Tuesday, August 23rd 2016
We have travelled NE to visit the attractive and interesting city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. We first came here in 2010 (see Newcastle 2010) and again during a visit to Durham (see Durham 2013). These visits charmed us and persuaded us that it would be worth returning to spend more time in this fine city. (To see its location on the map, click here.)
We took the train Edinburgh from King’s Cross and arrived in Newcastle about 3 hours later. We had booked a hotel in the area known as Quayside which, as the name suggests, lies beside the River Tyne, once famous for the mighty ships that were built here. The Tyne results from the union of two rivers, called North Tyne and south Tyne, respectively. The origins and meaning of the name Tyne are, alas, lost in the mists of time and cannot now be recalled beyond vague speculation.
A settlement has existed here since at least Roman times when these invaders built a bridge called Pons Aelius and a fortress beside it. The present name, though, dates from Norman times. In 1080, King William sent his son Robert north to deal with Scottish raiders in the region and Robert built a motte-and-bailey castle upon the ruins of the Roman fort, calling it Novum Castrum Super Tynam, literally ‘New Castle Upon Tyne’.
We made our way to our hotel which is in Lombard Street, beside and almost underneath, the great Tyne Bridge. This impressive structure dominates views in this section of the city and, despite what you might think, we became quite fond of it!
Surely an engineering triumph and now as much a symbol of this city as Tower Bridge is of London, the Tyne Bridge was opened by King George V in 1928. It passes over tall buildings and…
…frames all views in the area. We had a good view from our hotel room of the bridge crossing over buildings. This circumstances has proved useful to certain members of the wildlife community: a colony of black-legged kittiwakes has established a nesting site on roofs under the shelter of the bridge. The kittiwakes have become famous and our hotel room proved to be a good vantage point for bird-watching! The bridge is Grade II listed.
Having checked into the hotel, we set out on a ramble. We had no fixed route or destination but went where fancy took us. The photos are therefore are of things and sights seen en route without any particular order or narrative. Newcastle is hilly in places and we saw several flights of steps connecting different levels.
The picture above is of the picturesquely named Dog Leap Stairs. This passage is famous, not least because ‘In 1772 Baron Eldon, later Lord Chancellor of England, eloped with Bessie Surtees making their escape, according to folklore, on horseback up Dog Leap Stairs. Must have been quite some horse! It is difficult to imagine any horse being able to navigate such steep stairs today!’ (See Newcastle, Dog Leap Stairs).
Every city in England has at least one statue of Queen Victoria and Newcastle is no exception. By Alfred Gilbert, the bronze sculpture was not unveiled until 1903, two years after the death of the Queen. Whether or not it was intended to honour the monarch and the achievements of her long reign, its true purpose was to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Shrievalty (the institution of administration by a Sheriff) of Newcastle which was set up by a charter of Henry IV in 1400 and had therefore fallen due in 1900. The monument was the gift of Sir William Haswell Stephenson (1836-1919), seven times mayor of Newcastle and a generous benefactor of the city. The design is somewhat cluttered with the Queen appearing almost lost in the furnishings, including the overshadowing canopy, but for its artistic and historic interest it has been given a Grade II* listing.
This Renaissance-style red sandstone drinking fountain was erected by the Band of Hope temperance society but financed by public subscription. It honours J.H. Rutherford, a Presbyterian minister and campaigner for temperance and sanitation reform but also a popular figure. Originally unveiled in 1894 outside St Nicholas’s Cathedral, it was moved to Bigg Market in 1903. It gradually fell into disrepair and was removed in 1996 for conservation work to be carried out on it. It was re-erected in its present position in 1998 (100 yards further up the hill) and I believe that the lion-head taps still produce water. It is altogether a rather handsome work.
We stepped into the Central Arcade, the Edwardian equivalent of one of today’s shopping centres. With its glass roof, it has a light and airy feel to complement the elegant design and the handsome decor of faience tiling. Designed by Oswald and Son of Newcastle, it was built in 1906. It has been given a Grade II* listing.
What is arguably the centre of Newcastle, at the top of Grey Street, is marked by the Earl Grey Monument. Not as tall as Nelson’s Column (roughly 10 metres shorter), it is nonetheless one of the more impressive columnar monuments visible today. Moreover, the statue of the great man was completed by Edward Hodges Baily (1788-1867) who also created the statue of Nelson atop the latter’s column. The monument was erected in 1838 to honour Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, in recognition of his role in the passing of the Great Reform Act of 1832. Curiously, the statue’s head was dislodged by a bolt of lightning in 1941 and smashed. In 1947, a new head, based on the broken fragments, was fashioned by sculptor Roger Hedley (1879-1972). It is Grade I listed.
This large abstract sculpture stands in Pilgrim Street in front of Swan House, and this gives a hint as to its purpose and meaning. It is entitled Articulated Opposites and was made Raymond Arnatt. Newcastle City Council commissioned the work as a memorial to Sir Joseph Swan, known particularly for his invention of the incandescent filament light bulb. Swan gave the first public demonstration of the light bulb at a lecture for the Tyne Chemical Society in Newcastle on December 18th 1878. Though you might not guess by looking at it, the sculpture is supposed to be a ‘visual analogy of Sir Joseph’s invention, the electric filament light’.
This is a view of part of the façade of Holy Jesus Hospital. It is impossible to photograph satisfactorily because it lies below street level and is accessed by a fairly narrow forecourt. It was built in 1681, financed by public subscription, to house retired freemen of the town and their family members. Conditions were fairly draconian: as was common in the regimes of almshouses, inmates were required to attend church and take the sacraments once a week and, were locked in their apartments between 9pm and 6am. I believe that the building is now used as offices by the Council but it is of architectural interest and includes parts of older buildings (an Augustan Priory occupied the site between 1291 and 1539).
Off Pilgrim Street in Sallyport Crescent is to be found this gable end incorporating a jolly mural made with bricks of different colours. Entitled simply Mural in Coloured Bricks, it is by Robert Olley and was created in 1981. I think it alludes to the seafaring and shipbuilding history of Newcastle.
Down in Quayside itself we found a two-part sculpture by Andrew Wallace. The first part, called Siren, is the easiest to photograph as it is not very tall and it situated in a garden.
The companion piece is harder to photograph because it is on a taller pole and tends to be visible only with the sky as background. I think I was lucky to get any detail at all. It is entitled River God and consists of the head and torso of a male figure holding chains and a staff and apparently blowing at something.
Thus we arrived at the river where the Gateshead Millennium Bridge stands. In the background you can see what was once the 1930s-vintage Baltic Flour Mill and is now the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Arts. The bridge is for pedestrians and cyclists only, with separate tracks for each. If you walk or cycle across it, you find yourself in Gateshead. This is an entirely separate town with its own Council and not part of Newcastle.
The bridge was opened in 2001 and was designed by Wilkinson Eyre. It is known popularly as the ‘Winking Bridge’ because of its shape and the way that it moves when it is raised to permit the passage of taller ships. It does then rather resemble an eye winking in slow motion.
Opposite is what looks like a misshapen and abandoned tin can. Opened in 2004, it is called the Sage Gateshead and is a concert venue and centre for musical education. You’ve probably guessed that is another architectural extravaganza by Norman Foster, flashy and and quite out of harmony with its surroundings. Actually, its better inside than outside so I suppose we should count our blessings…
From the Millennium Bridge you of course have good views both up and down the Tyne. Here, we are looking up the river, roughly south-west, with the great Tyne Bridge in the distance. In that direction, too, lies our hotel where we shall spend our first night of this trip in Newcastle.