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Entries about cathedral

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)

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)

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