Prime Minister in June following the resignation of Theresa May. The general election throws up some very extraordinary results in several North East constituencies. Traditional Labour seats such as Blyth Valley, North West Durham and Bishop Auckland all fall to the Conservatives. Sedgefield, the constituency once held by Tony Blair also becomes Conservative. Darlington, Stockton South, and Redcar likewise turn blue. It is over a hundred years since the extent of the red colour on the political map of the North East of England has been so diminished. However, most of the geographically smaller but heavily populated constituencies of Tyneside, Teesside and Wearside still remain Labour as does the City of Durham. Tynemouth, which has a relatively recent history of electing Conservative MPs remains Labour too. North of the border, the Scottish Nationalists regain a number of seats lost in 2017 but do not match their exceptional performance in the 2015 election. The popular, appealing positivity and entertaining media charisma of Johnson coupled with general frustration for change and persistent divisions relating to Brexit may be amongst the explanations for the unusual election results. The current North East Members of Parliament are listed here.

Mouth of the Blyth.
Mouth of the River Blyth. The previously solid Labour constituency of Blyth voted in a Conservative MP © David Simpson 2018

Jan 2020 – Geordie duo’s TV award record

Newcastle entertainment duo Ant and Dec (Ant McPartlin and Declan’s Donnelly) scoop the most popular TV presenter award once again in the National Televison Awards, breaking records for consecutive wins. The entertainers have been a mainstay of prime time television for just over two decades and have won numerous British Academy (BAFTA) awards. They first sprung to fame on the Children’s television drama Byker Grove broadcast from 1989 with Ant joining the cast in 1990.

2020 – Flagship building opens in the Helix

The Lumen, a building providing extensive office space, opens as one of the flagship buildings of the exciting Newcastle Helix development near St James’ Boulevard in the west of the city. The Newcastle Helix (initially called ‘Science Central’ until a rebrand in 2018) is a 24 acre site developing as a home to progressive businesses and their associated residences that will focus on bringing “healthier, longer, smarter and easier lives to the world”. It is described as “one of Europe’s most exciting innovation hubs.” Other buildings in development on the site include The Catalyst, home to the National Innovation Centre for Aging and National Innovation Centre for Data’; Biosphere, a home to chemistry and biology labs; The Core, a research-led business centre; The Key, a home to Newcastle University’s structural engineering and research; the Urban Sciences Building and the Frederick Douglass Centre. The last of these is named from African American abolitionist, writer and social reformer Frederick Douglass (c1817-1895) who once resided in Newcastle’s Summerhill Grove.

2020 – Vaux Brewery

A new Vaux Brewery opens in Monk Street, Sunderland, a short distance from the Stadium of Light. The company who have established this new brewery aim to relaunch the famous brewing brand name with which Sunderland was associated up until the closure of the original Vaux Breweries in 1999.

March 2020 – Covid lockdown

The nation goes into its first lockdown in response to the Covid 19 Coronavirus pandemic. Massive changes in working practices, leisure and lifestyle come into force to combat the threat from the virus and save lives. Many families are separated from their loved ones as individuals go into isolation and numerous businesses, particularly in the leisure sector will close, with uncertainty about the duration, all with challenging social and economic consequences. Mask wearing becomes a compulsory feature in shops and public places. In December, a programme of vaccinations begin.

May 25, 2020 – PM adviser explains journey

Dominic Cummings, the Durham-born chief adviser to Conservative Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, becomes the subject of much media attention and scrutiny. It follows a revelation that he left his London home with his family at the end of March, despite strict lockdown regulations introduced by the government, to drive over 200 miles north to his parent’s home near Durham City. From here he would make a day visit to the town of Barnard Castle in April to apparently test his eyesight. Cummings would explain his actions in a live broadcast press conference from the garden of 10 Downing Street on May 25. The embittered Cummings will subsequently leave his post as Johnson’s adviser in November. A year later, in November 2021, attention will turn to revelations of lockdown rules broken by senior figures in government, including the Prime Minister.

Barnard Castle Castle
Barnard Castle Castle © David Simpson 2021

 2020 – Newcastle’s tallest building

Hadrian’s Tower, Newcastle’s tallest building opens. It is a residential block, situated in Rutherford Street and is 272 feet high (83m).

Charlotte Square, Newcastle
Hadrian’s Tower viewed from Charlotte Square, Newcastle upon Tyne © David Simpson 2021

May 6, 2021 – More election shocks

Local council elections in the North East and a parliamentary by-election at Hartlepool yet again thrown up some surprising results that seem to suggest some major recent, if perhaps temporary changes in the region’s political landscape. Despite retaining the most council members, the Labour Party lost overall control of Durham County Council for the first time since 1925. The council had been the first in the country to come under Labour control back in 1919. Meanwhile, Hartlepool voted for Conservative, Jill Mortimer as its new Member of Parliament. The constituency (and its preceding constituency ‘The Hartlepools’) had been held by Labour since 1964.

