Trenches, strings, and roof wraggles!

Long before Channel 4 unleashed Tony Robinson and the rest of the Time Team crew upon us I was interested in archaeology, (studying Latin and Ancient History at school has that effect) and so when there was a dig taking place locally I was excited to see what was going on.

This was in the mid 70’s, when a team led by the formidably-named Professor Rosemary Cramp of Durham University‘s Archaeology Department excavated the site of the former monastic buildings to the south of St Peter’s Church, the monastery that gave name to this part of Sunderland; Monkwearmouth.  The site was 1300 years old.

I remember looking forward to visiting the dig one weekend, but when the day came it was cold and wet, miserable conditions for digging and scraping at ancient stones.  I don’t recall whether it was my own reaction to the conditions, or the lack of geniality on the part of Professor Cramp et al, but I didn’t stay long!

Today, despite being one of the most historically significant buildings in the area (together with St Paul’s at Jarrow it is seeking World Heritage Site status due to their links with St Bede) St Peter’s is overlooked by many.  In fact when I showed one of today’s photographs to my younger daughter she had no idea where it was.  To many now the name is more associated with the nearby campus of the university and the sixth form college which adjoins it.

Visiting today I found similar conditions to the day of the dig.  Whilst the church is intact, little of the original Anglo Saxon structure remains, other than the west wall and the porch, though the characteristic steep sloping roof profile is retained and continues to influence other buildings nearby.  The intertwined serpents that once guarded the entrance arebarely visible, as it the statue set into the wall above the porch, which was presumably damaged during the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII.  It’s a pity that this little gem seems so forgotten by the hundreds who commute past it every day.

Even the perimeter wall has character,  I have no idea when it was built but the variety of masonry used in its construction would not be considered nowadays.

Just beyond the perimeter I prematurely met today’s portrait subject; Winter.  It was almost inevitable that I should meet an Asian student with the university so close at hand.  I wonder if she has any idea of the history she was passing.

Subterranean Homesick Blues

On the banks of the Tyne at Jarrow stands a strange-looking building; conventional brick walls, pretty ordinary windows, but with a roof that is definitely flying saucer.

The clue to its function lies in the fact that its twin lies across the river, just visible above the bow of a tug heading upstream.  This is one of the entrances to Britain’s first purpose-built cycling tunnel, though it also serves pedestrians for like the barrels of a shotgun this is two tunnels in one.  Opened in 1951 it incorporates what were at the time the world’s highest single rise escalators, though these days they are rarely active.  Luckily there are small lifts at either end.

I first visited the tunnel as a small boy, taken there by my godmother and her then boyfriend I think as part of a child minding session.  I probably never went near it again until 20 years ago when working on North Tyneside I would regularly cycle through it, both for the enjoyment of cycling but also more practically because it was faster than sitting in the queues of traffic that built up at the Tyne Tunnel for vehicles.

The tunnel then is an old friend, and though I no longer have cause to use it practically it remains an interesting spot for photographs.  I took my youngest daughter Holly there a couple of years back and miraculously found an almost identical shoot in a local lifestyle publication a few weeks later.

Like any old friend, the tunnel is showing its age, and what were once pristine ceramics are now crazed and cracked, giving rise to all manner of excrescences upon their surfaces.  As one pedestrian remarked on see me with my camera there today:

“It’s dropping to bits isn’t it?”

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be!

Aside from its visible charms, the place also has its own unique soundscape, the buzz of cycle wheels spinning in an enclosed environment, the echo of distorted voices, the ebb and flow of footsteps and in between the constant hum of the strip lights whose fluorescence also shifts, creating an eerie movement in the shadows.

As I was ready to leave today I heard another sound.  A man virtually skipping down the static wooden steps of the escalator came into view, and John became today’s portrait.  I was less sprightly as I breathlessly climbed up to daylight once more.  Heavy camera bag you know.

Bob Dylan – Subterranean Homesick Blues