A brief, potted and ongoing history of Saltwell
The area of Saltwell in Gateshead is a fairly new settlement in terms of the development of the town, having only become urbanised in the early 20th Century. Prior to this, from around 1858 (map 1) the area consisted of mainly countryside and was primarily used for farming and many open cast mines. The area was also a place where well-off industrialists lived in large houses – close enough to their factories and the River Tyne, yet far away enough to enjoy country life and the health benefits that came with it. Saltwell Road at the time was known as Saltwell Lane and was surrounded by fields apart from the few homes of the industrialists, such as Bensham Tower, Bensham Hall and Enfield House. From about 1850 onwards at the time of the development of the River Tyne as an industrial force, workers began to move to the area from other parts of the country (many Irish and Scottish) and the need for housing in the area became obvious, and the start of what is known as the Tyneside flats in the area.
Urbanisation spread rapidly in the late 19th and early 20th century as the need for housing for workers in the factories increased. The Bensham area of Gateshead began to become urbanised in the late 19th century with the start of the streets known as the Avenue’s and the building of schools and workhouses amongst other amenities. It was in the early 20th century that as a result of the relentless urbanisation that many of the large houses were abandoned and either knocked down to make way for Tyneside flats or in the case of Stirling House, purpose built as the residence of John Ross who built many of the streets in the area including Dunsmuir Grove and Kelvin Grove.
By 1898 (map 2) the North Eastern Railway had cut through, parallel to Saltwell Lane, taking trains north to Newcastle and beyond. By this time Bensham and Saltwell had their own railway, Bensham Railway Station, which opened in 1868 and closed in 1954. In 1890 the Gateshead Union Workhouse moved from its location in Bensham and opened in a new build just beyond the railway line near to the south part of Saltwell Lane. Unemployed men under a ‘labour test’ scheme built the workhouse, where poor relief was given in return for the performing of manual labour. The site later became High Teams Institution and in 1938, the hospital facilities separated to become Bensham General Hospital, which it still is today.
By 1919 large swathes of the area had become urbanised (map 3) with the traditional Tyneside flats, and by 1939 fully so including a tram system that ran along, what had now become known as Saltwell Road (map 4).
Brown, S (2012) Interview with Shirley Brown, resident of Saltwell and chair of Bensham Grove Community Centre, concerning the history of Saltwell, interviewed by Ben Jones Bensham Grove Community Centre, 4 April 2012, 3pm.
Gateshead, Durham, (2012) The Workhouse [online] Available at: http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Gateshead/ (accessed 5 March 2012)
Sauntering in Saltwell (n.d.), BASIS (Bensham & Saltwell Information Seekers)