History of Newcastle Streets E to L
Eldon Square, Grey Street and ‘Grainger Town’ to Leazes Terrace
Here we explore Newcastle streets from E-L along with their history and origins, including street-names and buildings in the central area of the city. On this page we also explore the history of the developments known as ‘Grainger Town’ and recall Anderson Place or ‘New House’ and its grounds that occupied the area before the development of Grainger Street and Grey Street.
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. Of the three original terraces of the square, only one remains. The others were demolished to make way for Eldon Square Shopping Centre which was mostly built between 1969 and 1976.
The name Eldon is from John Scott, the first Lord Eldon, a Newcastle-born Lord Chancellor of Great Britain. He served as Lord Chancellor from 1801 to 1806. As a young man Scott eloped with the merchant’s daughter Bessie Surtees on the Newcastle Quayside. His title was from the village of Eldon near Shildon in County Durham, an area with which the Surtees family were also connected.
The Ellison family (later the Carr-Ellisons) have a long and influential association with the North East. Originating in Northumberland they came to be prominent on Tyneside from the 1500s and were later owners of Hebburn Hall.
Ellisons and Carr-Ellisons have included Newcastle mayors, High Sheriffs, MPs and Merchant Adventurers and a one-time Director of both Tyne Tees Television and Northumbrian Water.
The street is situated in the heartland of buildings occupied by the University of Northumbria which was formerly Newcastle Polytechnic (established in 1969) it became the University of Northumbria in 1992 – see also Northumberland Road. The western end of Ellison Place is Ellison Terrace and dates from 1810. It was built two years before Cuthbert Ellison became Newcastle’s MP.
Ellison Place is crossed overhead by the offices of MEA House of 1974 and at the eastern end of the street is the Ellison Building of the University, built in the 1950s and 60s for the earlier Rutherford College. Its new neighbour is the glass-fronted Computer and Information Sciences Building of 2018 with a nearby sculpture by Nico Widerberg dating from 2007.
Here a cable-stay footbridge crosses the central motorway to the space-age looking eastern campus (2007) of the University occupied by the Law School and School of Design.
Fenkle Street : Assembly Rooms
A ‘fenkle’ or ‘finkle’ is a dog-leg bend or ‘elbow’ and a word of Scandinavian origin. This street is so-named from joining the medieval thoroughfare of Westgate (now Westgate Road) near Grainger Street at an angle.
Finkle Street is common amongst old street names throughout the North. There are Finkle Streets in Stockton-on-Tees, Richmond, Bishop Auckland, Leeds and several other places, always found in the older parts of town.
Near the junction of Fenkle Street and Westgate Road (now partly called Falconar’s Court) we find the handsome Assembly Rooms and Joseph Cowen statue.
The Assembly Rooms were built in 1774 by Newcastle architect William Newton (1730-1798) who also designed Charlotte Square (where he resided) at the western end of Fenkle Street.
In Westgate Road just across from the Assembly Rooms we find an earlier Newcastle Assembly Rooms that were used (according to the blue plaque there) from 1716 to 1736.
The statue of Joseph Cowen (1828-1900) outside the Assembly Rooms commemorates the radical journalist, Newcastle MP, orator and campaigner who was born at Stella Hall, Blaydon. A friend of the Italian Republican Giuseppe Garibaldi and other revolutionaries, Cowen was a champion of the miners. From 1859 he was Editor and sole owner of The Newcastle Daily Chronicle.
Forth Street : Geordie’s engine room
Forth Street to the rear of the 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 nobleman. Forth Banks descends to the Tyne at the west end of the street. The name is also remembered in Forth Lane that adjoins Westgate Road further to the north.
Part of Forth Street runs alongside the first arches of the railway viaduct that ultimately curves and crosses the Tyne via the High Level Bridge (1849). The arches alongside the street are occupied by numerous outlets with a view of the Newcastle castle keep above the viaduct nearby
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.
Friars Street : Blackfriars and others
There were six friaries within Newcastle’s walls and substantial remains of the friary of the Dominican Blackfriars, established in 1239, can be seen off Stowell Street in the neighbouring Friars Street.
The Blackfriars weren’t Newcastle’s first friars though, as Franciscan Greyfriars had settled in the town in 1237. Carmelite Whitefriars arrived in Newcastle in 1262, settling near Pandon Burn but relocating to what is now the Forth Street and Hanover Square area where another group of friars, called the Sack Friars, had resided from 1256.
Augustinian or ‘Austin’ friars came in 1290 to a site near to what is now 55° North (Swan House roundabout). The former Holy Jesus Hospital (see below) now occupies this site. 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 down by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Gallowgate : Route to execution
Gallowgate lay just outside the town wall and 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 Northumberland from 1149 to 1157. Ironically, the Scots bombarded the church with cannon fire during the Civil War in 1644. See also St Andrew Street.
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, Leazes Crescent and Leazes Place.
