Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Tommy Glidden, Native of Coxlodge (NZ232684)

In the days when Coxlodge was a settlement consisting of a handful of terraces around a couple of collieries, a certain T.W.Glidden was born there – a man who would go on to find footballing fame, but at some distant from his native parish.

Thomas William Glidden was born on 20th July 1902 and began kicking a football in earnest for local outfit Colliery Old Boys, before moving on to Boldon Villa and Sunderland West End. Moving up to the professional game, he spent his entire career thereafter in the Midlands at West Bromwich Albion during 1922-36.

When he joined Albion in 1922, they were a force to be reckoned with in the game – having been crowned English champions as recently as 1920. It was, therefore, no mean feat breaking into the team, where he played as a forward at outside-right for a total of 445 league games, scoring 135 goals. He helped the club to a 2nd place finish in 1925, before they were relegated in 1927. They languished in the Second Division for four seasons, gaining promotion in 1931 with Glidden as captain.

However, 1931 also brought West Brom’s first FA Cup success for almost four decades – and Glidden had the honour of lifting the trophy as skipper as they beat local rivals Birmingham City at Wembley 2-1 (incidentally, Glidden had scored the only goal in the semi-final win over Everton). The cup victory on 25th April was followed a week later with confirmation of their promotion back to the First Division – the first (and only) time such a ‘double’ had been achieved in English football. In the crucial final league match Glidden both scored and made a goal in a 3-2 win at Charlton.

Glidden continued playing for West Brom until the close of the 1935-36 season – all in the First Division – appearing in a second FA Cup Final in 1935 (again as captain) when Albion lost to Sheffield Wednesday. He is remembered as one of the club’s finest captains, but never quite gained an England international cap.

He died in West Bromwich in July 1974, ten days short of his 72nd birthday.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Subterranean Balls: Gosforth (NZ254683)

What is so often overlooked in the history of coalmining is the great amount of time, risk and expense that went into the sinking of speculative new pits. There was never any guarantee of success, and such was the sense of relief and celebration that followed a successful ‘winning’ of a new colliery that quite often a subterranean ball would be held to mark the occasion.

With a refreshing disregard for modern-day health and safety concerns, these extraordinary events represent a fascinating cross-over between the classes of the day, when the well-to-do would descend into the bowels of the earth and mix with the pitmen and their families.

When coal was successfully struck at Gosforth Colliery in 1829 after a prolonged (and very difficult) sinking process lasting four years, the powers-that-be (namely, Charles John Brandling and his partners) launched forth into a typical underground get-together. From an unnamed source, thus:

The ball-room was situated at a depth of nearly 1,100 feet below the earth’s surface, and was in the shape of the letter L, the width being fifteen feet, the base twenty-two feet, and the perpendicular height forty-eight feet. Seats were placed round the sides of the ball-room, the floor was dried and flagged, and the whole place brilliantly illuminated with candles and lamps. The company began to assemble and descend in appropriate dresses about half-past nine in the morning, and continued to arrive till one in the afternoon. The men engaged in the work, their wives and daughters and sweethearts, several neighbours with their wives, the proprietors and agents with their wives, and sundry friends of both sexes who had courage to avail themselves of the privilege; all these gradually found their way to the bottom of the shaft. Immediately on their arrival there they proceeded to the extremity of the drift, to the face of the coal, where each person hewed a piece of coal as a memento of the visit, and then returned to the ball-room. As soon as a sufficient number of guests had assembled dancing commenced, and was continued without intermission till three o’clock in the afternoon. No distinction was made among the guests, and born and bred ladies joined in a general dance with born and bred pitmen’s daughters. All now returned in safety, and in nice, clean, and well-lined baskets, to the upper regions, delighted with the manner in which they had spent the day. It was estimated that between two and three hundred persons were present, and nearly one-half of them were females.

Gosforth Colliery was worked for a little over half a century, until it was abandoned in 1884.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Jesmond Real Tennis Club (NZ253673)

(from Wikipedia)

Real tennis, the ancient forerunner of our more familiar racket sports, has been around since at least as long ago as the sixteenth century. It is now very much a niche, or specialist, sport, as is evidenced by the distinct lack of courts worldwide. Globally, there are less than fifty, with the UK being home to more than half of these.

