A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about shopping

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)

Around Northumberland Street

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Northumberland Street

This is Newcastle’s main shopping street. It developed north of the city walls as the main route to Northumberland, hence the name, and was at one time primarily a residential suburb. When the Tyne Bridge opened in 1928 it lined up with Pilgrim Street, the southern extension of Northumberland Street, with the result that this became Newcastle's principal commercial street, a role originally intended for Grey Street. It was also, until the opening of the Central Motorway in the 1970s (which serves as a bypass), the main thoroughfare for traffic through the city. It has since been pedestrianised and given over entirely to the pursuit of shopping.

Tyneside Cinema

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The Tyneside Cinema

If you love film you’ll want to visit the Tyneside Cinema on Pilgrim Street, the continuation of Northumberland Street. The building that houses it dates back to 1937 and its design reflects the spirit of those times, when a ‘picture palace’ was expected to transport audiences out of their humdrum lives into an exotic world where anything was possible. Nowadays its modern cinema, with four auditoria, focuses mainly on art films and world cinema, although mainstream releases are also shown. But this is more than just a cinema. There is a wide programme of events for film buffs, such as talks, quiz evenings and special screenings, and other cultural events including exhibitions, poetry evenings, live music and much more.

The Tyneside Cinema was originally built as Newcastle’s News Theatre in 1937 and today is the finest surviving news reel cinema in Britain. These news theatres were very popular in their day and did an important job at a time when there was no television news, bringing images from all over the world to ordinary people back home. My mother-in-law once told me that when she and my father-in-law were ‘courting’ in the 1950s, a visit to the news theatre here was a cheap and popular evening out. For a few pennies they could watch not only the news-reels but also some cartoons and a travelogue or two.

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The Classic auditorium

If you are interested in the history of the building you can take a free guided tour behind the scenes. We haven’t yet done this, but it’s on my “things I must do some time soon” list! This is also a good place to come for a meal, and the traditional ‘Tyneside Coffee Rooms’ on the second floor has been a popular spot with film-goers and others for 70 years. The four auditoria are licensed too, so you can easily enjoy a drink and a film at the same time. Attached to the cinema on the ground floor are two further eating/drinking options. Little Vicolo is a cosy spot, popular for day-time drinking, with excellent coffee, a good selection of beers and wines, cocktails, and also light meals. The newer Tyneside Bar & Café has become one of our favourite spots at any time of day – breakfast coffee and croissants, a mid-morning espresso, lunch or later. They have a programme of film-themed evening events including free screenings of old classics and a film quiz.

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Restored mosaic floor, and stairwell

Laing Art Gallery

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J Edgar Mitchell window, Laing Art Gallery

Several interesting sights lie just to the east of Northumberland Street, off New Bridge Street. The Laing Art Gallery is Newcastle’s city centre art gallery. It contains a mix of permanent exhibits, focusing on the 18th and 19th centuries, and temporary exhibitions. Although not large the gallery is worth a visit as the pictures are well displayed and there are several items of note in the permanent collections. These include a number of paintings by John Martin, a north east artist from the early to mid 19th century. His work was incredibly popular at the time and I have a soft spot for his dramatic and Romantic style. The Laing’s collection of his work is considered one of the most comprehensive in the world.

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Laing Art Gallery

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One of the paintings by John Martin in the permanent collection

Other star attractions include a bronze figure by Henry Moore, works by Pre-Raphaelite artists Burne-Jones and Holman Hunt, a Gauguin landscape and some striking stained glass, such as the Arts and Crafts window in my photo above, by J Edgar Mitchell. One gallery focuses on Art on Tyneside and includes an extensive collection of wood-engravings by local 18th century artist Thomas Bewick.

The temporary exhibits change regularly and are very varied – we’ve seen a great Biba exhibition in the past and I also recall an interesting installation reflecting on the slave trade by Benin artist Romuald Hazoumé. Most recently (winter 2017/18) the Laing has hosted an excellent exhibition of the work of British artist Paul Nash.

