Trip back in time for original tunnel worker

Man in hard hat and high-viz vest in pedestrian Tyne Tunnel
George Robinson visits Tyne Pedestrian and Cyclist Tunnel

One of the original workers of the Tyne Pedestrian and Cyclist Tunnels returned to the Grade II listed passageway this week for the first time in almost 70 years to see how it has changed over the years.

George Robinson, 94, worked 84 hours a week as an electrician in the tunnel in the 1940s. He worked tirelessly to provide lighting and air to miners digging beneath the Tyne.

The tunnels are currently undergoing a major refurbishment, which is being managed by Newcastle City Council on behalf of the North East Combined Authority.

Mr Robinson never saw the opening of the tunnel in July 1951 as he left the North East to pursue a career in civil engineering. Despite returning to the North East with his wife in the 1950s, he never revisited the tunnel.

This week, accompanied by workers carrying out a multi-million pound refurbishment of the tunnels, he descended deep underground for the first time in 69 years.

“It’s totally different to what I remember,” he said.

“When I left, it was just the shaft and nothing else, just the bare necessities. “I never came back but I hope to go through it when it’s finished.”

He added: “I’m amazed at what’s being done. It’s a gem really. I’m very proud to have worked on it.” 

The Tyne Pedestrian and Cyclist Tunnels were built at a cost of £833,000, and was the first purpose-built cycle tunnel in the country.

At its height, 17,000 people a day travelled the quarter mile underground, but by 2008, that figure had dropped to approximately 20,000 journeys a month.

Plans were unveiled to restore the Tyne Pedestrian and Cyclist Tunnels in 2008.

A series of issues have pushed the completion date back, but the project remains on course for the tunnels to be back in public use in early 2019.