A Travellerspoint blog

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Around the Central Station

St Mary’s RC Cathedral

Newcastle’s Central Station lies on the southern edge of the city, between the main commercial areas and the river. As well as being an impressive structure in its own right, there are some other sights in the vicinity worth a visit.

St Mary’s RC Cathedral

The second of Newcastle’s cathedrals is Roman Catholic St Mary’s, near the Central Station and just south of Chinatown and Blackfriars. It was built in the Gothic revival style in the 1840s, designed by Augustus Pugin (who was also responsible for the interior of the Palace of Westminster and many other churches around the country). Its elegant spire can be seen from several vantage points in this part of the city; indeed, despite all the modern development that has taken place here, it is apparently the fifth tallest structure in Newcastle.

Musical cherubs

The interior was fully renovated a few years ago and is rather lovely, with cherubs playing musical instruments at the top of each of the columns that line the nave. There is some striking modern stained glass, including one which depicts Tyneside industry and another dedicated to local hero Adam Wakenshaw who received the Victoria Cross for gallantry after being killed in combat in 1942 in Egypt. These sit alongside more traditional windows, the modern ones having replaced those lost in World War II bombings. Other decorative features include neo-Gothic floor and wall tiles.

Modern stained glass

And more traditional

Outside there is a monument to Cardinal Basil Hume, a native of Newcastle, and a garden dedicated to him. The statue stands on a flat stone plinth in the shape of the Northumbrian Island of Lindisfarne and depicts him in the habit of a Benedictine monk – he was abbot of the English Benedictine monastery of Ampleforth Abbey for 13 years until his appointment as Archbishop of Westminster in 1976.

Cardinal Basil Hume

Born in Ellison Place near the Haymarket and university quarter, Cardinal Hume was, like the vast majority of Geordies, a lifelong fan of Newcastle United and once described getting an autograph from Jackie Milburn, a Newcastle United legend, as one of his ‘proudest achievements’ – quite a statement from a man who almost became pope!

The Centre for Life

The Centre for Life

And now for a very different and much more modern building. The Centre for Life opened in 2000, and is not just a visitor attraction but a whole complex – indeed, it describes itself as a “science village”. According to the website, “almost 600 people from 35 countries work here: researchers, doctors and nurses work alongside people in the fields of education, public engagement and business”. The scientific bodies based here include Newcastle University’s Institute of Genetic Medicine; the NHS Newcastle Fertility Centre; the NHS Northern Genetics Service and several biotechnology companies. The buildings surround a public space, roughly oval in shape, known as Times Square which in the winter is home to an ice skating rink and year round to a couple of bars. The Centre for Life also has a café on this square, and in the centre is a rather out of place but lovely example of the work of architect John Dobson which thankfully was preserved when the square was developed (on the right in my photo above). What is now Times Square was once the cattle market and this building, known as the Market Keeper’s House, originally served as offices for the market keeper and the toll collector on the ground floor, as well as providing accommodation for both their families on the upper floor. Today it is available for rent as offices, though is sadly too often standing empty it seems.

Most people come here for the Science Centre exhibits. There is a strong child-friendly emphasis to these, with lots of interactive displays and experiments. One area is the Brain Zone, with lots of demonstrations of the way it can play tricks on you. Another is the Young Explorers’ Zone, aimed at young children (under seven), while the Curiosity Zone encourages slightly older ones to experiment. There is a Science Theatre with live shows programmed at intervals during the day highlighting a specific scientific theme (when we were there it was about man’s efforts to fly) and a 4D motion ride.

But we had discovered that some events and activities have a more adult bias and it was one of these that drew us here – a short film being shown in the planetarium about the Hubble telescope, marking its 25th year. This was very interesting and enjoyable – the images looked fantastic projected above our heads.

In the planetarium

We also had a look at a temporary exhibition featuring robots from film and TV – as a Star Trek; Next Generation fan I was especially pleased to see Locutus of Borg, while Star Wars fans could meet R2-D2, C-3PO and others too.

Seven of Nine, and Alien

On the whole though I came away feeling that for adults without children in tow there probably isn’t enough here to merit the fairly steep entrance fee. For families however it would be a different matter, as all the children we saw were thoroughly enjoying themselves and learning at the same time.

A short walk north west of here is a very different museum.

The Discovery Museum

The Discovery Museum

This museum (https://discoverymuseum.org.uk/) is devoted to the history of Newcastle and Tyneside, with an emphasis on science and industry. It is housed in a former Co-operative Wholesale Society warehouse, and grew out of the collections of the former Municipal Museum of Science and Industry, the first science museum outside of London, which had opened in Exhibition Park, near the Town Moor, in 1934. That museum, which we visited many years ago, closed in 1993 when this one opened. It was only recently that we got around to visiting it in its new incarnation – we should not have left it so long as this is an excellent city museum.

As soon as you enter you are greeted by the impressive sight of Turbinia, a 34 metre long ship designed in 1894 by Tyneside engineer Charles Parsons. This was the world's first steam turbine powered ship and for five years, until 1899, was the fastest ship in the world, reaching speeds of up to 34.5 knots.


Beyond this the museum opens up, with galleries on either side spread over three floors. These include:

The Newcastle Story, which covers the history of the city from Roman times to the early 21st century. This was the main area we visited and although not large it easily kept us interested for over an hour, with displays from each of the main periods of Newcastle’s history. I especially enjoyed learning more about the development of the city as a centre for trade during medieval and Tudor times, with activity focused on and around the Quayside, and the 20th century sections, showing how the city gradually took on its present-day shape and recalling the changes I have seen personally in the 35 years since I started to visit regularly.

Historical photos, and newspapers

The Story of the Tyne, which focuses on the importance of the river to the development of industry and engineering here. This includes of course the impact of the shipbuilding industry but also coal mining, with the coal that was exported down the Tyne being at the heart of the city’s prosperity.


Another view of the museum

Working Lives, which tells the story of how work has changed here from the time of the Industrial Revolution to the present day.

Tyneside Challenge, looking at how various regional challenges have led to innovative solutions and inventions – the latter include the steam locomotive, Puffing Billy, developed to move coal from the collieries to the river, and the self-righting lifeboat.

