Ouseburn: Gosforth and Jesmond to the Tyne
In this page we explore the valley of the Ouseburn ‘river’ and its associated places. We begin north of Walbottle, where the Ouseburn has its source then follow it through Gosforth, Jesmond and Heaton to where it finally joins the Tyne at Ouseburn itself. We then follow up with a brief excursion east to Byker and Walker.
A tiny stream in its upper reaches, Ouseburn gains substance near Gosforth, then forms a prominent valley from Jesmond to Heaton up to its confluence with the Tyne. Beautiful Jesmond Dene forms a deep valley that is heavily wooded and includes Jesmond Dene Park, Armstrong Park and Heaton Park, forming a wonderful haven of nature in the heart of Newcastle.
The Ouseburn is often referred to by locals as a ‘river’ but is of course a ‘burn’ by name. It may not officially make the status of a river but north of the Tyne on Tyneside, it is the Tyne’s most significant tributary, rivalled only by the Willington Gut near Wallsend.
Ouse is a Celtic river-name meaning ‘rushing water’ and reflects its familiarity to locals in ancient times. In fact ‘Ouse’ is the name for more than one river in England, including of course, the River Ouse at York.
Newcastle’s Ouseburn has a long and interesting history with a variety of notable historic features along its course, including a medieval chapel and house, a watermill and a number of other fascinating industrial relics.
The upper valley of the Ouse Burn
The Ouseburn starts life as a trickle to the north west of Newcastle about a mile north of Walbottle, a village on Hadrian’s Wall. It then flows east through the little village of Callerton and then underneath the A696, skirting the village of Woolsington not far from Newcastle airport.
From here it passes a quarter of a mile north of Kingston Park rugby stadium and onward near the Newcastle suburbs of Fawdon and Kingston Park. Fawdon has an Anglo-Saxon name ‘fah dun’, meaning, ‘variegated hill’. Nearby Kenton is ‘Cyning Tun’, ‘the king’s farm’ and the modern name of Kingston Park adopts a similar theme. Kenton Bar to the west was named from a toll bar on the main road north.
North of Fawdon, the Ouseburn enters the Brunton area. There are several ‘Bruntons’ here: Brunton Bridge; Brunton Mill; Brunton East Farm; West Brunton Farm; Middle Brunton East Farm; Brunton Park and so on. The ‘brun’ of these names is in fact ‘burn’; Brunton being the ‘farm on the burn’ – the Ouseburn of course. A William De Burneton (William of Brunton) was granted a mill hereabouts in 1328.
Gosforth and Coxlodge
From Brunton, the Ouseburn skirts Newcastle City Golf Course and then Gosforth Golf Course with the open land of Gosforth Park stretching north to include Gosforth Racecourse.
Called ‘Goseford’in the twelfth century, Gosforth supposedly means ‘ford frequented by geese’ which may have gathered on a ford across the Ouseburn. An alternative explanation is that the name is somehow corrupted from ‘Ouseford’. Gosforth was originally two places called North and South Gosforth that began as medieval settlements separated by the Ouse Burn.
For centuries Gosforth belonged to the Surtees family (who claimed descent from Siward an eleventh century Earl of Northumbria) but from 1509 Gosforth belonged to the Brandlings to whom it passed through marriage.
North Gosforth and South Gosforth were the two original medieval settlements but little can be seen of them today. The church of St Nicholas in Church Road, South Gosforth was built by John Dodds in 1799 with later interior work by John Dobson. It stands on the site of an earlier medieval church. The medieval site of North Gosforth across the Ouseburn to the north was in the area near the present racecourse. The remains of a chapel dating from those times can be seen amidst a modern estate in Chapel Close.
The architect James Paine built a mansion in the North Gosforth area called Gosforth House for the coal-owner Charles Brandling in 1755-64 and it was later renamed Brandling House. This stately house is now part of Newcastle racecourse.
