Huge Newcastle photo archive provides lookback at 150 years of the city

Pictures from the Newcastle Photo Archive: The original Big Lamp at the junction of Westgate Hill and Elswick Road in 1900.
-Credit: (Image: Newcastle Photo Archive)

An archive of 50,000 images tells the story of the changing face of Newcastle’s West End across almost 150 years.

The volunteer-run Newcastle Photo Archive marks its 40th anniversary this year- and the latest pictures to be added to the huge collection will come from a project in which youngsters have delved into the history of the area almost 2,000 years ago.

Next week Children North East will celebrate the culmination of the venture in which its Young People’s Group co-operated with Historic England and Tyne Wear Museums, focusing on Hadrian’s Wall. Over the past five months, the group, based at the organisation’s Benwell allotment site in the West End have been working on the ‘Life on the Wall’ project, exploring what it was like for the Romans when Hadrian’s Wall was built and similarities today.

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The group has paid museum visits and listened to talks to learn more about life in Roman times, including themes like what makes an area feel like home, everyday experiences, family, friends, different cultures and the food they shared. They have ended the project by designing and building a pizza oven which can be used by the wider community to bring people together, and which will be at the centre of the celebration at the Benwell Lane site.

Pictures from the project will be a welcome addition to the Newcastle Photo Archive, which is based at the West End Customer Service Centre and Library on Condercum Road in Benwell, and which is open on Mondays from 10am-4pm. The collection dates back to the mid-19th century and continues into the 20th century when the West End was a bustling area of major industries such as the Elswick shipyard, and Armstrong’s factory and the packed housing and multiple pubs of Scotswood Road, of Blaydon Races fame. There are also the Benwell mansions and the subsequent mass demolition and redevelopment from the 1960s which changed the face of the West End.

Pictures from the Newcastle Photo Archive: Ponteland Road in the late 1950s/early 1960s looking east from Kenton Bank Foot with the Kenton Bar pub in the middle horizon
Pictures from the Newcastle Photo Archive: Ponteland Road in the late 1950s/early 1960s looking east from Kenton Bank Foot with the Kenton Bar pub in the middle horizon -Credit:Newcastle Photo Archive

“We believe we are the only volunteer-run purely photographic archive organisation in the country,” says secretary Ian Farrier. Geordies from across the world contact the website to review and request picture copies of streets, schools, pubs, and churches and information, as do local people.

“Pictures trigger memories and these are places which have meant something to people’s lives. When these places are demolished, then memories can go very quickly,” says Ian.

The archive has its origins in the efforts of the late Des Walton, a local librarian, and adult education outreach worker Phil Kitchen and the discovery of hundreds of photographs at Newburn Library. Many of the images have been donated by locals, or in chance events like material recovered from skips as the Elswick shipyard and factories closed.

Mr Walton was also friendly with Jimmy Forsyth, who from the 1950s onwards wandered around the West End, mainly Elswick and Scotswood, photographing daily life and the area’s streets and people. Jimmy filled tartan albums with his pictures, and asked Des Walton if he would care for the images.

Mr Walton said at the time: “He was afraid that if anything happened to him they might be thrown out and destroyed as no one would understand their value.”

But Des Walton did, and now Tyne Wear Archives has Jimmy’s negatives and the photo archive the developed images. The collection’s pictures trace the course of history in the West End, such as the image of The Gables, a handsome house built in the 1870s by the Richardson family.

It was sited near the leather works they owned in Elswick Road and that included an observatory in the garden. Family members are pictured in the doorway.

But the next image shows the demolition of the house in the 1990s with Jimmy Forsyth in attendance, standing amid the shattered stone blocks.

The archive now currently covers Arthur’s Hill, Bells Close, Benwell, Blakelaw, Blucher, Cowgate, Denton Burn, Elswick, Fenham, Kenton, Lemington, Newbiggin Hall, Newburn, North Walbottle, Scotswood, Spital Tongues, Summerhill, Throckley, West Denton, Westerhope and Whorlton.

Copies of images in the collection can be purchased as photocopies, prints or electronically. For details email