Streets and buildings of Newcastle : History and Origins
In these pages we explore Newcastle streets, their history and the origin of the street-names along with some notable buildings. The focus is on streets in the central area of the city.
Akenside Hill : Poet’s corner, Butcher Bank
Akenside Hill beneath the Tyne Bridge was once the eastern bank of the Lort Burn valley. It is named from the Newcastle poet Mark Akenside (1721-1770) who was born here. The street was previously called Butcher Bank from its resident butchers. Butchers threw their offal into the stream creating a ‘nauseous hollow’. In earlier times still, Butcher Bank was called All Hallows Bank from the medieval predecessor of the nearby All Saints Church.
Amen Corner : Newcastle Cathedral
Amen Corner is situated near St Nicholas cathedral more or less forming part of the street called ‘Side‘. Like the Amen Corner near St Paul’s Cathedral in London, it is probably named from being a focus for religious processions.
The Anglican cathedral of St Nicholas has long played an important role in Newcastle’s history. In 1882 Newcastle upon Tyne became a city. This was also the year when Newcastle’s most historic church, St Nicholas, became a cathedral, following the creation of the Diocese of Newcastle from the northern half of the Diocese of Durham.
Situated near the castle, St Nicholas started life as Newcastle’s main parish church and was first mentioned in 1194, though it is said to date to 1091. The church was extended with the construction of a larger nave in 1370 but the cathedral’s most beautiful feature is the impressive lantern crown of 1435-70 adorning the tower. It may have inspired the similar but later crown of St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.
Barrack Road : BBC, barracks, black n’ whites
The Fenham military barracks opened here in 1806, where the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers were based until 1962. BBC Television Centre stands nearby. At the south end of the road is St James’ Park, the home of Newcastle United Football Club one of the most prominent landmarks in the area and a shrine to many far and wide.
Some of Newcastle’s most modern buildings, including the Newcastle University Business School and centres for student accommodation are situated in Barrack Road and the adjoining part of Gallowgate opposite St James’ Park.
Barras Bridge and Haymarket
Barras Bridge is named from a medieval bridge across the upper Pandon Burn which was known as the Bailiff Burn hereabouts. A later bridge of the nineteenth century exists south of Claremont Road beneath the modern road.
Barras could possibly mean ‘bare arse’ which is usually a reference to a hill or piece of land that resembles one. Another possibility is that it derives from an old word for a venue outside a city wall where tournaments were held.
Notable buildings in the vicinity of Barras Bridge include Newcastle Civic Centre. It was built by George Kenyon and opened by King Olav of Norway in 1968. Sea-horses surrounding the tower commemorate Newcastle’s maritime links.
Next to it is the handsome if rather blackened looking church of St Thomas. It was built by Tyneside architect John Dobson in 1825-1830, in what was then a new part of town outside the medieval walls. It replaced an earlier church of St Thomas on Sandhill near the Tyne that was demolished in 1830. The church is one of the most handsome in Newcastle but is best appreciated on a sunny day as its exterior can seem somewhat gloomy in overcast conditions.
Erected in the grounds of St Thomas Church outside the Civic Centre is an impressive war memorial called The Response 1914, a sculpture of 1923 by Sir William Goscombe John R.A. Featuring the Northumberland Fusiliers, it depicts the confidence with which Britain entered the war and the fervour with which men enlisted for the cause. The sculpture was raised by shipbuilder and Newcastle MP, Sir George Renwick and Lady Renwick.
Barras Bridge stands at the heart of the universities district of Newcastle and at the head of the busy retail focus of Northumberland Street. Newcastle University (see King’s Road) is just to the west. It developed from a School of Medicine of 1834 that combined with the Armstrong College (of science) of 1883. The colleges were once part of Durham University and became Newcastle University in 1963.
The University of Northumbria to the east of Barras Bridge and Northumberland Street traces its origins to Rutherford College of Technology of 1880 which merged with two other nineteenth century colleges in 1969 to form Newcastle Polytechnic, becoming Northumbria University in 1992 (see Northumberland Road and Ellison Place).
