A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about buildings

Old walls and a “new” castle

Town Walls

The North East’s most famous wall is of course that built by and named after the Roman Emperor Hadrian, which starts (or finishes!) here in Newcastle, at Wallsend.

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Hadrian's Wall - not in Newcastle!

But Newcastle has its own wall too, which once circled the city – the medieval town wall. This was built during the 13th and 14th centuries, to protect the town in particular during times of conflict between the Scots and the English. When these conflicts became less, the wall was allowed to fall into disrepair.

The town wall was approximately 3 kilometres (2 miles) long. It had seventeen towers, as well as several smaller turrets and postern gates, and was intersected by six main gates: Close Gate, West Gate, New Gate, Pilgrim Gate, Pandon Gate and Sand Gate. The names of some of these remain in the city’s streets and buildings – Westgate Road, Pilgrim Street, Pandon Quays.

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Corner Tower

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Look for the plaques

As well as these place names, parts of the wall itself remain, and you could spend an enjoyable time searching it out during your walks around the city. The tower in my photos above is the Corner Tower, at the junction of City Road and Melbourne Street just along from the Sandgate area of the Quayside.

There are more substantial remains near Stowell Street in the heart of Newcastle’s small Chinatown, and along nearby Bath Lane, as well as some smaller fragments in St Andrew’s Church.

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West walls of the city, near Chinatown

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West walls of the city, Bath Lane

The Castle

There are two remaining parts of the “new” castle that gave the city its name, the Black Gate and the Keep.

The Castle was founded by Robert Curthose, the eldest son of William the Conqueror in 1080 and was like many Norman castles of the motte and bailey type. The original would have been made of wood, and it was rebuilt in stone during the reign of Henry II, between 1168 and 1178, with the addition of a keep. The keep would have acted as both the principal fortification of the castle and the dwelling of the commander of the garrison. It housed, on the ground floor, a great vaulted storeroom and a fine late Norman chapel, and on the first and second floors two suites of accommodation. Each had a hall, or public room, a solar or private room and latrines. Access between floors was by the great spiral stairs in the eastern angles, and from outside by an external stair to the second floor. On the same floor was a well nearly 100 feet deep.

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The Keep

During the reign of Henry III between 1247 and 1250 the Black Gate was added. When the town wall was completed in the mid 14th century the castle became isolated within the new defences, and lost its importance. As early as 1589 it was already being described as old and ruinous. People began to build houses and shops in the ‘Castle Garth’, the area within its old walls.

By the 1800s the Castle Garth was a bustling community full of slum housing, shops, taverns and a meeting hall. Most of this however was demolished when the railways were built in the 1840s, cutting right through the castle, as they still do today.

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The Keep is surrounded by the railway tracks!

On one side is the Black Gate, roughly oval in shape, and on the other the Castle Keep. The latter was significantly restored and altered in the early 19th century, with battlements and corner turrets added to create a more Romantic notion of what a castle should look like.

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The Black Gate

Both Keep and Black Gate were extensively renovated between 2012 and 2015, and both are now open to the public, though we haven’t been inside for years! But we pass this way often and I always stop to admire the castle’s unusual setting between the railway arches – one of Newcastle’s most distinctive views.

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The Black Gate, with Amen Corner and St Nicholas Cathedral beyond

Posted by ToonSarah 04:10 Archived in England Tagged buildings castles architecture history city Comments (6)

Grainger Town

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Memorial to Richard Grainger
- water trough

What is now known as Grainger Town is the result of recent efforts to smarten up this part of the city. It encompasses the old Georgian streets built by Richard Grainger in the 1830s and 1840s (such as Grey Street, Grainger Street and Clayton Street), when the city really started to expand from its original Quayside location.

Most of the work was carried out by the North Shields born architect John Dobson (1787-1865). His work, so typical of the Classical style of his period, is at its best in beautiful Grey Street, but it can be seen throughout this part of the city and gives it a strong sense of coherence. In fact, Richard Grainger was said to ‘have found Newcastle of bricks and timber and left it in stone’.

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Plaque to Richard Grainger
on water trough

But in the 1980s and early 1990s, this once prosperous area of the city was left behind as new centres of retail and commercial activity emerged in other areas – the opening of the Eldon Square shopping centre, the revival of the Quayside area, and so on. Buildings here were left to fall into disrepair, unoccupied as both the working and residential populations fell. The City Council decided that they wanted to reverse the decline and see this part of the city thrive again, so in the late 1990s they established the Grainger Town Project. It was a good time to do this, as the relatively small amount of public funding was more than matched by private investors who saw the opportunity to develop housing and commercial property here.

