The Byker Grove Connection
One of the interesting things about having a blog that has been running for some time is that old posts continue to attract comments even after many years. Some of the posts that have been getting comments recently are about my early childhood growing up in Benwell which is to the West of Newcastle upon Tyne; you can find a couple of examples here and here. The place has changed beyond all recognition since I was a kid, which I suppose accounts for the fact that people are googling about looking for memories of what it used to be like.
Here is a Google Earth rendition of the area I grew up in..
We used to live in one of the two cottages right next to Pendower School, which was just off Fox and Hounds Lane. You can see road that led to the front of our house, just between the text of “Benwell Village” and “Fox and Hounds Lane”. The cottages and school are now demolished, and a housing development stands where they were. That’s all in the middle of the top of the image.
My Dad used to run a shop which was was on the corner of Whickham View and Delaval Road, about halfway down the image to the left. The green strips to the East of Delaval Road and running parallel to it were all terraced when I lived there. Virtually everything has now gone, but it was a nice little community with old-fashioned little shops.
What drew my attention recently however, is that there is a location (to the top left of the image) marked Byker Grove., right next to where I used to live. When I was a lad that was Benwell Towers, which we were told was haunted – presumably to scare us off trying to get in. There was a rather scary and formidable fence separating the grounds of Benwell Towers from the School, but it was not unknown for kids to climb it…
There have been buildings on the site of Benwell Towers since the 13th Century. A tower house was built there in 1221 and stood until it was demolished to make way for the current, much larger, building which was constructed in 1831. The old building was for a time owned by a branch of the Shafto family, of Bobby Shafto fame. At the time of the construction of the new building, Benwell hadn’t been engulfed by the westward sprawl of Newcastle itself and was very much a separate village. “Benwell Village” still felt like a distinct, self-contained community, when I was growing up there in the Sixties.
The “new” Benwell Towers was, for a time, the residence of the Bishop of Newcastle, but when I lived there it was being used as a base for the National Coal Board and used primarily as the Headquarters of the Mine Rescue Service. There were some pits still open in those days. When the Coal Board didn’t need it any more, it became a tacky nightclub called The Mitre.
That’s all I knew about the place as I never really visited it again after going to University . But a chance comment on this blog followed by a Google Search revealed that when The Mitre closed the building was used to film the long-running TV series Byker Grove. I knew about the programme, but had always assumed it was filmed in Byker (which is in the East End of Newcastle) rather than Benwell (which is in the West End). It certainly never occurred to me that it was made just a hundred yards from where I grew up. You live and learn.