In many respects the prime value of the Freemen’s rights is that they protect the open space, a wonderful asset for the City and its residents. This has been their main consideration over the last 250 years. Had there not been dual control over the Moors there can be no doubt, as highlighted by the schemes mentioned earlier, that the land would have been developed. It is an underlying principle of the Town Moor Act 1988 that the public of Newcastle should have the right of “air and exercise” on the Moor.
There have been some encroachments on the Moor by mutual agreement with the City Council. These have only taken place when the Freemen were satisfied that it was for the benefit of the public and the City. These include the Royal Victoria Infirmary, the former Fenham Barracks, various Parks, the University Halls of Residence, plantations and roads. Land exchange was taken in some instances, however, it must be said that this would be very unlikely to be the case today. Outlying areas are very difficult to manage and their identity lost to the public. (The largest area of ‘exchange land’, 30 acres at Little Benton, allowed the building of the University Halls of Residence on Leazes Moor.) The total taken out of Town Moor land since 1770 is approximately 210 acres leaving just under 1,000 acres. This is a fine record of preservation bearing in mind the pressures on open space, especially during the post war years.
The Royal Commission on Common land 1955-58 made several favourable references to the condition and management of the Moor in its Report. Describing the Moor as “an interesting example of a large area on the margin of a populous city centre where agricultural and recreational interests have been carefully married”. They also stressed the necessity for proper grazing, without which land soon deteriorates and becomes derelict.
This very much agrees with the view of the Freemen as to the future of the Moor. To ensure that this remains a grazed open space it is vital that the ‘dual control’ system remains in place. The City Council is an elected body and a future Council may view matters in a different light. The Newcastle upon Tyne Town Moor Act 1988 protects the rights of the Freemen to this end and the Freemen are now in a stronger position to protect the open space from development. Various schemes are still proposed from time to time and the Freemen will remain vigilant in protecting the Moors. Changes to the pattern of use of the Intakes have been made, and will continue to be made as people’s needs and interests change, but there is a strong determination that the acreage of the Moors will be strenuously defended. There can be little doubt that without their vigilance in the past and their courage to challenge authority there would be no Moors as we know them today. The commitment of the Freemen to protect the Moors, not just for future generations of Freemen, but for the City and citizens of Newcastle is paramount.
Is there another City with such an asset, often referred to as the ‘lungs of the City’ so close to its centre? It must be one of the finest urban open spaces in the United Kingdom.