Meadow Well riots

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Meadow Well riots
Date9–12 September 1991
MethodsRioting, arson, robbery, assault
Resulted inShops, homes, vehicles destroyed
Reported fatalities and injuries
DamageHomes, businesses, schools, and community centres attacked

The Meadow Well riots were a series of riots that took place during September 1991, starting on the Meadow Well council estate in North Shields, east of Newcastle, England, in response to a police enquiry, specifically regarding youths. The riots subsequently spread as far as Benwell, Scotswood, and Elswick in Newcastle upon Tyne, and Pennywell in Sunderland.[1] They are regarded as some of the worst riots in British history.


The bulk of the Meadow Well Estate was built in the 1930s to accommodate low income residents who were displaced by slum clearances in nearby North Shields. It was originally called The Ridges, but in 1968 the local authority changed its name to Meadow Well in an attempt to improve the image of the dilapidated estate. The estate was considered a no-go area for many non-residents and police alike, long before the riots of 1991 occurred.[2]


Meadow Well[edit]

North Shields had been experiencing economic downturn since the 1980s, and the miners' strikes in 1984-5 had created tension between the working class residents of the northeast, and the Conservative government which had been in power since 1979. Although the tension had been brewing for decades, the riots themselves were finally triggered by the deaths of two local youths, Dale Robson and Colin Atkins, who were killed fleeing the police at high speed when the stolen car in which they were joyriding crashed. The prosecution at the subsequent trial of those accused of being involved in the rioting said the rioters were "gripped by a hatred of the police". Ostensibly in response to such reports of police brutality, locals began looting shops on the estate and setting buildings on fire. These included a youth centre, a health centre, and an electricity sub-station, as well as extensive vandalism to numerous buildings and vehicles. Rioters forced Asian shopkeepers out of their homes before setting them on fire shouting, "Let's burn out the Pakis!"[3] Cars and derelict houses were set on fire and a makeshift barrier was erected in the centre of the estate, which was removed by police.[4][3]

Police and fire crews attending the scene were pelted with bricks. It was estimated that at its height 400 people were involved. At least 50 people were arrested.[3]

Other suburbs[edit]

On 12 September, the riots spread from Meadow Well to the suburbs on the west end of Newcastle upon Tyne, as businesses in Benwell, Scotswood and Elswick were targeted, such as the Dodds Arms pub. When police arrived on the scene, they were forced back by a crowd of over 300 youths, as stones were thrown at them, and fire engines suffered extensive damage and vandalism. Benwell high street was entirely left in ruin, as people upon roofs threw roof tiles at police vans.[5]


The riots were condemned by the Prime Minister, John Major and Home Secretary Kenneth Baker, while the Chief of Northumbria Police, Sir Stanley Bailey said the perpetrators would be caught and charged. Major did not deploy riot police immediately as he wanted the crowd to be contained first. This decision was later criticised for giving the rioters a free hand.[4]

After the riots, £66 million was spent on regenerating the estate. Around 750 properties were demolished, and new houses were built, while the remaining properties were refurbished. A new community centre, health centre, and police station were established, though the police station has since been closed.

The Cedarwood Trust, founded in 1980, has continued to work exclusively in the area and was instrumental in rebuilding the community. The trust has operated from several sites over the years, but by 2019 it was operating from the Meadowhall Centre, in the heart of the estate and an area regarded as a focus of conflict.[6]

Meadow Well-Connected was established in 1993 to enable and support the residents of the Meadow Well and the surrounding area. The charity aims to train local people with new skills and develop confidence by offering training, support and volunteering opportunities.[7]

Broader context[edit]

The Meadow Well riots were one of several waves of rioting which hit parts of Britain during 1991 and 1992. Other areas affected by rioting were Handsworth in Birmingham, Ely in Cardiff, Kates Hill in Dudley and Blackbird Leys in Oxford. These riots were comparable with earlier waves of rioting which had been seen across Britain in 1981 and again in 1985. Rioting on this scale in Britain was not seen again until August 2011.


  1. ^ Sharma, Sonia (8 September 2016). "Meadow Well riots: Ravaged estate shows little sign of its scars". ChronicleLive. Retrieved 1 January 2023.
  2. ^ Sharma, Sonia (9 September 2016). "What happened when Meadow Well was rocked by riots 30 years ago". ChronicleLive. Retrieved 1 January 2023.
  3. ^ a b c Wilkinson, Paul (14 July 1992). "12 accused after riot on estate". The Times. London, England. p. 3. Retrieved 17 February 2018.
  4. ^ a b Davenport, Peter (11 September 1991). "Police in riot gear move to prevent new disorder". The Times. London, England. p. 1. Retrieved 17 February 2018.
  5. ^ Sharma, Sonia (8 September 2016). "How Meadow Well riots spread to the West End of Newcastle". ChronicleLive. Retrieved 1 January 2023.
  6. ^ "North Shields centre earmarked for demolition now a thriving community facility". Retrieved 13 November 2019.
  7. ^ "North Shields charity celebrates its 25th year". Retrieved 13 November 2019.

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