One of the more noteworthy venues is that at Jesmond, to the north of Newcastle. It was built in 1894 as a private court for Sir Andrew Noble, who owned nearby Jesmond Dene House. Noble, a Scot, was a leading light at the famous Armstrong munitions works – and was a handy player himself (despite suffering occasionally from gout!). The architect responsible was local chap F.W.Rich.

The suitably-named Jesmond Dene Real Tennis Club now occupies and runs the curious set-up, though it enjoyed a chequered twentieth century existence. During World War I airships were said to have been constructed there; and, following a brief reversion to ‘family’ use after hostilities, the building moved out of private ownership and into the care of Newcastle Council in 1931. The formation of a tennis club on the site the following year helped maintain the historic links, but Badminton ran the roost at the venue for many years following WWII. Happily, though, the building eventually reverted to its proper ‘real tennis’ use in 1981.

It is now, quite rightly, a listed building.

More extensive historical info here.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Wills Building, Coast Road (NZ281669)

© Copyright Ken Brown and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The former W.D. & H.O. Wills Tobacco Factory on the Coast Road, Newcastle, holds a strange fascination with local folk. The massive post-war industrial building, half classical, half Art Deco, is a curious affair, and has even achieved listed status. It survives as a residential complex.

Designed along American lines by Cecil Hockin (architect to the Imperial Tobacco Co.), the fanciful construction was dreamt up in the late 1930s. Built during 1946-50, it consists of red brick and Portland stone erected around a steel frame. What you see today is essentially the factory’s office complex, with its lofty central tower and robust entrance block.

The elegant frontage formed only part of an originally greater whole – the factory itself to the rear was demolished in 1995, some nine years after the plant’s closure as an industrial concern. Eventually, in the late 1990s, the remaining office block was redeveloped by architects Wildblood Macdonald for builders George Wimpey and reopened as one-, two- and three-bedroomed apartments.

And thus a grand (and modern-ish) North-East landmark was saved.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Wittgenstein-upon-Tyne* (NZ251656, NZ245650 & NZ225645)

Ludwig Wittgenstein is universally regarded as one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century. Years ahead of his time, he worked primarily in the fields of the philosophy of the mind, mathematics and language. Born into one of the richest families in Europe in 1889, he began life in Vienna, moved around a fair bit, and died in Cambridge in 1951.

Wittgenstein was an odd sort. He gave away his inheritance when in his twenties and suffered the suicide of all three of his brothers at an early age. For the most part he made his own way in life – eventually finding himself studying under Bertrand Russell at Cambridge a little before WWI. During the war he served as an officer in the Austro-Hungarian army, and thereafter lived for several years in Austria.

He returned to Cambridge in 1929, where he spent most of the next decade or so, and, bizarrely, served as a semi-anonymous porter in Guy’s Hospital, London, during WWII. It was whilst working there that he fell in with Doctors Reeve and Grant who were interested in philosophy and the effect of shock on air-raid casualities. When, in November 1942, the two doctors moved their studies to Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, Wittgenstein was offered a job as their lab assistant at £4 per week – a post he eventually took up in April 1943. He became a lodger at Mrs Moffat’s house at 28 Brandling Park, Jesmond, where Reeve and Grant also lived. After several months living here it seems that the landlady’s ill-health forced a move, with Wittgenstein transferring to Conyers House in Western Avenue, Benwell, where he lived alone.

By all accounts, Wittgenstein didn’t really fit in very well with his friends and colleagues. He was often chatty at the wrong times and unsociable at others – though he did like watching films, especially westerns. He was mechanically minded and proved to be a good technician in his lab at the RVI – though he only worked there for ten months until February 1944. He did no philosophical work of note during this period, though he did gatecrash a philosophical lecture being given by Dorothy Emmett in Newcastle in his typically difficult fashion!

Upon leaving the North-East he soon found himself back in Cambridge where he picked up his philosophical work. Plaques have recently been erected at both 28 Brandling Park and the RVI to commemorate the great man’s brief stay in the city.

Note: Incidentally, Wittgenstein visited Tyneside briefly in 1932 at the behest of his friend Maurice Drury, during which time he called in at Newcastle and Jarrow.

