Saturday, April 13th 2019
We are off to Newcastle upon Tyne, returning on Tuesday (April 16th). We have rented an apartment rather than a hotel room because my son and his wife will then be able to join us and spend today and Sunday with us. As they live near Durham and will have to go back to work on Monday, meeting in Newcastle is reasonably convenient for them. The map below shows the position of Newcastle relative to London (look for the two blue ‘pins’).
Click to see a Google Map showing the railway route.
We caught the 7am train from King’s Cross, arriving in Newcastle at 10am. From Newcastle Station, we took a bus to the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. In times past, Newcastle was an important shipping port for trade with the Baltic and other regions. ‘The Baltic’, now an art gallery, was once the Baltic Flour Mill where grain imported from the Baltic was milled. It is a large and impressive building, dating from the 1930s when its was erected by Rank Hovis, and its exterior remains much as it was in its days as a mill. Converted as an art gallery, it opened to the public in July 2002.
We arrived first so we first took a coffee break in the gallery’s cafe called the Baltic Kitchen, and then visited the gallery. I cannot say that I was particularly thrilled by the art but I include a photo of one item as a sample:
You will find more information about Aaron Hughes and his work on his page on The Centre for Artistic Activism
Being a tall building, the Baltic provides interesting views over Newcastle and the River Tyne. Viewing platforms have been provided.
In this view, we are looking roughly south-west along the River Tyne. In the foreground is the Gateshead Millennium Bridge which provides a crossing of the river for pedestrians and cyclists. The bridge is known popularly as ‘the winking eye bridge’ because it is designed to tip up to allow taller boats to pass underneath and this moverment, combined with the shape of the bridge, can be imagined as an eye winking.
The building on the left with the curved metal roof is Sage Gateshead, a concert hall and centre for music education opened in 2004.
A fascinating aspect of the Baltic is that it is one of the buildings along the Tyne Riverside that have been adopted as residences during their breeding season by a colony of Kittiwakes.
Kittiwakes spend autumn and winter out at sea feeding and return to land in February to nest, mate and rear their young. The Tyne colony is the one that comes furthest inland to spend the nesting season.
These small but hardy birds seem to require remarkably little in the way of a nesting site and manage with this narrow shelf along the side of the Baltic.
The viewing platform is separated from the birds by a glass barrier. The birds have learned that they are safe from intereference and carry on their activities close to the human observers.
A number of groups and charities have come together to create the Tyne Kittwake Partnership to watch over the birds and preserve their adopted habitat safe and free from interference. There is a Kittiwake Cam that operates during the breeding season March to August.
Artist Mark Wallinger had the idea of placing a mirror at the bottom of the Baltic’s stairwell and another at the top. This produces the dizzying experience of looking down into an apparenntky infinite stairwell. It is entitled Hraven and Hell. (It is of course impossible to photograph without the camera obtruding into the picture.)
Having lunched and visited the exhibitions, we left the Baltic to make our way to the flat that we were sharing. We had been told that it would not be available until 3pm and as it was fairly near the Baltic, we were in no hurry. A phone call to the agent, who was supposed to meet us and give us the keys, produced no result, so we left a text and continued on our way.
We reached the estate that contained our flat and found that it was a ‘gated community’. The gate was locked and though we rang the bell for the caretaker, no one answered. There was still no reply from the flat agent so when a couple of residents appeared and used their key fob to open the gate, we waited until they were out of sight then entered the grounds just before the autimatic gate closed. We found the block in which our flat was located and took the lift to the fourth floor where it was situated. Of course, not having the keys, we could not go in.
The agent at last answered the phone and promised to be with us in 15 minutes. We were at last admitted to our temporary home and could sit down and have a cup of tea.
In the evening we went out for a walk. (My son and his wife are keen ramblers and I found the distance covered somewhat trying! it was a relief when we found a restaurant and decided to have supper there.)
Thus ended the first day and I was glad to go to bed despite the mattress being a little hard and waking me up several ties in the night.