Aug 2, 2021 – Blast Furnace demolition

The demolition of the Redcar blast furnace, a major industrial landmark and symbol of the Teesside steel industry commences with Tees Valley mayor, Ben Houchen sounding a horn to begin the work.

Steelworks, Warrenby, Redcar
Steelworks, Warrenby, Redcar © David Simpson 2021

Sep 19, 2021 – Dorman Long tower

The 1950s Dorman Long Tower at South Bank on Teesside was demolished overnight despite its brief listing as a protected building. This coal storage facility, built in Brutalist style as part of the steel works, with the words ‘DORMAN LONG’ boldly commemorating one of the most famous companies in North East industrial history was considered by many to be a Teesside industrial icon.

Oct 2021 – ‘Richest Club in the World’

Media and football fans are describing Newcastle United FC as the ‘richest football club in the world’ following this month’s much-delayed takeover by a business consortium that includes the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia.

St James' Park, home of Newcastle United FC
St James’ Park, home of Newcastle United FC © 2021 David Simpson

Dec 2021 – Fire Station venue

The Fire Station, a new music venue opens in the centre of Sunderland. Built as an extension to the city’s former Edwardian fire station, the complex features a restaurant and bars as well as music and theatre studios. Recent developments in Sunderland as elsewhere in the North East have included a mix of brand new buildings and exciting, re-purposed and innovative new roles for existing heritage features.

The Fire Station, Sunderland
The Fire Station, Sunderland © David Simpson 2022

March 2022 – Region supports Ukraine

In line with many parts of Britain, people and organisations across the North East of England have been showing their support for Ukraine, following the recent invasion of that nation at the end of February. Flags displaying the Ukrainian colours become a common site on public buildings and public places across the country including the North East.

March 2022 – City Hall

Sunderland’s new City Hall opens on the former Vaux Breweries site near the River Wear to the west of the Wearmouth Bridge. This prime site has been awaiting development since the closure of Vaux Breweries in 1999.

April 2022 – Spanish Gallery

The Spanish Gallery at Bishop Auckland is officially opened by HRH Charles, the Prince of Wales and Queen Letizia of Spain. It is the UK’s largest collection of sixteenth and seventeenth century Spanish artworks outside London, including works by El Greco, Murillo, Zubarán and Velazquez. The gallery, developed with the backing of philanthropist, Jonathan Ruffer is situated in the town’s market place occupying the former nineteenth century Barrington school and Backhouse Bank.

May 2022 – Demolition in Pilgrim Street

The demolition begins of what is sometimes considered to be Newcastle’s ugliest building. Commercial Union House, an office block which partially overhangs Pilgrim Street on a curious raised podium was constructed in 1971-72 in Brutalist style and has perhaps become the most familiar feature of the street. Pilgrim Street is in fact one of Newcastle’s oldest streets, with origins going back to medieval times when it was the principal north-south route through the town. The demolition will make for new developments.

Pilgrim Street.
Pilgrim Street, showing the Commercial Union House © David Simpson 2018

May 2022 – Sunderland promoted

Sunderland return to the Championship after four seasons in the third tier of English football where the club broke records for attendances at that level. A 2-0 play-off win at Wembley brings an end to the club’s longest spell in the third tier.

June 2, 2022 – Jubilee

Beacons are lit in towns and villages across the North East as the nation and other parts of the world celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. It was on June 2, 1953 that the Coronation of the Queen took place. She had ascended to the throne in February 1952, following the death of her father, George VI and is now the longest serving British monarch. In February of this year she passed a milestone 70 year reign. Previously, the longest serving monarch was Queen Victoria, who reigned for 64 years.

2022 – 1,900 years of Hadrian’s Wall

A year long festival of activities and events celebrates 1,900 years since the building of Hadrian’s Wall which was commenced in AD 122. The wall stretches from Bowness on the Solway Firth in Cumbria to Wallsend on Tyne and includes remnants and traces in the city of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Hadrian's Wall Whin Sill
The crags of the Great Whin Sill were utilised as part of Hadrian’s Walls defences Photo © 2018 David Simpson

Meanwhile, a regional heritage icon from a much later period of history, the Lindisfarne Gospels, will go on temporary display in an exhibition at Newcastle’s Laing Gallery from September 2022. They will be on loan to the region from the British Library in London. Although we know little about Newcastle during the ‘Golden Age of Northumbria’ in which the Lindisfarne Gospels were created, they are still very much a part of our wider region’s deeply rooted sense of identity. Their temporary return to the North East, on loan from London, might be seen as a cause for celebration. It might also be seen as a symbol of the appropriation of our region’s culture and identity, a region whose future is so often determined by events and decisions made in a very different corner of our nation.

👈 1990-2000 | Forward to the future 👉

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