Eldon Square – Bessie’s bloke
Only part of Richard Grainger’s Old Eldon Square remains. Surrounding a green with an equestrian statue of St George and the Dragon at its centre, only one of the original three terraces remain. The others were demolished for Eldon Square Shopping Centre (1969-1976). The name Eldon is from John Scott, the first Lord Eldon; a Newcastle-born Lord Chancellor. As a young man Scott eloped withthe merchant’s daughter Bessie Surtees on the Newcastle Quayside. His title was from the village of Eldon near Bishop Auckland.
Adjoins the Westgate Road at an angle near Clayton Street. A ‘fenkle’ or ‘finkle’ is a dog leg bend.
Forth Street – Geordie’s engine room
Forth Street to the rear of Central Station was historically outside the south western corner of Newcastle’s medieval walls. This area was drained by a stream called the Skinner Burn and is thought to have been heavily forested in times past. In Henry III’s reign it was called ‘Le Frythe’. A frythe is a forest where the right to hunt animals was reserved for a king or noble. Forth Banks descends to the Tyne at the west end of the street.
South Street (just off Forth Street), near the railway viaduct to the rear of Newcastle Central Station must surely be considered a shrine to railway history. It was here in 1823 that George Stephenson, his son Robert and the Darlington businessman Edward Pease set up the railway engineering firm of Robert Stephenson and Company. Here the Stephensons built many locomotives including the Locomotion Number One for the Stockton and Darlington Railway and the famous Rocket that sealed victory in the Rainhill locomotive trials of 1829.
Stephenson’s development of the Geordie safety lamp used by local miners is said to have given rise to the term ‘Geordie’ to describe Tyneside natives. His son Robert Stephenson was born at Willington Quay east of Newcastle and was educated at a school in Longbenton and an academy in Newcastle’s Percy Street. It was Robert’s firm that built the High Level Bridge in 1849
Friar Street – Friaries tucked into the toon
There were six friaries within Newcastle’s walls. Substantial remains of the friary of the Dominican Blackfriars, established in 1239, can be seen near Stowell Street, near Friars Street and Monk Street. The Blackfriars weren’t Newcastle’s first friars as Franciscan Greyfriars settled in 1237.
Their friary stood on a site now occupied by Tyneside Cinema and is remembered in High Friars Lane between Grey Street and Pilgrim Street. Carmelite Whitefriars arrived in 1262, settling near Pandon Burn but relocating to the Forth Street area where another group of friars, the Sack Friars had resided from 1256.
Augustinian Austin Friars came in 1290 to a site near the Swan House roundabout (55 Degrees North). The Holy Jesus Hospital now occupies this site and incorporates a tower from their friary. In 1360 Trinitarian Friars moved to a site at Pandon near Sallyport Gate where the Whitefriars had once resided. In addition to Friaries, Newcastle was home to the twelfth century Benedictine Nunnery of St Bartholomew remembered in Nun Street off Grainger Street. The friaries and nunnery were all closed by Henry VIII in the1530s and 1540s.
Gallowgate – The toon’s noose
This street, outside the town wall, was the route along which the condemned were led from the nearby prison in Newgate, for execution on the Town Moor gallows. St Andrew’s church at the junction of Gallowgate and Newgate was just within Newcastle’s medieval walls. Dating from the twelfth century, its dedication to Scotland’s patron saint may be rooted in the period when Scottish King, David I and his successor Malcolm IV, virtually ruled Newcastle from 1149 to 1157. Ironically, the Scots bombarded the church with canon fire during the Civil War in 1644.
Grainger Town – the Grand Plan
Between 1824 and 1839 the builder Richard Grainger (1797-1861) transformed Newcastle, shifting its centre northward away from the town’s medieval riverside heart. The son of a Quayside porter, Grainger set up a brick-laying business aged 20 and his influence grew through his network of clients.
In the 1820s Grainger built streets beyond the borders of the old town walls. They included Eldon Square (designed by John Dobson) as well as Blackett Street, Leazes Terrace, Crescent and Place. One huge area of land remained undeveloped within the town walls, the mansion and estate called Anderson Place, owned by George Anderson who died in 1831.
In his bid to develop these 12 acres of land Grainger submitted plans to the town council after shrewdly moving his legal account to the firm of solicitor John Clayton. Clayton also happened to be Newcastle’s Town Clerk so Grainger’s plans were naturally approved.
Nine new streets of impressive neo-classical design were built including the major thoroughfares of Grey Street, Grainger Street and Clayton Street. Most of the work was carried out by the North Shields born architect John Dobson (1787-1865) including the crowning glory of Grey Street but there were other architects involved, notably Benjamin Green who designed the Theatre Royal and the famous monument to Earl Grey which form the focal point of the whole development.
The whole development, known today as Grainger Town, included 325 shops and the Grainger Market. Together they formed a new commercial focal point for Newcastle. One of the most attractive stores in Newcastle’s Grainger Market is the Marks and Spencers Penny Bazzar of 1896. It is the smallest Marks and Spencer store in the world.