Today the area has been smartened up, with old buildings cleaned and renovated, new street signs and lighting etc installed, and with a large amount of new building (mainly apartments offering modern city living). A walk around here will reveal historic architecture and new, side by side. There are cafés and bars, some interesting independent shops, and a couple of squares where you can take a break.

Grey Street

This is considered by most people to be Newcastle’s finest street. The poet Sir John Betjeman said of it, ‘as for the curve of Grey Street, I shall never forget seeing it to perfection, traffic-less on a misty Sunday morning. Not even Regent Street, even old Regent Street London can compare with that descending subtle curve.’

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The Theatre Royal

Near the top of the street is the Theatre Royal, which unlike the rest of the street was designed not by John Dobson but by brothers John and Benjamin Green. It replaced an earlier Theatre Royal of 1788 that stood in Mosley Street near Drury Lane, and opened on 20 February 1837 with a performance of The Merchant of Venice. It has a regular programme of productions, including ballet, contemporary dance, drama, musicals, comedy and opera, as well as a very popular Christmas pantomime.

And just around the corner from here is one of our favourite pubs, the Lady Grey. It seems that at any given time we will have a favourite Newcastle pub or two, but those favourites change every few years, as places decline or are done up, or the beer or food served changes, or simply because of new discoveries. The Lady Grey in Shakespeare Street falls into the first category. This used to be the Adelphi, a traditional pub popular with actors (the Theatre Royal’s stage door is just across the street) and football fans. We used to come here from time to time but wouldn’t have rated it as a favourite. But in 2011 it underwent a transformation and became the rather elegant Lady Grey, and we have been visiting regularly ever since.

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In the Lady Grey

We have been here at different times of day and for different reasons. We’ve had lunch a couple of times (they do great sandwiches, and the more substantial choices are good too). We’ve been mid afternoon on New Year’s Eve, when the atmosphere was lively but not as raucous as in some parts of the city. And we’ve been for a night-cap after dinner elsewhere. On all these occasions we found the pub just to our liking – not too quiet or too busy, with friendly service and staff who are knowledgeable about the beers they serve.

And talking of beers, they have a great range and really take things seriously. We’ve had several good ones here on the various visits, but a couple that stand out are local ones – the Ouseburn Porter, and a wonderful Cherry Stout from the Tynebank Brewery. But if beer’s not your thing, or not what you fancy right now, they also have an excellent selection of wines and all the regular drinks you might expect. There’s also a proper espresso machine if you would like a coffee.

Grey’s Monument

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Grey's Monument
(the black and white decorations were to mark the retirement of local hero, Alan Shearer)

Almost always referred to just as ‘The Monument’ by locals, this impressive column forms one of the focal points of life in Newcastle, and one of the city’s best known landmarks. Situated at the top of Grey Street, it was built in 1838 to commemorate the passing of Prime Minister Earl Grey's Great Reform Bill of 1832, which paved the way for universal suffrage. Anyone who’s been to London will be tempted to compare it to Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, and in fact the two great men were both sculpted by the same artist.

At certain times (currently the first Saturday of the month, April to September) you can climb the 164 steps to the top of the Monument for great views over Grey Street and Grainger Town.

The Monument is a popular meeting and gathering place. If getting together with friends ‘doon the Toon’, Geordies will often suggest its wide stone steps as the place to meet. It’s also popular with campaigners for, among other issues, animal rights, who set up stalls on a Saturday and leaflet passers-by; and with buskers, often Peruvian, who keep the crowds entertained. On the first Friday of every month there is a local food producers’ market around the Monument – all products on the market must be raised, grown or produced within a 50 mile radius of the site of the market. And in December it is the location for a small Christmas market, with a mix of local and European stall-holders.

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Musicians at Grey's Monument

On New Year’s Eve it is the focus for an early evening parade. From mid afternoon the various components of the parade start to congregate in the streets around the Monument. There are usually some very strange sights – one year we saw people at least ten feet high and with musical instruments instead of heads! More recently the parade has taken on a sort of Nordic theme, with a fire-breathing dragon, a huge white wolf with glowing eyes, a sea-monster and (my favourite) a towering witch-like figure with fiery limbs. These contraptions are usually accompanied by groups of local children dressed as snow-flakes, frost and other wintery motifs.

