Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Stannington’s Hospitals (NZ182810 & NZ188819)

Source: WellcomeLibrary blog (WI no. L0016013)

A couple of miles north-west of the Northumberland village of Stannington, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, there once stood two really quite extraordinary medical institutions. Until their closures in the 1980s and 1990s respectively, Stannington Children’s Hospital and St.Mary’s Asylum were two of the most interesting places in the North-East.

The former, known more commonly as Stannington Sanatorium, was the very first purpose-built children’s TB hospital in the UK. Opened in 1907, it was built specifically for the needs of youngsters suffering from the disease in the days before the use of antibiotics. Fresh air, exercise and good nutrition were the order of the day, as well as the use of cutting-edge medical techniques – and all done with remarkable frugality due to much voluntary support. It was originally known as ‘Philipson’s Colony’ after one Roland Philipson who had made a generous donation to the appeal for the campaign by the Poor Children’s Holiday Association for just such an institution. In the seventy-odd years of its (sometimes controversial) existence around 11,000 youngsters passed through its doors.

The nearby St.Mary’s Hospital was, somewhat strangely, Gateshead’s official lunatic asylum. Built to the designs of George Thomas Hine during 1910-14, it served as the home of the town’s mentally ill until as recently as 1995. Almost immediately after its opening it was requisitioned by the military for the duration of World War I, but was thereafter returned to Gateshead who added a nurse’s home in 1927-8 (and otherwise modified the site) – before adding yet more buildings in the late 1930s, making St.Mary’s a sizeable concern in its ‘heyday’.

The old asylum site is now disappearing fast under new (and ongoing) development – the old children’s sanatorium up the road having been obliterated several years ago.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Whalton’s Bale Fire (NZ128815)

The few of us who still celebrate Midsummer's Eve now do so at the back end of June. A handful of ancient celebrations persist throughout the British Isles, but Whalton’s ‘Bale Fire’ is a little different from the rest.

The residents of Whalton, you see, mark Midsummer’s Eve on 4th July – a fact easily explained by the change here in the UK, in 1752, from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar, when we all made a ‘jump’ of several days. The minor furore caused by this shift was eventually overcome and, in time, almost everybody made the transition to the ‘new’ date for Midsummer. Not the villagers of Whalton, though. They would not be moved. And since 1903 it is the only village in the country to have maintained the curious ceremony on the wrong date. Or should that be the right date?

The word ‘bale’ (sometimes shown as ‘baal’) is derived from the Old English Bael or the Old Norse Bal meaning a great fire (it is possibly the name of an old sun god), and in Northumberland seems to have survived as a word used to describe a beacon fire lit on a prominent spot to warn locals when raiders were on their way from the north. These days the ‘bale’ is a modest bonfire on the green by The Beresford Arms pub, around which the local children and Morris dancers jig and twist – after which all present adjourn to the village hall for refreshments and yet more dancing.

Interestingly, during the black-out in World War II a few twigs were lit and quickly put out to preserve the tradition!

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Cale Cross, Blagdon (NZ218775)

© Copyright Stephen Richards and licensed for 

Head north on the Great North Road and, a little short of Stannington, you will stumble upon an old relic of Newcastle. The strange classical form standing near the roadside, and within the bounds of Blagdon Hall, is Cale Cross, looking more like a daft rich man’s ornament than anything else.

Unusually, though, we have here a ‘folly’ that has – or rather had – a practical use. For it once stood at the heart of old Newcastle, marking the spot where cale (cabbage)* and other foodstuffs were once sold – a sort of mini-market which gathered at the town’s Sandhill area, near the present-day Guildhall on the Quayside. It also acted as a conduit head for some time.  A commemorative plaque now marks the site, attached, as it is, to the modern-day Cale Cross House near the footings of the Tyne Bridge. But however did this old landmark find its way to the grounds of a stately home several miles away?

Well, Blagdon Hall, as you may know, has long been the home of the White Ridleys; and the Sandhill area of Newcastle has long had a ‘Cale Cross’ – at least as far back as 1309. For many years a more ancient ‘cross’ structure marked the spot, but this was replaced by a fancier design in 1783 – drawn up by architect David Stephenson and paid for by Sir Matthew White Ridley. However, nice though it was, it soon got in the way of the local traffic and a decision was made in 1807 to dismantle it.

