The north-east of England, as with other areas dominated by heavy industries, was profoundly hit by the impact of the Great Depression. In some areas, such as the ironstone mining areas of Cleveland, the unemployment rate amongst adult males reached over 90%. Although there were not the same large-scale governmental responses to the economic and social problems that characterised Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ in the US, there were a range of public and private initiatives that sought to ameliorate the crisis. Many were instituted under the auspices of the Special Areas Act (1934). Both the economic collapse and the consequential interventions had important material impacts. These manifested themselves at a landscape and settlement scale (settlement clearance; new build initiatives; changes in agriculture; allotment/smallholding schemes; work camps). In many places the traces of these projects still survive as part of the historic environment which remains unrecorded and unanalysed.
The goal of this project is an archaeological analysis of the Great Depression, examining the material responses to economic crisis in the north-east England in the 1930s. Drawing on archaeological, architectural, and historical sources, this research will examine, through comparative case studies, landscapes of the Depression in the region, characterizing local responses to it as material interventions in the built environment. The sites selected include an allotment scheme and work-camp in East Cleveland, a work camp in Hamsterley Forest in County Durham, a housing estate in Northumberland, and an industrial estate on Tyneside.