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UK Newton Aycliffe Clock Tower, Newton Aycliffe - May 2016

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History

“As centre manager I am delighted that after substantial investigations to secure the clock tower, we now have in place the ability to demolish Churchill House and leave the clock tower as a freestanding, fully operational structure” (Bryan Haldane, centre manager).  

For the many out there who do not know, Newton Aycliffe is a town in County Durham. It is said to be the oldest town in the north of England, and the original residential areas were built around the utopian vision of Lord William Beveridge. In the aftermath of WWII, the style and design of the town was meant to tackle Britain’s ‘Five Giants’: poverty, disease, homelessness, ignorance and unemployment. The government had intended that the whole of Britain would be based on the Newton Aycliffe design; they called it the ‘Welfare State’. Contrary to the ‘streets in the skies’ projects, in cities such as Newcastle, Leeds and Sheffield, Lord Beveridge’s new development involved creating the perfect town in the countryside. Free education, fresh air, a National Health Service, council housing and full employment were promised to all those living in Newton Aycliffe; according to Lord Beveridge, this was going to be a new, balanced and fair world. The moors situated between Aycliffe Industrial estate, a crucial munitions area during the war, and the small village of Middridge were selected because there was plenty of farmland to build on. Lord Beveridge was so confident that this utopian project would be successful, he moved there himself. His house was located at the top of Pease Way (near the town centre). 

The first house was officially opened on Tuesday 9th November, 1948; this was one of 3,000 dwellings. As the growth and development of the town depended on the industrial estate, the Development Corporation were limited in terms of the number of houses they were permitted to build; they were not allowed to construct more than was necessary to match the growth in employment in the area. Although a village green was planned for the town centre, the idea became lost as shopping facilities began to appear. The proposals suggested that at least fifty shops would be situated in the town centre. There were also discussions for the development of a town hall, however, this too was never built. Instead, Churchill House was constructed in the centre of the town, along with a 77ft clock tower. The Development Corporation made this building their headquarters. As facilities gradually appeared around it, the clock tower soon became the focal point of the town. The idea was to create a simple landmark that would be visible from a number of approaching roads, including Pease Way. While the tower, which has never been altered, is not listed, it has been spared amid recent town centre redevelopment plans due to public interest in the structure. 

By the late 1970s, the utopian vision of a ‘classless town’ was considered archaic. Consequently, the town centre was sold and private contractors were allowed to build new housing estates across Newton Aycliffe. The sale of the town centre also began to include the sale of surrounding council houses. In recent years the town centre has been undergoing a further largescale £2 million redevelopment plan. A number of the original buildings have been demolished, making way for an area that is more open, accessible and profitable. The demolition of Churchill House was halted in 2014, however, following an investigation into the structural integrity of the building and clock tower. The clock tower is to remain in situ, helping to give the town a whole new image that combines the old with the new; therefore, an enquiry into the integrity of the clock, which is to be left as a “freestanding fully operational structure” was necessary. 

Our Version of Events

Newton Aycliffe clock tower is a site we’ve had our eyes on for quite some time now. It’s always been on our list as something that’s a little special, as quite a few of us grew up around here, and ever since there were discussions around demolishing it we decided we wanted to get ourselves up and make the most of it before the opportunity disappeared, perhaps forever. Our wait had been painstakingly slow of course. As most locals will attest, any suggested development in Newton Aycliffe takes years to actually begin, and even longer to complete. Recently, however, as many local folk will have noticed, work on the clock tower has finally begun. 

In our eagerness to climb the tower, we found we arrived far too early. The clock tower is very visible during the day, just as the developers had intended it to be, so we milled around the town centre for a while. Eventually, after a long wait, six chicken mini-fillets and several slices of pizza, the sun started to fall beneath the horizon. It was time to try out luck with an ascent to the top. It still wasn’t quite as dark as we would have liked when we set off, but we decided to make a start anyway. Trying our best to avoid the many cameras situated in the town centre, we found a point that appeared to be less watched than anywhere else. From there, gaining access was fairly straightforward. 

Five minutes later, we found ourselves on the roof of Churchill House. Despite the relative simplicity of the clock, the views it offered were quite spectacular. Perhaps this was our nostalgia for the place though; aside from the bells, the tower itself isn’t especially spectacular at all. As darkness still hadn’t quite set in, we waited a few more moments, trying our best to hide in the shadows. After all, we wanted to see the lights of Newton Aycliffe in all their glory. The last dash up the interior staircase of the tower was good. It brought back some old memories as the lower levels of the staircase were used to access other buildings back in the day. As these buildings have either been demolished, or are in the process of being stripped, all the old doorways are now bricked up, except from the entrance door at the base of the tower.

The hatch into the clock itself creaked as we opened it. Years of dust exploded into the air. As our eyes adjusted to the darkness, we took in our surroundings. We could see old gears positioned in the centre of the small room, and four individuals control boxes that controlled the four faces of the clock. A second ladder took us to another hatch, and this led up to the bell tower which is outside. When we first imagined what it would be like up on top of the tower, we envisaged that the whole platform, including the bells, would be covered in pigeon shit. In actual fact, there was barely a drop up there. Instead, we were greeted by five spotless bells and a clean floor. They looked far more imposing from up top; down at the bottom of the tower you can’t really appreciate them as much. Up here we could see every detail: their original inscriptions, and the marks and colours from being weathered over the years. 

All in all, we spent a lot longer up the tower than we’d anticipated. It was only when we spotted a large police presence gathering outside the nearby police station, which we had a good view of from where we were sat, that we decided we’d pushed our luck far enough. The clock tower is still very visible and we didn’t doubt that human silhouettes would be particularly noticeable to anyone who happened to be looking up. It didn’t take long to get down to the ground, back inside the town centre once again. Feeling good we’d pulled it off, it was agreed that the very long wait had been worth it. 

Explored with Ford Mayhem, Box and Husky. We also want to say a special thanks to our ‘informant’ who kept an eye on the tower for the past year or so. 
 

Newton Aycliffe Clock Tower - Redevelopment in Progress

 

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The Clock Tower 'Back in the Day'

 

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5 minutes ago, hamtagger said:

That's something different and as @coolboyslim said thats a mighty fine set of bells you got there :D 

 

:comp: 


Lol. They are indeed a fine set of bells :P 

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9 hours ago, degenerate said:

I love clock towers, that last picture is an instant win!! Great shots, nice to see your wait paid off :)


Cheers :thumb Yeah, never really been up something that's just a clock tower; they've always been attached to courthouses and other things, so this was a good experience. 

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There is no way that I would have been able to resist the temptation to play a little tune on the bells if I climbed this. :grin: 

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Thanks guys, cheers for looking and commenting.

 

17 hours ago, Maniac said:

There is no way that I would have been able to resist the temptation to play a little tune on the bells if I climbed this. :grin: 


Haha, we couldn't resist either. It doesn't take much to make them make a sound. You'd think it would with them being heavy things. It was like playing the bongo drums, but with bells instead. 

Edited by WildBoyz

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