* My clever title has been stolen from the excellent article by Bill Schardt. More information can also be found here. Images of plaques here and here.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

King John’s Palace (NZ267656)

© Copyright Weston Beggard and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Despite being one of Newcastle’s most ancient relics, the ruin known locally as King John’s Palace is a bit of a mystery. Situated on high ground in Heaton Park overlooking the Ouseburn valley, it may be more correctly described as the House of Adam of Jesmond.

Dating, as it does, from the 1250s, it has nothing to do with the much maligned King John, who died in 1216. John was known to have stayed in the immediate vicinity on his journeys north, but almost certainly stayed elsewhere – and the ruin which remains today has perhaps understandably become confusingly entwined in the story of the old king. Instead, the building was most likely built and first occupied by one Adam of Jesmond, a deeply unpopular local landowner and Sheriff of Northumberland.

Adam was a knight and a supporter of King Henry III. He was always in trouble for embezzlement and extortion, and when he failed to return from a crusade in 1270 no one seems to have been too upset. His house was allowed to fall into disrepair thereafter, though it was periodically revived for use as farm buildings in the ensuing centuries. In 1879 it was given to the city, and in 1897 the various farm-related attachments were removed and the building was consolidated. 

What remains of Adam’s dwelling essentially amount to the north wall, north-west turret, and part of the east wall, plus earthworks to north and south.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The Byker Wall (NZ270645)

© Copyright Christine Westerback and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The Byker Wall, as all who live within a sizeable radius of Newcastle will know, is an unbroken block of 600+ high-rise dwellings situated in the eastern reaches of the city. It is an extraordinary experiment in mass social housing, and has attracted much attention – both good and bad – over the years.

Designed by architect Ralph Erskine in the late 1960s, the mish-mash of a complex (and much of the outlying area) was constructed during the 1970s. The process ran concurrently with the demolition of a huge swathe of Victorian slumland and also factored in the effect of a planned motorway, which, as it happens, was never built.

Almost everything about the scheme was considered revolutionary. It was a pleasant break from the brutalistic concrete monstrosities of previous years with its colour and quirkiness, and was designed to harbour a distinct sense of community among its residents. With this in mind, locals were widely consulted during the design and construction process – even to the extent of, in some cases, the provision of purpose-built accommodation.

© Copyright Martin McG and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Recent refurbishment has greatly helped the general look of the estate, and the ‘Byker Community Trust’ was founded in 2011 which effectively took the Wall and its neighbouring properties out of the control of the city council and into that of the local people. Despite the fact that the Byker Wall elicits a mixed response from befuddled outsiders, it maintains a certain sense of community spirit and collectiveness (and indeed pride) among its occupants.

Furthermore, the Byker Wall, undoubtedly one of the most unusual experiments of its kind in the UK, has won its fair share of awards over the years and is now a listed building. Extraordinarily, the Wall has also been placed on UNESCO’s list of outstanding twentieth century buildings.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Denton Hall (NZ198657)

 © Copyright Phil Thirkell and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Built in 1622, Denton Hall is one of the few surviving examples of Jacobean architecture in the region. And what a fine specimen it is.

The mighty edifice was built by Anthony Errington, the estate’s owner at the time and a big player in the early coal industry of the area. He lived with his wife Dorothy and two sons at his new hall for a mere ten years before his death in 1632 – the property passing to his first-born, Lancelot. During the English Civil Wars the Erringtons supported the king and, as a result, ultimately lost their Denton estate by degrees over the ensuing years. Their catholic sympathies did them little good, either, of course.

Ownership of the hall slid to the Rogers around 1700, then onto the Montagu family in the late 1750s – more specifically, Edward, who took possession along with his wife, Elizabeth, a woman who was to become the most famous figure in Denton Hall’s history.

At first apprehensive of her husband’s recent acquisition – and especially its northerly latitudes – Mrs Montagu soon took to her new environment. They would stay at the hall in the summer months – Edward attending to his coal, farming and other business interests in the area, with Elizabeth throwing herself into various social and charitable tasks. In time, these duties grew and expanded as she further integrated herself into the local community. For example, she founded a school at Denton for the children of the pitmen, and was always attentive to the needs and demands of the local workforce.