One huge area of land remained undeveloped within the town walls, namely the mansion and estate called Anderson Place, owned by George Anderson who died in 1831.
In his bid to develop the 12 acres of what had been Anderson’s 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.
Grainger demolished Anderson Place, building Grey Street and Grainger Street in its former grounds. Grey Street, Grainger Street and Clayton Street were among the nine new streets of impressive neo-classical design that were built.
The whole development was mostly the work of the North Shields-born architect John Dobson (1787-1865) but there were other architects involved, notably Benjamin Green who designed the Theatre Royal and the famous monument to Earl Grey which still forms the focal point for Newcastle city centre.
This huge development in Newcastle’s centre, known today as ‘Grainger Town’, originally included 325 shops as well as the Grainger Market. Together they formed the new commercial focal point for Newcastle.
Anderson Place, the site on which Grey Street and Grainger Street was built had been 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.
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 George Anderson (unconnected to the original builder) who renamed it Anderson Place. Anderson also resided at Hawthorn Tower, a John Dobson-built mansion that stood on the Durham coast near Seaham.
Named from builder, Richard Grainger, Grainger Street is the main route of entry into the city centre for pedestrians who have arrived by train at Newcastle Central Station.
Commencing at Neville Street near the station Grainger Street is crossed by Westgate Road and then joined by St John Street, Bigg Market and Market Street on its eastern side, along with Newgate Street, Nun Street, and Nelson Street on its western side. It is not as grand as Grey Street but like Grey Street it terminates at the Grey Monument near Blackett Street and the Central Arcade.
Near the south end of Grainger Street on the eastern side between Westgate Road and St John Street is the church of St John, with its rough cut stone that gives the church a quite rural appearance. It is medieval, dates mostly from the fourteenth and fifteenth century and began life as a chapel of St Nicholas.
Near the north end on the west side of Grainger Street is the extensive Grainger Market. Inside, it includes what is perhaps one of the most historic stores in Newcastle: the Marks and Spencer Penny Bazzar, though this did not in fact open until 1896. It is the smallest Marks and Spencer store in the world.
Grey Street : Grandest of all
Grey Street is Newcastle’s finest stately street and the greatest achievement of the Newcastle builder-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, inspired by 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.
Interestingly, one of the region’s other famous monuments, the 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 commemorates Earl Grey’s son-in-law, John George Lambton, the First Earl of Durham, who was a member of the same government and it was Lambton who 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.”
Groat Market is a street of medieval origins but mostly dominated by modern buildings of the twentieth century, including the headquarters (Thomson House) of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle and Journal newspapers. Back in medieval times, groats – unground oats with their hulls removed – were sold here.
Groat Market commences at its south end near Collingwood Street and Cathedral Square near St Nicholas Cathedral. At its north west end Groat Market merges with Cloth Market to become Bigg Market (which was at one time called Oat Market).
Hancock Street : museum men
Hancock Street is situated near Newcastle Civic Centre and Barras Bridge and is named from the naturalists Albany and John Hancock, two brothers who established what was then called the Hancock Museum in 1884.
The museum itself lies just across the busy Great North Road (B1318) with Claremont Road on its western side. Now called The Great North Museum it was built on the site of the medieval hospital of St James.
The museum had initially focused on natural history from its opening in 1884. It re-opened with its brand new name and more modern feel in 2009 with new features and displays and is one of the best museums in the region.
As mentioned, the museum was built on the site of a medieval hospital. There was another medieval hospital dedicated to St Mary that had once stood on a site now occupied by St. Thomas church near the present Civic Centre. The Hancocks were born in the nearby St Mary’s Terrace (named from the hospital site) on the Great North Road.
Just off Clavering Place (in the Forth Street area south of the railway), Hanover Square was built in the 1720s shortly after the Hanoverians became Kings of England with the crowning of King George I. The adjoining cobbled Hanover Street descends to the Quayside at the Close.
High Bridge is named from a bridge that crossed the Lort Burn, a stream that more or less flowed a little to the west of the present Grey Street and then down the valley or dene of what is now Dean Street.
The street of High Bridge developed along the bridge and its approaches on both sides of the valley. High Bridge is a narrow street of much character that can be found either side of Grey Street. There are a number of pubs and eating establishments located in the street.
The eastern part of High Bridge is the shorter section of the street and links Pilgrim Street to Grey Street. It continues in a longer section from the western side of Grey Street to join Cloth Market, Groat Market and Bigg Market at the Beehive Hotel.
The section of High Bridge on the west side of Grey Street includes an old coaching inn called The Old George, partly dating back to the seventeenth century in Old George Yard.
Down the valley in what is now Dean Street a bridge called Low Bridge crossed the burn and is revealed in two alleyways with steep stairways, either side of the Dean Street near the Dean Street Car Park. The steps on the west side ascend to St Nicholas Churchyard, home to the ‘Vampire Rabbit’.
