Cruddas Park renamed Riverside Dene: Postcode NE4 7DX
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1960s redevelopment: Cruddas Park
Work first started on the Cruddas Park tower blocks in 1961. The area had long been dominated by Armstrong’s arms works and Vickers who built tanks close to the Scotswood Road. During the nineteenth-century rows and rows of closely packed houses filled the banks of the Tyne to house factory workers. These houses and the works can be seen clearly in historic OS maps of the area.
By the 1950s these had become run-down residential areas and the housing was considered to be low-amenity slums. The slums were cleared and new flats were built by Wimpey to a Swedish pre-cast concrete modular design (so popular with council developers it became known as the standard point block). The tower blocks were designed and built by Leslie & Co. with six flats on each floor (a mix of one and two-bedrooms). The towers were named after trees and bushes as some of the former streets had been (e.g. Sycamore, Pine, Hawthorns and Willows). Film clip of the opening.
It was originally named Cruddas Park after George Cruddas who was a director of Armstrong’s arms works in Elswick and lived in Dene House which stood in this area.
The Cruddas Park housing scheme was part of T. Dan Smith’s grand plan for Newcastle. Smith was from a working-class family in Wallsend and he became a visionary leader of Newcastle City Council. He wanted to make Newcastle a modern city and his vision included urban motorways, a metro public transport system and high profile architecture (all of which Newcastle now has). However, power corrupts and Smith got caught in a web of deceit and he ended up serving six years in jail. It has been alleged Smith took cash and other perks for awarding the Cruddas Park contracts. The obituary below describes Smith living at Cruddas Park in his post-prison later years.
- Cruddas Park Towers: https://www.somethingconcreteandmodern.co.uk/building/cruddas-park-towers/
- Obituary – T Dan Smith The Independent 28th July 1993
- Film about T Dan Smith by Amber https://www.amber-online.com/collection/t-dan-smith-1987/
- Film clip Sharp with the flats (1963): http://triptychtowers.blogspot.com/2010/05/sharp-with-flats.html (opening ceremony for the tower blocks).
- History, maps and photos of the Elswick area http://www.timarchive2.freeuk.com/html/elswick.htm
- Cruddas Park being built (1960) Evening Chronicle photo
- Cruddas Park in 1963 Evening Chronicle aerial photo
- Jimmy Forsyth’s photos of the Scotswood Road in the 1950s and 60s
Hawthorn Primary School: Elswick Explored
In the late 1980s it was decided to revitalise the area, which had become the focus of criminal activity and had gained a reputation that would prove to be hard to get rid of. A number of legal evictions took place. New entrances were added to the blocks, entry systems installed and caretakers appointed. The shopping centre was also improved with security shutters, CCTV and security patrols.
By 2000 it was evident more needed to be done. Your Homes Newcastle, the council’s arms length housing management company, aimed to revamp Cruddas Park for the 21st century. The New Deal for Communities (NDC) initiative involved residents closely in making their area a better place to live. Consultation was undertaken on the plans for the ten Cruddas Park tower blocks, which included new kitchens and bathrooms, new low-rise family homes and redeveloping the shopping centre. Work started in the autumn of 2006. Opportunities for residents to buy affordable homes in four of the blocks and a green energy options to help reduce tenants’ fuel bills were proposed at the time (April 2006).
“The six-year scheme will include internal improvements, a striking new look to the blocks and improvements to the surrounding area. The scheme will also bring a better choice in the size of the flats, as well as environmentally friendly measures to protect the environment and keep fuel bills low. Homes in five of the blocks will be made available for sale, whilst the five other blocks and Cruddas Park House will continue to be managed by Your Homes Newcastle.” From Bridging Newcastle Gateshead website which is no longer available [http://www.bridgingng.org.uk 2006].
- Images of the flats prior to redevelopment (1987): http://www.towerblock.eca.ed.ac.uk/development/scotswood-road-hawes-street-redevelopment-area
Renamed Riverside Dene (2009)
On April 2nd 2009, with the revamp well under way, the new name for the area ‘Riverside Dene’ was unveiled by Army abseilers down the side of one of the blocks. A new show flat was on view to prospective tenants. The scheme’s first phase, which included complete redevelopment of The Hawthorns, The Larches and The Sycamores over a 21-month period with new outer coatings and noncombustible mineral fibre insulation, was projected to cost £31 million. Flats were made available for rent through Your Homes Newcastle. Private partners in the scheme included Gentoo, Bellway and Wates Living Space. Purchasers were fewer than forecast and ‘homes’ were still available for sale in December 2012.