A Soldier’s Life, offering an insight into the lives of soldiers in two locally-based cavalry regiments, the 15th/19th King’s Royal Hussars (now part of the Light Dragoons) and the Northumberland Hussars (now part of the Queen’s Own Yeomanry).

Destination Tyneside, focusing on immigration to the region from the mid 19th century onwards as illustrated by the stories of real individuals – a Polish Jew escaping persecution in 1874; the Italian couple who founded what is now a Newcastle institution, Mark Toney’s ice cream parlours; a Yemeni fireman who came on a merchant ship and never left.

There are also special sections for children such as Play Tyne (water play using a model of the river) and Science Maze, with hands-on exhibits. In addition, there is a café on the top floor and a shop on the ground floor which has a mix of children’s pocket money toys, a selection of books about the region and a few good quality souvenirs such as nice mugs, pictures etc.

Posted by ToonSarah 08:02 Archived in England Tagged architecture history city museum cathedral science Comments (6)

Around Haymarket and beyond

At the northern end of Newcastle’s main shopping street, Northumberland Street, is the Haymarket. This was once exactly what its name suggests, an agricultural market, and before that a parade ground for volunteer soldiers, but the space is now dominated by the bus station (on the site of the former market) and metro station, recently modernised.

Haymarket and 'Winged Victory'

On the pedestrianised area around the latter is the South Africa War Memorial, erected in 1907 to honour those who died in the Boer War. The column is 70 feet (21.5 metres high, and at its top stands a figure of Winged Victory, based on Nike of Samothrace (an ancient Greek sculpture discovered in 1863). This is popularly referred to as the 'Dirty Angel' by locals, despite having been cleaned up some years ago.

St Thomas the Martyr

St Thomas the Martyr

Other nearby landmarks include the church of St Thomas the Martyr, designed by local architect John Dobson and built in 1839. It stands on the site of a medieval chapel, traditionally said to have been created by one of the murderers of St Thomas à Becket, Hugh de Morville – hence its dedication to that saint. Morville’s original chapel, built in atonement for his sin in killing the archbishop, stood on the banks of the Tyne near the present-day Swing Bridge but was moved to this spot to serve as a chapel for a leprosy hospital here, the Hospital of St Mary Magdalene. By 1827, having suffered through flooding and general wear and tear, it was decided the chapel should be pulled down and a new church built.

Unusually for a Church of England church, St Thomas the Martyr has no parish – the congregation having ‘deserted’ it for a new church in Jesmond back in the mid 19th century following dissatisfaction with the teachings of the then vicar. It is regarded as serving the whole city (located as it is next to the Civic Centre), the universities and various organisations and communities, and has a reputation for liberal thinking and involvement in social issues, perhaps reflecting its ties with the universities. It is also unusual in not having had its stonework sand-blasted, as have most major buildings in the city in recent decades, and therefore retaining the dark stains of past industries. I have no idea whether this has been a conscious decision or reflects a lack of either funding or inclination.

The Renwick Memorial

The Renwick Memorial

Just north of St Thomas the Martyr, and in its grounds, is the Renwick Memorial. Also known as The Response, this is one of the most impressive war memorials in the country. It was commissioned by a local couple, Sir George and Lady Renwick, and given to the city of Newcastle in 1923 to commemorate three events: the return of all five of their sons from the First World War; the raising of the Commercial Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers; and Sir George’s fifty years of commercial success as ship-owner in the city.

The Renwick Memorial

The memorial was sculpted by Sir William Goscombe John, who had studied under Rodin in Paris. It was unveiled on 5th July 1923 by the Prince of Wales. It depicts a group of soldiers marching off to war, with women and children bidding them farewell. The soldiers follow drummer boys at the front who beat their drums as they march, while high above the flag is the figure of ‘Renown’. The figures, thirty in total, are in bronze while the plinth is granite. The Latin inscription beneath the soldiers says “Non sibi sed patriae” – “not self, but country”.

The Civic Centre

Beyond this is the city’s Civic Centre, built in 1960 to replace the Victorian Town Hall which stood in the centre of the Bigg Market (this was demolished in 1973). Look out for the ring of sea-horses encircling the tower, taken from Newcastle’s coat of arms.

Across the road (Percy Street) are a number of popular pubs, including our own pre-match favourite, the Crow’s Nest, and the Hotspur, named for the son of the First Duke of Northumberland (from the Percy family), best known for his part in attempting to overthrow Henry IV in 1403, and for his immortalisation by William Shakespeare.

Hancock Museum

The Hancock Museum

Statue of William Armstrong outside the Hancock Museum


Hadrian's Wall exhibit,
Hancock Museum

Heading north from here you pass the Hancock Museum. This museum’s main appeal, it seems to me, is to children and families. Certainly on the cool August afternoon when we visited a year or so ago, that was its main audience – the place was packed with family groups enjoying many of the very well-presented collections. These have an emphasis on the north east of England, but by no means exclusively so, and include an excellent display about Hadrian’s Wall, with a large model and a variety of people of that time (a wall builder, a centurion, a local woman, a slave etc. etc.) brought to life through images and words. Also on display in this section are a number of artefacts, including the gold Aemelia Ring, believed to be one of the earliest Christian artefacts found in Britain.

Another impressive room holds a collection of stuffed animals, which I normally don’t much like, but here they are imaginatively displayed in what is termed “Living Planet”. The elephant here, by the way, is a life-size model, but most of other creatures are stuffed, while a few, like the lizard, are still alive.

Model elephant and real lizard

Elsewhere there are Egyptian mummies (one of which is unwrapped), a tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, objects from a wide variety of world cultures (African tribal pieces, a burial effigy from Malekula, Japanese swords and armour and a Hawaiian feather cape and helmet) and artefacts from (mostly early) British history. There is also a planetarium – the only part of the museum for which a charge is made.

If we continue further north we reach Exhibition Park (named for the Royal Jubilee Exhibition held here in 1887) and beyond it the Town Moor. The road here though is more like a motorway, despite being in the centre of a city, so walkers should strike west from the museum and enter Exhibition Park from Claremont Road, behind the university.

Town Moor

The Town Moor

Just north of the city centre is the wide open space of the Town Moor, popular with families, dog walkers and kite flyers. Walking here you'll get a good dose of fresh air and sweeping views of the city to the south - look out for the landmarks of the Civic Centre and St James' Park football stadium. The Moor is especially appealing on a crisp winter's day, or in early spring when daffodils line the roads that criss-cross it.

