Online Archive  
Issue 6 - June 1972
Motorway Demo
We met at the shattered ruin of Victoria Square, along the Jesmond Road in the heart of Newcastle's middle-class dormitory.

Over the other side, where once an elegant three storey terrace of well proportioned Georgian housing overlooked a small green and shrubbery, bulldozers now play.

It is the second time we have marched against the Newcastle motorway plans, but this time we are much stronger - there are more than 200 of us.

We stand where, in 1975, the Central Motorway East will gouge through the city - it will cost a mere £11m.

When finished, it is said, it will cut several minutes off driving time from the south of the Tyne to the Great North Road.

But they don't tell you the real reasons.

One is that it employs men in a region where nothing grows except the dole queues. Another is that it injects blood into ailing service industries which will feed the men and their concrete.

So, they have invented a new free enterprise philosophy: where no market exists, invent one, make it labour intensive, and then supply.

SOC'EM - Save Our City from Environmental Mess - and Friends of the Earth link up outside Mrs Neary's house in what was once Sandyford, a quiet warren of little Victorian streets to the immediate north-east of the city centre.

Now it is a wasteland of rubble. Everything is laid flat ready for the motorway.

Mrs Margaret Neary's boarding house stands alone while the mechanical grabs tear deep ravines in the debris around her.

We greet Mrs Neary outside her house. She is overwhelmed by the reception. Friends of the Earth present her with a box of chocolates!

When the City Council moved in on her street, everyone else moved out except her.

"They offered me a house in Jesmond last week", she tells us. "But I won't take it. It's so smelly: terrible. Thank you for all you have done for me".

Most of us are young and our clothing is colourful. But some older people are marching too and there are a few prams.

"Welcome to the dictatorship and country of concrete on Tyne", says one placard. "Don't accept the motorways - they aren't built yet", says another.

"Your concrete future - no more trees, no more grass, no more plants", shouts a marcher.

"You're right there", shouts back an elderly man. He stays on the pavement and keeps pace with us shouting "But it's too late".

Our column is growing as we march through the city. Children from the streets join us and so do some older girls, clutching posters, one day's relief from their office typewriters.

"Ee woman, I know you", says a policeman to a real Geordie mum at the back of the march. "You're from Seaton Deleval, aren't you" he says. Her face turns red.

But there's not enough dialogue with the crowd. Hardly anyone is saying anything.

We must communicate. Some of them out there don't know what we are marching for.

There's a shadow wearing heavy metal boots walking shoulder to shoulder with us.

He's spitting lumps of concrete onto our marches and dark monoliths of human cells rise up from his every footstep.

The once horizontal city is now vertical. Where once we waited for the bus, we now wait for the lift to come down from the 29th floor.

Faster and faster go the bulldozers. Already, Newcastle looks like a blitzed city. All that's good to look at and all that felt warm and friendly to live in is coming down.

But here, in the north-east, they must have told themselves; "surely they will leave us alone as they have done in almost everything else". How wrong they were.

Yet, as the hammers fall on more beautiful houses, older lifestyles shudder and depart. Another memory is destroyed.

Steadily, the traffic builds up behind us as we march. The fuzz are no longer smiling.

"Keep moving. You've made your point - now move."

But there's a really good jam in Market Street now. Three stranded buses are belching their fumes onto those at the head of the march.

Suddenly, the Friends of the Earth turn on the street theatre - clutching their throats and throwing choking fits.

One guy falls into the road writhing.

Another guy has a gas mask on. He's pretending to suffocate some of the marchers.

Then we are coming back down the Haymarket towards the Civic Centre. It's nearly over, but not quite.

We get to St Mary's Place, within the shadow of the Civic Centre itself when it happens.

"All sit down", someone shouts at the back. Then others shout it too.

Two or three sit down, then more - soon, it's 50 but the front of the column has become completely detached from the rest. Now everyone at the rear end of the march is sitting down in the road.

The fuzz are starting to throw tantrums. One tries to wave lines of cars round us as we sit and another tries to pull people to their feet.

But it's no good. One of the organisers tells us we can sit down at the Civic Centre in the grounds - out of harm's way.

Some of the waverers follow him and then the sit-in just melts away in seconds.

Later, as we march towards Brandling Park on the Great North Road, where the trees have been cut down, one guy pokes two fingers at a motorist.

The driver is with his girlfriend and feels he can't ignore it. He is snazzily dressed, so is his girl, and his car is new.

He stops his car and confronts the guy. He demands the fuzz take down the guy's name. The motorist is very, very angry.

They take down the guy's name but when the motorist has gone, they tell him to forget it.

At the park, there is an attempt to get a rap going but hardly anyone will get to grips with the situation.

Finally, there is talk of another demonstration and of perhaps leafletting every house in Jesmond. Others, on the fringe, begin to talk of organised civil disobedience.