Mrs Montagu was an accomplished writer and was interested in all manner of topics, from the literary to the scientific, as well as moral matters (among many others). Visitors to Denton Hall included the likes of Dr Samuel Johnson, Dr Joshua Reynolds and David Garrick, and several others of note. She was considered something of a leader of society, and was regarded as the ‘first woman’ for literary knowledge in England. Elizabeth was also a prominent figure in the so-called ‘Blue-Stocking Society’.

When her husband died in 1775, Elizabeth inherited all of his property. She carried on running his old affairs with great efficiency and cared a good deal for her ‘black friends’, the term she employed for the pitmen and their families. She continued visiting her ‘Gothick Mansion near Newcastle’ almost every summer until 1789, after which old age began to get the better of her. She died in London in 1800, aged 80.

During the 19th & 20th centuries the hall passed from the Montagus to the Rokebys and beyond – though for much of the past two centuries it has been tenanted (its most famous occupant being that of ‘Silky’, the resident ghost). Eventually it fell back into the hands of catholic ownership, becoming a nunnery in recent decades – indeed, today it is the official residence of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Hexham & Newcastle and is formally known as ‘Bishop’s House, East Denton Hall’.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Benwell Vallum Crossing & Temple (2 sites at c.NZ216647)

Situated somewhat conspicuously slap-bang in the middle of a housing estate in the western suburbs of Newcastle-upon-Tyne sits a fascinating relic of the region’s rich Roman past – in fact there are two of them within yards of each other. Hardly surprising, though, as the spot sits immediately south of the course of Hadrian’s Wall.

© Copyright Mike Quinn and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The first is Benwell Vallum Crossing, being all that is left of the ancient roadway which passed over the ditch and bank system at the southern side of Condercum Roman Fort – though nothing of the fort itself remains. Amazingly, for all that we have left of the Roman frontier, this is the only remaining example of its kind which has so far been found. It is nothing much to look at, really, but the footings of the former archway can still be clearly made out – and the landscaping thereabouts maintains its ancient form, enabling the casual visitor to easily imagine its former appearance. It was probably built early in the wall/fort’s history (early 2nd century), and continued to operate until at least the late 3rd century.

© Copyright Mike Quinn and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

A short walk to the east sits what remains of a Roman temple, which would have been situated just outside the fort in the civilian settlement, or vicus. Once more, the ruins have been reduced to nigh ground level, but it is easy to discern the building’s outline – and again presents a curious throw-back amidst modern-day surroundings. A couple of replica altar stones help those of us with little in the way of imagination. The structure, dedicated to local god Antenociticus, was built around 178-180AD. Skeletons were found on the site in the 1930s, and Anglo-Saxon goods have also been unearthed nearby.

This document gives you a nice idea of the lie of the land and the position of the remains.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Benwell Towers (NZ211645)

Benwell Towers, c.1900 
(source: Newcastle City Library)

Readers of a certain age will know Benwell Towers without knowing it, as it were. For between 1989 and 2006 the rambling, crenellated creation in Newcastle’s West End was the ‘youth club’ from the BBC children’s TV series Byker Grove. As fascinating as that simple fact may be, the overall history of the mansion (and the site) is, in fact, far more interesting…

In the long centuries before the village of Benwell was swallowed up by the sprawl of Newcastle, the previous incarnations of the grand old building existed as far back as at least the early thirteenth century. This original erection was a three-storied tower house belonging to the priors of Tynemouth – and with it there persists all sorts of rumours of underground catholic escape tunnels! All goes quiet until the 16th / 17th centuries, when a manorial wing was added to the tower. Further additions and alterations followed in the eighteenth century – the work of the building’s long-term owners, the Shafto family – during which time the great landscape gardener, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, may have had some input.

In the 1770s the manor house changed ownership and ultimately suffered for it, falling into general decay by the early 1800s. Colliery owner, Thomas Crawhall, took possession at this time and decided on a complete re-build, turning to famous local architect, John Dobson, for inspiration – all of which led to the pleasing asymmetrical hotch-potch of masonry we see today.

