Things change but stay the same

I WAS reading through some back issues of the Blyth News in the library last week and came across an article reporting a talk given by the then Blyth MP, Eddie Milne, to the Blyth Grammar School Debating Society in January 1969. His topic was ‘Blyth in the year 2000’, and I was there.

Eddie confidently related that there would be full employment in 2000 with everyone enjoying a 30 to 35-hour week.

He was aware that the coal industry was in decline and in the previous few years the Isabella (1966), Crofton Mill (1969) and Cambois (1968) collieries had closed, the railway was defunct (1965 Beeching Axe) and the shipyard bankrupted (1966).

He believed that the men of the town would be employed in a massive car factory and the women in what he termed ‘automated department stores’, to which my old friend Ann Savage reacted badly, wondering why he was identifying with segregated male and female jobs. Ann is sadly no longer with us.

Malcolm Gaskin was not as optimistic about full employment as even at this stage the unemployment rate was two times the national average.

Eddie went on to add that everyone would be getting around on an extensive train network and that on the coast, near the beach, would be a huge leisure complex including a rowing course.

A nearby attraction would be the QE2, moored between Blyth and Whitley Bay.

Bob Hill, a keen beach fisherman, pointed out that at the rate the council were removing sand and flogging it off, we would be lucky to have a beach by 1970 never mind 2000.

To complete our leisure time activities a major art’s council building was to be built in Blyth to serve the estimated population of 70,000.

Blyth Valley is about 81,000 now and in 1969 Cramlington was just a shadow of what it is today.

However, at least Eddie Milne had a vision, and as a 17-year-old it never occurred to me that the industrial decline could get any worse, Bates was still going at full steam and the South Beach estate was under construction.

The newspaper features an advertisement for new houses from £3,300 (about £78,000 in today’s money) with the average UK salary at the time being £1,600, probably a bit less in the north east. An invite was extended to visit the fully furnished show house in the advertisement.

The NCB were offering 350 apprenticeships but there were still seven people chasing every job.

So the question is, what are our local MPs and councillors’ visions for the future?

We can’t have the QE2 as this is moored in Dubai and has no definite future. Where are the major employers coming from? What about a rail link?

What about the questions posed by Dawn Powell, of Dolly Dimples News Post Leader, letters) and her conclusion that “Without some form of input from our local authority, the town won’t survive as it is. There’s no one travelling into town centre, it’s only local people keeping it going”.

Eddie Milne was deselected in 1974 after whistle-blowing activities regarding the Poulson affair and local councillors (Poulson, incidentally, was the architect for the Blyth Swimming baths opened in 1967). He won as an independent in February 1974 but lost in the re-run in October. Blyth then enjoyed 13 years of John Ryman, a barrister and foxhunter, and who was convicted of fraud in 1992.

In the following week, the showhouse was burgled and the furniture stolen. Also Malcolm Gaskin was kicked in the face on Plessey Road and had his jaw broken in two places. Bob Hill, I believe still fishes.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.