The Hoppings, said to be the largest travelling funfair in Europe, is held here every year during the last week in June and is well worth a visit if you enjoy traditional fairground rides and candy floss.


The Town Moor

If you should ever be awarded the Freedom of Newcastle you'll be permitted to graze your cows here on the Moor. And unlike in other cities where similar rights exist, people really do take advantage of this, so don’t be surprised if you see cows grazing here so close to the city centre – and watch out for those cow pats! Honorary freemen include Bob Geldof, Nelson Mandela and of course Alan Shearer, but I have a feeling none of the cows is theirs!

The Town Moor
Look carefully and you will spot the Civic Centre, and maybe even a glimpse of St James' Park beyond!

Posted by ToonSarah 06:47 Archived in England Tagged architecture park monument history church city museum Comments (6)

Winding down to the Tyne

We have already visited the castle in an earlier entry, but we haven’t till now properly explored the area around it and the streets leading down from here to the river.

St Nicholas Cathedral

St Nicholas Cathedral

This Anglican cathedral is one of two in the city (the other being the Roman Catholic St Mary’s). It was built in 1350 (after fire destroyed an earlier church on this site) and became a cathedral in 1882. Its most noticeable feature is its unusual lantern tower, which was constructed in 1448. For hundreds of years this was a main navigation point for ships using the River Tyne, and it remains one of the most striking landmarks of the city. It is appropriate therefore that the cathedral is dedicated to St Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors and boats.

On each corner of the lantern are gilded statues. They depict Adam eating the apple, Eve holding out the apple, Aaron dressed as a Bishop, and David holding a harp.

Aaron dressed as a Bishop, and David holding a harp

In the 1860s the tower was found to be cracking and tilting, and to support it two porches were added. Since then the tower has settled and if you go inside you will see that the ornate wooden font cover, which is suspended from the tower, doesn’t hang exactly in line with the font as it should.

Inside St Nicholas Cathedral
You can clearly see the misalignment of the font cover

Inside, most of the stained glass is quite recent (18th century onwards) as the originals were broken during the Civil War. One of the windows features Turbinia, the first turbine-driven steam yacht, which is on display in the city’s Discovery Museum. St. Margaret's Chapel contains the only known fragment of medieval stained glass in the cathedral, depicting the Madonna and Child.

There are also several interesting memorials, the oldest being a 13th century effigy of an unknown knight, who is thought to have been a member of Edward 1st’s household. This is one of the oldest objects in the cathedral. Another memorial honours Admiral Lord Collingwood, a hero of the Battle of Trafalgar who was baptised and married in the cathedral, and whose statue now looks out to sea from Tynemouth.

The Vampire Rabbit

The Vampire Rabbit

To see a real Newcastle curiosity, you have to explore the lanes immediately around and behind the Cathedral. Here, above a door of the 1901 Cathedral Buildings, is a gargoyle nicknamed the Vampire Rabbit.

Look up!

A local legend tells of grave robbers who were frightened off one night by the appearance of this creature, sporting fangs and long red claws. In fact, though, the dramatic red and black paint is a relatively recent addition and the rabbit was originally the same colour as the surrounding stonework. So other more prosaic and more plausible theories seem to offer the more likely explanation, though there are still two from which to choose.

One is that it was intended to be not a rabbit but a hare, possibly in an oblique reference to Sir George Hare Phipson, a professor of medicine, Freemason, and though to be a friend of the architect of Cathedral Buildings, William H. Wood. Proponents of this theory claim that the ears were put on backwards (perhaps at the time of building or possibly after being damaged during later restoration work), creating the more rabbit-like appearance. I rather like this idea, and the association of hares with Masonic symbolism would seem to support it, or at least suggest that Wood (also a Mason) had this association in mind. However, old photos actually show the ears shorter, suggesting that they were lengthened more recently, perhaps at the time of the black paint job (see this photo from 1988 for example), and that therefore this really is a rabbit!

The second theory is that the rabbit could simply be intended to represent the coming of spring, much as the Easter Bunny does. It might have been placed here in a pagan “dig” at the Christian place of worship opposite.

Or maybe the architect just liked rabbits?! Whatever the true explanation, many people have had fun over the years puzzling over it, and the Vampire Rabbit even has his own Facebook page as a result!

To find the rabbit, stand facing the cathedral from Mosley Street, on its north side, and walk around it to your left along the lane, known as Cathedral Buildings. Where this curves right round the back of the cathedral look up above the ornate door of the building on your left and you will see it perched above the circular window.

Amen Corner

Memorial to Thomas Bewick

Just south of the cathedral, in a continuation of Cathedral Buildings, is picturesque Amen Corner, which gets its name because it was the place where processions of the cathedral’s clergy would routinely end their prayers.

Near where Cathedral Buildings turns into Amen Corner you can see a memorial to Thomas Bewick, the 18th century engraver, illustrator and naturalist, who had his workshop on a site here from about 1790.

Amen Corner



Lort Burn

From Amen Corner the road drops steeply to Side. This old medieval street was formerly the west bank of the Lort Burn which ran down to the Tyne at this point, hence its name, Side (most people, however, refer to it as The Side). The burn followed the route now taken by Dean Street, which drops down from Grey Street to meet Side at this point. Indeed, the nicest way to get to the Quayside from the city centre is, in my opinion, to take a walk down elegant Grey Street and then follow its continuation Dean Street to Side.

This is possibly my favourite part of Newcastle. The rather grand architecture of the city centre, with the ornate Victorian commercial premises in that lovely pale limestone, starts to give way to a more down to earth style as the wide roads narrow and slope steeply down to the river. This is the original heart of the city and the reason for its existence, and thus it was natural for the city to grow upwards and outwards from this point. In the 1920s the Tyne Bridge was built, arching over the river and over the Side to take traffic directly into what had become the new heart and commercial centre, Grainger Town. To some extent it left this area stranded, but it also gave it one of its most iconic images.

The Tyne Bridge from the Side

Today the Side buzzes with activity once again, providing both a link between city centre and Quayside and acting as a destination in its own right. There are plenty of bars and restaurants, and an excellent independent photography gallery, also called The Side.