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Battle of Germany, by Paul Nash

There are regular events for children, a small area aimed at under-fives (where they are encouraged to learn about art through play), a café and a shop with some high-quality items such as jewellery, ceramics and prints.

The Lying-in Hospital

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The Lying-in Hospital

I have often passed this attractive stone building when visiting the Laing Art Gallery, which it faces across a pedestrianised stretch of New Bridge Street. But I have only recently got around to investigating its history. It was built in 1826 (in sandstone ashlar with a slate roof) as an asylum for poor pregnant women, designed (free of charge) by eminent local architect John Dobson (after whom the street that crosses New Bridge Street near here was named). It was paid for by charitable donations on land made available for the purpose by the Corporation of Newcastle, hence Dobson giving his time for free. But if the mention of charity suggests that this was a refuge for the most desperate, that was far from being the case, as those thought of as morally beyond help (the so-called ‘fallen women’ who could not show a marriage certificate) were turned away, as were the homeless and those suffering from infectious diseases. Women had to bring a dress for the child and show proof that they had a permanent address (unless their husband was a serving soldier or sailor). Only the ‘respectable poor’ were welcome here, it seems. But the building was in use for this purpose until 1923, so clearly many women did find shelter here.

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Plaque on the wall

I found the following description of the building’s layout in an 1827 history of the city, published on British History Online:
‘On the right hand side of the entrance is a waiting hall, 16 feet by 12½ feet. This communicates by a door with the committee-room, which is 25 feet in length, and 16 feet in breadth. The next apartment is the surgeon's room. On the opposite side are the matron's sitting-room, a store-room, two kitchens, and a wash-house, which is annexed to the main building. In the upper floor are two large, light, airy wards, which hold four beds each; and two smaller wards, adapted for two beds each; with the matron's bed-room, store-rooms, water-closet, and other conveniences.’

The same website goes on to point out that despite efforts to ‘discourage the breeding of the industrious classes, the old English feeling of kindness and benevolence to the poor has been pleasingly evinced in Newcastle’, which gives some indication of the sentiments of the day!

From 1925 to 1988 this was Newcastle’s Broadcasting House, until the BBC moved its regional operations to a building on Barrack Road that is known locally as ‘The Pink Palace’. It is now owned by the Newcastle Building Society who use it for offices.

The City Library

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In the City Library

Although I am a librarian by profession I don’t very often find myself recommending a visit to the library in my travel writing! But the new City Library in Newcastle is a stunner, and well worth a little of your time.

The library opened in summer 2009 and has been a great success. Officially named the Charles Avison Building after the 18th century Newcastle composer, most refer to it as just the central or city library. It is housed in a six storey block full of light and air, which replaced the old concrete 1970s building. There are entrances on New Bridge Street and Princess Square – the latter is perhaps more convenient if coming from the city centre, but the former will give you the more striking first view of this impressive building. Look up through the atrium to its many levels; watch how people move and feel at home in its spaces; sense the buzz of enthusiasm and activity too rarely associated with library use (though it should be!)

Then take some time to explore. There are naturally all the usual library offerings: books to borrow (probably of limited interest to short-term visitors); newspapers and magazines (could be a good way to pass some time on a rainy day) and free computers and free wifi. But there are also some real draws for visitors. Check out the small area on the sixth floor, where several beautiful historic illustrated books are on display, as well as tools and a desk used by famed local wood engraver, Thomas Bewick.

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Views from the upper floors

Enjoy a coffee and home-made cake in the café on the second floor, in a pleasant area overlooking Princess Square (and with tables outside too for a sunny day). And have a look to see if there are any interesting events or activities planned: there are regular author talks, book signings, exhibitions and activities for children. If you want to find out in advance what’s going on at the time of your visit, have a look at the calendar on the Newcastle Libraries website, but bear in mind that it covers all the libraries in Newcastle, so you’ll need to check what’s on where.

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Books with local interest on display

By the way, two friends of ours, Pete Cain and Barry Robertson, wrote Toon Odyssey, featured in the display in the photo above, and I was proud to supply some of the photos. It describes our adventures following Newcastle United in Europe ... but we will get on to the matter of the football team in a later entry ...

