A burnt Mini on the steps of the former Scotswood station, 1990.
In 1987, aged 20, I returned to Newcastle, having been away for four years. I needed somewhere to live and I ended up taking the keys to a two-bedroom upstairs Tyneside flat in Scotswood for the “huge sum” of £29 a week. It was film or rent, and I chose film.
Above, children racing their motorbikes, Lemington 1992. Right, a performing dog, Fenham, 1989. Far right, children with a rock Salmon, Fenham, 1989. Below, children playing in the remains of the Robin Adair pub, Scotswood Road, 1989
Even in its heyday, the West End of Newcastle, and Scotswood especially, had always had a certain reputation for its poverty and deprivation, most notoriously as the home to the child killer Mary Bell back in the 1960s. But by the mid- to late-1980s it had been hit extremely hard by the waves of deindustrialisation that had closed down most of Armstrong’s munitions works, the area’s biggest employer, that ran all the way from Elswick to Scotswood along Scotswood Road, heading west out of Newcastle.
Conservative party election poster for the 1992 general election, Denton Road, Scotswood, 1992
In September 1991, the West End of Newcastle was hit by riots that spread across Tyneside after two joy-riders died in a police chase on the Coast Road at Wallsend to the east of Newcastle. By comparison to events such as Handsworth or the Broadwater Farm riots, the rioting was pretty subdued, but it still resulted in the burning out of the post office on Armstrong Road where I’d photographed women queuing to cash their child benefit cheques four years earlier.
The Percy pit slag heap
Despite being largely forgotten, these riots caused ructions among policymakers and politicians because of their nihilism – lacking the ready-causes such as the institutionalised racism Leslie Scarman addressed in the wake of the Brixton and Toxteth riots in the early 1980s. The causes of these riots were structural to the Thatcherite project that no fact-finding visits by Michael Heseltine were going to address adequately. We are still living with the consequences three decades later.
Top, upstairs on the No 1 bus, Rye Hill, 1989. Above, anti-poll tax graffiti, Scotswood, Newcastle, 1990. Right, Michael Heseltine visits Scotswood in 1992 in the wake of the rioting that occurred there in September 1991. Far right, child benefit day, Scotswood post office, 1988.
Most of the pictures in this series were shot incidentally as I’d go for a walk, go get the bus, or just live my life rather than as a specific project. It has resulted in a broad survey of the historical, political and economic changes that my home region has undergone; and these photographs are simply one strand of a much wider, more polemical essay charting my own responses to those changes.
Cruddas Park, Elswick, 1989
Living there for nine years was often surreal, as “twocked” and burnt cars became so common that it took something interesting such as a Mini stuffed down the steps of the Old Scotswood station to register as a bit unusual.
Top, children playing in the remains of the Scotswood post office after it went up in flames during riots in 1991. Above, Lemington in the snow, 1985. Right, a view from a bridge, Lemington 1992.
I moved from Scotswood in 1996, having lived there for 9 years. The area was in seemingly terminal decline as the anti-social behaviour grew, and my old street was finally flattened in the early 2000s, despite the tens of millions of pounds that had been pumped into the area in the wake of the rioting.
Artist Jeremy Deller wanted to be photographed in a Coronation Street setting.
Jeremy Deller, an artist, wanted to be photographed in a Coronation Street setting. Although Robert Street in Scotswood, where I was living at the time, was not exactly like Salford, all we had to do was go out of my front door for a suitably “northern” location, where we proceeded to photograph each other. Technicolor was still several years off – and the north of England really felt black and white in those days.
The lower part of Scotswood and Benwell, above Scotswood Road, is currently being redeveloped as part of a large public/private initiative to build housing and attract people back to the area. If it can rid itself of the stigma of poverty and deprivation that blighted the area for many years, it does have a lot going for it, such as wonderful views across the Tyne valley and great transport links – being close to the A1, which runs north/south, and the A69, which runs east/west.
Looking west up Lemington Gut towards Stella power station
• Mark Pinder is a documentary and editorial photographer living near Newcastle upon Tyne. He is currently working on a book and exhibition project with the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art in Sunderland exploring the political and social history of his home region. His book Newcastle West End: Elswick to Newburn is available from Cafe Royal Books.