Historically, horseracing was held in the area of Killingworth Moor in the 17th century and later on Newcastle’s Town Moor which featured the famed Northumberland Plate horserace from 1833. The race known as ‘The Pitmen’s Derby’ moved to Gosforth Park in 1882, firmly securing the site as the home to Tyneside horseracing.
The Brandlings were one of the region’s most powerful coal owners in the eighteenth century and by the nineteenth century Gosforth was primarily noted for its collieries.
Confusingly, Gosforth’s modern centre on Gosforth High Street began life as Bulman Village. It was built in 1826 on land given by Job James Bulman to provide voters to support him in a local election.
The busy High Street has a Northumbrian feel to it and neighbouring streets include Trinity Church, a former Methodist chapel of the 1870s and the Anglican All Saints church of 1877 by the Stokesley-born architect of Newcastle, Robert James Johnson.
Closely connected to Gosforth is Coxlodge. The Coxlodge area lies to the west of Gosforth but the site of Coxlodge Hall, built in 1796 by Gateshead medical man Job Bulman (father of Job James), was located in what is now The Drive area of Gosforth. Job Bulman made his fortune in India.
The Drive adjoins the western side of Gosforth High Street. Here the stable block (now offices) of Coxlodge Hall survive along with the hall’s old lodge house. The stables still date from 1796 but the hall itself which stood opposite across The Drive was rebuilt in 1877 and demolished in 1936.
Much of the area around Coxlodge Hall became a site for villas occupied by Newcastle business people and the well-to-do from the late 19th century.
Coxlodge Colliery opened in 1820 to the west of Gosforth and a small colliery settlement called Coxlodge developed. Its pits included the Regent Pit, named because it was opened in the Regency era. It is remembered in the name of Gosforth’s Regent Centre, a business park completed in 1981.
At Gosforth the Ouseburn begins to veer to the south towards Jesmond and Jesmond Dene. It flows along the eastern edge of South Gosforth with an old bridge called Salters Bridge crossing the burn having medieval origins. To the east is Benton with a name that simply means ‘settlement where beans grew’ or perhaps where the grass called ‘Bent’ grew. Much of Benton and the whole of neighbouring Longbenton lie within North Tyneside rather than Newcastle.
Situated west of Jesmond Dene in the mid-Ouseburn valley Jesmond was originally called ‘Gesemue’ meaning, ‘Ousemouth’ even though the Ouseburn enters the Tyne a mile to the south. This suggests that Jesmond must have originally covered a wider area. Medieval Jesmond had belonged to Adam of Jesemuthe and to Richard Emeldon, a mayor of Newcastle.
The main surviving feature of Medieval Jesmond is the ruined twelfth century chapel of St Mary which stands above the dene a little to the south of the dene’s mid way point.
St Mary’s was said to have been a place of miracles including some associated with Jesus, perhaps giving rise to the theory or myth that Jesmond means, ‘hill of Jesus’. The transformation of the name from ‘muthe’ (mouth) to the Frenchified ‘mond’, meaning ‘hill’ seems to have begun in the 15th century. Indeed the place is referred to as “Jesmuth alias Jesmund“ in 1428.
Miracles in medieval times associated with the Virgin Mary and a neighbouring holy well were recorded at Jesmond and the site apparently became one of England’s main centres of pilgrimage. Newcastle’s Pilgrim Street was seemingly named from the route visitors took to this pilgrimage site.
Miracles were good for business in medieval times and monasteries prospered from the revenue generated by the pilgrims they attracted. Pilgrims were like the tourists of the age.
As a major medieval town Newcastle, with its wealth of friaries and tradesmen would have seen an opportunity to tap into the wealth and trade stimulated by pilgrims who had brought similar riches to other places of pilgrimage like Durham and Tynemouth.
In 1835, Jesmond officially became part of Newcastle upon Tyne by an Act of Parliament that also saw the addition of several other suburbs. Nineteenth century villas and terraces were soon built for wealthy professionals in this attractive locality.
