Memories of the Tyne: a response to “Inspiring the next generation of Environmental Historians”

By David Moon

I am very grateful to Leona for taking the time from her research to come to talk to my MA seminar in York. We had a really lively and productive discussion, and could have continued for more than the two hours we were timetabled.

It was very useful for the MA students to meet an early-career scholar who has recently completed her Ph.D., gone on to work on a large project, and in particular a large project that involves engagement with partners outside the academic world. I hope this will encourage them to think about their plans for research and academic careers in a wider context.

In preparation for the seminar, we had all read the materials Leona had provided on the river Tyne, and also examples of the wider environmental history on rivers. This enabled us to consider the case of the Tyne in a comparative framework, to identify aspects of the environmental history of the Tyne that were common to other rivers in the industrial world – of which the extent of pollution was just one – and also to think whether there were aspects of the Tyne’s history that stood out from the wider experience of rivers.

In regard to the latter, both Leona and I were at an advantage as we are both natives of the northeast of England and have grown up with the Tyne flowing past our doorsteps, or at least only a few miles away.

Newcastle Quayside before 1990s

Newcastle Quayside before redevelopment (1990s). Source: Wikimedia Commons

As a child I lived in Newcastle upon Tyne in the 1960s, and remember well the industrial river. (I could hear the sirens marking the changes of shifts in the works along the river from our house in Fenham.) I recall later the decline of this phase of the river’s history, when much of the river banks became derelict as the old industries, not least the shipyards, closed down. The Quayside at night became a place to avoid or be wary, especially when the Norwegian navy came to pay ‘courtesy visits’ and frequented the pubs. More recently, I have witnessed the astonishing rebirth of the Quayside as the heart of a new, vibrant cultural centre rebranded as ‘Newcastle-Gateshead’, with the arch of the Tyne bridge echoed in the Sage concert hall and beautiful Millennium footbridge creating a stunning visage to rival any city I’ve lived in. (A few years ago, I showed it off to a visitor from St. Petersburg, from the middle of the Swing Bridge, who was impressed, and was not just being polite.)

River Tyne with the Tyne Bridge, Millennium Bridge (background) and the Sage concert hall (right). Source: Wikipedia

River Tyne with the Tyne Bridge, Millennium Bridge (background) and the Sage concert hall (right). Source: Wikipedia

This blog post is a response to Leona’s earlier piece Inspiring the next generation of Environmental Historians at the University of York

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