Graham Carter - the voice of age and experience

I AM feeling like I have joined the Jet Set because for the first time in all the years I have been writing this column, I’m doing it from a plane.

By the time you read this, we will have landed at our exotic location: Newcastle.

Part of the reason for going there is to search for our roots.

As many people will know, I will shortly be giving up my (unpaid) day job as editor of Swindon Heritage, and as I retire from the local history scene, family history is being moved up the agenda.

Mine and my brother’s researches so far have shown that our ancestors were in Swindon at least eight generations ago, with three-quarters of the family tree firmly rooted in Wiltshire.

But there is a vein of ‘foreign’ blood in the family because, thanks to the policy of the Great Western Railway, I am 25 per cent Geordie.

Swindon railwaymen were often immediately laid off after finishing their apprenticeships, so my grandfather went in search of work in the north-east after qualifying as a boilermaker in 1914.

It was there that he met a Gateshead-born lass who was destined to be my grandmother.

Although Granddad eventually came back home to Swindon and brought his wife and young family with him, they returned to Newcastle to visit their Geordie family - trips that my mother often recalled.

It’s a journey neither I nor my brother have made before, but our plan to walk in their footsteps has received a shock.

We have identified nine addresses in the area where our ancestors lived, but when we started to Google them, we soon realised that the roots of the family tree up there have all been dug up.

Not one of the buildings on our list of addresses still exists, and if my grandmother and her family could come back with us, they wouldn’t recognise the streets where they lived.

That’s because much of the city centre housing from their era has been swept away in slum clearance schemes that began in the 1930s, got a hand from Second World War bombing, and was still continuing in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Apparently, St Cuthbert’s Road, Gateshead, half a mile from the Tyne Bridge, where my grandmother was born, was possibly the poorest of the poor housing.

And as if to emphasize how late my brother and I are in arriving on the scene, even the high-rise blocks that replaced the terraced houses in that part of Gateshead, and were apparently not much of an improvement, have gone too.

Their only claim to fame was that they were a location for a film starring Michael Caine, called - of all things - Get Carter.

After discovering all this, I have begun to think about Swindon’s heritage in terms of housing.Unlike Newcastle and many other cities, especially those that were hit harder by wartime bombing than Swindon, our town still has the majority of the homes where we, our parents or ancestors once lived.

Small pockets have gone, like in the ill-fated and ridiculously named Kimmerfields area, which is really called Whalebridge or Queenstown, but the Railway Village, the redbrick terraces of the town centre, much of Old Town’s housing and most of the tens of thousands of homes built as Swindon has expanded are still standing.

And as the older buildings were built to last, they should be around long after we are gone.It’s yet another thing that makes Swindon’s heritage unusual and precious - even if a portion of you is Geordie or something even more exotic.