Thursday, 29 December 2011

A Winter Walk

I'm often struck by the many differences between where I grew up and where I live now.  Time (as in more history) and space (as in a lot less of it) are important factors here in Britain, factors which influence much about the way things are done. 

Where I grew up, the streets are mostly on a neat grid, the ground is flat and the main landmarks are the railway line, a couple of lakes and the small parks dotted around.  Shopping centres are also main features, but those are too boring to talk about.  The point I'm intending to make is that a ditch digger or a crane are very rare features of the established suburban areas.  Construction work is generally limited to  utilities making repairs or the building of yet another housing estate even further out from down town.  One exception to this is in the posh area just south of my neighbourhood, where 'old money' had houses when I was young.  It's not uncommon to see large lots being split.  New houses which dominate their site are then erected to announce the new resident's terrific lack of taste.  

Here in Britain, loads of construction work goes on all the time.  Scaffolding is required to reach roofs being replaced, or brick walls being re-pointed.  The landscape is quite hilly, leading down to rivers or beaches and up to overlook points.  Sadly, the cranes at the major ship-building centre for Newcastle, based at Wallsend (as in the end of Hadrian's wall) are no longer for building ships, but for dismantling the site. 

Large buildings are being made over into flats, old sub-standard housing torn down and new (sub-standard) homes built.  Old industrial sites no longer in use are being demolished to make room for new housing or other developments.   

Tiled entrance to The Chain Locker

Roads are in continual need of repair (which occurs at the most inconvenient times, it seems).   Also, surprisingly enough, new roads are often being built through old areas. 

The Chain Locker was previously the Crane House Inn, dating back to 1834.

It was to one of these locations that Bill and I chose to walk the other day.  West of the North Shields Fish Quay is a row of newish apartment buildings over looking the river and beyond that is Collingwood Mansions (nothing to do with Dark Shadows).  Built in the mid 19th Century as a Sailors' Home, it is now a collection of flats, quite nice flats from the look of them.  The short street used to be book-ended by two venerable pubs, The Porthole and The Chain Locker, but only the former has remained.  The Chain Locker and something called the Brewery Bond, a warehouse, have both been made into flats. 

What we were most interested in, however, was the point where the buses have to turn around after dropping passengers at the ferry landing (the one that just crosses the river, not the big one that goes to Amsterdam).  Beyond that turn around point has been some disused docks and industrial wasteland.  Now there is a road that continues just beyond and then heads north into the existing housing estates. 

Town Mission built 1904
This suggests a plan for further development of the riverside, which is always exciting.  The road is not yet opened, however.   A bit of research indicates this development, called Smith's Dock, has been in the works since 2001.  Change is continual here, but generally very slow.  I'm hoping this road will provide a nearly traffic free cycle route to the largest leisure centre (gym) in the area.  We shall see. 

Bill showed me a bridge that crosses the road and reveals a roof top conservatory at the back of Collingwood Mansions.  On this cliff above the fish quay are also the old Town Mission and a former sail maker, now specialising in sheet metal, which is somehow apt.  Not a lovely building, but interesting and certainly historical. 

We made our way back past the fishquay and to the park, now strangely decorated, perhaps by 'Friends' of the park. 

It was a very cold day, as evidenced by the frozen pond,

but a pleasant walk, nonetheless.


Anonymous said...

Actually, I would think that this continual redevelopment in Britain is an advantage. I know that in the past several years in the US, once an area is blighted, it is seemingly abandoned...with a negative impression overall.

Keith Perriman said...

Between being a sailors home and being a swish home for 'yuppies', the older, darker, right hand section of Collingwood mansions had an older, darker past, and also somewhat of a sailors 'home' too. It's incarnation when I visited it was as the Jungle, also known as the Northumberland Arms. I innocently know this as I was a visiting sailor, wandering out of the gates of Smith's dock. I now live in South Shields and an immigrant also (from Yorkshire), and a retired seafarer.

Shelley said...

Terri - I agree, it is a better system, but it doesn't stop there being really dire areas. It's not the housing that determines a 'sink estate', it's the people.

Keith - Thank you for that. Bill did tell me about The Jungle, but I didn't include that in my narrative. I'm pleased you found your way to this blog and that you took the trouble to comment. Hope you'll visit again sometime.