Sunday, February 18, 2007

A few memories of Peterlee

I spent the first 18 years of my life in one of Britain's "new towns", Peterlee, designed as a cleaner, shiner utopian alternative for the miners who lived in numerous "pit villages" dotted around East Durham. Built mainly in the 1960s and 1970s, it looked rather odd, definitely influenced by movements in modern art (I sometimes think the architects must have all been on LSD). When a cousin from York visited with her new boyfriend, he proclaimed that we lived in "toytown".

This is the back of the Norseman Hotel in Peterlee town centre. I remember my grandparents taking me down this path, while I was still in my pram. My grandmother was arguing with my grandfather about the pram and I remember being terrified that they were going to lose control of it and I would go hurtling down the hill (I was born neurotic).

This is Peterlee town centre's two-level open air shopping mall. On the left is Gregg's the Bakers, where my mother would buy us a cheese and onion pasty and a cake for our lunch every Monday. If you go up the staircase and turn right, you get to McAuliffes hair dressers' where I always got my hair cut.

When I was 3, and my mother was in hospital giving birth to my sister in November 1975, my grandmother took my town Peterlee town centre. We were standing outisde Fine Fayre (a long defunct supermarket chain) underneath the large building in the photo. She started talking to some neighbour and I wandered off. When I tried to find her, I couldn't. An man said to me "Hello, are you lost?" I said "yes". He took my hand and walked me through the main street of the town centre and deposited me at a police station. I was taken into a brightly lit room full of blokey, jolly policeman and got to sit on the knee of the eldest one, who reminded me of Santa Claus. My grandmother showed up a few minutes later, with a look on her face that I'd never seen before and never saw again. Her and my Dad decided not to tell my mother about that incident for a few months.

This is the Apollo Pavilion, built by Victor Passmore on the Sunny Blunts estate. It's a "brutalist" piece of architecture which I loved to visit and play on as a child. It became a symbol for Peterlee's own fortunes - so good-looking in the 1970s. But by the 1980s it had become overgrown, covered in graffiti and a meeting place for gangs. Local residents wanted it pulled down. At 37 years old, its future is still uncertain.

My parents moved away from Peterlee a few years ago, to posher Durham City. Although it never really lived up to the hopes of its designers, I still have a soft spot for it. Growing up in this ultra-planned, somewhat kitsch environment has probably affected my own sense of taste and aesthetics. And for that I'm grateful (I think).


The Mule said...

Fascinating, Lubin. I love hearing about pre-fab planned cities and communities from that era. It's like you grew up in the UK's own slice of Brasilia.

Sparky said...

Wow, now that I see photos all those descriptions of where you come form make perfect sense. I think I would have adored the Apollo Pavilion just as much as you did: it plays right into my 70s fantasies about the future.

Flaming Nora said...

Cripes, Peterlee. The only place worse than that in the whole northeast is Gateshead. I could be biased though as I was once followed by a strange man down the main street in Gateshead and had to dodge into a shop to get rid of him. Peterlee though, odd place, very odd.

Old Cheeser said...

Yes there's a decidely sci-fi look to that pavilion building - it could be something out of Space:1999 or something.

matty said...

It is so cool looking!


matty said...

It looks so cool! I want to roam thru all those neat spaces!

Tom SF said...

What would you do if you saw a lost child? Would you walk away or take him/her to a policeman or shop?

matty said...

I am a lost child.

...and I want to go to a toy store right away!

it's funny. I kept trying to post a comment to your blog this morning. ...and, look! Blogger lied! they posted!