The power of love can achieve many things - and in Paris this summer it was the near collapse of the Pont des Arts, one of the best used bridges over the River Seine.
The bridge had to be evacuated in June when part of its structure buckled under the weight of “love locks” - padlocks inscribed with messages of devotion by couples, with the key then thrown into the river.
A tradition that can be traced back at least 100 years, love locks have become a modern phenomenon since the turn of the century, starting in Paris but then spreading to locations around the world, particularly on bridges. With names, notes, and dates inscribed on each lock, each holds a love story from people across the city, and perhaps even further afield.
Now loved-up couples have started their own version of the ‘love lock’ bridge on Tyneside, with dozens of the padlocks being attached to the High Level Bridge between Newcastle and Gateshead in the last few months.
In a number of locations around the world, the number of love locks being left on much-loved structures has caused a problem. The collapse at the Pont des Arts led to calls for the tokens to be banned, and though Paris’ deputy mayor rejected the move, an internet group called No Love Locks was set up by two friends concerned about the damage being done to bridges. A group of locksmiths (and amateur lock-pickers) last year removed hundreds of lovelocks from the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, while in Dublin, padlocks on the Ha’penny Bridge over River Liffey were taken down by the city council.
So far officials on Tyneside are more than happy to welcome the locks on the High Level Bridge, but did say that if they began to cause structual concerns on the bridge - where traffic was restricted some years ago because of weaknesses in the Grade 1-listed structure - then they may have to put a stop to the new craze.
A spokesman for Network Rail, which owns the bridge, said: “Essentially, as long as the padlocks do not cause a problem to the structure, they are not problem for us.
“If, for any reason they did start to affect the structure or in some way didn’t mean we could maintain and run a safe, operational railway, we would have to consider removing them.”
Tourism boss Sarah Stewart, from NewcastleGateshead Initiative, said she was not surprised the craze had sprung up in the region, but did say it was not something that they actively encourage.
“Leaving ‘love locks’ isn’t something we actively encourage visitors to do in NewcastleGateshead, but it’s not surprising the trend has taken off here,” she said. “The target audience for NewcastleGateshead Initiative’s leisure campaigns are young couples or groups of friends looking for a fun and enjoyable city-based experience. They are exactly the demographic that have helped popularise ‘love locks’ across the world.
“NewcastleGateshead is regularly profiled as a destination to enjoy a romantic weekend break and earlier this year we ran a campaign celebrating our romantic credentials that included the little known fact that Paul McCartney and John Lennon penned The Beatles number one hit ‘She Loves You’ in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1963.
“We’d like to think we’re a destination that brings out the love in people. Whilst ‘love locks’ are popular in NewcastleGateshead we’ve not reached the stage where they are becoming a problem or nuisance. In cities such as Paris, ‘love locks’ have overwhelmed some bridges in the city. It is something we’ll need to keep an eye on so we don’t encounter similar problems.”
So for now, couples in the region can enjoy leaving their padlock of love, turning our city into the Paris of the north.
One couple in particular are looking forward to taking the trip to the Quayside to place their love lock to mark 13 years of marriage.
Julie and Shaun Butler, of Blyth in Northumberland, decided to make the gesture of love after going through a tough couple of years coping with losses in the family.
“We were both looking for a gift to get each other and we decided we wanted something that would say that going forward things were going to be positive,” said mum-of-three Julie, 37.
“We thought it was best, something solid, locked in together forever. It can not be undone. We did not have the money for Paris so Newcastle it was.
“We had thought about putting it on the Tyne Bridge because it opened on October 10, 1928 and our anniversary is October 10 but when we looked we saw you couldn’t so we are going to go down to the High Level Bridge this weekend and do it and throw our key away,” said Julie, a personal assistant.
There are also couples from the region who have journeyed to Paris to leave their tokens of everlasting love in the city.
Michael Bellwood, of Bishop Middleham in County Durham, proposed to his partner Rachel Graham in Paris on November 23 last year and bought a love lock for them to place on the famous bridge to mark the occasion.
Rachel, 27, was whisked off to the city of love where Michael popped the question by the Eiffel Tower after a romantic meal in the city.
“The next day, he walked me to the love lock bridge and explained the background story to it as I had never heard of it before,” said Rachel, a teacher in Sunderland.
“He then produced a padlock which he had brought with him and we picked our spot to place the lock, which has a very nice view of the Eiffel Tower.
“We wrote on ‘Michael and Rachel 23/11/14’ and sealed it and then threw the keys into the river. We were happy to actually put it onto a bit of the bridge rather than on top of other locks which lots of other people had done. As we were sealing our lock a bride and groom were also on the bridge putting a lock on.”
She added: “We are getting married in just over a week’s time and for our honeymoon we plan to go back to Paris over Valentine’s Day as it is a special place for us and hopefully find our lock.”