Sunday, April 14th 2019
We made a leisurely start to the day then walked down to Quayside to look for breakfast. We found this in a cafe beside the river.
On the way we passed by this artwork. Taking the form of a narrow cone, tapering upwards, it includes many objects, all forged from metal. Unusually, the work is ascribed, not to a particular artist but to the British Artists Blacksmiths Assocation. The BABA projects page has this to say about the work: ‘The six segments of the needle, each one relating to one of the five senses, were created at a series of five major forge-in events, in England, Scotland, Wales & Brittany, France, with the final segment, the ‘sixth sense’, being created at the conference in Carlisle.’
This close-up of part of the Needle shows the intricacy of the work and demonstrates the remakable forging skills of the artists involved in its creation.
From Quaydside, one has a good view of the Baltic Centre for Contemprary Art and one-time flour mill.
Newcastle is famous for many things and not the least among these is the castle from which is takes its name.
In the first phase of the Conquest, the Normans erected many castles throughout the land. These castles provided strongholds for the invaders from which to subdue the native population. In order to set up their castles quickly, the Normans built them of wood and only later rebuilt some of them in stone. Such is the case of this castle.
It was over a hundred years after the Conquest that Henry II, grandson of William the Conqueror, took the decision to rebuild the fortress in stone. Completing what was referred to in documents as the Novum Castellum and whose English equivalent ‘New Castle’ became the name of the town, took the best part of another hundred years.
The gateway, which later became known as the Black Gate for no better reason than that it was inhabited in the early part of the 17th century by a merchant called Patrick Black, was the last part of the castle to be completed. Its appearance today is somewhat different from what it would have looked like when first finished. When the city walls were built in the 13th and 14th centuries, the castle’s protective role came to an end and it was left to fall into ruin. The gate, however, was put to other uses, including that of private dwelling, and suffered alteration and extension in consequence. It is now quite difficult to know what the original gate looked like.
We spent much of the day socializing with my son and his wife until they needed to return home ready for work tomorrow. After they left, we contonued exploring Newcastle until it was time to repair to our temporary home in the gated community. Below are a few of the sights I photographed as we went.
St Mary’s Cathedral (Roman Catholic), with its noteworthy slender spire was designed in Gothic Revival style by Augustus Welby Pugin and built between 1842 and 1844. It is now a Grade I listed building.
In Newgate Street, my attention was caught and held by this handsome Art Deco building. Designed by L.G. Ekins, company architect of the Co-operative Wholesale Society, it was built in 1931-2 as a Co-operative Society department store. In its heyday the ‘Co-op’ had large stores in many major towns but I am inclined to say that this is an unusually handsome example, boasting two towers, one with a clock and the other with a barometer. The store is the recipient of a deserved Grade II listing. Though its days as a well loved premium store have come to an end, it is starting a new career as a Premier Inn hotel.
Another Art Deco building, only slightly spoilt by the addition of a modern top floor, is now called Magnet House but was formerly known as Andrew’s House. It resides in Gallowgate where it was built in the 1930s for the General Electric Company. It still has a large central gate to admit vehicles. The façade is decorated with a row of terracotta reliefs of stylized human figures illustrating the theme of power generation. No longer a company headquarters, the building, under its current name of Magnet House, is now a student residence, the ground floor being turned over tio retail outlets.
My final ‘catch’ of the day was this building with a neat little green dome. It looks as though it is a residential building with retail on the ground floor but more than that I cannot say. In seeking information about it, I have drawn a blank. I include it because it is a handsome building and I like it. (Surely the best criterion for inclusion!)
Monday, April 15th 2019
On our own once more, we decided to take a trip to the Beamish Living Museum. We have been been to this fascinating establishment twice before (see Newcastle 2010 -Day 7 and Newcastle 2016 – Day 3 for details and more pictures) but there is so much to see that one can visit again and again. The map below shows the location of Beamish relative to Newcastle.
