Monday, 22 November 2010

Holiday Reading - T Dan Smith

T Dan Smith - One of Newcastle's great influences. Image from

On my recent holiday, I read, as usual, a broad mix of biographies all generally aligned to the built environment or business in one way or another.

One of the most interesting books I read was the story of T Dan Smith, the infamous leader of Newcastle City Council through the 50s and 60s. T Dan Smith won infamy through his connection with the architect John Poulson, who was imprisoned because of his dealings with various public authorities – a fate that Smith shared because of his dealings with Poulson.

While I was aware of his story, I didn’t know the detail, which this book provides, and very much puts the facts onto the rumour, starting with his humble beginnings through to the end of his life in a flat in Shieldfield, Newcastle.

There is no doubt that T Dan Smith was a fantastic visionary and I do believe Newcastle continues to benefit from much of this vision. He was responsible for the design of the Civic Centre, the implementation of the strategy for the metro system, the central motorway and many more major projects across the city. This investment 50 years ago ensures that Newcastle continues to be a major city in the UK today.

This single minded vision is similar to that which Sir Howard Bernstein has delivered at Manchester. He was also an entrepreneur and built a successful business but unfortunately his linkages with Poulson would tarnish his fantastic vision for the city. The book suggests that actually he was innocent and in the end decided to give in to the media and courts and plead guilty.

I have always been a fan of T Dan Smith and his vision for the Newcastle, and whilst I believe he has left a fantastic architectural legacy, I feel that his greatest legacy is the fear within Local Government to take chances in case there are recriminations like the ones he faced. Unfortunately today’s Local Authorities do not have the kind of vision which T Dan Smith had and generally deliver a middle of the road solution to most things.

Many of the disasters in Newcastle’s city centre, such as several of the tower blocks, were not in fact T Dan’s vision but unfortunately he has been tarred with the brush of these over the years. Whilst I believe that he has left a legacy in the built form for the city unfortunately his lasting legacy is the lack of risk and vision in northern Local Authorities.

1 comment:

  1. A refreshing view of this man. He had Newcastle in his heart and put Newcastle on the map. Where is it now??? He loved old buildings and new...he saved many of Newcastle's finest buildings..............many folks don't realise that....................