Norah's Story

This page marks the beginning of an oral history project, which I hope to continue developing over the coming months.  The ambition for this project is to create a developing discussion which considers the impact of the flats, both historically and in to the present day. 

To offer the broadest range of histories possible, I hope to gather interviews from current and past residents, in order to give voice to a diversity of experiences of the flats.  Ultimately I hope these interviews will help us to reflect on attitudes towards 'Triptych Towers' within the present community.

Norah's story marks the departure point for this conversation and Norah has been a resident of Shieldfield since her childhood, remembering the construction of the first towers.  Unfortunately, Norah was as not able to obtain a flat within the towers when they were initially built and was moved instead to the district of Walker, with her husband and then young son.  Norah now lives back within Shieldfield and works with the Caring Hands charity who have been pivotal in assisting with the community engagement project more broadly and who have kindly helped me to organise this interview.

To listen to a short extract of the interview, please visit the following link

Without wishing to paraphrase too much, I have included a full transcripts of the interview below:

"Well it started when erm.. it started with slum clearance after the war and shieldfield estate was built up then. The little side streets, not all of them, were housed in Benton, Fawdon, Westerhope, you name it – extended families split and moved to these places. We were trying to hold out for something better because they’d actually started building the first block of flats, which was Pandon Court and that was in the late 50s and it was known at the time as... well the flats became known as the Poulson affair flats because the leader of the council T. Dan Smith was taking money for to build these monstrosities, because that’s what they were monstrosities.

And the biggest problem was, we used to have a little cottage where Charles I...well he was held prisoner there and they actually knocked that down and there was up in arms about it. Of course, historical things weren’t as important then as they are now – these days they would never have got away with it. So they tried to knock this little house down and they couldn’t do it with an ordinary lorry, with a ball and chain on, so it ended up with four lorries standing either side of this house and it took them a week to knock it down – it really fought for its life!

And then it started. Taking people from the little streets like Henley Street, Albert Street, Copeland Terrace, Simpson Terrace and things like that and putting them in to the flats and we held out and we held out and held out and held out and held out and ended up getting put in the same type of flats, but In Walker. Because these flats had went up in walker, they had went up in Cruddas Park and they had gone up in Shielddfield, so there was quite a lot of these flats going up and we watched them going up floor, by floor, by floor. The last block of flats which was King Charles’ Tower we used to sit in the park, because we had a nice big park, and my son was six months or so and then everybody thought, you know, we’ll probably get put in them block of flats, we’ll go in those ones, but we didn’t - I got moved to Walker, because they had other people in mind for the flats from other areas.

[Prior to the flats] I lived in a street called Simpson Terrace, I was born in Wesley Street which is roughly were the 25 storey block of flats and the houses on stilts are. When I was two me and my sister moved to Simpson Terrace and it was supposed to be a three bedroom terrace because the cellar downstairs was the living room and it had all big ranges and that in, the fire. We always had electricity, because there was a pub and a fish shop and another pub and it was a very small street, it only had nine houses on it. You could see the park and this house where Charles had stayed as a prisoner. So it was part of our childhood, it was always there we grew up with it. There was a gentleman, I forget his name...but anyway...he bought the house and had it as a boys club, because there was nothing much for boys, there was nothing much for girls, but I think boys got in to more trouble. It was fabulous inside, I can only it was like living in the Tudor times, all these panels and little flowers hiding things and certain ones you could press and it would move, but it wouldn’t move much because it was all bricked up then. I have very fond memories of that house and to think it got pulled down to put high rise flats in, which aren’t very inviting when you do live in them...

You lose your neighbours, you don’t see anyone like you used to, you could go days and days and days and days – weeks in fact! Without seeing anyone, if you worked, you could go for a month and not see a neighbour. So people were not very pleased about these flats and when it all came out about Dan Smith, people were incensed, incensed to think that they had gone up. I mean they weren’t serviced like they are now, they had metal window frames, so your bedroom, your kitchen was permanently soaking, because the icicles used to be inside the house off the window frames. It had loads and loads of mildew – your ceiling were green with mildew, no matter how many times you decorated. I mean they’re better now, because they have got central heating and they have changed the windows. They’ve got double glazing in now. But I don’t live in them, but they say the tops ones aren’t successful because the wind comes in the windows – I mean I don’t know because I don’t live in them, but that’s what people say.

I moved in to Walker when my son was three and he was born in 1959, so we watched the last block of flats being built then. They started going up in the late 50s. There was in the park... I’m not sure if this is true, but they said that in the park there was an air raid shelter and that it connected to the Victoria tunnel and other air raid shelters in the city. I was told this and I don’t know how true that was, but the rumour was that at the time that they had to dig deeper on the foundations because no one had told them about the shelter.