Posted by ToonSarah 07:47 Archived in England Tagged art streets architecture culture history shopping city cinema Comments (5)

On the other side of the river

Gateshead

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Newcastle and Gateshead: an uneasy relationship

Gateshead lies on the south bank of the River Tyne, facing its better-known neighbour, Newcastle. Like many neighbours, they have a somewhat awkward relationship, with Gateshead often feeling overshadowed and left out of some of the benefits that have come Newcastle’s way in terms of investment, regeneration and much improved image.

But in recent years they have established a stronger bond, triggered in part at least by their collective (and sadly unsuccessful) efforts to bring the City of Culture to a place they dubbed NewcastleGateshead. While the City of Culture bid may have failed, the concept of NewcastleGateshead lives on in tourism promotions and shared activity to drive further improvements in the region. And that activity, coupled with a drive to emulate Newcastle’s success in reinventing itself in our post-industrial age, has resulted in major change in Gateshead. Many buildings in the town centre have been flattened (at least one controversially) and new ones have taken their place. Despite these however, and despite some iconic cultural attractions, Gateshead retains a down to earth character.

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Gateshead on the left, Newcastle on the right

The sights and attractions of Gateshead are far fewer in number than those of its better-known neighbour, but what they lack in number they make up for in impact – so much so that they are often wrongly included in a list of Newcastle attractions (much to the aggravation of Gateshead!) I have fallen into the same trap a little, as I have already described the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in a previous entry, but I justify myself partly because it is so easily visited while on the Newcastle Quayside and partly because it serves as a draw to lure visitors across the Tyne.

Incidentally, the signs in my photo at the top of this page, which I photographed in a Newcastle bistro, are available for sale in the Baltic shop!

Sage Gateshead

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The Sage from Newcastle

While you are on the Gateshead side of the river it’s worth checking out the Sage. You can hardly miss seeing it, whichever side you are on, as it’s a very striking building, situated in the shadow of the Tyne Bridge on the Gatehead Quays. It is a concert venue with two main auditoria, a rehearsal space, a music education centre and a leisure destination with several bars and eating places. It is also a must-see, and must photograph, building!

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The Sage, early evening

It was designed by renowned architect Lord Foster (Norman Foster) and was his first for the performing arts. It played a major role in the cultural revival of Gateshead and the Quayside in particular, along with the Baltic Gallery, driven by a council eager at the time (late 1990s/early 2000s) to compete with its larger neighbour across the water. It opened in 2004 and immediately became an unmistakeable sight on the river front, with its huge curved roof of stainless steel and glass. That roof, if laid flat, would be large enough to cover two football pitches, while the concrete used in its construction could, according to the Sage website, ‘fill 23 competition-size swimming pools, make almost 5 million foot-square paving slabs – enough concrete flags to build a path 800 miles long from St James’ Park, Newcastle, to the San Siro Stadium in Milan – and still have enough left to pave over the pitch six times!’

I find the building very photogenic, especially in black and white:

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Sage details

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The Sage and Tyne Bridge

Check out the website to see if there are any concerts happening around the time of your visit. They are many and varied, from world famous acts to the regional professional symphony orchestra based here (the Royal Northern Sinfonia) to local music groups and school children (our cousin’s daughter danced there a while back, watch by a very proud mother and grandmother!) And if nothing appeals visit anyway – to enjoy a drink or a bite to eat, admire (or not – it’s not to everyone’s taste) the architecture, or join a tour of the building to find out more about it.

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Reflected in the Tyne

Central Gateshead

There is probably relatively little to detain the visitor in the centre of Gateshead. Years ago this was a traditional northern England shopping street, and we used to visit a lot as my father-in-law ran an Army and Navy Surplus store on the High Street. Today much of it has been demolished, including his former shop, and a new shopping centre built in its place, Trinity Square.

