Man who helped build Peterlee contributes to 75th anniversary project

Jul 6, 2023 | Leisure & Lifestyle

Residents of Peterlee, both past and present, are being encouraged to share their memories of the town as part of its 75th birthday celebrations.

Durham County Council has marked the start of a year-long programme of celebrations for the three-quarters-of-a-century milestone for Peterlee, which was established as a New Town in 1948.

This began with the opening of Peterlee: The Place to Be, in Castle Dene Shopping Centre, a public exhibition which features over 100 photographs and working drawings telling the story of how the town came to be.

Following the opening of this exhibition, which is available to view at the shopping centre until Saturday 28 October, the council is now calling on current residents and people who have lived in the town to help with its second project.

Planned to open later in the year, the Living Memory Project aims to offer a different perspective on the story of Peterlee from the people who called, and still call, the town home.

For this, the council is calling for people to come forward with personal photos, memorabilia, and related stories they have of living in the town.

Of those to have already contributed to the Living Memory Project is John Nelson, 84, who helped to build the early phase of Peterlee and now lives in the last remaining cantilever house in the town that is unaltered from its original design.

John’s father was one of the first builders to work in Peterlee and, upon leaving school at 15, John followed in his footsteps and joined the construction industry.

In 1960, John was building the shops along Burnhope Way and Yoden Way at the time of a royal visit from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, during which he was able to get a glimpse of the royal car from the upper windows of the shops as it drove past.

John and his wife Anne have lived in Peterlee since 1966 and in their current home for the last 46 years.

Where the houses around them have since been modified, or demolished and rebuilt, their home still has the original flat roof and white panelling from when the estate was first built.

John said: “When the estate was built in the early 1960s there were ten of these cantilever style houses. Ours is the only one remaining, which is something Anne and me are very proud of. We feel very lucky, because there is so much green open space around us, front and back. It’s one of the reasons that we’ve never wanted to leave.

“Despite the fact that I’ve worked and lived in Peterlee for the best part of my life, there’s still a lot in the Peterlee 75 exhibitions that I wasn’t previously aware of. There’s also a lot that I do remember however, which is great to see. It brings back memories. Anne and I have started looking through our old photographs.”

John has contributed photographs of himself and his father from the 1950s and 1960s for the Living Memory Project, which will go on display later in the year.

Cllr Elizabeth Scott, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for economy and partnerships, said: “Peterlee: The Place to Be is a fantastic exhibition currently in place in the heart of the town at Castle Dene Shopping Centre.

“The exhibition tells the story of how the town has developed over the last 75 years, from the influence of artist Victor Pasmore on the design of Peterlee’s residential areas and the Apollo Pavilion, which is now a Grade II* listed building, to the Development Corporation’s marketing strategy to attract new manufacturing industries to the town, which included businesses like Tudor Crisps, Dewhirst, NSK Bearings, and Fisher Price Toys.

“While Peterlee: The Place to Be tells the story from the viewpoint of the authorities and individuals responsible for the New Town’s development, the Living Memory Project aims to tell the story of Peterlee from the perspective of the people who call it home, like John and Anne. To do this of course, we are relying on residents, past and present, to come forward with their personal photographs and items and share with us the memories these items hold.”

To find out more about Living Memory and how to get involved, email memories@alisonlister.com, or visit www.peterlee75