Western Village

Sat. 26th Aug., 2000

Although not strictly in Newcastle, Ryton is on the south bank of the River Tyne about 10 km (6.2 mi) from the city centre.

Today its biggest industry is care of the elderly. I think only Brighton can have as many wrinklies per head of population. All large buildings save the library, community centre and church are given over to care homes.

It is a truly beautiful place to spend the final years of a long and weary life, and I am glad that such good facilities exist.

In earlier times the local colliery provided some jobs, but then, as today, Ryton was a village for the rich land and factory owners and ordinary housing for workers from elsewhere. Above is the gate lodge for one of the big houses, and below is the view along the drive.

The village grew on the land below the northern ridge and above the flood plain of the river. Stephenson chose the flat low lying land near the river for his railway, and one road to nowhere running north from the village is called Station Bank. The station has long gone; it does not even appear on 1960s pre Doctor Beeching maps!

The village is much older than the railway. and has been by-passed twice. The first time during the early days of the 20th century when the present high street was built, and the second during the 1990s when a trunk road was carved out of the high ground.

Here is the gravestone of John Newton in the churchyard. He died in 1684 and there must have been an community here then.

This is the Church of the Holy Cross, taken as the clock bells sounded 0900. Clearly escaping the worst of Victorian design, this simple church is not the original building on this site. The masonry here probably dates from the mid 18th century with later additions. The tower and spire are earlier, probably late 17th century. There has been a church here since 1220.

Here the tombstone tells a story, although the relationship between Mary Bell and William Roddam is not clear. She was born in 1837, at the height of railway fever, and he was born in 1869, 32 years younger than she.

You can see how he drowned in nearby Stargate colliery and lay in the water for 11 months.

I find myself asking what these people did in their lives. We have their dates and sometimes manner of death recorded on the stones, but we are left wondering about why they lived.

The works of mankind are truly finite and transitory

Here is the village cross on the green. The upper structure was built in the early 1950s, but the original cross dates from 1796.

The pub dates from 1909, and harks back to a halcyon era the probably did not exist. It does, however mark the building boom in this village. The new main street to the south was about to be constructed, much housing built, and the existing road pattern of the village was established.

The old main through route of the village runs along a ridge between the housing and shops to the left (south) and a steep rise to the next ridge where the present High Street lies, and a sudden drop to the right. The land just beyond those trees lies 5 or 6 metres below the road.

This is what lies beyond the trees. The road is level with upper storey windows. The mixture of styles and influences looks Victorian but it was build after the "Ye Olde Cross", probably just predating the First World War.

Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council prides itself in its floral displays, and this effort is adjacent to the present High Street in Ferndene Park, laid out during the late 1950s. The park sports a bowing green, a bandstand, a kiddies safe play area, tennis courts and a swimming pool, all set is a glade of trees with velvet grass and colourful flower beds.

I am indebted to Anne Graves of Canada for some background, especially about her father Tom Parker, a local councillor who had the idea for the park.

These lion's heads grace the arms of all of the seats in the park. I wonder why.

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