Living in Longbenton in the 1950s.
Travelling towards the coast between South Gosforth and Benton in winter, the train passed a scene of flooded fields and a few farmhouses. Now it passes a large housing estate.
For the families who moved there in the early fifties, the modern flats and houses were a vast improvement on the often run-down homes in the Heaton, Byker and Walker areas – especially if shared with in-laws. But there was also a downside to living in Longbenton – the feeling of isolation. For buses, one had to walk to Benton Road over a railway crossing; to South Gosforth or Benton Lane. There were only three telephones, also on Benton Lane, Benton Road and Killingworth Lane, no shops, no community facilities or doctors. We all became very good walkers.
However, many of the families had moved there with people they already knew, and for the most part, activities were arranged among neighbours in the various blocks. There were organised trips to the coast or the country in the summer. Guy Fawkes’ night saw dozens of bonfires – often one to each passage in the flats with fireworks and refreshments – with next morning the smell of smoke and youngsters rummaging in the fires to see if any bangers were still there.
Before the shops appeared, numerous vans came with vegetables, groceries, ice cream and fish and chips. The Co-op van stopped outside our flat at breakfast time on Saturdays. Miners from the local pits brought their sacks of concessionary coal on the cross bars of their bikes – the secret was to try and spot one before anyone else did. There was also a mobile library. Gradually life became more civilised. Schools were built. My son starting in January 1956 was at three schools that year. Since most of those moving in had young children, the primary schools were essential, and were catered for first.
With the construction of the Arndale Centre, we no longer had to make long treks for shopping – we now had at least four grocery stores, fruit shops, a couple of bakery stores, butchers, fish shop – even a “milk bar” selling tea, coffee, ice cream, etc. – which flourished for a time, but had to close eventually, when gangs from elsewhere tried to “muscle in” on the Longbenton Gang.
With the churches came the provision of halls where clubs and societies could meet and at least form organisations for the youth – Cubs, Brownies, Scouts and Guides and at least one youth club. At that time too, there were still large areas of open ground where the children could play without worrying about traffic or being told to go somewhere else or to make less noise.
For us, New Year was a high spot. We had a piano and my husband was a good pianist so all our neighbours and some friends from church used to turn up to first foot, bringing drinks and refreshments, so the party went on most of the night. Christmas was introduced by the choir boys from St. Mary Magdalene’s Church singing carols in the different blocks on different evenings – and after the Christmas Eve service coming to our flat after the blessing of the crib for cocoa and sausage rolls and general mayhem.
All in all there was a good atmosphere on the estate (not ideal but better than what was to follow).