The White Ridleys, presumably somewhat miffed at the corporation’s change of heart, ended up carrying the said structure stone-by-stone to their ancestral home and throwing it up at the side of the main road north – for no other reason than it seemed a shame to ‘hoy it oot’. And so, like a nineteenth century Angel of the North, it sits in a prominent spot near a major thoroughfare so that passers-by can have a good gawp.

And why not. It is rather splendid.

* Some think the word ‘cale’ is derived from kail wort, a herb used in making broth and which may have been sold at this spot in Newcastle.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Kirkley Hall Shenanigans (NZ150772)

© Copyright Andrew Curtis and licensed for 

The man who would become the first (and last) individual to be known as Lord Kirkley was born as William Joseph Noble in Newcastle in January 1863. He married Margaret Dixon and they had four children. Noble made his name and his considerable fortune in shipping – primarily with the Cairn Line – and rose to serve as president of the Chamber of Shipping in 1920.

On his way to the top of his profession he also served on the Tyne Improvement Commission and acted as an advisor to the Ministry of Transport. He served on a number of national and local committees during World War I, and led the British Economic Mission to South Africa in 1930. By this time he was a Baronet and when, in 1928, he bought Kirkley Hall in Northumberland from the Ogles, he soon found himself bearing the title of Lord Kirkley.

He was to die, aged 72, in 1935, but the last few years of his life were eventful enough. First off, his wife, Margaret, died in September 1928 and was interred in Ponteland churchyard. Then his newly acquired mansion was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1929 – which he quickly rebuilt in much the form we see today.

Noble was a staunch Presbyterian and even had his own chapel at Kirkley. He was most vociferous towards the local C of E vicar at Ponteland, who is known to have warned his bishop of “difficulties ahead”. And he wasn’t wrong. Sir William was soon trying to poach worshippers from him by parking a bus outside the parish church at Evensong. But worse was to come…

Keen to do all he could to upset his rival, Sir William then hit upon the idea of exhuming his wife’s body from Ponteland churchyard and reburying her in the garden of his own little chapel … and in very much unconsecrated ground. When the old man himself died in 1935, he joined her. And with no surviving sons to inherit his title, that was the end of the Lords of Kirkley, too.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Attractions of Milbourne (NZ113743 & NZ117751)

© Copyright Les Hull and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The village of Milbourne, a little to the NW of Ponteland, is dominated by the Georgian hall of the same name. Built during 1807-09, Milbourne Hall was thrown up by the Bates family to the designs of Edinburgh architect John Paterson and is a standard-looking affair. Constructed of local sandstone collected from the nearby Belsay quarries, its external demeanour belies its curious internal secret: for almost every room within is oval in shape. In a similar vein, the mansion’s stable block is octagonal in its layout. As the house is a private dwelling, we’re unlikely to ever bear witness to these geometrical curiosities, so we’ll have to place our trust in my Pevsner’s guide.

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

As part of the Bates’ development of the general vicinity, a slightly eccentric chapel-of-ease was also constructed in the village in 1869 by Miss Jane Anne Bates. Intended to save her family, the villagers and the staff of Milbourne Hall the long walk into Ponteland every Sunday, the little building of the Holy Saviour has since proved to be quite a success – right through, in fact, to the present-day. For many religious Pontelanders now make the reverse trip to Milbourne every Sabbath in order to avail themselves of the picturesque facilities in and around the Bates’ Victorian creation.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The Snowball Murder (NZ208733)

George Hunter, a pitman, has been executed at Morpeth for the murder of another pitman, named Wood, at Dinnington, on December 19 last. The two men had been out shooting together, and on coming out of a public house about dusk Wood began to throw snowballs at Hunter, who thereupon threatened to shoot him, and immediately did it. The jury recommended him to mercy, but the authorities did not interfere. On the day of the murder the prisoner had signed a memorial praying for a pardon for Richard Charlton, who was then under sentence of death for having shot his wife in the same village. 
 [from The Argus newspaper, 5th June 1876]

The famous ‘Snowball Murder’ of 1875 occurred on a snowy winter’s night as four miners, including the above-named George Hunter and William Wood, were exiting the White Swan pub in Dinnington after a day’s shooting. A couple of the locals were engaged in a friendly snowball fight and Wood decided to partake by hurling missiles at his colleague, Hunter. Not best pleased, Hunter threatened to shoot Wood if he didn’t stop. “Stop heaving and clotting or I’ll fire,” to which the perpetrator replied, “Oh, you’ll not fire, Geordie!” The gunman duly delivered his threat and felled his pal there and then. He fell by the churchyard and soon expired – his funeral the following Sunday attracting 1,500 attendees.