Side Gallery

We’ve been coming to this small photography gallery for years and nearly always find something to interest us. Tucked away down a little alley on a steep road leading down to the Quayside, and arranged over two rickety floors, the gallery features the work of photographers from the local area and from all over the world. The emphasis is on documentary photography, with exhibitions whose images portray the everyday lives of ordinary people, often those who are poor or oppressed.

Entrance to the Side Gallery

The Gallery’s website explains their philosophy:

‘Side is dedicated to showing the best in humanist documentary photography: rich, powerful and challenging work engaged with people’s lives and landscapes, telling stories that often get marginalised, whether they are from the North East of England or anywhere else in the world.’

Bessie Surtees’ House

Bessie Surtee's House
On the left, by the car

This row of Elizabethan houses and pubs stands at the foot of the Side on your right as you emerge on the Quayside. These are some of the earliest houses still standing in Newcastle, dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. They were owned by the merchants who had grown rich from trade on the river, and were built here so that they could easily watch from the first floor windows for their ships coming in.

The window

The house is most noted for the elopement of its eponymous resident with John Scott, a coal merchant’s son, as the plaque below the window from which she made her escape explains. This happened in 1772, and caused a great scandal within the two families concerned, although the couple married in Scotland and later again in Newcastle. Despite his humble beginnings, and this inauspicious start to his married life with Bessie, John went on to become Lord Chancellor of England, so can be said to have done very well for himself.

350 year old fireplace

Once inside you discover that there is much more to this house than a window! It is relatively sparsely furnished, and you only get to see a few rooms on the first floor (the upper floors are used as offices by English Heritage, which explains, I think, the free entry). These rooms however display some wonderful features, most notably perhaps the 350 year old fireplace in the largest of them. The carvings on its oak panelling commemorate the 1657 marriage (and this one was legitimate!) of an earlier daughter of the house, Anne Cock, to Thomas Davison, with their initials and the coats of arms of the two families.

A room in the house

The house itself is in part older still – it is actually three houses that have been joined together over the years, and the oldest part dates from the 15th century. If you like sloping floors with creaking boards, doorways so low you have to duck, and lead-paned windows with only a blurry view of the street outside, this is the place for you! When we visited a couple of years ago I especially enjoyed seeing all the old photos of the house, showing not only how it had changed over the years but also how the entire area around the Quayside had done the same – at one time the haunt of rich merchants, then declining as the city expanded on the hill high above the river, and then in recent years being revived to become the thriving area it now is again.

Posted by ToonSarah 01:34 Archived in England Tagged art streets architecture history city cathedral Comments (4)

The Quayside and its bridges

View from the Millennium Bridge, looking west

The four central bridges,
looking east

Our favourite walk in Newcastle, and that I suspect of most visitors, is along the Quayside past the city’s famous bridges. There are seven in total that straddle the Tyne in this central area. From west to east these are:

Redheugh Bridge – a modern road bridge, opened in 1983 (replacing an earlier bridge at this point)
King Edward VII Bridge – a railway bridge, opened 1906 to ease congestion in the Central Station
Queen Elizabeth II Bridge – carrying the urban Metro trains, opened 1981
High Level Bridge – carrying road and railway, opened in 1849
Swing Bridge – a road bridge, opened in 1876
Tyne Bridge – also a road bridge and the city’s most famous, opened in 1928
Millennium Bridge – used by pedestrians and cyclists, opened in 2001

Of these, it is the easternmost four that are the most interesting and photogenic for the majority of visitors. I will describe them in more detail as we come to them on our walk, along with the other major sights of the Quayside.

High Level Bridge

The High Level Bridge with the Swing Bridge in the foreground

The High Level Bridge is possibly not the most attractive of the bridges over the Tyne, but it provides an angular, dramatic contrast to the curves of the Tyne and Millennium Bridges, and the views from a train crossing it can’t be beaten. It was designed by Robert Stephenson and built here between 1847 and 1849. It was the first major bow-string girder bridge to be built, designed to solve the challenge of spanning such a wide river valley. Six of its spans are over the waters of the Tyne, on masonry pillars up to 40 meters high, while on each side of the river a further four spans complete the bridging of the valley. It is a truly impressive piece of engineering, and it is easy to see why its local 19th century nickname was 'lang legs'!

The bridge provides a river crossing for both road (vehicle and pedestrian) and rail. The road is on the lower of the two levels, while the railway runs on the upper deck. The bridge was built for the York, Newcastle and Berwick Railway as part of the London to Edinburgh line (today usually referred to as the East Coast Line). However, when the King Edward VII Bridge was built a little to the west of this one in 1906 the East Coast trains started to use that one (as they do today) and the High Level is usually instead used by trains running to Sunderland and Middlesbrough. But the two lines are connected through the Central Station and on the Gateshead side, allowing trains to circle through the cities to turn around and use either bridge when necessary.

Train crossing the High Level Bridge

Pedestrians crossing the High Level Bridge

I think the High Level Bridge looks at its best in the fading light of late afternoon, when a passing train is silhouetted against a dramatic sky. And if you’re lucky enough to arrive in the city on one of the rare intercity trains that still cross this bridge (a few are still routed this way when the station is especially busy), you will have one of the best vantage points for a “Welcome to Newcastle” view of the Tyne (if you aren’t that lucky, or arrive by road, then of course you can take a walk out onto the bridge during your stay for the same view).

Swing Bridge

Swing Bridge reflection

While many of the bridges that cross the Tyne do so at some height above the water, the Swing Bridge is much lower, and solves the challenge of allowing shipping to pass not by allowing it space, but by moving out of its way!

The bridge stands on what was probably the site of the first bridge across the river in this area, the Roman Pons Aelius, and certainly that of the 1270 Tyne Bridge, so this is the earliest crossing point in the city. It replaced another bridge built here in 1781, which didn’t allow larger ships to pass. This was a major concern for William Armstrong, who owned a manufacturing works a little further up the Tyne, at Elswick (making hydraulic cranes which were used on the Quayside to unload ships, and weapons, among other things). To solve the problem Armstrong proposed funding and designing a new bridge, with a hydraulic mechanism to turn it through ninety degrees to allow ships to pass on either side. This mechanism is still in use today, although large ships no longer come up the Tyne and the bridge is only rarely required to move (I have never seen it do so).