“It’s by far the biggest revamp since the blocks were built in the 1960s – and we want to show that this is a great place to live,” said David Slater. “The name celebrates the area’s fantastic views and its historical connections with the River Tyne. “The Northumbrian word ‘Dene’ highlights its parkland and green spaces – but also remembers the original Cruddas family, who lived in nearby Dene House. The new name will encourage new residents to make their home here, which will help to support better shops and services for everyone.”
Local resident Hassan Abbas, who has lived in the blocks for five years, welcomed the change: “I think it will be nice to have a new name, if we’re going to get more people to come here to live,” he said. “If anyone wants to come and live here, please do – it’s got tons of green land and the community is really nice here too.” From the NDC website which is no longer available [2011 http://www.newcastlendc.co.uk/page/newsroom/news/index.cfm?ArticleId=252%5D.
New Deal for the Communities came to an end in March 2010. By March 2011 the local press reported £28 million had been spent and Newcastle City Council had agreed to provide access to 95% mortgages.
“The council hopes the influx of owner-occupiers to the area will help secure its future as an attractive place to live. The authority’s mortgage support is designed to help first time buyers get on to the property ladder at a time when the mortgage market is still in flux. There are one-bed, two-bed and two-bed duplex apartments available with prices ranging from £50,000 – £90,000.” 
Centre West’s website reported four blocks fully let to social tenants and one block ‘nearly full’ with homeowners (2011). The remaining five blocks, such as the Poplars had to be demolished (see: demolition photo of The Poplars). The reality is that the flats were hard to sell to potential homeowners in financially challenging times.
Meanwhile Cruddas Park House (below) and the associated shopping centre and amenities such as the library have also been refurbished. Plans were passed in February 2014 to fit replacement aluminium double-glazed windows and fix new external wall insulation and most of this work took place in 2015. (Large before and after pics on Flickr.)
Post Grenfell (2017)
Following the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in London in June 2017, the council had the cladding on tower blocks tested and all of Newcastle’s high-rise homes were found to be ‘not combustible’ and thus not likely to catch fire easily [Newcastle Chronicle 28 June 2017]. Your Homes Newcastle (YHN) also had ‘core samples of the external fabric from blocks tested by an independent fire testing organisation’. The samples passed but ‘decorative panels used on blocks at Riverside Dene should not have been used above 18 metres’ and these were removed [Newcastle Chronicle 25 Sep 2017]. YHN, who manage city council properties, confirmed all of its high-rise flats passed industry standards for fire safety in May 2018 [Newcastle Chronicle May 17 2019].
Residents in some of Sunderland’s multi-storey flats have had their cladding stripped and inappropriate cladding has been found on student accommodation [BBC News 26 June 2017; Newcastle Chronicle 1 Aug 2017].
The local Chronicle newspaper has been running a campaign called What price life? to get sprinklers retro-fitted and other work carried out in North East tower blocks. A fire in Cruddas Park House in November 2017 left residents concerned about fire alarms, the lack of sprinkler systems and safety in general [Newcastle Chronicle 21 Nov 2017]. Since then it has been found that the doors at Grenfell were inadequate [BBC News March 2018].
In 2019 residents at Cruddas Park House, which is 25 storeys high, continued to be unhappy and ‘fearful’ due to arson attacks and dissatisfaction with existing fire safety features [Newcastle Chronicle May 17 2019]. On the second anniversary of the Grenfell tragedy a message was projected on Cruddas Park House by Grenfell United claiming fire doors weren’t fit for purpose [Newcastle Chronicle 13 June 2019]. In August 2019 an individual was arrested for starting fires [Newcastle Chronicle 1 Aug 2019].
- Riverside Dene – a fairer future Newcastle City Council cabinet report presented 25th July 2012 (agenda item 15) Pdf document http://democracy.newcastle.gov.uk/documents/s50182/Riverside%20Dene.pdf downloaded from http://democracy.newcastle.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=857&MId=4117&Ver=4
- Photos of refurbishment of Cruddas Park House on Skyscraper City (2015) http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showpost.php?s=f83e836d8467f87125cd8da28e47dc27&p=123528763&postcount=243
- External coatings and insulation Weber (manufacturer) case study
- BBC What happened at Grenfell Tower? (July 2017) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-40272168
- Cladding tested and found safe Newcastle Chronicle 29th June 2017
- Some exterior fabric removed Newcastle Chronicle 25 Sep 2017
- Unsafe cladding on student blocks Newcastle Chronicle article 1st August 2017
- Chronicle What price life? campaign [26th June 2017]
- Your Homes Newcastle https://www.yhn.org.uk/
- Tyne and Wear Homes https://www.tyneandwearhomes.org.uk/
- Energi heating solution http://www.vitalenergi.co.uk/casestudies/riverside-dene/