The museum comprises 300 acres within which are several environments recreating different time periods, for example the 1940s Farm, the 1820s Pockerley Old Hall and the 1900s town. See here for a map of the site. The meaning of ‘living museum’ is that, in addition to people dressed in the appropriate period costume and performing different roles, there are buses, trams, a railway and sometimes other vehicles on which the visitor can ride to explore the different time zones. Shops sell recreated period goods and there may be workshops in operation in which artisans make period articles using appropriate period techniques.
We travelled from Newcastle to Beamish by bus. The advantage of this mode of transport is that it takes you right to the door. Moreover, if you arrive by public transport, you receive a reduction on the admission price. The only disadvantage is that buses are not all that frequent and we had a long wait at the bus stop when we wnted to return to Newcastle.
In tne entrance hall are the ticket desks and also a cafe where we stopped for a cup of tea after our long bus ride. To enter the grounds, you follow a corridor in which film sequences and other information are displayed on the walls. at the end of the passage you enter to site proper and the past.
Conveniently sited near where you arrive is one of the several bus and tram stops. Buses and trams circle the grounds, taking you to the various environments. Here there is what a science fiction writer would problably call a ‘chronological anomaly’ because the vehicles in circulation are from different periods and in the real world would never all have been on the roads at the same time. Travel on public buses and trams is free. Conductors are on board to ensure people’s safety and to answer questions, not to sell tickets!
We first went to Pockerley, a rural area with the Old Hall and the Waggonway. The latter is a stretch of railway track on which run two replica locomotives called the Steam Elephant and Puffing Billy. (I don’t know which one is in the picture.) We had hoped to go for a ride but when we enquired, they were still firing up the loco and told us it would be a while before it was ready. We decided not to wait.
We visited the cottage of Joe the Quilter, dating from the 1820s. Joseph Hedley supported himself as an artisan quilter, selling his products all over the British Isles. The cottage was discovered near Hexham (Northumberland) during an archaeological dig. Although it had been demolished in 1872, its remains were transported here and rebuilt, using the image on a postcard of the time as a guide. The mystery surrounding Joe and his cottage is that he was murdered in 1826, a crime that was never solved. (For more details see this Northumblerland Archives page.)
Nearby is St Helen’s Church, another building that has been rescued and rebuilt here. The museum’s Web page explains as follows:
Nestling in the Georgian landscape is this beautiful medieval church, St Helen’s, from Eston, near Middlesbrough. The church was due to be demolished due to vandalism until it was saved and rebuilt at the Museum.
We visited the 1900s Pit Village. In addition to buildings and equipment, the colliery on which the site is based boasts an underground ‘experience’ that can be visited and which gives some idea of the working conditions of miners in the early 20th century. We thought we would try it and we joined the queue and were issued with protective hard hats. However, it was explained that there would be a long walk down a low passage bent double and as I knew that my legs and back would not be up to the task, we had to cry off. Instead, we paid a visit to the village school.
Curiously, the sight that brought my own school days vividly back to me was this row of wash basins in the pupils’ cloackroom. In my young day, schools had not changed much from the pattern of this one.
Though you might not guess from the above photos, the school was quite busy. There were various activities that people could try and games to play, making this a popular attraction, especially to families with school-age children. Having been a schoolteacher myself, for a mercifully short time, I always feel a certain sense of ironic déjà vu when visiting one.
The Pitt Village is provided, as many were, with its Wesleyan Methidist chapel which, as well as ministering to the villagers’ spritual needs, also played an important social role in the community. Generations of miners must have sought solace here for their lives of hard work and ever-present danger.
We made our way back down to the main road where there was a bus and tram stop. There we spied this fine old motor bus and thought about taking a ride in it but as time was getting on and we had to travel back to Newcastle, we postponed the pleasure for another day.
We returned to the entrance hall and, like good tourists, visited the museum shop before going out to the bus stop to wait for a bus to Newcastle. Beamish is a fine place to visit and it would take many visits to explore it entirely. All being well, we shall return there one of these days.