George Hunter was found guilty the following spring after it was revealed that he had a history of errant gunmanship. He was hanged at Morpeth on 28th March. 

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Ponteland: The Battle That Never Was (NZ165729)

Not being best placed in terms of border disputes between the English and the Scots, the town of Ponteland has seen surprisingly little in the way of military action over the centuries. The ‘exception that proves the rule’ was, of course, the town’s complete destruction by the retreating Scots prior to the Battle of Otterburn in 1388. Other than that, though, it’s done pretty well.

Perhaps typically, therefore, Ponteland was the site of the battle-that-never-was during the century preceding Otterburn. During the reign of English King Henry III (1216-1272), relations with the Scots were fairly cordial – Henry effectively enjoying overlordship of his counterpart, Alexander II. Things occasionally got a bit frisky, though, one such episode being a fall-out between the two monarchs in the 1240s. The Scots, it seems, were casting their eyes over the northern counties with a view to reclaiming the large tracts of land which they had previously occupied during 1139-57 – all of this fuelled, apparently, by some traitorist muckraking by one Walter Bisset.

Whatever the cause of the tension, King Henry decided that a show of strength was required and marched north in the summer of 1244 to Newcastle, and thence to Ponteland, where the action was expected to begin. Alexander was waiting for him there at the head of a large army and everyone held their breath. Instead of fighting, however, “a treaty of peace was concluded between them, on the vigil of the Assumption [sometime in August], chiefly at the instance of the Archbishop of York and of other nobles.” A royal marriage was subsequently arranged, thus ensuring the peace – at least for a while.

The ‘Treaty of Ponteland’ is supposed to have been signed at the spot now occupied by The Blackbird Inn, where a fortification of sorts is known to have existed.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Darras Hall: The Garden City (NZ152712)

Darras Hall, to the south of Ponteland, is perhaps the most ‘exclusive’ housing estate in the North-East of England. Famed for its plethora of mini-mansions and sprawling gardens, it is best known for being the collective home of many of our most affluent footballers. But how did it all come to be?

It will not surprise you to know that the famous Ponteland annex was actually purpose-built, and was always meant to be for well-to-do folk. Until the Edwardian era, the landscape thereabouts was mere farmland, but an enterprising Newcastle-born philanthropist by the name of Joseph Whiteside Wakenshaw thought it’d be a neat idea for the monied classes to have a nice out-of-town village to live in – thus placing themselves a respectable arms-length from the grime of industrial Tyneside. Acknowledging the potential of the growing rail and road network, he looked at his map and brought down his pin on the area occupied (at that time) by Darras Hall Farm and its neighbours at Callerton Moor and Little Callerton. It was relatively poor farmland and Wakenshaw thought he might get it on the cheap, I suppose.

Wakenshaw put together a consortium of like-minded businessmen and the purchase was duly made in 1907. The 1,000-acre expanse was divided up into around 190 plots of 5 acres each (which were sold off at auction) and a Trust Deed was drawn up and published in 1910 – a document still in use today and which is enforceable by the current ‘Estates Committee’. Essentially, the document lays down the rules, regulations and guidelines for development on the estate in order to ensure a ‘good quality of life’ for its residents – which basically equates to leaving ‘plenty of space’. Hence Darras Hall’s nickname of ‘The Garden City’.

Once an individual had secured a plot there was no obligation for them to build on it (the cheapest went for £35!) – indeed many areas remained undeveloped for decades. However, as land prices crept up, most of the land was given up to residential housing. The place even had its own railway station, but this proved to be a bit of a white elephant and was closed in 1929 (and finally disappeared completely in the 1990s). Strangely, much of the town was given over to a PoW camp during World War II.

Despite the restrictive covenants, there has been much development in the designated zone, especially of late. At one time, the ‘new town’ consisted of modest bungalows set in huge gardens, but now small mansions are being carefully placed on the sprawling plots – though there has been a slight easing of the rules and regulations. But all in the best possible taste, of course.