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Taken at several different New Year's Eve Parades

This is a great event for families especially, and takes place sufficiently early for young children to be back home before the city becomes the focus for even more exuberant partying than is the norm!

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Children in the parade

Central Arcade

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The Central Arcade

This lovely Edwardian shopping arcade in the centre of the city makes a great contrast to the more modern shopping experience of the Eldon Square complex. It is located in the Central Exchange Building, which fills the triangle made by Grainger Street, Grey Street and Market Street. This building dates from 1906, when they were rebuilt following a fire. The arcade opens on to all three of the surrounding streets, with ornate frontages dating from 1840.

Nowadays the shops here are modern ones. One of the most noteworthy is Windows, a Newcastle institution, which stocks a comprehensive range of sheet music and musical instruments as well as CDs. It’s a good place to find recordings by local musicians, singers and comics.

Other shops in the arcade at present include Neal’s Yard Remedies, Office (one of my favourite shoe shop chains) and Space NK, as well as the tourist information office. But even if you’re not in the mood for shopping it’s worth a visit to see this beautiful relic of Edwardian Newcastle.

Eldon Square

Mention Eldon Square to most Geordies and their first thought is likely to be of shopping, as this is the name of the city centre’s main shopping mall. But there has been an Eldon Square in Newcastle for far longer than the shopping centre has existed, even if, sadly, some of the original was demolished to make way for the new.

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Old Eldon Square

Eldon Square was built as part of the 1825-40 reconstruction of Newcastle city centre, and was designed by John Dobson. The design consisted of terraces on three sides of a central square, with Blackett Street forming the fourth, southern, side. The terrace on the east side remains to this day but the other two were lost as a result of 1960s and 70s planning decisions when plans for the then new shopping centre were being drawn up. It’s hard to imagine such a decision being made today – indeed a more recent extension to the shopping centre has a much more sympathetic design, with facades featuring natural stone in keeping with surrounding historic buildings.

Old Eldon Square was recently refurbished as part of the same programme of city centre improvements. The grass has been re-laid, new paths built, the war memorial cleaned up and new restaurants opened on the western side. Even this was considered controversial by some, as local Goths who have in recent years used the square as a gathering place saw themselves being driven out by the shoppers using the new paths and amenities.

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Eldon Shopping Centre -
entrance on Northumberland Street

At the centre of the square is a bronze statue of St. George and the dragon, a duplicate of one designed to commemorate the men of Marylebone killed in the Great War which is to be found close to Lords Cricket Ground. Here in Newcastle the statue forms the city’s main War Memorial and is the focal point for Remembrance Day commemorations.

Meanwhile the shopping centre, while smaller than the Metro Centre in Gateshead (the region’s prime shopping destination), is nevertheless a busy and popular place to shop, with many of the usual high street names (though some prefer a location outside on Northumberland Street). The biggest attractions are probably the two big department stores, Fenwick and House of Fraser, which are both very good and worth a visit. On the whole I find the Eldon Square centre a bit over-crowded, especially on a Saturday – both walking the concourses and attempting to get into the changing rooms in the most popular shops to try clothes on. But come on a weekday morning and it’s quiet enough.

Returning to the Monument from Eldon Square, we can follow Grainger Street along to the covered-in market.

Grainger Market

Although it has been recently refurbished, this market in the centre of town retains much the same character and range of stalls that it has held for years. It was built in 1835 by Richard Grainger, with the architect being John Dobson. At the time of opening the local paper described it as being the most beautiful in the world. This is a good place to come for fresh fruit and vegetables, and there are several butchers selling locally produced meat from the farms of Northumberland. But in addition to these there are a number of idiosyncratic Newcastle establishments. These include the Weigh House, where you can be weighed for a charge of 10p – many locals go regularly to check up on their weight.

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The Weigh House in the Grainger Market

There is also a very early branch of Marks & Spencer, dating back to 1895 when it was a Penny Bazaar – this is the world's smallest Marks and Spencer store. These days the items on sale cost rather more than a penny but there are still end of range bargains to be had.

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Grainger Market - Marks & Spencer's Penny Bazaar

Another long-standing institution is Robinsons, a second-hand book stall, while the Northern Optical Company has been here since 1894. You’ll also find a couple of good haberdashery stalls (fabrics and sewing materials), a Chinese foodstuffs shop (a recent addition) and tobacconists, as well as several fairly down-to-earth cafés.

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In the Grainger Market

By the way, you may also find locals referring to this as the "covered-in market", for obvious reasons, but the signs all say Grainger Market so don't be misled.