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Trinity Square

The largest shop here by some way is a huge Tesco Extra supermarket, where you can buy not only food and drink but also clothing (from their Florence and Fred budget range), household goods and electronics. Other shops in the complex include Boots the Chemist, Greggs (a north east bakery chain now found across the country), Sports Direct (owned by the unpopular owner of Newcastle United), Select (budget fashion chain) and Poundland. There is a multiscreen cinema (Vue) and several chain eating places – Nando’s, Frankie and Benny’s (US style Italian) and a Costa coffee shop. A new independent coffee shop with its frontage on the High Street, Altin, looks appealing but we haven’t tried it yet.

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'Get Carter' carpark
in an old photo taken
from the Bridge Hotel

This development is on the site of the former 1960 shopping mall of the same name, unremarkable save for the multi-storey car park that rose above it. Built in the Brutalist style, it came to fame through the film Get Carter, starring Michael Caine, and there was a lot of outcry when its demolition was first proposed in the early years of this century. Those who wanted to preserve it argued for its value both architecturally and culturally, while those who favoured its demolition couldn’t see why on earth anyone would want to preserve such an ugly piece of architecture! They got their way, although ironically the new development was nominated for the 2014 Carbuncle Cup for the ugliest building of the previous 12 months!

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The Tilley Stone

There are other shops in the surrounding streets, including Jackson Street which leads up to the Metro and bus stations. The Weatherspoon’s pub here, The Tilley Stone, is a fairly regular haunt of ours as it’s a convenient place in which to meet up with Chris’s family, most of whom live in the wider Gateshead area. The pub is bright and spacious, with plenty of room even though popular and busy at all times of day. It was named after two former local coal seams, and the décor includes examples of local artists' work with a mining theme. The prices, as always in a Weatherspoon’s pub, are low, and the staff very friendly – they never mind when we rearrange the furniture to accommodate our large group (15 people across four generations on a recent visit!) There’s a good selection of beers and other drinks, and while the food isn’t especially exciting, we’ve never had a bad meal here.

Two further, very different, attractions may tempt you to the outskirts of Gateshead.

The Angel of the North

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The Angel of the North

Whether you arrive in Newcastle or Gateshead by road or by rail, you'll be greeted as you approach the city by this amazing figure of an angel with outstretched arms, who appears to be watching over travellers. He welcomes visitors and home-coming Geordies – when we see the Angel on our regular trips to Newcastle we know we're nearly there.

The Angel of the North was the work of Anthony Gormley – indeed, is perhaps his best-known work. It is said to be the largest angel sculpture in the world and also one of the most viewed pieces of art in the world as its location so close to the busy A1, and on the London-Edinburgh mainline train route, means that it is seen by more than one person a second, 90,000 a day or 33 million every year!

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Visitors at the Angel of the North

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The feet

The Angel is on a grand scale. At 20 metres tall (65 feet) it is more than the height of four double decker buses, while its wings are 54 metres wide (175 feet) - almost as long as the wings of a Jumbo jet. It is made of a special weather resistant steel which contains copper. The surface oxidises to form a patina, which mellows with age to a rich red brown colour. There is enough steel in it to make 16 double-decker buses or four Chieftain tanks.

The site is that of a former colliery and Gormley has talked about the links between the sculpture and the industrial heritage of the region:

‘The hilltop site is important and has the feeling of being a megalithic mound. When you think of the mining that was done underneath the site, there is a poetic resonance. Men worked beneath the surface in the dark. Now in the light, there is a celebration of this industry.’

He also explained his choice of an angel as subject matter:

‘People are always asking, why an angel? The only response I can give is that no-one has ever seen one and we need to keep imagining them. The angel has three functions - firstly a historic one to remind us that below this site coal miners worked in the dark for two hundred years, secondly to grasp hold of the future, expressing our transition from the industrial to the information age, and lastly to be a focus for our hopes and fears - a sculpture is an evolving thing.’

(quotes taken from Gateshead Council’s website)

Several maquettes (scale models) were produced during the development of the Angel. According to wikipedia, one of these is owned by the local council and one by an anonymous individual (who paid £3.4M for it at auction). A third was donated to the National Gallery of Australia in 2009 and stands in the Sculpture Garden in Canberra - my friend Albert includes a nice photo of it in his review of the garden.

