Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Newcastle: A Tale of One City That Survived the Worst; Wars, Plagues and Bitter Rivalries. Newcastle Has Survived Them All. DAVID WHETSTONE Talks to City Biographer Bill Purdue

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Newcastle: A Tale of One City That Survived the Worst; Wars, Plagues and Bitter Rivalries. Newcastle Has Survived Them All. DAVID WHETSTONE Talks to City Biographer Bill Purdue

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID WHETSTONE

PEOPLE who want to put Newcastle in a nutshell talk about Geordies and the legacy of coal and shipbuilding on the Tyne.

That's part of the story, but it is not the whole story, as you will find in an absorbing new book called Newcastle: The Biography.

Its author, historian Bill Purdue, is a Geordie himself, having been born in North Shields and spent most of his life in the region.

He now lives in Allendale and is visiting professor in modern history at Northumbria University.

In person and in print, he argues that Newcastle is not adequately served by stereotypes.

The city became a major player in the coal industry during the 16th Century but before then wool was the principal money-earner.

Flash forward to the present day and you will see that coal - and also shipbuilding which Newcastle jealously monopolised to the detriment of other towns along the Tyne - is a chapter that has closed.

Today Newcastle is involved in many other things. But that, says Prof Purdue, was always the case.

Ask him which period in Newcastle's history he would happily revisit and he says: "The late 18th Century. I think that was the great period for Newcastle.

"It was a period when social and cultural life had a real buzz. It was the period of Bewick, a time when Newcastle was the centre of printing and publishing.

"It was when the Assembly Rooms were built and Charles Avison was part of a tremendous musical revival. Newcastle became a fashionable place, a place for polite society."

It was also a place where, if you had the money, you could buy fine things. Long-standing sea-borne trade between Tyne and Thames meant Londoners in Newcastle wouldn't have felt completely lost.

As for the term "Geordie", these days it tends to inspire pride (if you are one) and affection (if you are not). But the author points out less positive connotations.

In the book he writes: "It is significant that 'Geordie' came to be generally used during a period of economic decline on Tyneside.

"It was not much used when great ships were being built and skilled workers were earning wages far higher than equivalents in the South, but became part of common parlance when shipyards were closing.

"It therefore became associated with a sort of cultural defensiveness as expressed by the comedian Bobby Thompson, who became very popular in the 1950s and 1960s; we are a decent people with no airs and graces, exceptionally friendly and very definitively not 'posh', but we have been treated badly."

The Geordie concept, he adds, "has real roots in mining communities, in the showmen of the early 19th Century and in the music halls but it bundles up diverse factors into an artificial cohesion".

He argues that it says nothing of the middle class which has long played an important part in city life.

The story of Newcastle that Prof Purdue tells in his book is extraordinary and diverse.

With nothing but a single Bronze-Age round-house to hint at a major settlement before the Romans, the city's story properly begins with their wooden crossing over the Tyne, Pons Aelius, on the site of today's Swing Bridge. …

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