This picture shows Billingham Town Centre at its absolute worst, it was taken from the window of my Grandmothers flat in 1980. From the mid 1950s and through the 1960s Billingham was a prosperous colourful and interesting “New” town, Billingham has very little history as a town, apart from St. Cuthberts Church there is very little of Billingham built before 1900.
There are four shops visible, two of which are empty and of the twelve flats above the shops only four are occupied
Haverton Hill was the main part of the Billingham Urban District Council when it was formed in 1923 and the main emphasis was centered there as shown by the Council Offices in Nelson Street, when the council was formed the major part of Billingham was centered around the Green and along Station Road towards Wolviston. The arrival of “The Synthetic” or ICI as it later became known increased the population enormously and Billingham grew at a terrific rate, this growth was maintained until the creation of Teesside Council in 1968, from that point Billingham, Stockton and Thornaby started a downward spiral, Nortons delightful High Street thankfully escaped this.
When this picture was taken the aviaries and fishponds had gone and the bandstand was just so much street clutter, street entertainment was no more, many of the original shops had disappeared forever, Timothy Whites, Home & Colonial, Meadow Dairies, Chain Libraries, some of these were taken over by other companies others just faded away as shopping habits changed, this is true of many towns and Billingham is not exceptional in this respect, the bowling alley had arrived and disappeared as it did in many other towns.
The last great effort of BUDC was the building of the Forum, this was an excellent move and I have great memories of using the facilities available especially the swimming pool and the theatre as well as getting in a lather in the squash courts and discovering that table tennis and archery were not among my skill sets
It is hard to believe that in the early days of Billingham Town Centre people would travel from places such as Sedgefield and Bishop Auckland to visit it. Change is inevitable and should be welcomed but it doesn’t always bring improvements, still it is always saddening when the place where you grew up, went to school and forged long lasting friendships changes so drastically.
Billingham is my home town and even though I haven’t lived there for over 40 years I will always remain a “Billingham Lad”.
Photograph and details courtesy of Bruce Coleman.