Margaret Duddin: The North South divide may grow - but I'm on the right side of it

Journal columnist Margaret Duddin says the North East can be proud of its past and confident about its future

Grey Street in Newcastle City Centre
Grey Street in Newcastle City Centre

During our recent long summer I have had some lovely days in town stopping for coffee in Grey Street. It never fails to fill me with pride to see the changes in our famous street, rightly named in the New York Times as the most beautiful in Europe.

Over the last few years I spent quite a lot of time in Islington and would have coffee and snacks in Browns or Carluccio’s and now they are here! In a much more beautiful setting, together with Harry’s, Barluga and Jamie Oliver etc.

These famous companies must have foreseen the regeneration of the North East and considered it the place to be.

The pride I have in our North East is further increased when I read the Journal’s Business section and learn of the amazing success of so many local businesses. The Top 200 Business awards are testament to the creativity and endeavours of North east companies.

Tom Keighley’s article on The Dynamic North East “leading the way in professional, scientific and technical activities” provided yet another accolade. We are rightly proud of our schools, universities, cathedrals, castles.. I could go on and on.

That said, imagine my disbelief when I saw the River Tyne on the national news as a backdrop of the announcement that the North East is one of the most deprived areas in the country.

A large dose of realism is called for here. Yes we are, in some aspects, deprived. We are deprived of our fair share of the national pot of money. We have our representatives banging on the table in London on the regions behalf but we are deprived of ears prepared to listen. Sadly their efforts are in vain.

At the same time we are badly in need of investments in the area to underpin our advancement. This is much less likely to happen in the face of a constant trickle of negative comments from the South.

Bravo Hilton Dawson and Tony Henderson for their support of our region and dismissal of our detractors - I just joined your club!

Take heart, friends – important people are coming to see us, all the way from London. A senior politician arrived recently and brought his “moral outrage” with him in reference to our poor schools and child poverty. Did he also bring his cheque book? Did he feed a hungry child? Did he make a large donation to a food bank? Perhaps...

The fact that we have children in need is a disgrace and should be at the very top of the political agenda. Our very important visitor talks endlessly about “social mobility”. I suggest he turn his attention to social stability, by providing permanent jobs and a living wage so that families can flourish and feel secure.

Our regeneration is due to the enterprise and vision of those from the sides of the Tyne, Wear, Tees, Durham and from north of the Humber. Stripped of their historical industries, shipbuilding, mining and steel production we were at risk of facing a very bleak future.

Our determination and our “grittiness” have, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, fuelled our regeneration. These characteristics are inherited from our forebears and we should never forget, and indeed honour, their memory. We do this every year at a special service at Durham Cathedral, a truly moving experience.

There is little doubt in my mind that some in the South of England consider us as an inferior, rather quaint group of people somewhere north of Manchester and occasionally this view is given voice.

A certain Camilla (such a common name down South) gently broke the news in The Times (yes we do “take” it here) that Catherine Middleton’s mother was from MINING STOCK. There was no need to elaborate but one could sense the cracking crusts of the uppers from Park Lane in Mayfair to Park Lane in Sunderland.

The establishment would have been much more comfortable with one of their own. Someone from the land of gentry, seriously rich people with vast estates.

Let’s consider their history more closely. A famous scholar once said “Behind every great fortune lies a great crime”. This is a sweeping and unfair generalisation, no doubt some made their fortunes through honest hard work but there is a kernel of truth in the statement. Many of these vast estates were built with profits gained from oppression of the poor in mills and mines, as a reward for dirty deeds carried out for the monarch and worst of all, from the slave trade. The philanthropists among them compile a very short list.

The North-South divide grows even larger but I know where I would rather be. I’ve done the London thing, I have stayed in Park Lane, had evenings in Claridges, pre theatre supper at The Savoy and enjoyed amazing hospitality at Ascot. Truly enjoyable experiences but I was always glad to get on the train home.

I often reflect on my childhood in a pit village. As a little girl I watched the endless trucks of black diamonds (washed coal) going to a place called Bowes Lion. This, I imagine, was a fairytale village whose cottages were aflame with glowing fires.

I grew up with the men who extracted these diamonds from the ground in the most appalling conditions. Together with our shipbuilders and steelworkers they powered the Industrial Revolution and financed the British Empire. When they went to war they were acknowledged as among the bravest troops in battle.

Out of privation grew a culture of respect where a man was judged by his work and trusted to be relied on in dangerous situations underground.

On Sundays some went to their churches and chapels and to their allotments where they could connect with the land. Vegetables were for the family but flowers were their passion.

Am I romanticising here? Lifting the rose shades, I accept they were not all saints but those I knew were indeed good men who long before Tony Blair encouraged us towards education, education, education.

So relax Camilla, Mrs Middleton’s heritage is sound. She is from a long line of NOBLEMEN, as indeed are we.

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