Getting Carter One Last Time

Monday, April 28, 2008 0:08 | Filed in Life

I believe I may have mentioned before (Knock the F***er down) that I didn’t like Owen Luder’s Brutalist car park in Gateshead’s town centre.

Trinity Square Multi Storey Car Park

Nevertheless, I was intrigued to see the other week that Gateshead Council were offering one Last Chance to Get Carter — or rather, a last chance to visit the car park featured in said film — by opening up the normally closed parts of the car park to the public on the 26th and 27th of April.

As the building is scheduled for demolition, and it’s been dominating the Gateshead skyline for forty years, and it’s my last chance to visit it, and I think it’s an ugly monstrosity that should be knocked down, and I realise not everyone agrees with that (although most residents I speak to do), and I realise that some people who might have wanted to visit it won’t get the chance, so I decide to pay a visit.

I got to the car park about twenty past nine (with the plan to nip across to Newcastle, buy a phone and then get back for the opening of the upper levels of the car park at 10), but discovered that there were lots of people in the car park already, scattered around the lower levels and taking photographs.

the Sage Gateshead and the Gateshead Millenium Bridge, as seen from Level 7 of the Trinity Centre car park

I therefore decided to revise my plan, and visit the car park first, showing my little ‘un (who was out with me) the views from the car park across the Tyne, taking in the Millenium Bridge, the Sage, the Tyne Bridge and of course that shimmering vision of loveliness that is St James’ Park.

The staircase beyond level 6 is gated off, and is inaccessible to the general public, and a locked metal fence separated level 7 and below (publicly accessible) from levels 8 to 13 of the car park (deemed unsafe and inaccessible to the public). Once we’d signed a disclaimer saying that any injuries were entirely our own fault (or something like that), that we’d follow safety instructions and that we’d allow Gateshead Council to see any photos, There was therefore nothing to do but wait around for our the upper level to be opened.

broken shop fittings and furniture stripped out of nearby shops due for demolition, dumped at the bottom of the car park's north eastern staircase

We stood around for a while — getting into a conversation with a gentleman who told us that he had planned to buy the rooftop restaurant, but had been unable to sort out the plans (a glass-panelled rooftop restaurant area was included on the top of the car park, offering quite fantastic views across the area, but no-one actually ever took up residence there and it was never opened to the public) — who then advised we peer down by the north-eastern stairwell to see how much had been cleared out of nearby shops.

queue to visit the upper levels of the 'Get Carter' Car Park

Rather fortuitously (because I was chatting to one of the safety stewards, who had just allowed my 4-year old son to borrow a hard hat prior to the tour) we were stood right next to the locked gate when someone asked everyone to form an orderly queue, and so we were the very first people in the queue.

Sure enough, the gate was unlocked and people were allowed through in batches of 10 to receive their hard hats, hand over their disclaimer forms and listen to the safety precautions. The safety precautions weren’t particularly onerous (don’t climb over the safety barriers), although when I enquired who I should send my photos to at Gateshead Council, he simply told me to take whatever photos I wanted.

cardboard 'dump' on level 8 of the car park

(Therefore if anyone from the Council wants permission to use the photos for some official purposes, just give me a shout: I did try to pass them on, but couldn’t find out who I was supposed to pass them on to…)

There wasn’t much of note on level 8 of the car park, other than for some bizarre reason a big pile of cardboard boxes and a rusting cooker. The cooker I could have imagined being there for a while, but surely if the cardboard had been there any length of time, it would have rotted away…?

Levels 9 to 11 again had little of interest to offer: a safety steward stood on each level, the traffic-cones-and-tape security method keeping everyone awat from the outer edge of the levels so that there wasn’t particularly much to look at and you couldn’t really do much more than amble up to the higher levels…

Level 12 of the Trinity Square car park

…but once you got to level 12, there was no more ‘roof’ above you (except for the area taken up by the raised level of the rooftop restaurant) and you really started to get something more of a view.

From level 12 there were some really quite striking views across Gateshead, but none of the views were as striking as the images of the whitest of elephants: the rooftop restaurant atop a 13-storey car park that for some reason (maybe because it was on top of a 13-storey concrete lump?) failed to get off the ground and never opened.

part of the rooftop restaurant area forming a walkway to the lift in the north-east corner

What was somewhat surprising in all of this was just exactly how well behaved the 4-year old BTP was. After all, it’s a car park, hardly the most exciting thing in the world, but he seemed quite fascinated by the idea of going up to the car park levels that were normally locked, and when you factor in the fact that he had to wear a hard hat (“just like Bob the Builder”) it probably actually became something of an adventure…

…all it needed was for a Cyberman to appear from behind a pillar and it would have been just perfect for him…

stairway to the rooftop restaurant

The stairway to the condemned rooftop restaurant was slightly hidden by a strange concrete lattice pattern, but what was equally striking was that this particular part of the car park — much more than any other — seemed to have been the one targetted for graffiti (either that or it had been cleaned off everywhere except here, which would have been equally odd).

