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.
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.
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 – Friaries tucked into the toon
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. 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 Newcastle 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 55 Degrees North (the Swan House roundabout). 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 cannon 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, 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 house, 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 and the Grainger Market. Together they formed the new commercial focal point for Newcastle. One of the most attractive stores in Newcastle’s Grainger Market is the Marks and Spencers Penny Bazzar, though this did not open until 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.
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 who renamed it Anderson Place. Anderson also resided at Hawthorn Tower, a John Dobson-built mansion that stood on the Durham coast near Seaham.
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, 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 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 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 actually 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.”
Hancock Street : Museum Men
Hancock Street is near the Civic Centre and Barras Bridge and is named from the naturalists Albany and John Hancock, who established the Hancock Museum in Newcastle in 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 and displays and is one of the best museums in the region.
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, 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.