More than a bridge: on Newcastle and Gateshead’s Tyne Bridge at 90

Tyne Bridge, with other bridges behind it. Image: Getty.

On 10 October 1928, tens of thousands of citizens of Newcastle and Gateshead lined the streets as King George V officially opened the Tyne Bridge. In the 90 years since the royals first crossed it in their horse-drawn carriage, the Tyne Bridge has become an internationally recognised symbol of Newcastle, and the north-east of England. But more than that, the bridge shows how a practical piece of infrastructure can become an integral part of a city’s culture and identity.

Bridges have been central to life on Tyneside since the second century AD, when the Roman settlement of Pons Aelius - literally Aelian Bridge, named after the family of the emperor Hadrian - was established near the current site of Newcastle’s medieval Castle Keep.

The original Tyne Bridge was built by the Romans on the site of the present-day Swing Bridge. Not just a crucial part of the Roman infrastructure, the bridge at Pons Aelius was also a site of religious worship. Two altars, dedicated to the water gods Neptune and Oceanus, were found on the site of the bridge in the late 19th century. Since the beginning, the bridge was entwined with the identity and culture of locals.

Over the centuries, more bridges - including the dramatic High Level rail and road bridge, opened 1849 - were built across the Tyne. By the 1920s, the enormous expansion in road traffic meant that a new crossing was vital. Work began in August 1925, to a design by the engineering firm of Mott, Hay and Anderson - designers of the strikingly similar Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Contrary to Geordie myth, though, it did not inspire the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Although the Australian landmark only opened in 1932, four years after the Tyne Bridge, its design had been approved in 1924 - a year before the Tyne Bridge project was begun. It’s thought though that Mott, Hay and Anderson used the Tyne Bridge as a trial run for the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

From prime to decline

The new Tyne Bridge was immediately celebrated as a symbol of Tyneside’s international reputation for industrial excellence – and a source of considerable local pride. The Times reported on January 31, 1928 that “Tynesiders as a whole are proud of this scheme... because of the ingenuity of the idea and of its successful execution”.

For the people of Gateshead, though, the bridge had resulted in the loss of their commercial and industrial centre. Bottle Bank, a steep, busy street that swept down to the Tyne, was largely destroyed to clear the way for construction.

Although the bridge came at a cost to the local community, its was also a beacon of hope during troubled economic times.

The Tyne Bridge project had been proposed in 1924 as a form of unemployment relief for skilled Tyneside workers. Constructing the bridge provided livelihoods for those facing dire employment prospects and an uncertain future. As he opened it, George V expressed his hope that the bridge would “help to bring back to your city the full tide of prosperity”.

In the late 20th century, the landscape of the north-east became closely associated with post industrial decline, as shipyards, engineering firms and coal mines closed. Throughout this period, the Tyne Bridge has stood firm as a symbol of Tyneside resilience and, more recently, of cultural regeneration.


Since the turn of the 21st century, the mills, shipyards and markets that once lined the river banks have been replaced with restaurants, bars and world-renowned cultural centres including the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and the Sage Gateshead.

It is fitting that the cultural rebirth of Tyneside should have taken place against the backdrop of the Tyne Bridge. Regeneration was intended to embody both a physical and symbolic bridging of the gap between Newcastle and Gateshead, encapsulated in the creation of the NewcastleGateshead brand to promote tourism, culture, and business in the region. NewcastleGateshead Quayside is a space that celebrates the industrial past, while creating a place for locals to reimagine collective identities.

In October 2017, the bridge was the setting for Freedom on the Tyne, marking the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s visit to Newcastle in 1967. This huge performance used the bridge to evoke the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, but also reinforced its connection to cultural identity on Tyneside. For the people of Newcastle and Gateshead, this commemoration of civil rights activism served as a reminder of the region’s long history as a centre of radical politics, and of the global nature of industry and culture on Tyneside, shaped by people from around the world.

#WeAreTheTyne

To pay tribute to the iconic structure, and capture its place in Geordie hearts and minds, we are leading a project called Bridging the Tyne. With #WeAreTheTyne, we are in the process of creating an online archive where members of the public can share stories and images of Newcastle’s bridges.

Bridging the Tyne guided walk. Image: Simon Veit-Wilson Photography/author provided.

And academics from Northumbria University have led members of the public on a guided walk passing under all seven bridges of central Newcastle, giving talks on topics from the geological history of the Tyne Valley, to the experience of Russian revolutionaries in 19th-century Newcastle.

The Tyne Bridge is a beautiful landmark and a practical aid to transport. But more than that, it’s a central part of Newcastle’s cultural landscape and identity, steeped in history, but very much a part of its present and future.

The Conversation

Laura O'Brien, Senior Lecturer in Modern European History, Northumbria University, Newcastle and Hannah E. Martin, PhD Candidate in Historical Geography, Northumbria University, Newcastle.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

To see how a city embraces remote work, just look to Helsinki

A deeply rooted culture of trust is crucial to the success of remote work. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

When I speak to Anssi Salminen, an account manager who lives an hour outside Helsinki, he’s working from a wooden platform on the edge of a Finnish lake. With a blanket laid out and his laptop set up, the sun low in the sky, Anssi’s remote work arrangement seems blissful. 

