The Great Slum Clearance Scheme

Like us, most arrived with their belongings on a horse drawn cart.

 

In 1934 I joined the mass exodus from the inner cities to the council housing estates being built in suburbia. The great slum clearance scheme, when practically every town and city in the country set about demolishing the overcrowded and insanitary slums in which thousands of people lived was at its height.

I moved from Byker to Daisy Hill. No great distance but a long way to a six year old who had been no further than the shops on Shields Road. We left behind an ancient tenement on the banks between Byker Bridge and the railway viaduct which we shared with sixteen other families of anything up to ten members and none of them living in more than two rooms per family.

We all depended upon one spring-loaded tap for our water supply and shared six communal lavatories and two wash houses. Poverty indeed, and it must have been hell for adults and slavery for the womenfolk but when you have known nothing else you accepted it as the norm.

I remember how excited everyone was at the prospect of shifting and we were the first family on the block to make the trek to the New Jerusalem. My twin brothers, four years older than myself, bundled me into a homemade box barrow and pushed me up Shields Road and down the Fossway until we reached the green fields which surrounded Daisy Hill.

Here we ran out of road and had to take to a cart track that led down a slope to a stream at the bottom, then up the other side to the new housing estate. It was far from finished and the houses were occupied immediately they were completed. In those days the last things they built were the roads so that we were forced to wade through swathes of clarts whenever we ventured out and were brayed for getting our boots dirty.

Our house was like a palace compared to what we had been used to and we all marvelled at the many new wonders that now were ours. Not only did we have one inside tap, we had four! Two at the scullery sink and two in the bathroom. Yes, we had a bathroom and an inside toilet all to ourselves.

Mother was most tickled with having a boiler that didn’t need a fire lit beneath it and to which you didn’t have to carry endless buckets of water. Three bedrooms upstairs, we were like millionaires. Mother had bought a new table base and made a new clippy mat for the kitchen (the living room) to mark the occasion.

Being among the earliest settlers we were able to watch the arrivals of our new neighbours, many of whom were our old neighbours. Like us, most arrived with their belongings on a horse drawn cart. Some had so few possessions they were able to transport them on a hand cart which could be hired for sixpence a day.

Considering the deplorable conditions we had left behind Daisy Hill was a virtual paradise, yet there were those; mostly the elderly who just could not settle and made their way back to Byker. Perhaps they missed the proximity of the shops and pubs or maybe they did not like the wide-open spaces or the fact they had to take a tram whenever they went out.

Most took to their new surroundings and built fences (all shapes and sizes) or planted privet hedges round their new homes. A gardening association was set up which advised people who had never before had a plot of their own how to look after their gardens and loaned out tools, most of which were never returned. On the adjoining fields the Government provided allotments together with fifty hens and hen houses, all free.

There was a wonderful spirit of neighbourliness about the place as there was on all the new estates. Sadly this no longer applies.

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