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The head

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From the car-park

Although so many people pass the Angel every day, relatively few visit – but it is well worth doing so. You have to leave the main road (take the A167, signposted Gateshead South) and park in the small lay-by provided, or you can catch a bus from Gateshead Interchange or Newcastle’s Eldon Square. A gently sloping path, wheelchair accessible, leads to the Angel’s feet, and it is only here that you can really appreciate the huge scale on which he is constructed.

To get the best photos you’ll need to go a short distance down the hillside in front, but you can also get effective ‘wingless’ shots from the car park itself. There is no charge to visit, and no facilities here, although enterprising snack-bar holders and ice cream sellers often set up in the car park.

There are those that don’t like the Angel (one of my husband’s aunts among them, who considers it an ugly monstrosity) but it has become part of the fabric of the region and I for one am among the many who really love it!

The Metrocentre

While much of the revival of Gateshead in recent years has focused on culture (led at the time by an ambitious local council), its most visited attraction must certainly be this temple to retail! When it was built the Metrocentre was the biggest shopping mall in Europe. I think it was briefly overtaken by Lakeland, and possibly others, but it’s recently expanded and is now making the same claim. Whatever – it’s pretty huge, and you’ll need plenty of stamina and a real enthusiasm for shopping to do it justice!

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Christmas at the
Metrocentre

There are apparently nearly 330 shops (no I haven’t counted them for myself!) and these include most of the major high street names plus quite a few smaller and more individual shops. The major department stores include Debenhams, House of Fraser and Marks & Spencer; my favourite UK fashion chain Monsoon has a large branch; there’s Gap, Next, Wallis and so on …… There are also a small number of independent retailers.

To help you navigate, the mall is divided into four colour zones, each on two floors. You can approach this place in several ways. We try to be systematic if we’re there for a serious shopping trip, e.g. during the sales, so take each zone in turn, one floor at a time. But if you’re looking for a particular shop or type of shop there are plenty of maps (located at each junction). Or you could just start walking and see what you stumble across!

In addition to the shops there are plenty of places to eat (over 50, according to the website), from fast food outlets to quite decent family style restaurants, many in the fairly new Metro Qube area near the Odeon cinema. Talking of the cinema, it has an IMAX screen and 11 others. It shows all the major releases and is modern and well fitted-out. The Funscape area in the same part of the mall has tenpin bowling, arcade games and a soft play area for children. At certain times of year entertainment is also laid on for children in the shopping malls, e.g. a panto show at Christmas.

Parking at the Metrocentre is free and there’s plenty of it, though you may have to hunt for a space if you don’t come early when the sales are on. The lots are colour-coded in the same way as the malls, so make sure you remember whether you’re in the blue, yellow, green or red car-park and use the exit from the corresponding mall when you want to go home – or you could be wandering outside for a long while! Alternatively take the bus – there’s a regular shuttle from Newcastle city centre (Monument and Central Station) or from Gateshead Metro station.

Posted by ToonSarah 08:11 Archived in England Tagged art architecture culture shopping restaurants music christmas angel gateshead Comments (8)

What football means to Newcastle

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Fans in the Gallowgate Stand, St James' Park

If you want to support a club with guarantees of success and a trophy cabinet packed with silverware, look elsewhere. Supporting Newcastle United is about passion and about solidarity - solidarity with your team, your fellow fans and your city.

I don't believe you can really understand Newcastle and its people unless you've been to a match at St James' Park. Unlike many cities, in Newcastle the football stadium is in the city centre, not on its outskirts, and it dominates life in the city. One of my earliest memories of going to a match is walking back through the city afterwards and being stopped by all sorts of people (young children, old ladies) to ask what the score was.

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Pre-match drinks in the
Crow's Nest, Percy St

Everyone takes an interest in what's happening at the football club:
• are there new players joining?
• who will be in the team on Saturday?
• will we have a chance in the cup this year? and so on!

