Newcastle in the 80s & 90s
I was an Inbetweener
What do I know about Newcastle in the 80s and 90s, you may ask?
I grew up in a small town in the North East, and during my teens that small town was no longer enough to satisfy my hunger for new places, people, and of course, shops. To my delight (and with, it has to be said, the most impeccable timing), my grandmother remarried at around age 60. This meant that I gained a new cousin – who became my new best friend.
Not only that, but she lived in the Toon, too! I died and went to heaven. We spent our days criss-crossing the city, making the most of the best 10p bus trips (that, as a resident, she was entitled to. Strictly speaking, I wasn’t, but the fear of being caught by the conductor just added another frisson of excitement to our adventures, as well as saving me a packet).
7 of the best things about Newcastle in the 80s and 90s
Here’s my definitive list. 7 of the best things about Newcastle – in the 80s and 90s…
Fenwick of Newcastle
The mother of all North East department stores, this Toon institution came into its own every Christmas, when everyone from miles around came to see Fenwick’s window. It must have cost them a fortune, and delighted children and grown ups from all around. There was always a theme, and it was always spectacular.
Small, cold noses pressed up against the glass – once you’d finally worked your way through the throng – keen to see what intricate clockwork structures and figures were playing out this year’s yuletide story. My cousin and I both ended up working at Fenwick, later: me during the drawn-out University holidays; she as a trainee hairstylist.
Huge, out of town shopping centres abound these days, but back then the Metrocentre was big news. In fact, it remains one of the biggest and best today (biased, moi? Well, it’s still my favourite). We could happily while away a whole day there, back when we had endless time to waste.
In fact, we were quite content to spend the entire weekend there, as a £5 wristband got us unlimited rides in the indoor funfair, Metroland. Yep, the Metrocentre had its own undercover fairground. Beat that, teens of the 80s and beyond. Remember that, teens of Newcastle in the 80s or 90s?
If the Toon had a contender to beat Metroland, then the Hoppings would win hands-down. Known, for some strange reason, in my home town as ‘The Town Moor’ (where it sprung up annually, sizeable and splendid), I soon found out that it was known by no other name than its real one among city folk.
From the fortune-telling gypsies in flimsy wooden booths at the outskirts, to the head-spinning white-knuckle rides at the heart of the show. Passing candyfloss and hook-a-duck stalls along the way, we sashayed through the hordes to the ever-present, pulsating beats of the latest tunes. It was tacky, trashy, deafening, and, at times, fearsome; but the Hoppings always throbbed with life.
Old Eldon Square
Just around the corner from Northumberland Street – which is surely the very core of Newcastle’s shopping scene – and the shiny chain stores in (new) Eldon Square, lies a hidden gem. Old Eldon Square. Known colloquially as the ‘metallers’ hangout’, yes it was indeed where a large proportion of the people had long hair, and a penchant for heavy metal.
They sat around in congenial clusters, smoking, chatting and completely non-threatening, just enjoying their music and being in the company of like-minded people. I loved it for that, and for the most weird but wonderful dank, dark basement shops, which were treasure troves for seekers of rare, quirky things. I still have some limited edition vinyl that I acquired during happy Saturdays spent rifling through the racks of ‘Pet Sounds’.
Newcastle Central station
Steeped in history, this Victorian rail hub is the oldest covered train station in the world (and some might say, the draughtiest). For me, the place instilled a sense of adventure, as it was the gateway to the wider world. From the bright lights and sea breezes of Whitley Bay to the Metrocentre for my cousin and me; to University open days in the North West during my late teens.
Then, it became the place I returned to, either to catch a connecting train to Morpeth or to be collected in the family car, during my student days and thereafter. By rail, pulling into Newcastle central on the train will always be a homecoming of sorts for me. (By road, the equivalent is passing the Angel of the North, then the Metrocentre, on the A1.)
Another Victorian gem, Grainger Market was another top spot for unearthing covetable rarities. From the original Marks and Spencer Penny Bazaar, where you could snap up a bottle of magnolia-scented body lotion at a rock-bottom price, to the record stalls which were another source of remix singles and badge packs, and the clothing stalls awash with marblewash denim. I recently read a travel piece which mentioned the Grainger market, and it sounded much the same. A resounding hurrah for that.
Uncle and Auntie’s house(s)
What got me started on this piece is the fact that I’m heading North now, as I write, as it’s my Uncle’s funeral tomorrow. Alas, the end of an era, from here on in it will just be Auntie’s house. I spent lots of very happy times, many weekends, at their houses during my formative years.
Firstly, a large, grand Victorian terraced house on a scruffy street in Benwell, where my cousin and me traversed the streets – usually in search of lads from her school (Ant of Ant and Dec was one of her peers, but I can beat that. One my middle school pals left to star in ‘Supergran’.)
Then they downsized to a cosy little nearly-new semi in a quieter, leafier part of town. I spent so many happy hours in both, lolling on the bed, lazing in the bath, and dolling myself up, ready to hit the Toon. So both houses featured heavily in my Newcastle of the 80s and 90s.
‘Bye, Uncle. I’ll miss you, my other Uncle (and your stepbrother) who died just months before you. Those carefree, teenage years, too, when I was always welcome at your house – my second home. I miss the city, chilly in weather terms it may be but you’ll always get a warm welcome from the most down-to-earth folk in the grand old city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
I haven’t even mentioned the bridges, nor the Quayside, Bigg Market, Jesmond or James’s Park yet… or Geordie Jeans. (Yes, it was real).
If you’re heading to the Toon, check out a great Newcastle Guide Book HERE. (Not least because it’s author shares a surname with my high school English teacher.)
I’d also recommended staying at Newcastle’s top-rated hotel, the Staybridge Suites, which you can see HERE.
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