In 1882, the site entered another phase of use, being gifted to the religious authorities as the bishop’s residence for the newly-created Diocese of Newcastle. In fitting with its new-found status, a fancy new Perpendicular-style chapel was added.

During WWII, the building was pressed into service as a fire station, and, thereafter, as a training centre for the National Coal Board from 1947 (including the HQ of the mine rescue service). For many years the edifice was known widely as The Mitre public house and restaurant – the writer spending his underage drinking years there in the early 1980s.

Only after its closure as a pub did it achieve national fame via Byker Grove, Ant and Dec et al. After a decade and a half’s use at the hands of the Beeb it once more fell into disuse, its owners finally putting it up for sale a few years ago. It has recently found yet another new owner and seems destined to reopen as an Islamic school and community centre in the near future. All in keeping with its eclectic history, I suppose.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Montagu Pit Memorial (NZ198641)

Memorial to those lost in the Montagu Pit Disaster – the plaque reads:

In memory of the 38 men and boys who tragically lost their lives in the Montagu View Pit Disaster on 30th March 1925, when an inrush of water from a burst seam flooded the mine shaft. The pit was finally closed on 13th November 1959.

The pitman, pony and tank [the latter is held in the girl’s hand] depict our past heritage. The house [held by the boy] represents the present regeneration of our community. The children are our future.

The official unveiling took place on 9th June 2012 by Councillor Hazel Stephenson and children from Scotswood Village Nursery, Scotswood Village Playgroup and Bridgewater School. The children and local community were involved in the design. The sculpture was made by Xceptional Designs.

In remembrance of ‘Men of Steel’.

[Scotswood Village Residents Association]

More information here.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The Victoria Tunnel, Newcastle (c.NZ236655 to c.NZ263642)

(from Wikipedia)

Opened in 1842, and still largely intact, the Victoria Tunnel runs for some 2½ miles under Newcastle city centre – from Spital Tongues in the north-west to the Ouse Burn’s confluence with the Tyne in the south-east.

It was built by Porter & Latimer, the owners of Leazes Main Colliery, over a three year period as (believe it or not) the most cost-effective way of transporting coal from their main pit-head to the river for onward export. Doing it this way meant that they didn’t have to pay keelmen to take the goods a few hundred yards down river (and past the restrictive bridges) to the waiting ships. Moreover, the scheme satisfied the local authorities who didn’t fancy coal wagons traipsing through the main thoroughfares of the town.

The tunnel itself was driven through boulder clay, then a base and lower wall of stone was laid and a double-brick arch built – to a height of a little over seven foot and six foot wide. Loaded wagons descended the incline of the tunnel under their own weight – a total fall of some 222ft – and were hauled back using rope by a stationary engine at the head of the tunnel. At the opening ceremony eight wagons were squeezed through the tunnel to great ceremony – four containing coal and the others a “company of ladies and gentlemen and a band of musicians”.

The labourious task proved to be a financial success – but the colliery itself did not. In 1860 it was closed, leaving the tunnel to collect dust for several decades. Curiously, in 1928 local brewer Thomas Moore founded the Victoria Tunnel Mushroom Company and tried to farm mushrooms in the lower end of the tunnel. However, his idea came to nothing and within a year the tunnel was abandoned once again.

During World War II the subterranean space was utilised as an air-raid shelter – and benches, bunks, blast walls and chemical toilets were installed, as well as the opening up of new entrances. It was able to hold some 9,000 people. After hostilities it was once again closed to the public, though it seems that it was under consideration as a nuclear air-raid shelter at one point.

Only relatively recently has the tunnel been brought back to life – this time as a tourist attraction.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

World’s First Dog Show (NZ249640)

Newcastle-upon-Tyne, strangely enough, lays claim to the first ever organised dog show. This distant forerunner of Crufts predates its famous successor by around thirty years, and took place at the Old Town Hall / New Corn Exchange building at the foot of the Bigg Market on 28th and 29th June 1859. The building is now long gone.

