Golden memories of new town’s pit roots

GONE: Washington 'F' Pit heap in May 1968. It was removed as part of the redevelopment of Washington.
GONE: Washington 'F' Pit heap in May 1968. It was removed as part of the redevelopment of Washington.
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THE 50th anniversary of a Wearside town has inspired a golden opportunity for a reunion.

A get-together for staff from Washington Development Corporation – the people behind the creation of the new town back in the 1960s – is to be held on Friday.

OLD SCENE: Washington in 1958 - just before work on redevelopiong the area started.

OLD SCENE: Washington in 1958 - just before work on redevelopiong the area started.

“Whilst much has been made about the anniversary, there has been little mention of those who translated the master plan into reality,” said former town planner Ian Self.

“It was an amazing time and they were an amazing group of people. The time just feels right to organise a reunion to reminisce about the good old days of the 1960s.”

The roots of Washington New Town date to at least 1096, when the community was referred to as Wasindone – believed to mean “people of the hill by the stream”.

By the time the first ancestor of US President George Washington arrived in 1183, William de Hertburn, the area was known by the Anglo-Saxon name of Wessyngton.

But it was the discovery of “black gold” in the 19th century which changed the rural community forever – with pits built at Concord, Glebe and Usworth.

“It was these Victorian and Edwardian communities which later formed the backbone of the new town,” said Ian, who started at the Development Corporation in 1965.

“The aftermath of World War Two sparked an urgent need for homes for returning servicemen – as well as for firms to employ them. Hence Washington was born.”

Eleven new towns were initially given the go-ahead in the post-war years and, once work was underway, a further nine projects were agreed – including Washington.

Overseen by the Government-funded Washington Development Corporation, the scheme saw acres of land developed and mining terraces turned into modern homes.

Thousands of people flocked to live in the new town, and hundreds of jobs were provided – turning Washington into an economical and social success within years.

“The idea for staff reunion came from my former colleague Wendy Young and between us we’ve managed to track down dozens of people from that time,” said Ian.

“The Corporation was a tremendous place to work; very fulfilling, very satisfying. They were austere times, but we built something to still be proud of 50 years on.

“Those times marked change with a capital C. Old roads were closed, new ones built – as well as houses and factories. It was a huge exercise – and a very successful one.”

Ian and Wendy are planning to make Friday’s reunion an ‘informal event’, with plenty of time for chatting about old times – as well as a display of vintage photos from the 1960s. “There were no politics to working for the Corporation. It was just a case of getting on and doing your job. People worked hard, and played hard, in those days,” said Ian.

“It was just like a family when you look back. We were building for the future, and the benefit of people. It was a team effort too – we all helped to develop the concept – and we’d like to get that team back together for the reunion. It should be a great night.”

l The reunion will be held at the Arts Centre at Biddick Farm on Friday from 7pm.