The valley of Jesmond Dene had been landscaped by the famed Tyneside industrialist William Armstrong (1810-1900) who bought the 18th century manor house of Jesmond, (demolished in 1929) along with accompanying lands in the dene and the grounds of Heaton Hall on the eastern side of the valley.
In the 1860s Armstrong landscaped the dene as a pleasure ground, clearing away features associated with industrial activity, although an old mill house of a mill that was once used in the grinding corn and flint was integrated into the park.
Waterfalls and walks and other features along the course of the dene were added and trees were planted as part of its landscaping. Armstrong of course undertook similar work in the landscaping of his other home at Cragside near Rothbury.
Jesmond Dene was a place for relaxing but also a one where Armstrong could entertain his esteemed friends and clients. For this purpose he had a banqueting house built, overlooking the dene, by John Dobson in 1862. Here he could entertain guests who would admire the gallery of his impressive art collection. Today, only the ruined shell of the banqueting house remains.
In 1883 Armstrong gifted Jesmond Dene to the people of Newcastle as a public park and it is still cherished and enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.
At the south end of the dene is the Armstrong Bridge of 1876-78 just off Benton Bank. It was built by Armstrong as a road bridge but is now a beautiful pedestrian route with splendid views overlooking the dene. On Sundays the bridge really comes to life as the site of a busy craft market. Nearby is the Gothic style church of Holy Trinity dating from 1908, though the prominent tower was not added until the 1920s
Along Lindisfarne Road away from the dene, one of the big surprises of Jesmond is the magnificent ‘arts and crafts’ interior of St George’s church off Osborne Road. Commissioned by Armstrong’s industrial partner, the shipbuilder Charles Mitchell and built by T.R Spence in 1886-1890, it has drawn comparison to the churches of Ravenna in Italy.
Mitchell lived in Jesmond Towers (originally called West Jesmond House) near the north end of the dene. This was later the home of the La Sagesse School from 1906 until 2008. Nearby, off Jesmond Dene Road, Dobson’s Jesmond Dene House of 1822, a little to the north, was home to Armstrong’s business partner, Sir Andrew Noble and is now a hotel.
Away from the Jesmond Dene area in the south east corner of Jesmond near Jesmond station is Jesmond church (1861) by John Dobson that was built to commemorate a popular evangelical minister called Richard Clayton whose name is also recalled in nearby Clayton Road.
Close by, off Eskdale Terrace, is Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School. The school was founded in 1525 by Thomas Horsley, Mayor of Newcastle and originally stood near St Nicholas Church (now the cathedral in the historic centre of Newcastle).
Heaton which shares the valley of Jesmond Dene with Jesmond has an Anglo-Saxon name, meaning ‘the high farm/settlement’, describing its position on a hill above the Ouseburn. It belonged to Nicholas Grenville in the twelfth century but in the thirteenth century became the home of Adam of Jesmond, who was Sheriff of Northumberland from 1262.
The pretty ruins of Adam’s fortified medieval house, called Adam’s Camera can still be seen in Heaton Park at the south end of Jesmond Dene. The ruins also go by the name of ‘King John’s Palace’, though King John had long since died when it was built. It was built around 1260, during the reign of Henry III.
Adam built the house with the king’s permission and was a guardian and companion of Henry’s son, Prince Edward, who later became Edward I. Adam accompanied Prince Edward on a Crusade to the Holy Land but Adam did not return and his actual fate is unknown. The house is thought to have been occupied until as late as the 17th century.
Nearby we find the tower of Heaton windmill which was used in the grinding of corn. The date of the mill is not certain but it was already in ruin by 1844.
Adam’s House and the Heaton windmill are both situated within Heaton Park at the south end of Jesmond Dene. This area was part of the lands of Heaton Hall, the eighteenth century home of the Ridley and White Ridley families.
Heaton Hall was demolished around 1930 and stood in what is now the Tintern Crescent area east of the park. The Ridleys were the owners of the water-powered corn mill at the north end of Jesmond Dene where there had been a mill since medieval times. Now a ruin, the water mill dates from sometime between 1800 and 1820 and was operated at around that time by the Freeman family who were tenants of the Ridleys.