The event was organised for the benefit, somewhat narrowly, of the owners of setters and pointers only, with one ‘best of breed’ award up for grabs for each. There were, we are told, some sixty entries. The Newcastle Courant of 1st July tells us:

This Exhibition took place in the New Corn Market on Wednesday and Thursday last. The new feature of the addition of Sporting Dogs to the show of Poultry was a great attraction, and tended in no slight degree to the success of the meeting. The arrangements were admirably carried out: litters, with proper divisions, round three sides of the spacious building were set apart for the dogs, which were chained and sufficiently protected by barriers from any chance of injuring or alarming the visitors; and in this section the prizes given, two valuable guns, from the manufactory of Mr. Pape, gunmaker, of this town, were probably a sufficient inducement to produce twenty-three entries for Pointers and thirty-seven for Setters, many being from different parts of the kingdom. Among them were some very splendid specimens of their kinds; and certainly on no former occasion was ever witnessed in this town so novel and, to sportsmen, such an interesting exhibition. And it may be remarked, as creditable to the breeders of Sporting Dogs in this district, that the palm for the best Setter was carried off by William Jobling, of Morpeth, that for Pointers being gained by J. Brailsford, Knowsley, Lancashire. Then; were many others which were highly commended by the judges for symmetry of shape and purity of breed, as will be noticed in the judges’ decisions, who, it is presumed, in giving their decisions as to which is the best dog, could only certify to shape, symmetry, and apparent purity of breed; for although a dog may possess all these points, he may not, for want of proper training, scent, or other defects, be the best in the field for the sportsman.

There is no indication that the event translated into an annual affair in Newcastle, but later that same year another show was organised in Birmingham – which itself became a fixture in the calendar. And thence the craze spread worldwide.

But it all began in Newcastle.

More excellent detail here.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Queen Victoria’s Statue, Newcastle (NZ249640)

Photograph by Jacqueline Banerjee

In the little public square a few yards to the north of Newcastle’s St.Nicholas’ Cathedral sits an often overlooked bronze statue of Queen Victoria. The monarch sits amidst ornamental splendour facing west, so as not to turn her back to either the cathedral itself or the old Town Hall which used to be situated a few yards further north at the foot of the Bigg Market.

The controversial monument – often criticised for its ‘over-the-top’ embellishments – is the work of sculptor Sir Alfred Gilbert and was unveiled in 1903. It was a gift to the city from Sir William Haswell Stephenson, a company director and politician who was Newcastle’s mayor a total of seven times, and was intended to commemorate 500 years of the Shrievalty (the jurisdiction of a sheriff) of Newcastle.

The 500th anniversary itself was actually in April 1900 and, as we all know, Queen Victoria died in 1901. The slight delay in the statue’s unveiling was down to some temporary cash-flow problems for the said Stephenson. As for the fanciful design, the artist was, it seems, attempting to echo the architecture of the nearby cathedral.

Sculptor Alfred Gilbert is also responsible for a similar statue of the old queen in the Great Hall at Winchester (but without the fancy canopy), and also designed Eros (or, more properly, Anteros) of Piccadilly Circus fame. The Newcastle commission must, however, have been one of his last in the UK, as he slipped into bankruptcy and began an extended exile in Bruges in 1901.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Holy Jesus Hospital, Newcastle (NZ251642)

© Copyright Andrew Curtis and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Now cruelly hemmed in by motorway madness and the seventies creation that is the Pilgrim Street Roundabout, the building known universally as the Holy Jesus Hospital sits cheek-by-jowl with all that is bad with the modern-day city.

This curious structure is difficult to find. Like the centre of a maze, you know it exists – and may even be able to see it – but actually reaching it across/under/over the myriad of pathways and underpasses is no mean feat. When you finally get there you may wonder how it escaped demolition at all.

Though most of the present-day building was thrown up in the 1680s, masonry survives from the old Augustinian Friary which occupied the site from the thirteenth century. In time, the old structure found royal favour – though the Dissolution of the Monastaries eventually put an end to that friendly arrangement. It still retained a certain air of importance – including acting as a back-up venue for the Council of the North in the mid- to late-sixteenth century – but eventually fell into disrepair.

Passing out of private ownership and into that of the town corporation, the present ‘hospital’ structure was built during 1681-83 to house retired freemen and their kin. It was (is) built of brick – a fairly new-fangled material at the time of its construction. Amazingly it remained in use as an almshouse until 1937.