“I spend around half of my time working somewhere else other than the office,” he says. “I can work from home, or on the go, and I also travel to the Netherlands once a month and work from there.

“The emphasis in my work has always been that it doesn’t matter when or where I work, as long as I get things done.”

For many people around the world, the shift to remote work was sudden, sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. Finland, however, is finding the transition much less significant. Before Covid-19, the Nordic nation already displayed impressive levels of remote working, with 14.1% of its workforce reporting usually working from home. Only the Netherlands has a comparable percentage of remote workers, while the UK lagged behind at 4.7%, and the US’s remote workforce lingered at around 3.6%

Anssi works for one of many Helsinki-based companies that offers its employees flexible policies around when and where they work. That arrangement is in part due to the Finnish capital’s thriving start-up scene. In spite of being a relatively small city by global standards it is home to over 500 technology start-ups. These companies are leading the way when it comes to keeping employees connected wherever they choose to work.

“Our company has a completely location-free working policy,” says Kasper Pöyry, the CEO of Helsinki-headquartered software company Gapps. “All meetings are made available for online participants and facilitated accordingly. Some employees have worked extensively from abroad on a working holiday, whilst others prefer the comfort and social aspects of the well-stocked office. Whatever works for our employees is what works for the company.”

Like Gapps, many Helsinki-based firms are deeply preoccupied with providing the necessary technology to attract talent in a vast and sparsely populated country. Finland has only 15 inhabitants per square kilometre, and companies understand that in order to compose teams of specialised expertise, they may have to seek talent outside of the city. Local governments take a similarly proactive stance toward technological access, and Helsinki offers free, unrestricted, high-speed Wi-Fi from city-wide hotspots, while the country as a whole boasts some of the best coverage in Europe. 

But encouraging remote work isn’t just about optimising the potential of Finland’s workforce – companies in Helsinki also recognise that flexibility has clear benefits for both staff and employees. 

“The idea of a good work-life balance is ingrained in Finnish culture,” says Johannes Anttila, a consultant at organisational think tank Demos Helsinki. “It goes back to our rich history of social dialogue between labour unions and employers, but also to an interest in delineating the rules of working life and pushing towards people being able to enjoy their private life. Helsinki has been named the best city in the world for work-life balance, and I think that this underlies a lot of the mentality around remote work.” 

For Peter Seenan, the extent to which Helsinki residents value their free time and prioritise a work-life balance prompted his move to the city ten years ago. He now works for Finnair, and points to Finland’s summer cottages as an example of how important taking time to switch off is for people in the country. These rural residences, where city residents regularly uproot to enjoy the Nordic countryside, are so embedded in Finnish life that the country boasts around 1.8 million of them for its 5.5 million residents

“Flexible and remote work are very important to me because it means that I don’t feel like I’m getting stuck in a routine that I can’t control easily,” he says. “When I’m working outside of the office I’ll go down to my local sauna and go ice swimming during the working day, typically at lunchtime or mid-morning, and I’ll feel rejuvenated afterwards… In winter time especially, flexibility is important because it makes it easier to go outside during daylight hours. It’s certainly beneficial for my physical and mental health, and as a result my productivity improves.”

The relaxed attitude to working location seems to pay off – Finland is regularly named the happiest country in the world, scoring highly on measures such as how often its residents exercise and how much leisure time they enjoy. With large swathes of unspoiled countryside and a national obsession with the outdoors, sustainability is at the forefront of its inhabitants’ minds, leading to high levels of support for measures to limit commuting. In January, Finland passed a new Working Hours Act, the goal of which was to help better coordinate employee’s work and leisure time. Central to this is cementing in law that employees can independently decide how, when, and where they work.

Yet enacting the new ruling is not as simple as just sending employees home with their laptops. For Kirsimarja Blomqvist, a professor of knowledge management at LUT University, perhaps the most fundamental feature that remote work relies upon is a deeply rooted culture of trust, which Helsinki’s residents speak of with pride. The anecdotal evidence is backed up by data which suggests that Finland boasts one of the highest levels of trust and social cohesion in Europe, and equality and transparency have always been key cornerstones of political thought in the country.

“Trust is part of a national culture in Finland – it’s important and people value it highly,” she explains. “There’s good job independence, and people are valued in terms of what they do, not how many hours they work for. Organisations tend to be non-hierarchical, and there is a rich history of cooperation between trade unions, employers, and employees to set up innovative working practices and make workers feel trusted and valued. 

“It’s now important that we ensure that this trust can continue to be built over technology, when workers might have been more used to building it face-to-face.”

As companies begin to look hopefully toward a post-Covid future, the complexities of remote work are apparent. Yet amid issues of privacy, presenteeism, and social isolation, the Helsinki model demonstrates the potential benefits of a distanced working world. The adjustment to remote work, if continued after the crisis, offers a chance to improve companies’ geographical diversity and for employers to demonstrate trust in their workforce. On these issues, Blomqvist believes other cities and employers can learn a lot from Helsinki.

“People are now beginning to return to their workplaces, but even as they do they are starting to consider the crisis as a jumping point to an even more remote future,” she says. “The coronavirus pandemic has been an eye-opener, and people are now interested in learning from Finland’s good practices… We are able to see the opportunity, and the rapid transition to remote work will allow other countries to do the same.”

Katie Bishop is a freelance writer based in Oxford.