In the nineteenth century Heaton was a mining district and seventy-five men died in a mining tragedy here on May 3, 1815 when Heaton Colliery flooded.
Later in the century and into the early twentieth century Heaton developed as Newcastle suburb with its familiar terraced housing spreading northward from the railway towards Benton and High Heaton with many terraces in South Heaton centred on Chillingham Road which runs north to south linking the Coast Road to Byker south of the railway.
Shieldfield is just to the east of Newcastle’s city centre and the A167 between the culverted courses of the Pandon Burn and the Ouseburn. Shieldfield probably means, ‘the field with a shieling’ (shelter) or is perhaps named from being on the road to Shields.
It formed open countryside outside Newcastle’s medieval walls to the east of the Pandon Burn and was once the site of a rope works, shown on a Newcastle map of 1736, when the area was still open countryside. Sadly, a picturesque cottage-like house on Shieldfield Green known as ‘King Charles House’ was demolished in the 1960s. The building, with lovely Dutch-gabled windows, dated from the 1600s.
During his ten month imprisonment by the Scottish Covenanters at Newcastle in 1646-67, following the English Civil War, King Charles I was allowed to play ‘goff’ (golf) in the Shield Field area and this house was perhaps in some way connected to him.
To the south of Jesmond Dene and Heaton Park, the Ouse Burn disappears underground in the Shieldfield and Heaton areas. It re-emerges near three large bridges: Ouseburn Viaduct; the Metro viaduct and Byker Bridge. From here the Ouseburn flows south eventually entering the Tyne to the east of the Newcastle Quayside.
The red brick Byker Bridge is a viaduct that carries a road rather than a railway across the Ouseburn valley and was purpose built to do so, in 1878. To its north the concrete Metro viaduct dates from 1979 while the iron arches of the nearby railway viaduct to its north date from 1869 replacing an earlier timber-arched bridge of 1839. Beneath the bridges at a lower level and overshadowed by all the rest is a tiny eighteenth century stone-arched bridge which of course crosses the burn itself rather than the whole valley.
The lower Ouseburn is a particularly interesting quarter. Once crossed by Hadrian’s Wall in ancient times, this was a hive of industrial activity from the 1600s to the 1930s. Notably, Robert Mansel established a glassworks here in 1623 and pottery manufacture was important from the 1700s.
Glass; lead; flax; white lime; pottery; confectionery manufacture and an iron foundry were amongst the industries of times past and some buildings associated with these eras survive, adding much character to this district.
A former flax mill built by John Dobson for Plummer and Cooke in 1848 is now occupied by studios along with the popular and highly-rated Cluny venue and bar. Outside the venue in Lime Street we find the filled-in remains of a brick chimney that once formed part of the steam powered mill but this was once much taller and was considerably reduced in height in the 1930s. The name of the Cluny recalls a whisky plant that manufactured blended Scotch whisky called Cluny.
Next door, Seven Stories, the national centre for children’s books, which opened in 2005, occupies a nineteenth century brick flour mill. Seven Stories – it’s a play on words from the building’s seven storeys – and the Cluny warehouse of the old flax mill overlook the Ouseburn where they can be seen from the riverside walk. Nearby, alongside a slight bend in the burn is the Ouseburn Farm, run by a charity as an urban farm.
Part of this site was once the home to the Northumberland Lead Works established in 1871 by John Ismay and later called Walker’s Paint works from the paint manufactured with white lead. The works closed in the 1960s and the area was cleansed with new top soil imported to the site.
Four further bridges cross the Ouseburn at low level before it reaches the Tyne. A little wooden footbridge links the Cluny and Ouseburn Farm on the west side to Riverside Walk and Foundry Lane on the east bank.
The next bridge we encounter carries the Byker Bank road across the burn and after that the following bridge is a relatively low level red brick viaduct called Glasshouse Bridge which carries the Walker Road across the Ouseburn near the Tyne Bar public house. There are sluice gates either side of this bridge.