Note: Darras Hall was once the site of the medieval village of Callerton Darreynes, abandoned after the Scots destroyed it in the 14th century – and from which the modern-day place-name is just about descernable.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Newcastle Airport: the Basics (NZ186714)

1929 – City council first discuss the idea of an airport;
1935 – Small airport opens at Woolsington (“Woolsington Aerodrome”), managed by the Newcastle Aero Club;
1939-45 – Taken over by the RAF;
1946-52 – Charter & private flights only;
1952 – First scheduled flights begin on the appointment of long-term Commandant, Jim Denyer;
1967 – New terminal opens;
1978 – Attains Regional Airport Status;
1982 – More major development work;
1989 – Retirement of Jim Denyer;
1991 – Metro rail link opened, connecting airport to Newcastle Central Railway Station;
1993 – More terminal expansion;
2000-04 – Yet more improvements to the terminal buildings;
2013 – Airport Master Plan unveiled, itemising development proposals up to 2030.

Passenger numbers (approx):
1951 – 5,300;
1957 – 34,000;
1960 – 119,000;
1965 – 254,000;
1970 – 417,000;
1975 – 695,000;
1980 – 1,027,000;
1988 – 1,500,000;
1993 – 2,000,000;
2000 – 3,209,000;
2007 – 5,651,000 (peak);
2012 – 4,366,000.

[taken from Small Enough to Conquer the Sky by John Sleight (Newcastle City Libraries & Arts, 1993), with supplemental information from Wikipedia]

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

The County of Tyne & Wear

Just in case you don’t recognise it, this is the flag of Tyne & Wear – the much maligned new ‘county’ formed as a result of the controversial reshuffling of the shire borders of England in 1974. As a consequence of legislation passed since, it has both ceased to exist in one sense, yet continues to exist in another. It has left us locals all rather confused.

The area in question is neatly illustrated thus:

Formerly, the mini-county was shared between Northumberland to the north and County Durham to the south, with the boundary being provided by the River Tyne. After years of humming and hawing, the powers-that-be decided to carve up the land thereabouts as illustrated above. ‘Tyne & Wear’ was the name given to the new creation (born, ironically, on 1st April 1974), it being officially known as a ‘metropolitan county’. The venture was seen as a way of giving the largely urban population of the area a more efficient and properly focussed way of governing their patch of the UK, independent of the old historical counties which continued to exist in reduced form.

The Tyne & Wear brand proved difficult to sell to a resident population that was, remember, traditionally split between Northumberland and Durham and (more importantly) between Geordie and Mackem. It had its own county council, of course, and it can be argued that much good was done in its name; but after limping on for a decade or so the council was abolished in 1986, with the five ‘metropolitan authorities’ of Newcastle, Sunderland, Gateshead, North Tyneside and South Tyneside going their separate ways, essentially becoming self-governing.

Rather than reverting back to a clean Northumberland/Durham split, though, it was decided to maintain the ‘Tyne & Wear’ brand in a somewhat half-cocked way. Many services continued to be run jointly by the five authorites (transport, fire & rescue, museums & archives, etc.), and the ‘Tyne & Wear metropolitan county’ continued (and continues) to exist in law and as a ‘geographical frame of reference’. It also still exists as a ‘ceremonial county’, which means that it has a Lord Lieutenant acting as a representative of the monarch. There is, however, no longer any Tyne & Wear-wide administrative/governmental body.

It seems only a matter of time before the term ‘Tyne & Wear’ disappears into history – there being quite a clamour, generally, for a return to the historic county boundaries across the whole of England. Royal Mail officially doesn’t care whether we use Northumberland, Co.Durham, Tyne & Wear or, indeed, nothing at all for the county line of addresses on our envelopes. For the moment, though, we stagger on somewhat confusedly – and under the banner of our proud blue flag, if you feel so inclined.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Black Callerton’s Stephenson Link (NZ174698)

© Copyright PhilThirkell and licensed for reuse 

The tiny hamlet of Black Callerton between Newcastle and Darras Hall holds a rather important place in the personal history of perhaps the greatest ever north-easterner, George Stephenson. Not only does it feature in the earliest years of the man’s illustrious career, but it also had quite a say in his family life, too.

