Great Britain

People and places of Newcastle's old West End - in 10 photographs

Jimmy Forsyth found a mission in recording the old buildings of Newcastle before they vanished under the developers’ wrecking ball

Jimmy Forsyth was a modest man with a major talent.

His uncomplicated photographs marvellously captured everyday life as it was in mid-20th century Newcastle, largely in the West End.

Born in South Wales in 1913, he arrived in Newcastle in 1943. The consequences of two industrial accidents made it hard for the 30-year-old to find work.

However, he developed a passion for local history and found a mission in recording the old buildings of Newcastle before they vanished under the developers’ wrecking ball.

He once explained why he began taking photographs: “When they knocked down the Infirmary in 1954, a curious crowd gathered to watch. It was then that I realised someone should make a record of what was left of the community.

"I had nothing to do, so why not make a record of Scottie Road to pass the time? It would show future generations what we looked like and how we lived.”

Jimmy was taking pictures of local children when a neighbour told him that Scotswood Road and the surrounding area was to be demolished, and suggested he make a record of where he lived.

He said: “A wife said to me you should take some pictures of Scotswood Road because they are going to knock it down, and I said to meself ‘ain’t she stupid because they never do them sort of things’, but luckily I took the pictures just the same because then they started knocking them down around the back where I was living like, and that was the start of it!”

His remarkable photographs from the 1950s and 1960s were first exhibited in January 1979, under the title Scotswood Road with a Box Camera.

Jimmy never had “fancy equipment”. He simply couldn’t afford it.

Newcastle’s Side Gallery recognised that Jimmy’s photographs formed a unique record of vanishing working-class culture and decided to bring his work to a wider public.

The result was the very successful Scotswood Road book and exhibition in 1986. Jimmy became an overnight sensation, receiving the Halina Award for an outstanding body of work in March 1987.

Throughout the 1990s and into the 21st century he continued to take photographs of his favourite subjects until his death in 2009.

Author Anthony Flowers was the responsible for the 2013 book, An Innocent Eye: Jimmy Forsyth, Tyneside Photographer, Tyne Bridge Publishing.

Anthony, speaking of Jimmy's work, said: “It is important not to underestimate what an undertaking this was to become for an unemployed man with few resources, though he said that by selling prints to his neighbours ‘for pennies’ he was able to manage to buy more film. This was a constant worry for Jimmy, that he might miss something worth photographing through lack of film.”

Jimmy Forsyth's photographs capture a Tyne that is largely vanished.

Our 10 images come from the Jimmy Forsyth Collection, courtesy of Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums.

Don't forget to check out our Memory Lane local history website that's packed with archive photographs and has an easy-to-use picture colourisation tool.

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