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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)

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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