Bigg Market

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In the Bigg Market

From here it’s a short walk down to the Bigg Market. This spot is somewhat notorious as a focus for night-time drinking in the city – surrounded by clubs and bars, from whose doors young people, almost always more than a little inebriated, spill out at regular intervals, these days (it seems) to be captured for TV audiences as a sign of the declining values of modern Britain. Always in the flimsiest of garments, even in the depths of winter, and always travelling in packs, they are continually in search of the next cool place, the next meeting with a new best friend or potential romance. They may have given Newcastle something of a tarnished image in some eyes, but they are for the most part far more interested in enjoying themselves than in causing harm or distress to others, so don’t let them put you off visiting.

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Bigg Market -
public toilet and bike park!

By day the Bigg Market is altogether tamer, though never what you might call quiet. Its bars are closed, but there are enough pubs and restaurants to attract the lunch crowd, and its location makes it a thoroughfare for those walking from shopping areas to the Central Station or to the offices in nearby Cathedral Square.

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Fortune-teller

The name 'Bigg Market' has nothing to do with size, but comes instead from bigg, a type of barley formerly sold here. At its eastern end it splits into two smaller streets, also both former markets – Cloth Market and Groat Market (groat = oats without husks) Today these are separated by a modern insurance office built in the 1970s on the site of the Victorian Town Hall. The Cloth Market (to the left as you walk towards them from the Bigg Market) was once home to Balmbra's Music Hall, immortalised in the song, 'Blaydon Races'.

Back in the Bigg Market, at its western end, you will probably see the colourful caravan belonging to the resident fortune-teller, who claims to be a descendent of Gipsy Rose Lee. I have never seen anyone take up the suggestion of 'crossing her palm with silver' but I suspect plenty must, as she has been stationed here for many years.

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Fortune-teller's caravan

Nearby is a rather ornate fountain, the Rutherford Memorial Fountain, dated 1894. The sign at its base says that it was moved here from St Nicholas Square in 1901, and I can’t help wondering if the decision to move it was made by someone with a strong sense of irony, as it commemorates John Hunter Rutherford, a Scottish doctor and educational reformer of the mid 1800s, and a strong advocate of temperance. Those who today drink in the Bigg Market’s pubs and bars are unlikely to agree with his sentiment, inscribed on the fountain, that ‘water is best’.

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Fountain in the Bigg Market

You may also find a few stalls selling an odd assortment of household goods, cheap toys and sweets, but not, despite the name, a proper market.

From the Bigg Market you can turn down Pudding Chare towards the Central Station – the name of this unprepossessing street is thought to be a reference to black pudding which was sold in the nearby Flesh Market, which became the Cloth Market. It could also be a reference to a hidden stream, the Pow Dene. Chare is a medieval north-east word meaning a narrow street or alley. At one time there were around twenty in the city, of which quite a few remain to this day, many of them along the Quayside.

Alternatively you can explore High Bridge, which links the Bigg Market with Grey Street and Pilgrim Street. This is a great place to find some more eclectic shops, selling items such as vintage clothing and old vinyl records, and there are also a few interesting pubs, including the Beehive Hotel, a very traditional pub on the corner of High Bridge and the Bigg Market. This street owes its name to a bridge over the long-buried Lort Burn, which connected the Bigg Market with Pilgrim Street.

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High Bridge and the Beehive Pub

From here you can ascend Grey Street again to the Monument, where we started this meander around Grainger Town.

Posted by ToonSarah 08:54 Archived in England Tagged buildings streets architecture monument history market shopping pubs city festival customs Comments (6)

Of monks and newer communities

The west side of the city

Blackfriars

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Blackfriars

Tucked away behind the popular Gate entertainment complex is this lovely peaceful haven amid the bustle of the city. A grassy square dotted with traces of ruined buildings is surrounded on three sides by the remains of the Black Friars Monastery that gives it its name, and on the remaining side (where once the church stood) by more modern buildings that have been sensitively designed to blend in with the surroundings.

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Blackfriars

The monastery was originally founded in 1239 by a small group of Dominican friars from Spain. They wore black tunics, hence the name “Black Friars”. The city granted them land on which to build a church, the monastery buildings and to grow crops. Their peaceful lives here were disturbed briefly in 1265, when the threat of raids from Scotland led the city council to build a wall around the city – and right through the Dominicans’ garden!