Modern office space in a converted building called the Toffee Factory is found on the north side of the bridge. This building was initially a cattle sanatorium dating from the 1870s but was occupied by a Maynards sweet manufactory from 1906 which closed in the 1950s.
At the mouth of the Ouseburn the final bridge across the ‘river’ carries the ‘Quayside’ and Hadrian’s Way footpath. Here we can head west towards Newcastle quayside proper and into the Sandgate area with the church of St Ann above the bank in the old keelmen’s quarter. Alternatively we can head east towards the Byker riverside and St Peter’s Basin.
From the mouth of the Ouse Burn if we head downstream to the east we pass a cafe that serves as a cycle hub for those who enjoy the two-wheeled exercise facilitated by the dedicated riverside route called Hadrian’s Way.
Continuing east along the river, we head through the St Lawrence area where modern apartments overlook the river and then head alongside the quayside car park to pass through an area once intriguingly called ‘Mushroom‘ which was at one time the site of a chemical works. Next we reach the lovely marina called St Peter’s Basin on the Byker riverfront. Once called Sir Peter’s Quay it belonged to a powerful merchant, Sir Peter Ridell in the 1600s.
Byker is one of only a few Viking place-names in the Tyneside area, the name deriving from ‘by kiarr’, meaning, ‘village on the marsh’. However ‘carr’ and ‘kerr’ were words in common northern English use after Viking times so Byker could simply mean, ‘next to the marsh’ – carrs are usually marshy scrubland areas. In medieval times Byker belonged to a family who took the surname De Byker from the estate that they owned. They also owned land at Pandon where there was once a lane called Byker Chare near the river.
Both the Byker and Ouseburn valley were a focus for Tyneside’s glass-making industry from the 1600s. Byker’s famous block of public housing called the Byker Wall was built by the architect Ralph Erskine in the early 1970s. The children’s TV drama Byker Grove which made a household name of Tyneside entertainers Ant and Dec was not filmed at Byker but at Benwell in the west of the city.
Returning to the riverside east of St Peter’s Basin we next enter the Walker Shore area, now a pleasant extensively wooded section of the Tyne called Walker Riverside Park. Here to the east of St Peter’s Basin we pass through an area once called Pity Me that faces Friar’s Goose across the river and then we enter the St Anthony’s riverside, facing across to Felling Shore as we approach Walker.
At Walker Shore the river front starts to bend north east towards Walkergate and Wallsend. Here after the river bends, the Walker Riverside Park gives way to industrial sites that dominate the river front all the way up to the Royal Quays at North Shields.
Walker Shore is remembered in the name of an old Tyneside folk song dating from a time when coal mining dominated the district:
If I had another penny
I would have another gill
I would make the piper play
‘The Bonny Lass of Byker Hill’
Byker Hill and Walker Shore
Collier lads for ever more
Byker Hill and Walker Shore
Collier lads for ever more
The name Walker derives from ‘wall kerr’, meaning, ‘marshy land near Hadrian’s Wall’. Walker’s Scrogg Road recalls a Viking word Skog, meaning, ‘woodland or brushwood’.
Another thought (a view of this author) is that perhaps the ‘ker’ of this name and that of Byker is in fact ‘cerr’ (chare) a right-angled seat-shaped bend, perhaps named from the great bend in the River Tyne. The change from ‘cerr’ to ‘ker’ could be due to Scandinavian influence. The Anglo-Saxon place-name Charing in London (Charing Cross) is named from the river bend on the Thames that bears a striking resemblance to that of the Tyne at Wallsend-Walker.
The place-names Walkerville and Walkergate are derived from the original place-name Walker. The ‘gate’ or way in Walkergate is the ancient ‘Fossway’ that follows the course of Hadrian’s Wall. Finally, Wallsend, to the east is officially in North Tyneside rather than Newcastle but has strong cultural ties to the city.
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