Even if you're not a big sports fan I think you'd enjoy the experience of a match here, and it really is the best way to meet some locals and get to know them. Tickets are hard to come by for the really big games, but for most matches you should be able to get them - try the club's official website for ticket news and box office details.

Plan to have a drink beforehand in one of the pubs in Percy Street or maybe in the Strawberry near the ground, and do the same afterwards too if you can. Get talking to a few fans about the game, buy a round, and you'll have a great time - I guarantee it! People here love their football, and even more they love the chance to talk about it.

St James’ Park

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The stadium at the heart of the city

The football stadium has been much modernised in recent years but still occupies a site right in the city centre. Football has been played here since 1880, twelve years even before Newcastle United Football Club was formed in a merger of two teams, Newcastle East End and West End FC. It takes its name from the hospital and chapel of St James which once stood just to the north of here (where the Hancock Museum is today). The chapel leased land to the south for development and a number of streets were built on the land, including St. James Street, St. James Terrace and Leazes Terrace. The latter lies just to the north and east of the stadium and its north stand is still referred to by fans as the Leazes End or simply the Leazes, despite efforts to rename it over the years.

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Waiting for the match to start -
view from the Leazes End

The south stand opposite is known as Gallowgate after the street that runs a little behind it. This was the route taken by convicted criminals from the town to the gallows which stood on the Town Moor. There were regular hangings; in 1650, 22 people, including 15 witches, were hanged in a single day. The last execution took place in 1844 (only three decades before the first ball was kicked at the site), although some Newcastle fans will assure you they have watched the team get executed from time to time since then! You will sometimes hear the ground itself referred to as Gallowgate, especially by older fans.

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The Gallowgate Stand

Of course the ground has been extensively developed over the ensuing years. Contrast this old postcard from 1908 (downloaded from the club’s website – I assume copyright has long since expired!) with my more recent photos – my photo from the Leazes, above, was taken from a spot somewhere among the trees to the right-hand side of the postcard’s viewpoint.

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St James’ Park in 1908

You can read in more detail about all the phases of development on the club website: History of our Home. This has at times been somewhat constricted by the city centre location, and in particular by the houses of Leazes Terrace which press close to the East Stand.

When I first started to go to matches in the early 1980s the stands on the east and west sides were covered and had seating, while Gallowgate and Leazes were still traditional open, all-standing, stands - much as in the slightly later photo below:

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St James' Park in the late 1980s -
the old Gallowgate Stand in the foreground

At one point in the 1990s there was talk of a move to Leazes Park just to the north, or even across the river to Gateshead – much to the consternation of fans. Fortunately these came to nothing, and instead the three other sides were extended, creating the stadium we have today – and an impressive sight it is!

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St James’ Park from the Metro station

For anyone interested in football, a tour of St James’ Park is a great opportunity to go behind the scenes. We did this some years ago and got a real thrill from sitting on the bench, visiting the changing rooms and imagining all the great Geordie heroes who’d prepared for matches there over the years, and seeing the stadium from pitch level as the players do.

Wear the strip with pride!

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Shoppers on
Northumberland St

In Newcastle the wearing of the football team's black and white striped shirt isn't something restricted to matchday. The Toon Army wear their colours as a badge of honour and not only when going to the match, but also shopping on a Saturday morning, going to the pub on a Friday night, to church on a Sunday morning (yes, really!) and so on.

If you'd like to blend in, or just want a sporting-related souvenir of your visit here, head for one of the official Newcastle United club shops to be found in several places in the town. The obvious purchase is a black and white top, but for something cheaper you could look for a scarf or woolly hat, pictures of the players, a mug or beer glass, pen or key chain ...Or if you really want to proclaim yourself a fan, it's possible to decorate a whole room in black and white stripes!

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Dressed for the match

Local hero: Sir Bobby Robson

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Sir Bobby Robson statue at St James' Park

Most football fans, and not only those from England, will know the name of Sir Bobby Robson. First as a player (with Fulham and West Bromwich Albion, and briefly with England) and later as manager of a series of clubs including Fulham, Ipswich Town (where he is fondly remembered), the English national side, PSV Eindhoven, Sporting Lisbon, Porto (where a young Jose Mourinho learnt his trade under him), Barcelona, and in his final managerial role, here in Newcastle.