The famous ‘Soup Kitchen’ was added in 1880, and served the ‘deserving poor’ for a decade or so. Though the hospital carried on, the various other buildings on the site were used by a variety of private enterprises during the early twentieth century. By 1960, though, the place was a mess.

Whilst all around the hospital was demolished and roads driven hither and thither, the old building somehow escaped the bulldozers and even enjoyed a revamp – re-opening as the John George Joicey Museum in 1970, focussing on the history of the city. Its hopeless situate, however, meant it was little visited and it eventually closed in 1993.

A further renovation saw the building re-open yet again in 2004 – this time as the local HQ of the National Trust’s Inner City Project. It seems, though, that this latest phase in the history of the Holy Jesus Hospital building is set to end soon – and the future remains uncertain.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Newcastle-upon-Tyne Coat of Arms

Official Blazon:

Arms : Gules three Castles triple towered Argent (Red shield, three triple-towered silver castles).

Crest : On a Wreath of the Colours a Castle as in the Arms issuant therefrom a demi Lion guardant supporting a Flagstaff Or flying therefrom a forked Pennon of the Arms of Saint George (On a wreath of the same colours, a castle – as in the Arms – issues therefrom, from which a golden lion supports a forked flag of St.George).

Supporters : On either side a Sea Horse proper crined and finned Or (On either side stand sea-horses, trimmed in gold).


The arms were granted in 1575 (though were in use unofficially from the 1300s), but were not confirmed until as late as 1954 by the College of Arms.

The oldest part of the coat of arms, the triple-castled shield, goes back to earliest times – the town taking its name from the "New Castle" built by order of Robert Curthose, eldest son of William the Conqueror, in 1080. The earliest surviving example of the three silver castles on a red shield, dating from about 1400, is in the window on the north side of the Chancel of St. John’s church.

In the crest, added later, the castle motif is repeated; and the lion’s forepaws grasp the flag of St. George. The castle stands upon a wreath of red and white above a tilting helmet, with eye slit of fifteenth century style.

The supporters, mythical sea-horses, shaded in green with gold manes, fins and tails, are a reminder that Newcastle is a seaport. Both the supporters and crest were added to the shield by grant of William Flower, Norroy King of Arms, dated 16th August 1575.

The motto, Fortiter Defendit Triumphans (‘Triumphing by Brave Defence’) was adopted during the English Civil War following the stubborn (but ultimately unsuccessful) defence of the town against the Scots in 1644.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The King’s Meadows (NZ230628)

The steady uninterrupted flow of the River Tyne – both its general sea-ward course and the ebb and flood of its tidal stretch – has not always been as stable and balanced. There was a time when its banks angled gently into relatively shallow depths, its bends choked with silt rendering passage difficult for all but the smallest of vessels.

As the Industrial Revolution gathered pace in the Victorian era, though, Tyneside’s industrialists began to worry about access to their growing network of factories and shipyards. The river needed to be cleared of all encumbrances … and that meant a major programme of dredging. So, in 1850, the Tyne Improvement Commission was established.

The TIC improved and maintained the river – and the Port of Tyne as a whole – for more than a century. Navigation of the waterway for the industries of Tyneside was made a good deal better and helped make the region the powerhouse in became in the latter half of the 19th century. Of the many straightening and clearance works that were carried out in this period the most famous was perhaps the removal of the river’s most prominent island, the King’s Meadows.

This long, thin landmass extended some 2,000m in the middle of the Tyne between the villages of Dunston to the south and Elswick to the north. It amounted to some 30 acres and even had its own pub, the Countess of Coventry, whose landlady grazed cattle on the island which produced milk for the locals. Occasionally, horse racing meetings and regattas would be held on and around this little sliver of dry land – all served by a ferry service.

