Wednesday, 14 December 2011

A Portrait of Blaydon Cemetery

A handy shortcut to the shops, Blaydon Cemetery (Blaydon-on-Tyne, Tyne and Wear, England) is at first glance well-kept and…unremarkable. The shortcut being part of my daily routine, I started looking for points of interest to make the commute to the shops and playgroups of Blaydon more bearable. It’s amazing what you can see when you start looking.

The cemetery is situated on a bank (hill). Stand at its top and you have a panorama of the western edge of Newcastle. The razzle-dazzle of the city’s Quayside, the iconic Tyne and Millennium bridges and the Gateshead Sage may be a couple of miles downstream, but look carefully and lesser-known icons—and imprints from icons past—can be seen right here before you. 
Reminders of the area’s industrial heritage—the one remaining glassworks cone at Lemington, for instance— punctuate the landscape. There was coal mining here, too. Offices now have replaced industry—including the very building where I used to work and from where I would gaze back across the flat, grey expanse of the Tyne to a future of pushing a pram and manhandling a recalcitrant toddler. It seems a whole world away now.

Scotswood Road, its route running parallel to that of Hadrian’s Wall, lies before you.  To the east the Cruddas Park tower blocks, stars of the TV series Our Friends in the North, stand tall.
The road comprises part of the route for the annual Blaydon Race for runners as it heads from Newcastle city centre to Blaydon. Originally a horse race, the event is immortalised in the song Blaydon Races, composed by Georgie Ridley in 1862 and known as the unofficial anthem of Tyneside.
You can see Scotswood Bridge from here, too. Built in 1967, it replaced the old Chain Bridge mentioned in Blaydon Races, and is the gateway to the Metro Centre.
Scotswood was once a lively community, home to many Vickers Armstrong (manufacturers of armaments and vehicles, amongst other things) workers. More recently, the area suffered from the decline in industry followed by high unemployment and population loss. Happily, the area’s fortunes are set to come full circle as a vast swathe now lies cleared and waiting for redevelopment.
Back to the cemetery itself. Of course, every headstone tells a story. Foreign names, clearly not indigenous to Blaydon. What brought them here? The little girl who was born and died on the same day. A young man gone to join his mam and dad. A sprinkling of octogenarians, and a 99-year-old.  And at this time of year, the poignancy of headstones decorated with bright tinsel, Santas and other trinkets.

And, for me, a hobbyist eavesdropper, the treat of snatches of conversation as people pass through—‘I got four of these for a poond, special offer, like’. The wheezing man I meet halfway up the bank who winks as he tells me he’s stopping for a tab (cigarette) to help him get to the top. An old lady calls out from tending a grave, ‘Eeehh, it’s a hard pull for you up the bank, pet!’ ‘It’s good exercise!’ I shout back, struggling for breath. ‘Aye, I used to walk it meself, like. I cannat walk now, mind,’ she says, cheerfully indicating her walking stick.

The words of other walkers never fail to cheer me, the local lilt as much as the content. And even now, in a cemetery in the north of England in mid-winter, there are other reasons to smile. Look down to see tiny green pinpricks of life pushing through the earth. And look upwards and last spring’s nests can be seen like dormant hearts in the skeleton trees—there is life, there is hope.
What makes your daily commute more interesting? Let me know!


  1. When we go for a walk, just below here on The Green is the Red Well [now much obscured] where early in their reign, Charles 1 and Henrietta Maria came to take the waters in the hope of conceiving children. It must've been quite a sight, what with the stripey tents and the horses on the grass! Now, there's just a pipe running into a brook...

  2. That's fascinating, Penny. You're right, it must have been a spectacle!

  3. I have to drive my stepson to catch the school bus each morning now, and there is the delight of driving right past the RSPB nature reserve and spotting cormorants, little egrets and other wonderful birds. Occasionally, there is a tantalising glimpse of a barn owl returning from a long night out on the hunt, or the special visitors we have here at the moment, short eared owls - which are magnificent. There is also the train crossing to negotiate, and the child in me still thrills at the gates coming across the road and a train thundering by :)

  4. Janis, your commute sounds wonderful! I especially like the idea of the barn owls coming home after a night on the tiles.

  5. Nice post, Emma. One thing I learned recently about the song 'Blaydon Races' is that Geordie Ridley actually composed it before the race (which was in its second year) and sung it in Balmbra's a few days before. He was due to sing in Blaydon on the day of the race, and no doubt intended to sell some copies of his sheet music there. However, the race itself (which was held on an island in the Tyne) was almost called off because of a downpour, and very few races were run on the day - horses having to swim over to the island. Geordie quickly added a final verse to the song about the rain. Just thought you'd like to know!

  6. Ah, David, in that case I should have said that the races inspired the song, not the other way round! Glad to hear that old Geordie was responsive to meterological circumstances! It sounds like he was quite an opportunist and good at PR!