He was manager of Newcastle United for five years (September 1999 to August 2004) and remains one of the best-loved managers the club has had. He was a passionate Geordie who supported Newcastle as a boy and once said he had “black and white blood” in his veins. He died from cancer in 2009, and was mourned by football fans from all over the country.

He received many awards during his life time, including the Lifetime Achievement Award at the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year show in 2007, in recognition of "his contribution as both player and manager in a career spanning more than half a century, and posthumously in December 2009 the FIFA Fair Play Award, for the "gentlemanly qualities he showed throughout his career as a player and coach". I still remember the lengthy standing ovation he was given on the BBC show, when the great and the good of the sporting world stood and applauded for what seemed to be ages.

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Memorial to Sir Bobby

Now an appropriate memorial to the great man has been established in the shadow of the stadium where the team he loved most plays – St James’ Park. It consists of five stone slabs carved with appropriate words and images. From the left they show:

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Slab 1:
Some images of his youth in the mining village of Langley Park in County Durham:
pit wheel, miner’s lamp, football and boots

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Slab 2:
The names of the various clubs with which he was associated over the years,
either as player or manager

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Slab 3:
A portrait of the man himself

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Slab 4:
The three lions of England and account of his England career,
as player and manager

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Slab 5:
A design intended, I think, to represent the nearby St James’ Park Stadium
and commemorating Sir Bobby's legacy, the charity he founded to support people fighting cancer

On the top of the slabs are the names of players associated with Sir Bobby – some of the best of the many players he managed. These include Newcastle stars such as Alan Shearer, Paul Gascoigne and Gary Speed, but also those from other clubs, such as Ruud van Nistelrooy, and from his time managing England.

The memorial is relatively new and the birch trees that grow between the slabs a bit young and spindly, but already you can see how this will become a lovely corner of the city where fitting tribute is paid to one of its greats.

Up at the stadium itself there is a bronze statue of Sir Bobby (above), the work of Morpeth artist Tom Maley and placed here in 2012.

Local hero: wor Jackie

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Statue of Jackie Milburn

Although present-day fans may not know the name as well, Jackie Milburn was as big a hero at St James’ Park in his day as Alan Shearer in his, and today he is commemorated with this statue near the ground and also in the name of one of its stands.

He was born in 1924 in Ashington, Northumberland – a mining town that was also later home to Jack and Bobby Charlton (the sons of one of Milburn’s nieces). In those days of course, football was not the major industry it has become, as various anecdotes about Milburn make clear. He famously arrived for his trial at Newcastle with a pair of borrowed football boots wrapped in brown paper, and his lunch – a pie and a bottle of pop. And many older Newcastle fans will describe how they used to meet him on the bus from Ashington to Newcastle on match day, on his way to the match. During the period of the Second World War he combined playing for the “Toon” with his work as a fitter (repairing heavy machinery) down the mines. He played 353 matches for Newcastle during the period 1943-1957, wearing the famous number 9 shirt, and he remains the club’s second highest scorer with 200 goals (Alan Shearer is top, with 206).

This 1991 statue of the great striker (by Susanna Robinson) is an early example of the growing fashion for monuments to great footballers. It has had several locations in the city, but currently stands in Strawberry Place, in the shadow of the South-East corner of St. James' Park.

Local hero: Joe Harvey

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Memorial plaque to Joe Harvey

Also commemorated with a memorial at St James’ Park is Joe Harvey, who played for Newcastle from 1945-1953 and returned to manage the club from 1962-1975 – those were the days when most managers stayed at a single club for years, being given time to build a successful team.