But the march of Victorian industry showed no sentiment toward the famous landmark, and it was eaten away by one of the new-fangled steam dredgers in the late 1870s. Nearby Clarence and George Islands (also known as Annie and Little Annie) were also swept from the riverscape, and the region lost a little more of its old-fashioned charm. But at least the businessmen were happy.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Accident on the High Level Bridge, 1849 (NZ251637)

From the Monthly Chronicle of North-Country Lore & Legend, August 1887:-

Not fewer than 1,300 workmen were at one time employed in the construction of the High Level Bridge across the Tyne. Amongst them was a man named John Smith, a ship carpenter, who, finding work slack at his own vocation, accepted an engagement at the High Level. To him a remarkable accident occurred on July 28, 1849.  
While at work he stepped upon a loose plank, which canted over, and he was thrown headlong from the bridge. In his descent, the leg of his trousers caught a large nail which had been driven into the timber just upon the level of the lower roadway, 90 feet above the river, where he hung suspended for a considerable time until rescued by his fellow-workmen.  
Doubtless Smith owed his marvellous escape to the toughness and strength of the fustian trousers he wore at the time; and a well-known firm of Newcastle clothiers, long since retired from business, asserted in one of their advertisements that the wonderful “fustians” had been made and purchased at their establishment. Smith, however, contradicted this assertion through the local papers, giving the name and address of the tradesman who had supplied him with the “lucky bags” in question.  
We are sorry to have to add that poor Smith was killed by an accident after all. Falling down a ship’s hold in the Tyne early in 1878, he died soon after from the injuries he then received. Shortly after his providential escape on the High Level, Mr Smith was induced to join the Wesleyans, and it was not long ere he became one of the most valued local preachers in that body. Mr Smith had been asked by a minister to occupy his pulpit on the Sunday, but he declined, on the ground that he had been working hard and needed rest. On that very day he died from the result of the accident we have mentioned.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The Tyne Bridge Myth (NZ253638)

One from the archives: the Tyne Bridge (& other bridges!) 
from the Milk Market, as photographed by the 
author in 1984.

Constructed during 1925-28 and opened on 10th October 1928, the Tyne Bridge which spans the gorge between Newcastle and Gateshead is undoubtedly Tyneside’s greatest landmark. It was on the drawing board for more than 60 years before the councils of the two towns pushed through their final plans – the design being by Mott, Hay and Anderson (architect R.Burns Dick), and the contractors Dorman, Long & Co. of Middlesbrough.

The three-year construction programme cost some £1.2million and the life of a single worker (Charles Tosh). Its distinctive form made it an instant hit, and it has remained so ever since – and it was the largest single span bridge in the country at the time of its unveiling.

It is commonly believed that the Tyne Bridge was the model for the much larger Sydney Harbour Bridge, but this is not so. Sydney’s bridge was actually begun first (in 1923), but completed much later (in 1932). The only obvious link between the two structures is the identity of the constructors, Dorman, Long & Co. – which is possibly where the common confusion arose. If anything, because of the respective timelines, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was a model for the Tyne Bridge!

In actual fact, the bridges don’t really resemble one another anyway – well, not when you look at the Sydney Bridge’s true inspiration, the Hell Gate Bridge in New York (built during 1912-16). Now there’s a model for the Ozzie landmark if ever there was one!

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Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Gateshead Town Hall Debacle (NZ254634)

The building in central Gateshead now known as the Old Town Hall was designed and built by way of a torturous procedure during 1867-1870. An Act of Parliament, a design competition and the appointment of the appropriate officials all preceded the commencement of work – which led, eventually, to the building opening for business in February 1870. It remained the centre of local government for over 100 years.

The superstitious among the residents of the town may, however, have feared the worst for the future when an extraordinary accident befell the gathered throng on 11th June 1868 during the laying of the foundation stone. Officials, various hangers-on and a sizeable chunk of the town’s population turned up for the event, and the organisers thought it a good idea to erect two special platforms at the construction site to accommodate the crowd.

After refreshments at a local pub, the slightly tipsy officials turned up at around 3pm and took their places – along with several hundred others – on the aforementioned platforms. The mayor, Robert Stirling Newall, was handed a silver trowel with which to perform the ceremonial duties. This he did without incident, then the usual round of speeches commenced.

Everyone’s attention was soon diverted, however, by a loud creaking noise. To the general horror of all present, one of the platforms began to lurch groundward, taking around 500 unfortunates with it. After the dust had settled the site was carefully cleared, and twenty or so folk were wheeled off to the Dispensary. One fatality followed – that of 70-year-old Mr Barnet of Windmill Hills, who died a few weeks later following a blood infection caused by bruising to his feet.

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