The Swing Bridge tucked beneath the Tyne Bridge

Incidentally, Armstrong himself is an interesting character. Among other achievements, he invented a gun that was used on both sides in the American Civil War, built the steam-driven hydraulic pumping engines for Tower Bridge in London, was an early advocate of renewable energy sources, and built Cragside House near Rothbury in Northumberland which was the first in the world to be lit by hydro-electricity (and is today open to the public and well worth a visit, incidentally). You can read more about him on a website devoted to him: http://www.williamarmstrong.info/. Today his name lives in in a road in the west of the city (Elswick, home of his manufacturing works), in a park in Heaton in the north east and a bridge over the Ouseburn in Jesmond Dene.

Tyne Bridge

The Tyne Bridge, early evening

The Tyne Bridge is the most famous of the seven bridges that cross the river between Newcastle and Gateshead. It was built to replace an earlier (1781) stone bridge and was opened by King George V and Queen Mary in October 1928. Instantly recognisable, it has come to symbolise the city.

It’s often said that the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia was based on the Tyne Bridge, though I've also read that it was the other way around and that the Australians got in first – but try telling that to a Geordie! In fact, both are modelled on the Hell Gate Bridge in New York City, but again, no local will want to believe their bridge wasn’t the first and best.

Tyne Bridge and Sage (music venue on Gateshead Quayside)

Bus crossing the Tyne Bridge

City skyline with Tyne Bridge

The road is 84 feet above the water and the bridge has a 531 foot span. Its towers are of Cornish granite and were originally designed to serve as warehouses, with five storeys. But the inner floors were never completed and, as a result, the storage areas were never used. Lifts for passengers and goods were built in the towers to provide access to the Quayside but they are no longer in use. The Tyne Bridge Towers are usually opened to the public as part of Heritage Open Days in September.

Kittiwakes and other birds

Kittiwake nesting
on the Tyne Bridge

Look up at the stone towers that support the great span of the Tyne Bridge and you'll spot the nests of the kittiwakes. This is the world's furthest inland breeding colony of these birds, who unlike other gulls haven't adapted to living off man's scraps but still live entirely on fish.

Now that the River Tyne is clean again after many years of pollution there are plenty of fish to be caught there as well as out in the North Sea beyond the river's mouth. The kittiwakes nesting here must think these great stone towers are cliffs of course.

Kittiwake nesting on one of the Tyne Bridge towers

The bridge is now considered an important breeding site for these birds, but their nests are threatened by the complaints of nearby residents who dislike the noise and mess they cause. I don’t live here so perhaps it’s unfair of me to comment, but I think it would be a real shame if they were prevented from nesting through the introduction of netting round the towers as has been proposed.

You'll probably also be able to spot cormorants down by the water near here too – they often perch on the columns on either side of the Millennium Bridge and stick out their wings to dry. And on a couple of occasions we have spotted a heron!

Heron by the Tyne

Quayside Sunday Market

Visit the Quayside on a Sunday and you will encounter a Newcastle institution. The market has been operating in this same spot for several hundred years. On a Sunday morning the road along the Quayside is closed to traffic and the stalls are set up. The nature of the goods on sale may have changed somewhat over the years but local families are still drawn here in search of a bargain as they always have been, although increasingly these days are joined by visitors to the city.

Closed to traffic for the Quayside Market

In the past you might have seen such novelties as escapologists, monkeys dancing to organ-grinders’ music, and pets such as mice and budgies for sale. No longer … but some typical traditional stalls remain: fish and seafood caught locally in the North Sea, cheap plastic toys and pseudo designer clothing, random electrical and household items. These tend to congregate at the Tyne Bridge end of the market, while further down, near the Law Courts, you will find the more modern and upmarket newcomers – hand-crafted jewellery; artistic photos of local landmarks such as the Angel of the North and the various bridges; rustic loaves and fancy cup-cakes; leather goods and decorative items for the home. And if you are hungry there is plenty to choose from. On a recent visit I spotted Polish sausages, locally-farmed roast pork, Middle-Eastern wraps, hot-dogs and classic burgers, and more.

Market stalls

The stall in my last photo above is a regular and something of a market institution. It sells a variety of leather goods (wallets, phone cases etc.) and the stall-holder has a fun line in advertising captions, making ludicrous claims that if anyone were to believe them would surely see him hauled before a Trades Description Act court! Here's an example from the photo, as it is hard to read:
Prince George's Phone Cases!
When the Queen recently made one of her regular visits to my stall (see her hand-written letter to me hanging up at the back right) she asked me to dedicate a product to her great grandson. I said that I would think about it and told her later, over a pint and a fag, that I had chosen these. I think that's what clinched my OBE for me!

And I can't resist also including this one:
Prince William's Credit Card Case
Dear David
I can't thank you enough for this splendid wedding gift! I go nowhere without it and it is much admired by all who see it. Kate and I would love to use your caravan for our honeymoon and knowing that you will be there at the same time is marvellous news!
Kindest regards

The market gets going at about 9.30 and lasts most of the day, though some stalls seem to close mid-afternoon.

The Custom House

Crest on the Custom House

Custom House plaque

This imposing building on the Quayside, a short walk east of the Tyne Bridge, was built in 1766 after the original town walls which ran along this stretch of the river bank were demolished (in 1763). It replaced an earlier Customs shed that had stood at the point now occupied by the Tyne Bridge’s support towers. It was further developed in 1833, with a new frontage, and the Royal Arms added over the new porch. Its original purpose was to collect tax and duties from the many ships that moored here, but today its location close to the Law Courts has made it a prime spot for barristers’ offices, and it is not open to the public.

When the Custom House was first built here, the Quayside was a very different place. The road of that name ran parallel to the river, with buildings on one side and ships moored on the other. Timber piers jutted out into the river to aid the unloading of goods, and at intervals narrow lanes known as 'chares' led to steep steps up to the town on the higher ground beyond the river. Some of these alleys remain today – Plummer Chare, Trinity Chare and Broad Chare. The latter, as the name suggests, is a wider road and was in the past the only one wide enough to accommodate a horse and cart.

