The North Tyne Valley After 1945
Farmers in the North Tyne Valley had made every effort to support the war effort. The instructions of the War Agricultural Committee had been followed as far as possible and crops and livestock produced to help feed the nation. In the 1940s and 1950s the government aim of a cheap food supply for all meant that new subsidies and assistance became available to the hill farmer. In the area between Falstone and Bellingham, a number of farmers established dairy herds and began to send milk to Tyneside, at first by train and, later, by lorry. At the same time, the Forestry Commission built three “forest villages” in the area, one of which was at Kielder. It seemed that there were better times ahead.
However, one feature of life in the North Tyne was under threat. For some time the Border Counties line had been a loss maker. Damage by flood to the bridge near Hexham in 1948 had created some difficulties, while receipts had continued to fall, especially as the Forestry Commission used much road transport to take felled timber from the valley. The inevitable closure took place, first with the withdrawal of passenger services in 1956, and then the ending of freight trains on the line in 1958. For many of the folk of the valley, this was the loss of an old friend. To others it was surprising as in 1956, the valley north of Bellingham was designated part of the new Northumberland National Park and there was surprise that an important link to the new Park was closed down.
The closure of the line spelled the rise of the motor car as the most important form of transport in the valley. Although the railway was replaced by bus services, they have not been as popular as private transport. In addition, all freight was now brought in by lorry and the milk tanker also began to move among the dairy farms. The use of motorised transport has increased throughout the remainder of the twentieth century and the 1960s and 1970s saw the beginning of a new phenomenon, daily commuters to Tyneside from the upper North Tyne valley.
Other changes followed quickly. Forestry became more mechanised and the number of direct employees of the Commission has steadily declined as their work has been taken over by private contractors. Timber is sent away on huge lorries, now for wood pulp and chipboard and not for pit props. The forestry villages have gained other dwellers than forestry families. In the face of reduced demand for liquid milk and, later, Britain’s membership of the European Community, farmers have had to adapt in a variety of ways to new government and market demands. The number of farms continues to decline and those who remain have to try to find other ways of working to supplement a reduced income.
A new force has also entered the valley in the shape of the massive Kielder reservoir. Faced by demands from Teesside for more water for industry, it was decided, in the face of significant local opposition, to create a new reservoir in the Kielder area. This was constructed between 1975 and 1981 and by spring 1982 became the largest man-made lake in Western Europe with a shore line over 27 miles long.
Farms were flooded, as were some former forestry areas, new houses were built and the lake has become the centre of a new tourist industry. The National Park employs rangers and tourist information officers in order to service this trade and efforts have and are being made to increase the number of visitors. All of which has ensured some prosperity in the valley and work for those who continue to live in the villages.