NEWTON AYCLIFFE has this week been celebrating its 75th anniversary. This is a little confusing for anyone with a mathematical brain, as it celebrated its 65th anniversary in 2013 and its 50th anniversary in 1998, but if the Queen can have two birthdays so can this queen of County Durham towns. Let’s have a quick romp through the ages of Aycliffe…

Spring 1941

The Northern Echo:

Royal Ordnance Factory 59 opened, with 1,000 buildings spread across 867 acres of south Durham farmland, chosen partly because of its damp, misty nature which concealed it from the prying eyes of the Luftwaffe. It employed 16,000 munitions makers, largely women – the “Aycliffe Angels” – whom Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited in May 1942 (above).

September 3, 1945

Lewis Silkin, minister of town and country planning, visited south Durham, looking for a site for a new town with a population of 10,000. The munitions factory was already being converted into an industrial estate, with 60 firms employing 2,000 people.

February 12, 1947

The Northern Echo: From the Archive: Newton Aycliffe.

Silkin announced that Newton Aycliffe would be among the first 10 new towns, along with Stevenage, Harlow and Peterlee. There was debate about what it should be called: Yackley (the ancient name for the area, meaning a clearing among the oaks), Newcliffe or Great Aycliffe were contenders.

April 19, 1947

Silkin signed the designation order 75 years ago this week and Newton Aycliffe came into being. Lord William Beveridge, architect of the welfare state, became the first chairman of the Aycliffe Development Corporation, tasked with creating a “paradise for housewives”. Beveridge said: "The corporation aims at making a town better than anything in the past, a town that will be an example for the future. We shall do our utmost to make a town both happy for its inhabitants and famous as an example to Britain and the world."

June 28, 1948

The Northern Echo:

Cllr William Davis, vice-chair of the development corporation, ceremonially cut the first sod (above) where the first pre-fab house was to be built at the corner of Clarence Green and Travellers Green. The silver spade was signed by the dignitaries present and became the first item in the town jewels. However, it disappeared in the mid-1990s only to be recovered by police in 2009 when they searched the home of the late town clerk, John Farquhar. This sod cutting has previously been regarded as the new town’s birthday.

The Northern Echo: Great Aycliffe town council, School Aycliffe Lane, Newton Aycliffe  -  Silver ceremonial spade is returned by the police.  Pictured are (L-R) Det Sgt Sean Jackson and mayor Mary Dalton.
Pic: Chris Booth         16/12/09

The silver ceremonial spade is returned by the police in 2009: Det Sgt Sean Jackson hands it over to mayor Mary Dalton

November 9, 1948

The Northern Echo: The first residents of Aycliffe, Don and Eve Perry, in 1998

Don and Eve Perry, Aycliffe's first residents in 1948, pictured in 1998

Lord Beveridge handed the keys of one of the first 41 pre-fabricated bungalows on Clarence Green to Don and Eve Perry, who had moved from Surrey so Don, a former army captain, could work at Crowborough Engineering. They chose to live in No 9 as it was the only house with a garage.

April 29, 1949

The Northern Echo: From the Archive: Newton Aycliffe.

Carolyn Corner (above in her pram), whose parents lived in a prefab on Clarence Green, was born in a Bishop Auckland maternity hospital and became the first baby to be christened in St Clare’s Church in Newton Aycliffe, which was then in a derelict farmhouse. She is regarded as the first true Newtonian. In 1954, Thomas Punshon and June Pearson were married in the farmhouse – the first wedding in the new town – and when St Clare’s was built in 1955, it was said to have been designed to look like a barn because of its agricultural beginnings.

The first community centre was in a cow byre, and the first shop and post office was run by Laura Stevens in a farm outbuilding in Finchdale Road. She sold cigarettes to building workers, along with sweets, wool and stockings.

June 1953

The Northern Echo: From the Archive: Newton Aycliffe. 1962

The centre of Aycliffe in 1962, complete with a tree

The 1,000th house was completed. The first Aycliffe houses were painted pink and yellow to avoid the “new town blues”. Originally, Aycliffe was going to have five distinct areas, each of 2,000 people in 500 houses built around a village green – this was considered an ideally sized community as it could support a milk delivery round.

This concept soon faded as Central Avenue evolved. It had roads, closes, crescents and even a parade running off it – but no streets. These early roads are named after bishops and saints. However, Beveridge, who lived in Pease Way, was keen to keep the original green theme and he led weekly tree planting sessions and all new inhabitants were encouraged to be gardeners.

