Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Looking over the Byker Wall

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Looking over the Byker Wall

Article excerpt

A small, two-line subway system called the Metro runs through Newcastle upon Tyne, connecting the airport and the city centre with the coast, the quayside and the nearby Sunderland. Before its construction, my mother always told me, people refused to take jobs across the river in Gateshead. This was a time when many of Tyneside's residents stayed within strictly delineated microcosms and travelled between them very little. For my mother, growing up on a tight-knit council estate that barely extended beyond two streets in Heaton, in the east of Newcastle, the furthest she could imagine were the seemingly distant communities of Gateshead and Byker.

The adults wouldn't work in Gateshead but Byker had a mythology among the children. Whispered warnings to "never look over the Byker Wall" were common in the playground. Then the Tyne and Wear Metro appeared in 1980 and attitudes began to change.

If you travel on the Metro's yellow line from Newcastle's city centre to the coast, it is impossible to avoid the imposing Byker Wall, a winding, multicoloured high-rise development that comprises 620 maisonettes. The Byker estate--of which the wall is the most prominent part--has been recognised for its architectural innovation a number of times, most recently being named as one of the best council estates in Britain by the Observer in November. Yet the small, north-facing windows that punctuate an undulating structure of dark brick look far from welcoming. …

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