Bath Lane : West Walls and House of Recovery
Situated close to the town’s West Walls, Bath Lane is named from baths that opened in 1781. Established by an eminent physician called Dr Hall and fed by water from the Skinner Burn, the baths were demolished around the mid nineteenth century. Just off Bath Lane overlooking the dry moat outside the town walls is an old building now called Citygate House. It is a former House of Recovery or fever hospital that operated from 1804 to 1888.
Bewick Street : Named from a naturalist
Near the railway station, linking Neville Street to Clayton Street West, Bewick Street is named from the famed naturalist and wood engraver, Thomas Bewick (1753-1828), whose workshop was situated near St Nicholas church. Bewick House dates from 1884 and was built as offices for the Tyne Improvement Commission.
Bigg Market : Barley, Beer (and water)
Popular with weekend revellers in the present age, the Bigg Market was once part of the medieval Market Street. Bigg is a kind of barley with four rows of grain on each ear. By the 1890s the street was a market for poultry, eggs, bacon and butter but has long been noted for pubs and inns, though the modern establishments are bars and clubs.
Today the Bigg Market is principally famed for its weekend revelry and abundance of young people in T-shirts, short skirts and generally minimal attire even on weekend nights in the depths of a freezing winter. Ironically the principal feature of the Bigg Market is an ornate red sandstone drinking fountain that was built as a memorial to the Presbyterian minister and temperance campaigner called J.H. Rutherford. It dates from 1894 and originally stood near St Nicholas Cathedral before it was moved to the Bigg Market in 1902.
Blackett Street : Edge of the wall
Blackett Street follows an old lane that was situated outside the northern section of the town wall where there were once only pig styes, sheds and a few straggling houses in times long past. In 1824 the town wall here was demolished making way for the street constructed by Richard Grainger.
Blackett Street is named from Alderman John Erasmus Blackett, the father in law of Admiral Collingwood. Grainger’s work in this street has now gone but striking buildings include the ‘Edwardian Baroque’ style Emerson Chambers (now a bookshop) of 1904; the Reid and Sons jeweller’s shop of 1906 and Northern Goldsmiths shop of 1895 on the corner of Blackett Street and Pilgrim Street.
Blandford Square : Great Discovery
Blandford Square is home to the Discovery Museum which houses, along with many other great exhibits of interest, Charles Algernon Parson’s Turbinia steam ship of 1894. The museum began as the Municipal Museum of Science and Industry in 1934 utilising exhibits from the North East Coast Exhibition of 1929 at Exhibition Park. The museum occupies a former Co-operative wholesalers building of 1899.
The Blandford of Blandford Square’s name and nearby Blandford Street relate to the esteemed Churchill family (ancestors of Winston Churchill). They were titled Marquis of Blandford, Dukes of Marlborough and Earls of Sunderland. The theme is continued in the nearby streets of Sunderland Street, Churchill Street, Marlborough Crescent and in the lost Blenheim Street.
Blenheim Street more or less followed part of what is now the modern St James Boulevard. Blenheim (Blindheim in Germany) was of course the name of the famous battle of 1704 in which the English and their allies under John Churchill, the First Duke of Marlborough, defeated the Bavarians and French. Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, named from the battle, was the family seat of the Marlboroughs.
One of the numerous chares on the Newcastle Quayside but broader than most of the others. It is home to Trinity House and Newcastle Live Theatre. A little further to the west is Broad Garth another chare accessed from an archway on the Quayside. Its name means ‘Broad enclosure’. Between the two chares we find another chare, the Trinity Chare named from Trinity House.
Brunswick Place : Methodist church
This street adjoins Northumberland Street near Fenwick department store and emerges near the Emerson Chambers in Blackett Street. The street was built in 1820 and its principal feature is the Brunswick Methodist church of that same year.
It was in January 1820 that King George IV of England was crowned. His Queen, was of course Caroline of Brunswick. King George was also the Electoral Prince of Brunswick-Lüneburg. Brunswick is a city in Lower Saxony, Germany.
Carliol Square, off Worswick Street, joins Pilgrim Street near the Swan House roundabout (55 ° North). The square and neighbouring Carliol Street are named from the prominent De Carliol family of Northumberland. The town wall’s Austin Tower stood near here but there was also Carliol Tower which stood in an area close to the present Laing Gallery. A prison was built occupying the whole square in 1827 and superseded the earlier prison in Newcastle’s Newgate. Carliol Square prison closed in 1925.