High Friar Lane
Newcastle’s first friary once stood in the High Friar Lane area on a site that is now occupied by Tyneside Cinema. It was an establishment of Franciscan friars (known as Greyfriars) who settled in the town in 1237. High Friars Lane is a narrow lane between Grey Street and Pilgrim Street. The Tyneside Cinema and its bar are situated at the Pilgrim Street end of the lane.
Holy Jesus Hospital
The former Holy Jesus Hospital on the east side of the Swan House roundabout is one of Newcastle’s most interesting buildings though it is in a rather isolated modern setting.
Reached by an underpass, it is on the east side of the busy Swan House roundabout. The hospital was constructed in 1681 on the site of an Augustinian Friary when the setting would have looked very different from today.
A tower of the old friary can be seen to the rear of the building, but in truth this dates from the late 1500s after the friary had closed. By that time the friary had become the King’s manor house and is remembered in the name of the neighbouring district of Manors.
The Holy Jesus Hospital is a lovely brick structure of the seventeenth century with an elegant arcade of 30 arches. It was built by the Newcastle Corporation to look after 39 poor freemen of the city and their widows who were collectively known as brethren and sisters. In later years the building served as a chemical works, soup kitchen and museum. Its present occupants include the National Trust.
Jesmond Road West
Jesmond Road West is an attractive street in Regency style dating from the 1830s and 1840s near the Civic Centre and Hancock Street. The part called Carlton Terrace was the work of John Dobson
John Dobson Street and New Bridge Street
Named of course from the Tyneside architect John Dobson (1787-1865) John Dobson Street is in fact a modern development of the 1970s. It runs parallel to Northumberland Street and Pilgrim Street to the west, and College Street in the Northumbria University area to the east.
John Dobson Street stretches from St Mary’s Place in the north near the Civic Centre southward to Carliol Street near Carliol Square. Prominent buildings include the glass-fronted Newcastle City Library of 2009 bordered by the adjoining New Bridge Street. Opposite, alongside a pedestrianised section of New Bridge Street is the Laing Art Gallery.
The gallery’s architecture is Art Noveau in style and was built in 1904 by the architects Cackett & Burns Dick. There are works by many prominent artists including Turner; Burne-Jones; Reynolds and the famed North East artists Ralph Hedley and John Martin.
Also in this pedestrianised area of New Bridge Street near the Laing Gallery is the former Lying-in Hospital of 1825 which was designed by John Dobson. It was built as a charitable institution for impoverished, married pregnant women.
King’s Road : University of Newcastle
King’s Road plays host to the University of Newcastle upon Tyne which was formerly the King’s College Campus of Durham University and had developed from the merging of earlier independent colleges in Newcastle.
Developing from a School of Medicine and Surgery established in 1834, the Newcastle College of Medicine was established in 1851 and became part of the University of Durham. A College of Physical Science was established in 1871 in Newcastle that was also part of Durham University and was renamed Armstrong College in 1904. An Act of 1908 recognised two divisions of Durham University at Durham and Newcastle. Newcastle finally became a university in its own right in 1963.
The heart of the University is reached from Percy Street along Haymarket Lane from Barras Bridge via the ‘Kings Walk’. This leads directly to the Arches which are the entrance to the Quadrangle area of the University and date from 1911. It was originally part of the Edward VII School of Art and features a statue of the king himself.
Nearby in Kings Walk is the Student Union building of the 1920s of Neo-Jacobean style and next door the former Grand Assembly Rooms of 1889 which have long been part of the University.
Across Kings Road and facing the quadrangle is the Armstrong Building, formerly Armstrong College. It was built as a College of Physical Science and commemorates Lord William Armstrong who laid the foundation stone in 1888. It was built to the designs of Robert J. Johnson with four wings forming a quad of its own.
It features two prominent towers: the Jubilee Tower facing Kings Road and the Armstrong Tower, part of a later Edwardian wing that faces west across Queen Victoria Road to the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI). The RVI opened on that site in 1906 and its core Edwardian buildings remain. It was originally established in 1751 in the Forth Banks area,
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 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 stadium occupies part of the old park and was the home of Newcastle West End FC, who were taken over by Newcastle East End FC and the two combined clubs became Newcastle ‘United’ Football Club in 1892, choosing the St James’ site as their ground.
Joseph Wilson Swan, inventor of the light bulb lived for a time in Leazes Terrace. His invention was first demonstrated at Newcastle’s Literary and Philosophical Society in Westgate Road in 1879. Born in Sunderland, Swan’s later residence at Low Fell, Gateshead was the first house in the world to be lit by electric light.
Leazes Terrace was built in the 1830s by Thomas Oliver and Richard Grainger and runs along the east side of St James’ Park football ground with Strawberry Place on its south side at the stadium’s ‘Gallowgate End’.
Strawberry Place is reputedly named from strawberries grown by the nuns of the medieval St Bartholomew’s nunnery. It links Gallowgate and Barrack Road to Leazes Park Road and Leazes Lane in the Eldon Garden section of the Eldon Square shopping centre.