The graffiti could also be dated somewhat by the fact that one graffito was of a Pac-Man shape, which I can’t imagine was still ‘cool’ anywhere after the mid-80s. The other question in my head was whether Billy, Taylor and the other “S/land Blaggers” had now settled down into some ‘respectable’ roles in society such as being bank managers or such like.

Well, maybe not.

Pay and display sign from car park level 12

However, further evidence that it had indeed been some time since this part of the car park had been opened to the general public could be seen from the Pay and Display sign on level 12, which showed car parking charges of 30p for up to four hours (in contrast, this would be £1.60 today — but I guess a 533% raise in fees since over a 26 year or so period isn’t too bad, corresponding to about 5.7% annually).

Oddly enough, I’ve been unable to locate any definitive date at which the upper levels were closed off to the public, only that it happened “in the 1980s”, presumably after 1982 (as the sign references a 1982 parking order) and presumably prior to 1986, as that’s when the “Tyne & Wear County Council” referenced on the pay and display sign ceased to be…

If I had to guess, I’d lean towards the earlier side of that — but that’s without any solid foundation (possibly an appropriate term as deep mine tunnels underneath the car park caused cracking and delayed the opening until 1969, after the car park was strengthened).

view of Jackson Street from car park level 13

Nevertheless, there is a good view from the top, and one which the apologists for the car park would no doubt say strengthens their claim to have it saved. There’s a view of Gateshead’s Jackson Street on which a Subway store has somewhat inevitably appeared as part of the growing homogenisation of town and city centres across the world, particularly since it’s going to be replaced by Tesco. Some people would argue that’s why unique buildings like the Trinity Square Multi Storey Car Park should be preserved.

I don’t.

I agree that individuality is better than uniformity in general, and indeed would be keen to preserve structures which have a relevance to the local community, or show architectural merit or suchlike. As a resident, I don’t think this does have any relevance to me, or show any merit at all (of course, this is where I disagree with the pro-car park movement), and I don’t think the fact it featured in a 1971 film should be enough to save it from demolition.

Fortunately for me, it appears that Gateshead Council and Spenhill (the Tesco subsidiary) are quite keen on knocking the thing down and indeed I heard a rumour today — the veracity of which may be in doubt, since it came from the man who assured me he had been going to buy the rooftop restaurant — that a closure and demolition date would be announced in the next few weeks.

dead bird of some description

I came across this dead bird on level 12 of the car park, which to me sums up the car park itself.

Once, it might have been something that actually looked quite nice. Now it’s just a hollow husk of what it once was, with its internal skeletal structure visible through the skin in many places and it really, truly, ought to have been disposed of before now…

But once at the foot of the car park again, I did manage to find something that I would miss.

entrance to Gateshead Indoor Market

Not the car park itself, but Gateshead Indoor Market, which was constructed under the car park and is obviously part of the same demolition job. The Indoor Market has already closed — I think on around 9th January this year (certainly around then) — but there were a lot of shops in there that were useful: butchers, bakers, cobblers, barbers, second hand book shops, and the pet shop that both our cats and my mother’s cats came from.

You know, the sort of shops that you would expect to have in any shopping area, useful, but not the sort of shop you’d generally go to a specific shopping centre for, when a trip to the supermarket and the nearby DIY superstore will net you much the same sort of thing.nearby wherever you are. Except maybe for the bookshop (not so many second hand bookshops about now) and the pet shop (now you’ll probably have to go to the equivalent out of town pet superstore…).

looking up at the car park from the foot of the south west stairs

And so, with one last look at the car park itself — from a rather unusual angle at the bottom of the south west stairs — we took off for Newcastle in search of that mobile phone I was talking about the other day.

And, if for any reason you’ve taken a particular interest in these photographs of the car park, after going to have your head examined, you might like to view the images in my flickr photostream tagged ‘car_park’ and ‘trinity_square’. There’s another 20 or so…

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7 Comments to Getting Carter One Last Time

  1. The Goldfish says:

    April 30th, 2008 at 11:51 am

    I must say I’ve been to Gateshead several times (not since I’ve known you or else I would have bought you a cup of tea or a pint or something), and whilst I know Get Carter and I know it was filmed up there, I’ve never really registered the car park. In its present condition, it is near indistinguishable from other dilapidated structures of that era – which is a shame.

  2. Wookiee says:

    May 9th, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    Jackson Street has a Subway? My gawd….

    RIP the best Pet Shop in Gateshead. We shall miss you.

  3. Mr D Weatherspoon says:

    January 6th, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    I so miss the market!!!!!
    There were so many little shops that sold things you didnt need but wanted anyways!
    The supermarkets may supply the same things under one roof, but you spend all day trying to find them?
    The market greasy spoon cafe(downstairs) was a fasinating experience in the colture of the people in gateshead.
    Bring back the market!, but please knock down the concrete cancer ridden disaster.!!!

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    November 27th, 2012 at 10:40 am

    last chance to visit the car park featured in said film — by opening up the normally closed parts of the car park to the public on the 26th and 27th of April.

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