Castle Garth : A little bit of old Northumberland
Castle Garth is situated next to the castle keep. Garth is a word of Scandinavian origin meaning, ‘enclosure’. When Newcastle became a county in 1400, the castle and its garth remained in Northumberland with the keep becoming a prison for that county.
Here we find the Moot Hall of 1812 built by William Stokoe for Northumberland Council. It served as a prison and court house. The building just opposite is the former Northumberland County Hall of 1889 and now the Vermont Hotel. The area is of course part of the City of Newcastle upon Tyne today.
The Edwardian Central Arcade, is a beautiful shopping arcade built by local architects Oswald & Son in 1906 and occupies Richard Grainger’s Central Exchange Buildings – a triangular section of ‘Grainger Town’ near Grey’s Monument with its apex at the junction of Grey Street and Grainger Street and bordered on its south side by Market Street.
Charlotte Square is an eighteenth century square designed by the Newcastle architect, William Newton (1730-1798). It occupies part of what was once the grounds of the Blackfriars monastery (see Friars Street).
The square, which was begun in 1770 is bordered by Fenkle Street, Friars Street and Cross Street and lies just within the town walls with the neighbouring lane called West Walls on its western fringe.
Newton, who also built Newcastle’s Assembly Rooms lived in this square for 28 years. It is presumably named from Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who was Queen of England and wife of the then reigning monarch, George III.
The square is now overlooked by Newcastle’s tallest building, Hadrian’s Tower, a residential block in nearby Rutherford Street. It is 272 feet high and was completed in 2020.
Clavering Place is near the Turnbull warehouse (Queens Lane) on the south side of the railways approaching Newcastle Central Station. It belonged to Sir Thomas Clavering of Axwell, near Blaydon, after he married the daughter of Newcastle Town clerk Joshua Douglas. The impressive Clavering House dates from around 1784. It links Forth Street to Hanover Square and to Hanover Street which then descends to the Close. A Roman civilian settlement once existed in this area just outside the Roman fort of Pons Aelius and the burials of a high status Roman family have been found here.
Clayton Street : Catholic Cathedral
Built by Richard Grainger in the 1830s, Clayton Street recalls the solicitor and Town Clerk, John Clayton who backed him and paid for what we now call the ‘Grainger Town’ developments.
St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in the adjoining Clayton Street West, though not as old as St. Nicholas Cathedral, has been a cathedral for longer.
Situated near the Central Station, the Catholic cathedral was built in 1844 as a Catholic church by Augustus Pugin. In 1850 it became the Catholic cathedral for the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle. It sits in an island bordered by Neville Street; Bewick Street and Clayton Street West.
In 1840 Clayton Street was the last of the Newcastle streets to be built by Richard Grainger. A blue plaque on number 36 Clayton Street West commemorates Richard Grainger and recalls that he lived at that address from 1842 to 1861, with his children and servants.
Clayton Street and Clayton Street West are not the most inspiring of Grainger’s works and have little architectural variation along their length. Two of the most striking features of the street are on the corner of Clayton Street West and the Westgate Road where there are two notable domed buildings in Edwardian Baroque style but neither are the work of Grainger.
One of these buildings features a gold coloured clock and was formerly a Northern Goldsmiths shop. Dating from 1910 the architects were Cackett and Burns Dick. James Cackett built the Northern Goldsmiths building that is found on the corner of Blackett Street and Pilgrim Street where there is a similar golden coloured clock.
Cloth Market is one of the older streets in Newcastle and was obviously connected with the cloth trade. It commences at Mosley Street at its south end opposite St Nicholas Cathedral. From there it curves north westward to merge with Groat Market to form the Bigg Market.
As with Bigg Market, bars abound in the Cloth Market and include the ornate Beehive Inn of 1902 on the corner of High Bridge and Cloth Market.
The most famous establishment in Cloth Market is (or was) Balmbra’s a Music Hall mentioned in the Blaydon Races Geordie anthem. The Balmbra’s name has subsequently been adopted by later bars on the site.
Close : Merchants’ houses
The Close is named from an enclosure of land near the river. Noted for the former Cooperage public house and House of Tides restaurant – a former merchant’s house with an eighteenth century exterior which has parts dating back to the sixteenth century. Close once belonged to the influential Clavering family. See the Quayside page for more about the Close.
