Derwenthaugh Coke Works

Peter Fryer, Graeme Rigby (Writer)

From !986-1989 Peter Fryer and writer Graeme Rigby worked together over a three year period documenting both the closure of the Derwenthaugh Cokeworks and the opening of the Gateshead Metro Centre shopping mall.

In the aftermath of the Miners’ Strike of 1984, the closure of Derwenthaugh Cokeworks was announced as one of early casualties. As part of its approach to the encouragement of an entrepreneurial culture, the Conservative government was establishing a series of Enterprise Zones, where, for an initial period, new businesses would be allowed to operate rate-free and with fewer local authority/planning controls. One of these zones ran along the south bank of the River Tyne in Gateshead, not far from the cokeworks site. The building of the Metro Centre, the UK’s first, American-style, out-of-town shopping mall, was the key development in the Gateshead Enterprise Zone. A major investment by the Church Commissioners, it made the name of local property developer John Hall, who promoted a vision of Thatcherism with northern roots.


Cokeworks Voices
I used to sit in the fields looking down on that place. I used to say, “There's no way they’ll ever get me working there. It’s my vision of Hell, that.” I say that. And yet I loved working at Derwenthaugh.
I remember years ago, when I started, thirteen year ago, my father’s dead now, but he said: “Why, that place is closing.” I mean it’s been closing and it’s been closing. But when it actually happens, it's a hell of a shock. Some people were jumping for joy. I was nearly bubbling.
I’m a plater by trade. I’ve been in the factories all my life. And all the factories have been closed down. This was me last haven. Me last resort. When I got here I thought, “Well, this is my last job.” I thought I’d last out here till I was sixty five. But I’m on the scrap heap now.