As the monastery grew, so did its importance, and over the years several kings stayed here, including Edwards the 2nd and 3rd. But in 1539 another king, Henry 8th, famously broke with the Catholic Church and closed down all the religious orders in the country. The church here was destroyed but the remaining monastery buildings remained.

They were subsequently bought by the city council and leased to local craft companies: bakers, brewers, butchers, saddlers, tailors and others each took space here. They held their meetings, housed their poor and grew vegetables in the cloister garden.

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Old doorway, Blackfriars

But in the 20th century the guilds moved out and the buildings fell into decline. In the 1960s much of the city centre was redeveloped following the rather brash pattern of that decade, paying little heed to history or tradition. Blackfriars was scheduled to go the way of many other old buildings, but escaped the bulldozers. In the 1970s the council had a change of heart, and with the help of various interested bodies saved and restored the complex. It was reopened by the Queen in 1981. And the Freemen of the crafts companies continue to meet here, as they have for over 400 years.

Today the old monastery buildings house a restaurant and a small number of interesting shops, including an artisan bakery, glass studio and knitting shop. The modern additions include apartments and space for small, mostly arts/media orientated, businesses.

The restaurant claims to be ‘the oldest dining room in the UK’ and is one of our favourites. It occupies the friary’s former refectory which maybe justifies that claim. We have developed a tradition in recent years of coming here for our New Year’s Eve dinner as unlike many of Newcastle’s better restaurants there is no rip-off hike in prices that evening, and no unwanted ‘entertainment’. What is more, the menu is always delicious, with a strong emphasis on locally sourced food. On a chilly New Year’s Eve it is always very cosy and welcoming, and the service equally so, despite this being the liveliest evening in Tyneside’s calendar.

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Good food at Blackfriars restaurant

The Gate

For one of the most striking examples of how Newcastle offers ‘something for everyone’ you have only to exit the tranquil courtyard of the Blackfriars complex by its north-east corner, along Dispensary Lane and Low Friar Street, which opens on to Newgate Street by the Gate. This claims to be ‘Newcastle’s premier leisure and entertainment centre’ and certainly tries its best to live up to that hype. Under its one roof you will find bars, restaurants, a 12 screen cinema and even a casino. During the day its restaurants and cafés are a good place to meet friends – indeed the Gate’s advertising slogan when it first opened was ‘Meet at the Gate’.

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The Gate by day and by night

Be warned – if you come here at night, especially Friday or Saturday, you’ll find yourself in ‘party central’. Newcastle didn’t get its reputation as the party capital of Europe for nothing, and while the traditional venues around the Bigg Market, and the more recent ones on the Quayside, still attract the majority of revellers, there are plenty left to fill the bars of the Gate and to spill onto the streets outside. If you aren’t prepared to run the gauntlet of Stags and Hens sporting strange attire and reeling under the influence of too much alcohol, perhaps you should stay away. But the crowds are largely (in our experience) harmless, and police look on in mild amusement most of the time, so this shouldn’t put you off unless you are of a very nervous disposition – although those of you who are, like us, of a ‘certain age’ may feel yourselves very out of place in any of the bars after about 8.00 PM!

Chinatown

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Gate to Chinatown

Newcastle’s small Chinatown centres on Stowell Street to the west of the city centre and just south of St James’ Park. It is home to many Chinese restaurants and a few supermarkets. While small compared to those in other cities it is worth a visit to get a feel for a different aspect to the city, to see the impressive Chinese gate, and of course to eat.

While there have been Chinese inhabitants in Newcastle for decades (it is after all a port city), and Chinese restaurants since the middle of the twentieth century, it was only in the late 1970s that Stowell Street acquired its first Chinese supermarket, swiftly followed by a number of restaurants. And it is relatively recently that the street and the immediate area around it have taken on the by-now expected trappings of a “Chinatown” – signs in Chinese, street lamps designed to look like lanterns, and of course an impressive entrance gate – in this case at the north end of Stowell Street, opposite St James’ Park. This was built in 2004 by craftsmen in Shanghai. It is 11 metres tall and is flanked by two Chinese guardian lions.

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View of the gate from the neighbouring Irish Centre

Other streets that form part of Chinatown and are worth exploring include Charlotte Square, Low Friar Street and others in the area around and to the south of Blackfriars.