Tuesday, April 16th 2019
This is our last morning in Newcastle on this trip for we must now return to London. Our train to King’s Cross is at 13:29, giving us time for a short visit to a place of interest before we finally leave Newcastle.
After a last look around to make sure we had not forgotten anything, we left our temporary home in the gated community. Checking out is easy: close the front door and push the keys through the letterbox! The picture shows the gateway to the complex. You can see that one part of the iron gate is still open. Residents open it by tapping their electronic key fob on the plate beside the entrance. The gate remains open for quite a while which is obviously a security risk but, after all, that’s no longer any concern of ours.
For our last visit we took a bus to the east, to a town called Wallsend. You can probably guess the origin of the name but, in case not, I will explain where it comes from and why we were here.
In about AD 122, Hadrian, destined later to become emperor of the Roman Empire, was the newly appointed military commander of Britain. In order to deal with the frequent raids and incursions by the Scots and Picts from the unsubdued ‘barbarian’ lands to the north, Hadrian conceived the bold plan of building a wall from sea to sea across the narrowest part of the country. The first phase of the project took about six years to complete and at its eastern extremity the wall ended at a place called Pons Aelius, a bridge over the River Tyne in what is now the city of Newcastle. In a second phase, the wall was extended eastwards until it reached the natural barrier of the river. The design of the wall included a manned fort every Roman mile and the new section also received its fort. This was built in AD 127 and was called Segedunum. The garrison comprised 480 infantry and 120 cavalry and remained active virtually until the Romans quitted Britain around AD 410.
Hence the name of the town which is sited literally at the end of the wall (click here for an OpenStreetMap showing the location of Wallsend). We had come to visit Segedunum, or rather the ruins thereof, which is now a museum.
The origin of name Segedunum is uncertain. Many Roman sites, especially forts, include dunum in their names. This is the Latinization of a British word, possibly dunon, meaning a fortress or fortified town. Another example in Britain is Camulodunum, the Roman name for Colchester. What is uncertain, however, is the first part of the name, Sege. This possibly comes from a native word meaning ‘strong’ or ‘victorious’ but this remains a good guess, nothing more.
Before proceeding further, though, we needed to find a place where we could have breakfast. And where better than the Ritz?! Of course, this is not the proverbial Ritz but a Wetherspoons pub of the same name.
The oval plaque that you can see on the wall tells us that the Art Deco cinema called The Ritz opened in 1939. Designed by Percy L. Browne for the ABC chain, it could seat 1,636 patrons. Ceasing operations in 1962, the Ritz, like so many other defunct cinemas, became a bingo hall, a career that lasted until 2011. In 2015, Wetherspons repurposed it as a pub.
While never likely to receive accolades for haute cuisine, Wetherspoons can be relied upon to provide meals throughout the day at moderate prices and we have often found them convenient sources of breakfast during our trips.
And so to the museum which calls itself simply Segedunum. The site comprises a building which is a museum with a circular viewing platform, which you can see projecting above the roof in the above photo, and Segedunum itself, that is, the Roman fort, spread out before it.
The Roman fort itself now consists of little more than traces on the ground, in places enhanced with stones as markers. For this we can thank Victorian town planners who erected terraces of houses on the site, wiping away everything above the surface. The houses have now been demolished (and the inhabitants rehoused) and the site cleared to make the outline of the fort as clear as possible.
In the museum there is a model that shows what the fort might have looked like in its heyday. Although a settlement grew up around the fort (there was money to be made trading with the fort and the soldiers), the Roman garrison lived in the fort and had everything everything they needed, including Roman-style baths.
The viewing platform also affords a view over Newcastle and the Tyne.
This ended our explorations of the town of the Novum Castellum for this trip and we now had to catch a bus to take us to Newcastle railway station to board our train for London. Newcastle is a fascinating town that has much to offer the visitor with historical sites both ancient and not-so-ancient. I expect we shall return to discover more.