Harvey is associated with most of the greatest achievements of the club in (relatively) recent years. He captained the team to two successive FA Cup victories in 1951 and 1952, helped to coach the side that won the FA Cup again in 1955, and then as manager, in 1969, led Newcastle to victory in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (the predecessor to the UEFA Cup), their last major trophy to date. The memorial plaque also mentions victories in the Anglo-Italian and Texaco Cups, but neither of these would be considered major. For Newcastle United, the long wait goes on …

Local hero: Alan Shearer

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St James' Park decorated for Shearer's testimonial match, 2006

One local hero whom you won’t see commemorated at St James’ Park is Alan Shearer. Or at least, not at present. When he retired from playing in 2006 he was rightly awarded a testimonial match (against Celtic) and the club took all the appropriate steps to ensure it was a night to remember, with free scarves as mementoes for fans who attended, a team of past stars and worthy opposition. I was there! Soon after that, the newly-opened bar in the Gallowgate Stand was named in honour of the most successful striker in the club’s history – Shearer’s. But soon after this a new owner, Mike Ashley, bought the club. Despite appointing Shearer briefly as interim manager at the end of the 2009 season (in a failed attempt to stave off inevitable relegation), the two have never seemed to get on well. At the end of that season there was a falling out between them, as Ashley failed to communicate with Shearer and proceeded to appoint another manager without even telling him that he was to be replaced.

Since then Shearer’s has been renamed the Nine Bar, much to most fans’ disappointment. With the current (autumn 2017) rumours that Mike Ashley plans to sell the club, I wonder if the time is ripe for a fitting memorial to be created for our record striker?

Some more local heroes

Although you can easily walk to St James' Park from anywhere in the town, there is a Metro station right by the stadium and it's worth a look inside the ticket hall even if you aren't travelling by train, as the football theme is extensive and there are a number of interesting photos and other mementos to be seen. One area of the floor has been tiled in green to look like a football pitch, and several former players have literally left their mark here - boot prints for outfield players, gloves for goalkeepers. Meanwhile black and white photos around the walls show players from all eras as well as fans.

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St James' Park Metro Station

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Local heroes all

The Strawberry

While most of the pubs in the city are packed with Toon fans on a match day, the Strawberry has a particular association with the football club, located as it is in the shadow of St James’s Park. Outside a giant black and white shirt adorned with a strawberry forms the pub sign, while inside its walls are lined with Newcastle United memorabilia and old photos. This is a genuine collection too, not some sort of opportunistic theming to take advantage of the location.

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The Strawberry pub, outside and in

A sign on the pub’s outer wall explains the history of the name, which is taken from the streets on whose corner it stands, Strawberry Place and Strawberry Lane, and is derived from the nuns of near-by St Bartholomew’s who grew strawberries in fields here and made strawberry wine to sell to support their convent.

Unless you’re a committed fan you may find it too crowded on match day, or even impossible to get into. But visit at another time to see all the memorabilia and enjoy a drink in this historic local pub. There’s also a roof terrace with excellent views of the ground, which like the pub itself is especially popular before and after a match.

The Back Page

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The Back Page

This is a must-visit shop for any sports fan. It has an extensive range of books, all with a sporting theme, and many other sports-related items too.

The focus is firstly on Newcastle United (inevitably!), secondly on football in general and thirdly on other sports. There is a large selection of old football programmes featuring most of the league teams in England and Scotland, and a similar range of fanzines. There are usually also some fascinating football memorabilia on sale, again with a particular emphasis on Newcastle United – on one visit I spotted a framed Newcastle shirt signed by Alan Shearer (for £230) and another, unframed, signed by several players for £200. Other items include postcards of Newcastle and of football stadia around the country, black and white Newcastle United flags, mugs and key rings and much more.

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In the Back Page

Prices vary from 50p for a postcard to several hundred pounds for signed shirts, as described above. Many of the books are signed too, and these usually cost no more than an unsigned copy from elsewhere.

The shop also runs a travel club for Newcastle fans wishing to go to away matches, with very reasonable fares on their coaches. And if you don’t have a chance to visit they do a very good and comprehensive mail order service from their website. I know I sound as if I’m on commission but I’m not – it’s just a very good shop run by people who know, and have a passion for, their subject.

Posted by ToonSarah 01:44 Archived in England Tagged football monument shopping pubs Comments (5)

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