1950s

Posted May 2nd, 2011

The postwar years were to see the area’s local industrial base enter a terminal decline.The number of people employed at the Vickers-Armstrong works fell once more until, by the 1960s, employment was down to 7,000 compared to the war-time high of 18,500. This was part of a wider pattern of job loss; between 1964-1971, for example, 2,200 mechanical engineering jobs were lost in Benwell – a 39% reduction.

This period also saw the start of a huge programme of housing clearance intended to solve Newcastle’s terrible slum housing problem. The city had the worst record of poor housing in England outside London. Much of the worst housing was in the west end. Some parts of Benwell, such as Noble Street and adjacent streets, were demolished as early as the 1950s and new housing built on the cleared sites.

It is tempting to romanticise the past, and bemoan the loss of the old housing as the destruction of strong and proud communities. Undeniably some of the houses that were knocked down in the mass slum clearance programmes of the postwar decades were of good quality and could have been refurbished rather than demolished. In some cases, houses were demolished for planning reasons rather than because they were genuinely slums. However there were also without doubt many thousands of substandard homes lacking in basic amenities which were beyond reasonable repair. Stories abound of tenements with several families sharing one tap and an outside toilet, or of damp, cramped terrace flats without electricity, hot water or inside toilets. These are paralleled by accounts of the delight experienced by families moving into new homes with bathrooms and gardens for the first time.

Most people agree that a price was paid in the form of a weakening of community – although it is hard to separate the effects of physical redevelopment from wider social factors such as the increase in women taking paid employment and the decline of the extended family.