Local Heroes

In the spring of 2014 a “Walk of Fame” was launched on the Newcastle and Gateshead Quaysides. A series of 20 bronze plaques is set into the pavement at intervals, each commemorating a 'local hero' – someone from the region who has made a contribution to sport, the arts, science or in some other way has achieved success and put Newcastle on the map. The list of those represented is like a 'Who’s Who' of famous Geordies and includes:

~ footballer Alan Shearer
~ footballer and football manager, Sir Bobby Robson
~ traditional musician Kathryn Tickell
~ athlete Brendan Foster
~ photographer Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen
~ children’s author David Almond
~ entertainers Ant & Dec
~ paralympian Stephen Miller
~ actor Robson Green
~ Cardinal Basil Hume
~ TV writers Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais
~ 70s group Lindisfarne

Local Heroes

More are added each year, nominated by members of the public. The plaques can be found along the stretch of pavement from the Newcastle end of the Swing Bridge to the Millennium Bridge, and on the other side of the river in Gateshead they continue along the Quayside back to the Swing Bridge.

Art on the Quayside

As you walk along by the Tyne look out for the many pieces of public art here, including

River Tyne by Neil Talbot: a relief depicting thirty miles of the course of the Tyne carved on a sandstone wall by the Wesley Memorial Fountain (near the Law Courts). The Tyne is shown as a map with various views from along the river’s course realistically carved to a relief with a maximum depth of a centimetre. The work is 30 metres in length, and it’s fun to follow the river’s course on it and spot the well-known landmarks.

River Tyne - High Level, Swing and Tyne Bridges

River God: a male figure with a torso and head, and holding a staff and chain, on top of a steel column, and its companion piece, Siren, at the top of the steps that descend to the Quayside from Sandgate. Both are the work of Andre Wallace.

River God and Siren

The Blacksmiths’ Needle: This eye-catching modern sculpture on the Quayside is the collective work of the Members of the British Association of Blacksmith Artists. Made from forged steel, it takes the form of a 7.6 metre high cone which is consists of six sections, one above the other. Each of these is decorated with objects which relate to one of the senses, including what was described as “the mysterious sixth sense”. These objects were made in public “forge-ins” held all over the country and have a mainly maritime theme. The work was inaugurated in May 1997 by the percussionist Evelyn Glennie, who rang the bell which hangs inside the needle.

The Blacksmiths’ Needle

A beach on the Tyne

Palm tree and
Millennium Bridge

It has become popular in recent years to introduce a little of the seaside atmosphere into our cities, and Newcastle has joined the trend. Every summer a small patch of sand on the Quayside offers deckchairs, a volley-ball net and plenty of space for the children to make sandcastles. There's a pop-up café and even some palm trees!

And what it lacks in size (and possibly weather – though this photo was taken on a warm and sunny August morning), it gains in views. Not many beaches, with the possible exception of some in Sydney I guess, can offer such a stunning bridge as a backdrop!

So if you’re here with the kids, the sun is shining, and you don’t want to spend a fortune on keeping them amused, why not pack up the buckets and spades, and a picnic, and head on down to the Quayside where they can play in the sand while you soak up some rays and watch the world go by?

The beach on a chilly April day - still popular despite the weather!


Historically, Sandgate was the area of the Quayside to the east of the city centre where the 'keelmen' lived and operated. A keel is a traditional boat of this region which was used to transfer coal from the river banks to the waiting colliers, for export to London and elsewhere. A famous song, The Keel Row, is set here:

Carving of keels on
the Sandgate

‘As I came thro' Sandgate,
Thro' Sandgate, thro' Sandgate,
As I came thro' Sandgate,
I heard a lassie sing:
“O, weel may the keel row,
The keel row, the keel row,
O weel may the keel row
That my laddie's in.”’

Today the opening lines of the song are carved into the flight of steps that descends to the Quayside from Sandgate. The keelmen were highly skilled boatmen. They wore a uniform of a short blue jacket, slate-coloured trousers and yellow waistcoat, and a black silk, flat-brimmed hat. They were a strong, tight-knit community who formed a benefit society and founded the Keelmen’s Hospital which still stands on the City Road.

By the way, you will see some sources which suggest that The Keel Row is a Scottish song, but the references to the Tyne (“He's foremost 'mang the mony Keel lads o' coaly Tyne”) and to Sandgate indicate its Geordie origins.

Millennium Bridge

The Millennium Bridge

This is the most recent addition to the iconic set of bridges that span the Tyne in the centre of the city, and possibly my favourite. But please don’t offend the Gateshead folk on the other side of the river by describing this as a bridge in Newcastle! The full name of this bridge is in fact the Gateshead Millennium Bridge. It was commissioned by the council to commemorate the millennium and link new developments on either side of the river, including the gallery at Baltic, the old flour mill. It certainly succeeds in doing that and makes it easy for anyone on the Newcastle side to pop across to check out the latest exhibits or have a meal in the restaurant there.

The Millennium Bridge from Baltic

Pedestrians and cyclist on the bridge

The bridge is for use by pedestrians and cyclists only, as there is no traffic by the river at this point. The brief was to create a bridge allowed ships to pass underneath and didn’t overshadow or spoil the world famous view of the existing bridges. The design solution was to create this light structure which contrasts really well with the solidity of the other bridges, and to engineer it in a way that allows it to tilt upwards for ships to pass. When it does so it looks just like an eye winking! These days there aren’t a large number of large ships navigating the river so it isn’t required to do this frequently. But you can find out the times when the bridge will 'wink' on the Gateshead Council website. One regular occurrence is each Sunday just after midday so if you’re on the Quayside at this time, perhaps for the market, do go along to watch, as it’s quite a sight. Each opening and closing takes four and a half minutes and both arches tilt at once – the one that carries the walkway/cycleway, and the one that supports it from above.

Millennium Bridge tilting

Video of Millennium Bridge tilting

(The incongruous German music in the background on the video above is coming from a sausage stall at the Quayside Market!)

Another sight worth catching is of the bridge at night. It is lit up in an ever-changing spectrum of colour, and, from what I’ve observed, the patterns can be different on different nights. Sometimes there are rainbow colours (befitting the shape!) and sometimes each colour appears separately. This is a sight I never tire of, and I will happily detour on an evening out in Newcastle to include a stroll on this stretch of the Quayside.

Changing colours of the Millennium Bridge at night

Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art


The Baltic isn't technically in Newcastle but in Gateshead; however it is just across the river and easily visited on foot, crossing the Millennium Bridge.

