It was January 1976 and Newcastle city centre was under transformation.
Underneath the busy streets, tunnels and stations for a new rapid-transit light railway system, the Metro, were under construction.
But much more visibly, a new sprawling retail complex was emerging that would revolutionise shopping in the region. Eldon Square would open a few months later.
Our aerial photograph, courtesy of Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums, was one of a series captured by the Newcastle-based photographic firm Turners Ltd during the mid to late 1970s.
As well as the new shopping centre, other easily identifiable locations include the Civic Centre (opened eight years earlier), the buildings of Newcastle University, while Percy Street, Northumberland Street and the Central Motorway are also easy to pick out.
Eldon Square shopping centre necessitated much chopping and changing in the city centre.
The northern and western terraces of old Eldon Square – which gave the centre its name – were controversially demolished, along with swathes of shops and buildings in the Blackett Street/Newgate Street/Percy Street area to make way for the new complex.
It opened in March 1976, and was an instant hit. “Eldon Square gold rush” was the headline in the Chronicle.
We reported: “Eldon Square’s shopping bag army has set the cash tills ringing up an economic extravaganza, and store owners are rubbing their hands with glee.
“Takings in Newcastle’s £60m shopping centre are beyond their wildest dreams — and the complex has just opened.”
Britain’s biggest shopping centre at the time it was built – pre-dating Gateshead’s Metrocentre by 11 years – it symbolised a move from traditional high-street shopping to the American-style retail mall experience.
A year later, it was officially opened by the Queen and Prince Philip, as thousands looked on, during the Royals’ Silver Jubilee tour.
By 2016, when it was celebrating its 40th anniversary, the complex was attracting 35 million visitors a year to its 150 stores and restaurants across 130,000 square metres of floor space.
It is home to most of the nation’s leading retailers and has undergone major redevelopment and improvement in recent years, most notably the Grey’s Quarter project which saw the arrival of 20 restaurants at the Grey’s Monument entrance to the centre.
We look forward to the return of ‘normal times’ and regular retail therapy trips to Eldon Square.
Don’t miss our new Memory Lane local history website that’s packed with archive photographs and has an easy-to-use picture colourisation tool.
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