There is, I am pleased to say, a commemorative plaque to mark the story, which, if filled out a bit, runs something like this…

The famous engineer and ‘Father of the Railways’ was born in 1781 at Wylam, a few miles to the south-west of Black Callerton. Illiterate until the age of eighteen, the self-taught genius first worked at Newburn colliery, before becoming a brakesman at Black Callerton (which involved controlling the pit’s winding gear) in 1801.

Rumour has it that whilst there he secretly courted a local farmer’s daughter called Betty Hindmarsh, whom he would meet in her orchard – and behind her parents’ back. All attempts to woo her failed, though – the girl’s father having none of it on account of our man’s lowly status. He thereafter made approaches to another local lass, Anne Henderson, before moving onto her sister, Fanny, who quickly became his wife. In 1802, the couple moved to Willington Quay, east of Newcastle.

Fanny died in 1806, leaving George with one surviving child, the famous Robert, born 1803. Whilst George built his career, young Robert was raised by a succession of neighbours and relatives. Eventually, though, George would marry again, and, strangely, the Black Callerton link would return to shape his life – for it was into the arms of his first love, Betty Hindmarsh, that the now hugely successful (and very wealthy) George would fall. They married (at Newburn) in 1820.

The marriage appears to have been a happy one, though they had no children. Betty took great care of her step-son, Robert, before her death in 1845. George still found time to marry for a third time shortly before his own death in 1848, but was buried alongside ‘Black Callerton Betty’ in Chesterfield.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Newcastle’s Suburbs, Pt.2

Here’s another batch of place-name meanings from the outlying areas of Newcastle

Kenton – From the Old English (OE) cyne-tun, meaning ‘royal manor/farmstead’. The identity of the Anglo-Saxon nobleman is unknown;

Killingworth – OE in origin, meaning ‘the enclosed farmstead of Cylla’s people’;

Lemington – From OE hleomoc-tun, which means the ‘farmstead/settlement where brook-lime grows’ (a type of herb, aka speedwell);

Newburn – Nothing to do with a ‘burn’, but rather from the OE meaning ‘new burgh/fort’;

Scotswood – Richard Scot began enclosing the wood west of Benwell at this spot in 1367 – hence ‘Scot’s Wood’;

Shieldfield – A field with shielings (huts) in it;

Walker – ON in origin, from wal-kiarr = wall-marsh, i.e. the ‘marsh near the (Roman) wall’;

Wallsend – Literally, the ‘wall’s end’ (i.e. the Roman Wall);

Westerhope – Generally thought to be from the OE, meaning ‘whetstone valley’ (perhaps a quarry?);

Wingrove – No one seems too sure about this one, but it may be OE in origin, meaning ‘the grove (group of trees) of wiga’s followers’ (or someone similar).

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Newcastle’s Suburbs, Pt.1

It doesn’t take a genius to work out how Newcastle-upon-Tyne got its name. But what about its many suburbs? These were all originally settlements in their own right but have long-since been swallowed up by the sprawling city.

Benton/Longbenton – Old English (OE) beonet- or bean-tun, hence ‘course/bent grass farm’ or ‘bean-farm’ (we’re not sure which). In time, two settlements grew – ‘Long-’ and ‘Little-’;

Benwell – OE bionnan walle, meaning ‘place inside the (Roman) wall’. Not a well in sight;

Blakelaw – Old Norse = ‘black hill’;

Byker – Again, probably Old Norse by-kiarr, which means ‘the village marsh’;

Denton – From the OE den-tun, which translates as ‘valley farmstead’;

Elswick – OE ‘Aelfsige’s (diary) farm’;

Fawdon – Again OE, from fag-dun, meaning ‘multicoloured hill’;

Fenham – A slightly tricky one. Certainly OE, but could mean ‘place at the fens’ or ‘(water-) meadow by the fen’;

Gosforth – OE meaning, literally, ‘goose-ford’, i.e. the ford where there are geese;

Heaton – OE for ‘high farm/settlement’;

Jesmond – An interesting one, this. Seems to mean ‘Ouse mouth’ – the Ouse being the river that runs through the area and whose confluence with the Tyne is a little to the south. Both elements (‘Ouse’ and ‘mouth’) have been corrupted to ‘Jes’ and ‘mond’ under French/Norman influence. Or so the academics tell us.

Part 2 next week…

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.