Anderson Place – Game of Golf for doomed king
Anderson Place the site on which Grey Street and Grainger Street were built was the most prominent house within Newcastle’s medieval walls. Known in early times as ‘Newe House’, its eastern entrance was on Pilgrim Street. The house was built by Robert Anderson in the sixteenth century near the ruins of the Franciscan Friary.
During the Civil War, when Charles I surrendered to the Scottish Presbyterian army at Newark, the King was held in Newcastle for nine months by the Scots under General Leven. He was kept at Newe House while they decided what to do with him. For a ransom fee of £400,000 Charles was eventually handed over to the Parliamentarians who took him south, then tried and executed him.
Anderson Place, Newcastle
The King’s imprisoned stay at Newcastle seems to have been a remarkably leisurely one as it is known that he played ‘goff’ at Shieldfield during his stay. This is one of the earliest records of golf being played in England.
In the seventeenth century Newe House was bought by the North East industrialist Sir William Blackett but in the 1780s the family sold it to builder George Anderson who renamed it Anderson Place.
Following Anderson’s death in 1831 the estate was bought by Richard Grainger who demolished the house, building Grey Street and Grainger Street in its former grounds.
Grey Street – grandest of all
Grey Street is Newcastle’s finest stately street and the greatest achievement of the Newcastle builder and architect partnership of Richard Grainger and John Dobson. In 1834 Grainger submitted plans for several new streets including what was initially going to be called Upper Dean Street.
In the end, the name Grey Street was chosen from the Northumbrian-born Prime Minister, Earl Grey, whose monument of 1838 stands at the street’s northern terminus. Grey, who loved the particular kind of tea to which he gave his name, was the Prime Minister who introduced the electoral Reform Bill in 1832 – one of the big steps in moving towards a more democratic process in Great Britain.
Grey’s Monument, Newcastle : Photo © 2015 David Simpson
Interestingly, one of the region’s other famous monuments, the huge Greek-style Penshaw Monument (1844) on the outskirts of Sunderland has two strong links to Grey’s Monument. Both monuments were built by Benjamin Green and both have a connection with the Reform Bill. The Penshaw Monument, more correctly called the Earl of Durham Monument commemorrates Earl Grey’s son in law, John George Lambton, the First Earl of Durham, who was a member of the same government and drafted Grey’s Reform Bill.
Further enhancements came to Grey Street in 1838 with the completion of the magnificent Theatre Royal by John and Benjamin Green. The theatre replaced an earlier Theatre Royal of 1788 that stood in Mosley Street near Drury Lane.
In 1862 the Prime Minister, Gladstone described Grey Street as ‘our best modern street’. The poet Sir John Betjeman visiting in 1948 remarked: as for the curve of Grey Street, I shall never forget seeing it to perfection, traffic-less on a misty Sunday morning. Not even Regent Street, even old Regent Street London can compare with that descending subtle curve.
Grey Street in the nineteenth century
Hancock Street : Museum men
Near the Civic Centre. It is named from naturalists Albany and John Hancock, who established the Hancock Museum of 1884. The museum was built on the site of the medieval hospital of St James. A second medieval hospital dedicated to St Mary stood on a site now occupied by St. Thomas church near the present Civic Centre. The Hancocks were born in nearby St Mary’s Terrace on the Great North Road.
The Great North Museum in Barras Bridge focused at first on natural history when it opened as the Hancock Museum in 1884. It re-opened with a new name and more modern feel in 2009 with new features including displays from Newcastle’s Roman history and
Leazes Crescent and Leazes Terrace
Near St James’ Park. Leazes means ‘pastureland’, ‘meadows’ or ‘common’. The land was apparently given to the burgesses of Newcastle by King John as compensation for the property they lost during the building of the castle moat. Leazes Park was created in 1873 from land called Castle Leazes. St James’ Park football ground occupies part of the park.
Joseph Wilson Swan, who lived for a time in Leazes Terrace, was the inventor of the light bulb and one of Newcastle’s most famous residents. Born in Sunderland in 1828, as a young man he worked for the Newcastle chemist Mawson in Grey Street where he learned his trade. Swan’s incandescent electric light, developed in 1878, was first successfully demonstrated to the public in a lecture presided over by industrialist William Armstrong, at Newcastle’s Literary and Philosophical Society in Westgate Road, in February 1879.
Here the institute’s library became the first public room in the world lit by electric light. Armstrong was one of the first to be captivated and in 1880 Swan installed electric lights at Armstrong’s house in Cragside, Northumberland. Swan also established the world’s first light bulb factory at Benwell in 1881. Swan was first to develop the light bulb but the American inventor Thomas Edison, was much quicker to patent it. In 1883 the two inventors combined forces as Edison and Swan United Electric Light Company or Ediswan for short.