College Street : Dame Allan’s Schools
Along with the neighbouring Northumberland Road and St Mary’s Place, this street lies in the heartland of an area dominated by the University of Northumbria buildings.
The former Dame Allan’s Schools building, in College Street dates from 1883 and is now a University of Northumbria office. The schools were founded by Dame Eleanor Allan for the poor of the parishes of St John and St Nicholas. The girls’ school was on the ground floor and the boys’ school on the first floor.
Collingwood Street : Admirable Admiral
Collingwood Street recalls the Newcastle-born, Admiral Lord Cuthbert Collingwood (1748-1810), who was second in command at the Battle of Trafalgar (1805). The street is mentioned in ‘The Blaydon Races’. Collingwood is of course also recalled in the famous monument to his memory at Tynemouth.
The street itself was only built a few years after the Battle of Trafalgar at about the time of the Admiral’s death (1810) but most of the notable buildings in the street are of the 1880s and 1890s.
Dean Street : Down in the Dene
Dean Street was built along the dene or valley of the Lort Burn. Traffic arriving across the old Tyne Bridge previously headed up Side towards Newgate Street or east up Akenside Hill towards Pilgrim Street. When Dean Street was completed by architect David Stephenson in 1787 it was linked to the bridge and became one of Newcastle’s principal streets.
The steep ‘dene’ of the Lort Burn was one of Newcastle’s most prominent natural features. Cutting through the landscape towards the Tyne, it created an obstacle for travellers although it had the benefit of supplementing the eastern defences of the castle. It flowed north-south and a little to the west of where Grey Street is found today. Here it was crossed by High Bridge, still remembered in a street of that name.
At Grey Street’s southern end, the burn’s course is betrayed by a dip in Mosley Street where it flowed south along the course of Dean Street. The valley was filled in and covered over time, allowing architect David Stephenson to build Dean Street (the dene street) along its course.
Further infilling took place in the 1830s and nothing now remains. The only clues are some steeply ascending steps on opposite sides of lower Dean Street marking the site of Nether Bridge or Low Bridge that crossed the burn here and a little further down the street the adjoining lane called Painter Heugh marks a point where boats once anchored on the tidal burn.
The Lort Burn entered the Tyne at Sandhill, more or less flowing down the eastern edge of the rapidly descending street called Side, with the ascending Akenside Hill to the east, marking the opposing bank of its valley.
Denton Chare : Medieval lane
Denton Chare is a narrow lane of medieval origin. It links St Nicholas Street which it joins at a right angle (as is typical of a ‘chare’) and links that street to Westgate Road and Neville Street. The chare runs parallel to Collingwood Street.
‘Den’ in North East place-names usually refers to a dene or valley. The name is perhaps a reference to a dene or tributary of the Lort Burn (see our Newcastle Quayside page).
Dispensary Lane : Helping the sick
Situated off Newgate Street and Low Friar Street, Dispensary Lane passes the northern boundary of the former Blackfriars monastery and links to Stowell Street to the west near the town walls.
It is named from the being the site of the eighteenth century Newcastle Dispensary which gave medical help to the poor for free.
Established in 1777 the Dispensary was initially situated in Side and then in Pilgrim Street before moving to this area in 1790. It was later situated in Nelson Street and New Bridge Street but closed in the 1970s.
Dog Bank : Country Lane
Dog Bank is an old street on the south side of All Saints church uphill from Akenside Hill above the Quayside area. It once joined nearby Silver Street on the north side of the church and has the feel of a rural country lane. It is so-named because it bends slightly in the shape of a dog leg.
Dog Leap Stairs : Elopers’ escape route
The Dog Leap Stairs link the Castle Garth to Side. Mentioned in a Dire Straits song and allegedly the route that Lord Eldon took on horseback following his elopement with Bessie Surtees. Bessie lived in Sandhill below the Side so if true he rode the horse up the stairs. The stairs are probably named, like Dog Bank, from the slight kink that creates a dog-leg shape.
Drury Lane : Former theatre land
Newcastle’s Drury Lane is at the junction of Grey Street and Mosley Street. It is named from London theatre-land and was the site of the Theatre Royal built by David Stephenson in 1788. The theatre was demolished in the 1830s to make way for Grey Street and is not the Theatre Royal of today.