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Chinatown details

At the top of Stowell Street near the Chinese Gate and just opposite St James' Park football stadium, another group of immigrants to Newcastle have their unofficial home. This is the Irish Centre, where members and their guests enjoy reasonably priced drinks in its two bars, live football and other sporting events on the big screen (matches involving Glasgow's Celtic are as popular here as those played by Newcastle United, I gather) and frequent musical entertainment. We have visited with friends on a number of occasions - usually for a concert but once for a party hosted here by a friend. As a visitor you usually need to be signed in by a member, but if there's something on that especially appeals it would be worth asking the friendly staff if there's a possibility of admission as they seem pretty casual about the whole membership thing, in our experience!

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Local (excellent) band The Happy Cats, performing at the Irish Centre

Just south of Stowell Street you can follow one of the more extensive stretches of the old town wall to the Westgate Road, where a few other sights might catch your eye.

Stoll Picture Theatre

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The Stoll Theatre

This is a very distinctive and historic building. It was built in 1867 as the Tyne Theatre and Opera House in an Italianate style. As well as plays, it hosted Sunday lectures with speakers as diverse as Oscar Wilde and William Gladstone (at the end of his career, aged 82), while Sarah Bernhardt performed here on three occasions. Other famous actors to have appeared here include Sir Henry Irving, Dame Ellen Terry, Mrs Patrick Campbell and Herbert Tree.

After the First World War cinema became much more popular than live theatre, and in 1919 the Tyne Theatre and Opera House was taken over by the Stoll cinema company. Their name still appears on the front and is the one often used by locals when talking about the theatre. This was the first cinema in Newcastle to show 'talkies', opening with 'Tarzan of the Apes', while the last film to be shown here, 'Danish Bed and Board' in March 1974, perfectly demonstrates how interest in going to the cinema declined in the UK during the Sixties and Seventies – the Stoll had attempted to save itself by catering to the emerging market for X-rated 'blue' movies. But it didn’t work, and the cinema closed its doors. It remained closed for three years, during which time it was leased by the Tyne Theatre Trust and restored to its former function as a live theatre – indeed, during the restoration process, when the cinema screen was removed, the original stage and stage machinery were discovered hidden behind it, complete with the set of the last play to have been performed here.

The theatre reopened in 1977 and among the famous names to have appeared here during the following years, the highlight was probably Placido Domingo in a performance of Tosca. In 1985 a fire caused significant damage, exacerbated by a storm in January 1986 during repair work. But again the theatre was reopened and has continued to operate, despite some challenges, under a succession of different owners.

Today it is properly known as the Tyne Theatre (although as I said, locals usually refer to it as the Stoll), and hosts variety performances, children’s shows, comedy, ballet, musicals, concerts and live performances. We have never been to a show here but after researching for this review I would love to do so if only to see the interior, which still retains many of its original features.

Newcastle Arts Centre

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Gallery shop display

I imagine that relatively few visitors to the city ever stumble across this place, which is a shame. Part shop, part gallery, part events space, and with a café too – lots to enjoy here.

To deal with the various elements in turn, the shop is in two parts. Firstly, it is a treasure trove of materials for artists and crafts enthusiasts, selling paints, brushes, papers, craft materials and kits etc. Secondly, in a separate section, it showcases and sells the work of local crafts people and those from further afield in the UK – paintings, jewellery, pottery and more.

The gallery has changing exhibitions (although the website is sadly out of date in listing these) and hosts events such as talks by exhibiting artists, and also workshops and art courses.

Attached to the gallery is a café, selling hot and cold light meals, beer and wine, soft drinks and hot ones. It has some outside seating in the courtyard for when the weather is fine, and more inside for when it is not!

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The Iron Man

The courtyard itself, known as Black Swan Court, is also interesting in its own right for the large sculpture of the Iron Man (a character in a children’s book by Ted Hughes) made from junk. Opening off this is the Black Swan arts venue which hosts music events and can be hired for parties etc. There really is a surprising amount of space and variety of interesting activities here, almost hidden away off Westgate Road!

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In Black Swan Court

Posted by ToonSarah 05:55 Archived in England Tagged art buildings streets architecture history restaurants city music Comments (5)

A walk to Ouseburn

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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

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The Sailors’ Bethel

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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.

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Plaque

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!

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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
Coulson
1841 – 1911
erected by public subscription
in memory of his efforts
to assist the weak and defenceless.
among mankind and in the
animal world'

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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

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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.

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Ouseburn moorings

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Waymarker for cyclists

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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.

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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!

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In the Free Trade Inn

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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!)

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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.

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On Lime Street

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Ouseburn street art

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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

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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.

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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.

ADDENDUM

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

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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.

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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 (4)

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