[On, moving in to the Walker flats] What you enjoyed about moving in to these flats, if you could say enjoyed, was the fact that you had a bath. Because we didn’t have a bath and we didn’t have hot water before. So, you had to go down Gibson street baths once a week for a bath and it cost all sixpence and you got a certain amount of water and you got a half an hour to get in and out. So the baths were the things that people were quite happy to have. I mean I grew up lucky enough to have electricity but for others it meant they could get modern washing machines and electric irons. I mean you you’ve got no choice really! There was nowhere else to go and they were pulling your old houses down. But if you could say enjoyed, it would be for that reason – that was the only thing that I felt benefitted me, because I had hot water and I could have electric irons and things. I mean I’d always had electricity, but I’d never had wall sockets for to buy things like washing machines.

I’d lived in Simpson Terrace all my life. I got married in 1958 and moved next door, my mam lived in number four and I lived in number two.
Simpson Street was where the Queens Pub is now and it stopped where the turn of the school gates is, because the school extended their yard. Nine hoses, two pubs and a fish shop.

[Before the flats] There was Shieldfield Green and Shields Street. Shields Street was like Northumberland Street, it had every sort of a shop you could think of on it. It used to have chemists, ice cream parlours, it had newsagents, it had dressmaking, it had three home bakery shops, four or five big stores, so you didn’t need to go to the town. Shield Street itself, half of it was pulled down. So the houses were pulled down in the 50s just before the flats were erected. The streets that were pulled down, I mean there were flats on Shields Street, but the flats that were pulled down were Sanitary Place, Temperance Row, Wilkie Street, Rock Street and up to Camden Street. I mean Camden Street is basically still there; it’s the railways bridge before you go over the flyover bridge and Napier Street is still there but it’s just a little bit higher up and that’s where your blocks of maisonettes are now. I mean they pulled down history actually. I mean as far as we know Sanitary Place was called Sanitary Place, because it had the first indoor toilets. I mean I’m not sure what Temperance Row was named for, but I mean somewhere in Shieldfield we did have a temperance bar where they didn’t sell beer, but just sold pop, you know. So all of these streets going up, Napier Street, Yorkshire Street, Kent Street was all pulled down for modernisation. That’s where I live now.I mean all our school friends lived in those houses, we had friends that lived in Temperance Row, I mean all the kids that used to go to school lived at this end.

Where Wilkie Street used to be, a few ladies there- which is not particularly done today -but when we were young we all used to love voting day. Because these ladies that lived on Wilkie Street used to get all the kids together and there were big banners and it was a labour area, which it still is, and they used to have the kids walking round the streets, even over Byker Bridge saying ‘vote, vote, vote, for ‘whoever’, for he is sure to win today’ and then at about 10:00 they used to get the results and that was at a picture house, which is roughly where Frankie and Benny’s is, the Olympia, but, the kids were involved in it all the way.
I mean, It moved families away, they all became extended families, they sued to be close knit families. It’s never been the same since when they altered it. If you knew your neighbours, there was a lot of strangers brought in to the flats, I mean there was a lot of people from Shieldfield got them, but your parents did, not you – you had to move out. Obviously I went to Walker and others went to Fawdon, Kenton...all over. It definitely split families, families were always very close and stayed together, I was fortunate when I did get married and had one next door to my mam and then I had to move away. I mean I was up here every day of the week. I had just used the house I had in Walker a sort of place to sleep, I used to come to Shiedfield first thing in the morning and leave when my husband got home from work late at night, I hated it, I absolutely hated it!
There was quite a few moved from Shiedfield, but I still didn’t like it. I mean you move away now, but then everyone stayed together. You didn’t have babysitters to pay for nor nothing like that. People that worked, rents doubled and trebled suddenly they had to stop working because their babysitter was taken away, it wasn’t very nice, I think people should have just left areas alone. I mean the fact that you had houses with back lanes, people were better neighbours.

I mean to me the houses were adequate before, I mean the quality of the houses was fine, I mean maybe there weren’t four bedrooms, but by then your family had gone through the traumas of four in a bed.

Sort of everything changed, I mean Northumberland Road, where your university is, there was a massive big wood yard and across the road and where your University Library is there used to be the eye hospital and I mean there wasn’t any Civic Centre, that used to be down where Saint Nicholas’ is – I can’t remember when they built the Civic Centre. We watched the place change. When it all came out people got these letters saying there was a Compulsory Purchase Order on your house and you had to move, full stop."