October 10, 1956

The Northern Echo:

The Blue Bridge (above) was officially opened, converting the old Clarence Railway into a road which connected the industrial estate with the residential area. The bridge was originally grey, but Karl-Heinz Asbeck, the managing director of Underground Mining Machinery beside the bridge, got his apprentices to smarten it up with some bright blue paint he had lying around. The bridge is now an Aycliffe landmark.

The population was 6,600, with 60 per cent being County Durham people from cleared pit villages. The rest came from as far away as Cornwall and Argyllshire. Half were employed on the industrial estate and the rest in local government and teaching.

May 27, 1960

The Northern Echo: The Queen visiting Billy and Lucy Llewellyn at their home in Newton Aycliffe in 1960.........

The Queen and Prince Philip visited the new town. At the Secondary Modern School, they were presented with a bouquet by 11-year-old Carolyn Corner – the first Newtonian – and then they went to 13, Barrington Way (above), the home of William and Lucy Llewellyn and their four children, where they inspected Mr Llewellyn’s Punch and Judy workshop. ''Doesn't it frighten the children?'' asked the Queen.

There were 70 firms on the industrial estate employing 4,000 workers. The town’s population was 11,000.

The Northern Echo: From the Archive: Newton Aycliffe. 1962

Aycliffe in 1962


Labour councillor Win Dormer became the first mayor of Aycliffe.

Late 1970s

The Northern Echo: The new town of Newton Aycliffe archive

Boots and Finefare had opened as Aycliffe became a sustainable shopping centre. The “little boxes” with flat roofs were given pitched roofs, and the first private estates of Byerley Park and Woodham Village were being built as the population grew to 28,000.

The Northern Echo: From the Archive: Newton Aycliffe.

July 1980

The Northern Echo: Claire "Fanny" Adams who was chosen to promote Aycliffe's SFA campaign in 1980

The development corporation launched an extraordinary £15,000 advertising campaign in national broadsheet newspapers urging businesses to come to Aycliffe to receive “SFA”. Draped over the adverts was a 16-year-old local schoolgirl, Claire “Fanny” Adams, who was promoting the Selective Financial Assistance scheme, although some said the corporation was subliminally accusing the Thatcher government of giving the town “Sweet Fanny Adams”. The corporation printed 10,000 brochures showing eight local girls in swimwear – “the lovelies of Aycliffe”, as it called them – and urged investors to “drop in and size up a new town’s assets”.

The Northern Echo: Claire "Fanny" Adams who was chosen to promote Aycliffe's SFA campaign in 1980

Claire "Fanny" Adams who was chosen to promote Aycliffe's SFA campaign in 1980

Late 1980s

Perhaps the campaign worked. Aycliffe’s economy had been in the doldrums as the first firms disappeared, causing the population to drop to 25,000, but by the end of the decade firms like Flymo, Tallent, Hydro Polmers and then Fujitsu had invested multi-millions.

The Northern Echo:

The centre of Newton Aycliffe in 1964

September 30, 2015

There have been many local landmarks in recent years, but none is more significant than the day Prime Minister David Cameron opened the £82m Hitachi train factory, creating 730 jobs, on the edge of the industrial estate. Hitachi chose Aycliffe as the result of a long and loud campaign involving the MP, Phil Wilson, and The Northern Echo.

April 19, 2022

To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the new town’s designation, and to promote Durham’s City of Culture bid, songwriter Martin Longstaff collaborated with Greenfield Arts Community College to create an anthem for Aycliffe called We Are All Together. It’s opening verses go back to the beginnings of the ages of Aycliffe:

In life’s long twisting tale, you have to start somewhere

But have you ever wondered why your town is there?

From swords to ploughshares.

From mist to clear and bright.

From bomb and bullet factories, to shining light.

A thought, a vision. A light out of the dark.

A brand-new way of living, and a fresh new start.

Angels and airwaves, with space enough to spare.

A positive new future that we all can share

The Northern Echo: AERIAL AYCLIFFE: A clear day in December 1965, looking down on the town centre. The block on the St Cuthbert's Way/Central Avenue roundabout has been replaced by the Thames shopping centre, and Beveridge Way in the town centre square has yet to be

A clear day in December 1965, looking down on the town centre. The block on the St Cuthbert's Way/Central Avenue roundabout has been replaced by the Thames shopping centre