It became apparent very early on that due to the nature of my topic, my methodology would differ greatly from the other members of my research group. One factor at play was the relatively recent time period I had chosen to consider, which although restricting certain resources (such as the Census) also opened up the possibility of obtaining direct historical accounts from people who had experienced the 60s modernisation directly.
The first few weeks of the project were spent in the Local studies department of the Central Library and here I was able to look at photographic evidence from the time period and consider the impact that this development may have had on the existing community. A fellow member of my group was considering the conditions of working class housing in the pre-war era, so this gave me a fantastic opportunity to share ideas and map how living conditions had changed over time
In contextualising these stories within broader discussions of Newcastle I was also keen to consider T. Dan Smith and his vision for Newcastle, an area where it proved necessary to be inventive with locating my resources, as there was very little obvious written evidence discussing his plans for the area. However, I was able to look at the Council records for the period, which although incredibly time consuming, proved incredibly fruitful. Essentially this involved leafing through the index pages for any references to ‘housing’, ‘flats’, or, ‘Shieldfield’ and scanning the indexed page for relevant information.
To ensure I caught all relevant articles this was conducted in every book from the year 1955 – 1965 (One book per year). Although the majority of accounts in the minutes referred to smaller matters which required passing through the council, I eventually found a report which referred to the motion to construct “Multi-Storey Flats- Heaton Park Road Etc.” This entry was written on March 4, 1959 and the Shieldfield flats formed one element of this project. This was an incredibly useful find and the account took up ten pages in the council minutes, seemingly stirring a great deal of debate in the council and providing a brilliant insight in to the politics of the time with regard to housing development – this meeting occurred only one year in to the new Labour council, who had gained power in 1958. Obtaining this report really helped me to locate the Shieldfield flats within the larger history of T Dan Smith's Newcastle and included a lot of direct quotes from Smith himself, who was then acting as Chairman of the Housing Committee - offering an early insight in to his vision for the city.
As my main concern with this topic was to present the human story of the flats, it was pivotal to the success of my research that I was able to obtain suitable interviews from Shieldfield residents. Fortunately I was able to speak with a lady called Norah, who works with the Caring Hands charity in Wretham Place in Shiedfield, who was kind enough to offer her time. I was nervous about conducting an interview as I was mindful of not leading the conversation and had not discussed conducting oral history interviews with anyone with any previous experience. However, prior to the interview I visited the Oral History Society website and was able to do some research in order to prepare for my discussion with Norah (http://www.oralhistory.org.uk/index.php). I found this source offered a lot of seemingly simple but very important hints on what to do and, perhaps more importantly, what not to do.
My key questions in this interview were to seek out, what Norah's memories of the development were, and how she felt they affected the area? I did initially write some carefully composed questions, but found the interview happened quite organically and required little questioning once we had started the discussion - which helped ensure the I did not lead the discussion in any way.
The interview proved incredibly useful and I was able to obtain lots of information regarding the impact of the flats on the area. I also gained a great deal of anecdotal evidence, which related not only to my research area but also to the areas being considered by other members of my group, which I was able to pass on.
Owing to the long history of the flats and their sometimes frequent turnover of residents, I was mindful of trying to reflect the multiplicity of experiences that Shiedfield residents have of the flats and I wished to be cautious of presenting a 'neat' and coherent story. Therefore as I have previously mentioned Norah's interview really does represent a starting point in considering the impact of the flats and I have been in discussion with Shieldfield Towers Residents' Group, in the hope of arranging further interviews in future.
Due to currently having conducted no further interviews, I have considered articles from the contemporary press to balance the opinions in my discussion. However, I am aware that such articles will not present the lack of bias that I have striven to achieve in my interview and have been mindful of this factor when presenting any information from press cuttings.
In addition to the photographs and interviews I used in my research, it was articles such as the council proceedings which were my key primary resources. In addition to the proceedings I also looked at contemporary books written by the then town planning officer Walter Burns, that were published by the Newcastle corporation. Books such as these really helped to get a picture of the contemporary vision for the city.
I also looked at the 1945 and 1951 Plans for Newcastle, again published by Newcastle Corporation, and also newspaper articles from the period.
I was able to obtain a Copy of a DVD created by the building contractors shortly after completion of the flats, which usefully illustrated the building processes involved. The video also provided a visual account of the opening of the flats and this particular section of the video has been published in the 'Additional Images and Videos' section of this blog titled 'Sharp with the Flats' (see right hand menu).
Otherwise, I have used a range of secondary sources and texts, listed in full in the bibliography section of this blog.
7 years ago