Four Lane Ends
Four Lane Ends signs

Benton Crossroads
Sat. 11th Aug., 2001

Benton Four Lane Ends has been an important crossroad since before Newcastle was a city, and these roads were used for driving cattle and the transport of lime and salt from local sources.

Today it is still an important confluence of north south east and west roads with the addition of the Metro light rail transit system, following the original course of the North Eastern Railway coast line branch.

This place is also the junction of the city boundary with neighbouring North Tyneside.

The view north along Benton Lane shows industrial and office accommodation sited here on the periphery of the Tyneside conurbation.

The white Findus frozen food factory is visible. Opened by the late Princess of Wales in 1983, it remains a leading example of new technology in food production.

A little closer, is the heavenly warehouse of St. Stephen's R.C. church, and closer still the roundabout at the junction of West Farm Avenue, referring to a long forgotten rural setting, and Goathland Avenue, another pastoral reference, both now taken over by Longbenton estate. The 1960s purpose built public house at this junction, formerly "The Rocket", has recently been renamed.

Benton Lane looking north
Benton Park Road looking west

Benton Park Road runs west from Four Lane Ends past the Ministry of Pensions. This road whose housing dates from the early 1920s was the last in the city to retain the street furniture left over from the trolley bus network. The traction poles served as robust street lamp standards until only four years ago.

Families who first moved here must have felt it far flung from the bustle of the city and the spacious houses with ample gardens were only for the fortunate even then, but they could never have imagined the amazing propulsion of property values. These are now homes for the well off merchants, shopkeepers and bankers; separated from the less fortunate Longbenton residents by the railway track.

Four Lane Ends Co-op building

Right on the crossroad, with Benton Road running south to the city centre on the left is the former Co-op building. It was the crowning glory of this parade of shops erected to serve this growing community during the 1920s. The style is borrowed from the "Garden City" architecture so plentiful in the region to the north of London.

Meanwhile, the buildings to the east on Front Street, leading to the coast, were relatively untouched. Note the former farm building on the left of the modern shot and compare it with the photo taken almost a century before.

Front Street looking east
Front Street circa 1900
Four lane Ends Metro Station

The Metro station was erected during 1980 to a corporate style used by the then Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Executive. Whilst it was forced by public pressure to keep and adapt the existing stations, its desire for low rectangular shapes with light enamelled panels and black box rooves let rip in the new stations. Although the station concourse has an atrium, the approaches and awning are gloomy and uninviting.

Its adjacent land is used as a car park that until recently was the source for most of the stolen to order car spares in this area. The police presence has been increased and whilst not eradicated, the thieving had reduced.

Station entrance
The Pulse, wasteful sculpture

This is "Pulse" a piece of kinetic sculpture by Andrew Stonyer in the station concourse main light well. Its red neon light flickers with the vibration of the approaching trains. The artist obtained a PhD at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, in 1978 and is currently a reader in Art and Design at Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education. The artist said his design was a response to the rectangular and monochromatic architecture of the station. He wanted to bring vitality and warmth to this enclosed space. It was unveiled by Mo O'Toole MEP on 8th December, 2000.

My verdict on this? It is almost as forgettable as the MEP who revealed it to an underwhelmed public. Mr. Stonyer has produced a few interesting works, but this is definitely not one of them.

The previous sculpture occupying this situation was "Iron Horse Reconstructed" by David Kemp. I met the artist during his construction on site during 1982. He is a down to earth artist, born in London in 1945, who served as an army officer for some years before making his living through his art.

The Iron Horse, made from rubbish

David also constructed three large post-industrial heads - "The Old Transformers" in Consett, "King Coal" at Pelton Fell, Co. Durham and "Navigators", a huge kinetic fountain near London Bridge. He has also has work sited in the Grizedale Forest, Cumbria and in Sheffield and Glasgow and has recently been involved in two millennium projects - "Brian's Walk-through Brain" at The Lowry, Salford and several sculptures for the Eden Project in Cornwall. His latest and possibly most ambitious is "Tib Street Horn" near Piccadilly in Manchester.

The Metro allowed David's horse to decay and eventually spent our hard earned cash on that new tin doughnut.

I used to work behind that door.
Rail level platforms

The principal function of the building is still transport, and at rail level much remains the same as originally built. The Metro would not let this decay with neglect! Four Lane Ends continues to be a place where most people pass by on the way to somewhere else, but for those who stay there is a community, there are resources and there are divisions.

Click here to see high quality album copies of these and other photographs from the same shoot

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