This amazing gallery is housed in an old flour mill which was gutted to create a fantastic space that provides the perfect setting for the modern art on display.

The stairwell
There are also lifts!

There are no permanent exhibitions - instead the programme changes regularly so you see something new every time you visit, and it could be anything from a major exhibition to work by local artists. The best thing for me is how the curators really make the most of the large spaces on offer, so you'll often find huge paintings or striking installations. The art isn't too everyone's taste, and even if you like contemporary art there's a good chance not everything will appeal, but with (usually) three different exhibitions on at a time there should be something to interest you. And if you have children, check out the website to find out about the many free activities here.

Art installations at Baltic

But even if you don't like modern art it’s worth coming here simply for the views of the river which are fantastic. There's a glass viewing gallery attached to the fifth floor exterior wall (which you can see in my photo, above) and an outdoor terrace on the fourth floor, on the river side.

View from Baltic viewing gallery
Reflections unavoidable on a bright day!

And best of all, it's free!

Shuttle bus to/from the Quayside

It's quite a steep walk between the city centre and the Quayside so on the way back up especially you may want to take one of the bright green Quaylink Shuttle buses. There are two routes:

Quaylink bus

Services Q1 and Q2 run from Newcastle Central Station to Gateshead Interchange via the Quayside, Baltic and The Sage, and loop through the suburbs south of Gateshead. The different numbers refer to the direction they take on this loop, but as visitors are unlikely to be travelling beyond Gateshead Interchange they can be regarded as the same route.

Service Q3 runs from Great Park, a suburb to the north of Newcastle, via Haymarket Bus Station and through the city centre to Ouseburn and St Peter's Basin via Newcastle’s East Quayside area

A section between the Newcastle Quayside and the Monument, via Dean Street and Grey Street, is covered by both routes, so you can easily switch from one to the other.

Buses run every 15 minutes at peak times, dropping to every 30 minutes in the evening (until about midnight) and on Sundays, although I’ve found them to be rather erratic. Fares (autumn 2017) are £1.50 for a single or £2.20 for an all day ticket (good value if you're exploring the Quayside for the day).

Posted by ToonSarah 05:56 Archived in England Tagged bridges art birds architecture market river city Comments (4)

A walk to Ouseburn

View looking back towards the city from Ouseburn

In recent years the development that first started around the central part of the Quayside has spread eastwards, and the area around where the smaller Ouseburn flows into the Tyne, in particular, has benefitted from regeneration. It makes a great destination for a stroll along the river, and there’s plenty to see when you get there. It’s only about a 15 minute walk from the Tyne Bridge to the mouth of the Ouseburn, although you’re bound to stop along the way!

The first part of this route is covered in my previous entry on the Quayside, so I will pick this walk up near the Millennium Bridge. Just before the bridge, the Quayside walk becomes pedestrianised, with the road veering away to join City Road and run parallel to the river just above the apartment blocks that line the banks here. You could follow the road, but the riverside walk is far pleasanter. It’s worth a detour however when you reach Horatio Street, where you can climb the short distance to two interesting sights.

The Sailors’ Bethel

The Sailors’ Bethel

The Sailors’ Bethel

At this point in your walk your eye is very likely to be drawn upwards to the sight of the slim spire of the Sailors’ Bethel.

Climb cobbled Horatio Street for a closer look and you will find that this spire sits somewhat incongruously on a solid-looking brick chapel. It was built in 1877 to serve non-conformist sailors, mainly Danish, from the many ships that used to dock in Newcastle’s busy port just down the bank from here, bringing butter, eggs and meat, and returning with Tyneside coal. But the port fell into disuse as ships became too large to navigate this far up river, and as the trade in coal declined. Today’s ships carry huge containers and dock at the Port of Tyne near the river mouth in South Shields.


The chapel is no longer needed by sailors and today has been converted into offices. You can’t therefore go inside but the Sailors’ Bethel is nonetheless worth a quick visit to see that unusual lead-clad spire and what is said to be Newcastle’s only gargoyle.

The artist L. S. Lowry painted the Sailors’ Bethel in a painting called ‘Old Chapel’ and this is now on display in the city’s Laing Art Gallery (have a look at http://collectionssearchtwmuseums.org.uk/#details=ecatalogue.299667 to see how Lowry depicted it).

Statue of William L Blenkinsop Coulson

This imposing Victorian statue stands on City Road just above the Quayside and a little east of the central area. It commemorates a local benefactor who, as the inscription explains, was noted for his efforts on behalf of not only the weaker members of society but animals too. Appropriately therefore the statue incorporates two drinking fountains – a large one for humans at the front, and a smaller one for animals round the back!

William L Blenkinsop Coulson

On the back is another inscription, a quotation from the man himself:
'What is really needed is an allround
education of the higher impulses
true manliness, and womanliness
justice, and pity.
To try to promote these has been
my humble but earnest endeavour, and until
they are more genuinely aroused,
the legislature is useless,
for it is the people who make the laws'

The inscription on the plinth reads:
'William Lisle Blenkinsopp
1841 – 1911
erected by public subscription
in memory of his efforts
to assist the weak and defenceless.
among mankind and in the
animal world'

On the plinth

Coulson's statue originally stood in the Haymarket, near the Boer War memorial, but has been moved twice – firstly in the 1930s to a location further down Percy Street, and then in 1950 to this present spot.

Coulson was born in Haltwhistle, Northumberland, in 1840 and, as I think his pose and expression suggest, was a colonel in the army before retiring in 1892, after which he served as a magistrate and on the boards of many charities concerned with child and animal welfare. He toured schools and borstals giving lectures on morality, and published essays on the welfare of women and children. He is depicted wearing the distinctive plaid cloth that he was in the habit of wearing.

The statue is of bronze and double life-size. It was sculpted by Arnold Frédéric Rechberg and stands on a stone block, underneath which is a slab of red granite from which the two drinking troughs are carved. It commands a lovely view of the river, although Coulson is perhaps surprisingly positioned to face away from the view and is looking instead at the Sailor’s Bethel church across the road – surprising that is until you remember his devotion to the welfare of others.

