The historic Grade II-listed Tyne Pedestrian and Cyclist Tunnels have connected Jarrow and Howdon under the River Tyne since 1951, heralded as Tyneside’s contribution to the ‘Festival of Britain’ (May to September 1951) at a total cost of £833,000.

When they opened, they enabled tens of thousands of Tynesiders to cross the river, free of charge, to get to work in the shipyards and factories that lined the Tyne at that time.

Industrial decline coupled with the opening of the Tyne vehicle Tunnel and the rise in car ownership led to a decline in usage of the ‘Ped’.

By the early 2000s, the tunnels were beginning to show signs of age and neglect with frequent equipment breakdowns. Tunnels are, by their nature, hostile environments for mechanical and electrical systems. The costs of maintenance and repair began to increase significantly.

Their then-owner, the Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority, decided to act to restore the tunnels to their former glory.

It agreed a multi-million pound refurbishment to give the tunnels a new lease of life while conserving most of their original features. The most significant change will be the replacement of two of the four wooden-tread escalators, once reputed to be the longest in Europe, with inclined lifts. The two remaining escalators will be preserved in situ and their mechanisms displayed for all to see.

The tunnels closed in May 2013 to enable the refurbishment to take place.

As well the new lifts, the works included dealing with corrosion, contamination and water ingress. Damaged tiles and paving slabs have been replaced, and new mechanical and electrical systems have been installed (including CCTV).

The tunnels are now owned by the North East Combine Authority and support its objectives of reducing car usage, increasing cycling and walking, and improving the fitness of the population.