The mouth of the Ouseburn

Mouth of the Ouseburn

You could carry on from here along the main road which soon crosses the Ouseburn on the Walker Bridge, and to do so will save you repeating the climb up the bank, but I recommend retracing your steps to the riverside and following the path to the mouth of the burn. At low tide the boats will be stranded on the muddy banks, or at high tide bobbing at their moorings – either way, they make a colourful scene.

Ouseburn moorings

Waymarker for cyclists

In the boatyard

Turn left here and the path will take you to a smaller bridge and past a small boatyard to three great spots to stop for refreshment on the far side. Ahead to your right is the Hub, a focal point for keen cyclists in the area, especially those following the cycle route along the Tyne to the sea. But you don’t need to be a cyclist to grab a sandwich and drink in its welcoming café, which has seating by the water for good weather visits.

View from the Hub

Alternatively, there are a couple of pubs on the other side of the road, overlooking the Ouseburn. The lower one is the Tyne Bar, which I haven’t visited, as we prefer the Free Trade Inn on the small hill above. This characterful pub isn’t fancy and it’s not smartly decorated, but it oozes atmosphere, serves a great selection of beers and has great views of the Tyne from both the pub itself and the small garden area opposite. Oh, and there’s a friendly welcome from both bar staff and the resident cat!

In the Free Trade Inn

The cat even features on the beer mats!

Although it serves snacks, really this pub is mainly about the beer. Many of the rotating selection on tap are from local breweries, while there’s also a good range of bottled beers from further afield, including Belgium. And if you’re not sure what to choose the bar staff will let you try a sample (of the tap beers, obviously, not the bottled!)

Beer with a (rainy day) view

It’s also about the view. So settle down at the window with a glass and enjoy the river scenes below. You’ll be glad you came and will quickly forgive any lack of fanciness in the décor.

Following the Ouse

From the mouth of the Ouse you can follow the footpath called Riverside Walkway along the eastern bank (on your right as you leave the Tyne), or take Ouse Street and Lime Street along its western bank – the latter are recommended if you like to spot street art. Either route will bring you to the heart of Ouseburn.

On Lime Street

Ouseburn street art

Stepney Bank Stables

Here you will find lots to do. There’s a nationally acclaimed museum devoted to children’s literature, Seven Stories, which seems to have loads going on for families – crafts, author visits and exhibitions of original work by illustrators, for instance. As a former children’s librarian, I really must visit one day!

There is a city farm here too, an acclaimed music venue, the Cluny, and another traditional old pub, the Ship Inn, plus several small galleries on Stepney Bank, where you will also find a working stable.

The Biscuit Factory

Biscuit Factory entrance

Not far away on Stoddart Street is a large independent art gallery, the Biscuit Factory. This is an art, craft and design gallery housed in a former Victorian warehouse in an area of the city that is gradually being transformed from its industrial past and becoming increasingly arty, with a number of small studios nearby. The gallery hosts four major exhibitions a year which are changed every quarter. The focus is on art you can buy – everything is for sale, much of it at reasonable prices, and the 'Own Art' scheme means that any piece can be bought and paid for in instalments.

In the Biscuit Factory

We went a couple of years ago for the summer exhibition and were very impressed by a lot of what we saw, although the sheer amount made the exhibition a little hard to take in and focus on individual artists at times. There were a lot of great prints at reasonable prices (we resisted temptations), original paintings, sculpture and also a lot of applied art – jewellery, glassware, ceramics and even furniture.

There is a light, airy café on the first floor, with great views over the eastern part of the city, and a more formal restaurant, Artisan, downstairs with an appealing menu.

When you’ve finished your explorations here you can return by the same route, or catch a bus back into the city centre on New Bridge Street a few minutes’ walk away. Alternatively, you can continue your walk and follow the Ouse all the way to Jesmond Dene, a couple of miles to the north of the city.


Walking at this eastern end of the quayside you are likely to catch glimpses of the Byker Wall.

Part of the Byker Wall

Byker is a suburb just to the east of the city centre. Like many of Newcastle’s outlying districts it was developed in Victorian times as housing for the working classes – tiny terraces in rows, with no bathrooms and little space or fresh air. By the middle of the 20th century they were little more than slums, and throughout the city a massive clearance programme was underway, as in many UK cities. In most places the solution was the same – high rise blocks that were designed to simulate terraced housing but vertically. These “streets in the sky” were later almost universally condemned – they failed to recreate the sense of community felt by those living in the terraces they replaced while creating huge social problems because of the isolation felt by many residents and the hidden corners of their stairwells and passageways which provided fertile ground for gangs and criminals.

The Byker Wall was in part an attempt to try something different – an intensive housing scheme that didn’t rely on piling people on top of each other. One end of the continuous sweep of buildings (620 maisonettes) does reach upwards, purposely designed to shield the site from a motorway which in the end was never built, but in most parts it is only a few storeys high. It was designed by Ralph Erskine (a London-born architect heavily influenced by Scandinavian style) and built during the 1970s – and it soon became as criticised as the high-rise blocks it sought to improve upon, mainly on aesthetic grounds as it challenged conservative ideas of what homes, and architecture, should be like. In more recent years its innovative approach has become more appreciated, helped by a major refurbishment and modernisation of the entire Byker Estate (of which the Wall is just a part) in the early part of the 21st century.

View towards Byker from the café at the Biscuit Factory

Today Erskine’s approach to the development of the Byker Estate seems much more in tune with concepts of community involvement than was the norm at the time. He designed the new homes to fit around existing pubs, schools and churches, so people wouldn’t lose their connections to each other within the community. And he sought residents’ views, responding to desires for gardens and meeting places. Because the development was carefully phased, people could move straight from their old house to the new, without having to temporarily leave the area – another factor that contributed to keeping social cohesion intact. Erskine also included some environmental design elements that were significantly ahead of his time, with homes heated by a power plant that ran on the rubbish collected from them, and a micro-climate created by the shelter of the Wall that allows trees to grow that would normally need a more southerly latitude.

To read more about the development check out this website: Future Communities, from where I drew some of my information. You can see the Wall from the eastern end of the Quayside and other spots at that end of the city, but for a close-up look you can catch a bus on New Bridge Street to Byker (the opposite direction to the city centre).

Posted by ToonSarah 07:34 Archived in England Tagged art buildings boats architecture monument history church river pubs city museum street_art Comments (6)

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