The present state of Newcastle
Improvements projected or effected

Sponsor

Institute of Historical Research

Publication

Author

Eneas Mackenzie

Year published

1827

Pages

197-203

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'The present state of Newcastle: Improvements projected or effected', Historical Account of Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Including the Borough of Gateshead (1827), pp. 197-203. URL: http://british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=43344 Date accessed: 17 April 2014. Add to my bookshelf


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IMPROVEMENTS EFFECTED OR PROJECTED.

Newcastle, like every walled town, was built in a most awkward, crowded, and inconvenient manner; but the rapid increase of trade, knowledge, and population, during the last century, rendered some alterations and improvements necessary. Many corporate towns have lately dwindled into insignificance; whilst those unfettered with charters have suddenly grown into consequence. Newcastle, however, from the excellence of its situation, and the moderation with which its chartered privileges are enforced, has not only maintained its rank, but even risen in the scale of national importance. This prosperity has naturally been attended with a correspondent increase of revenue, which, at present, exceeds that of any other provincial town in the kingdom. Hence the corporation has the means of effecting such improvements as they judge to be either useful or ornamental to the town.

Many judicious alterations have been made during the last forty years; through they were generally carried on in so drowsy a manner, as to excite the ridicule of strangers, But the flourishing state of the corporation funds, and the impetus given to trade since the peace, have combined to redouble the exertions of the magistrates and the common council; and a variety of important improvements are now either completed, in progress, or in contemplation.

It is much to be regretted that the corporation should not have adopted, some years ago, a comprehensive and rational plan of improvement. Proceeding without any welldigested scheme, every thing is chosen to suit the fancy of the moment. No mastermind conceives and directs the public works, which frequently become objects of disappointment and vexation, rather than of pride and congratulation; while many invaluable improvements are abandoned, in consequence of the impediments that have been foolishly and injudiciously placed in the way of their adoption.

The refusal of the corporation to purchase the house and grounds of Sir William Blackett was a serious error. Thirteen acres of ground, in the very centre of a large and opulent town, afforded so many facilities for improvement, that an enlightened and spirited magistracy would have made almost any sacrifice to obtain it. At the time this desirable purchase was refused, the building of the Tyne Bridge pressed heavily on the funds of the corporation; but money could have been readily borrowed on such property. At the present time, the governing body seems to be actuated by a more liberal and enterprising spirit. This laudable disposition being general, it might be invidious to particularize individuals; yet it may be permitted to notice the intense interest taken by John Clayton, Esq. in all projects of public improvement.

The formation of Dean Street and Mosley Street is the most valuable improvement executed in Newcastle in modern times; but the opportunity is lost of extending them agreeably to a project that would have rendered the town remarkable for compactness and convenience. Had Dean Street been commenced lower down the Side, and continued to the High Bridge, it would have had a grand appearance, and the ascent would have been rendered more easy and gradual. It is now very steep, difficult, and dangerous, the rise being in some parts 3¾ inches in a yard. Ultimately it might have been continued in a straight direction to the Parade; and certain markets might be advantageously removed to the square or squares which could have been formed in this noble street. Placing the Theatre partly opposite to Dean Street, and the secret influence exerted by the proprietors of houses in Pilgrim Street, the Bigg Market, &c. are mentioned as the principal reasons why this most desirable project was abandoned.

The shops now occupied by the butchers in the New Flesh Market are certainly much more convenient and comfortable than the old temporary stalls that were set up every Friday evening in the old market; but had the shops been ranged in a double row along each side of the square, and covered in by a lofty and well-lighted roof, like the markets at Hull and Liverpool, it would have formed a pleasant and genteel market, both during the oppressive heats of summer, and the disagreeable blasts of winter. In this case, the unseemly objects that present themselves on each side of the square would have been hid, and the centre would have afforded ample room for a vegetable market. The impropriety of exposing the butter market to the melting rays of the sun is also very inexcusable. The shade on the west side rendered it a far more eligible situation for this purpose. This division is at present occupied by the retailers of potatoes, &c.; and it is in contemplation to pull down the old butter and poultry market, by which about one half of the High Bridge will be widened and rendered more commodious, and a convenient stand for carts on market-days will be procured.

There was formerly a bend in the Quay, opposite the south side of the Exchange, in which the sand was gradually accumulated, until ships of great burthen were unable to discharge their cargoes at the high crane. In 1811, workmen commenced widening the Quay to the breadth of 45 feet at the angle, which useful work was finished with great diligence; and now the west end of the Quay forms a most commodious wharf, where ships lie in 14 feet water in neap tides. The increased facilities to the delivery of goods are also a great advantage; and the Quay-master is now required to exercise his discretion and authority, in ordering ships, when delivered, to the south, or opposite side of the river, in order to permit the current to carry away the sand, &c. which would otherwise continue to increase near the Quay.

The great value of property in the Close renders the widening of that street a project of great difficulty and doubtful utility. It leads to no place of fashionable consequence, except the Mansion House, which ought to be removed, and the Close left entirely to the use of manufacturers and merchants, for whom it is peculiarly well adapted.

The widening of the Side to about 30 feet is now nearly completed. Only a few unseemly buildings remain near the top of this steep street. They are specimens of the old, projecting, wooden houses, daubed over, which was formerly the usual style of erecting private houses in the north. The formation of Castle Street, and the removal of the irregular buildings that were crowded together on the east and north side of St. Nicholas' church, are amongst the most recent and valuable improvements that have been effected.

Collingwood Street ought to have ranged in a straight line with Mosley Street. By removing a few old houses in Denton Chare, the property in this street might have been much augmented in value. It is likewise to be lamented that Collingwood Street was not continued to the Forth, particularly as it is understood that the late Mr. Thomas Anderson, the proprietor of Westmoreland Place, offered facilities for the execution of this desirable project.

The long range of small dwellings called Stowell Street was before noticed. It is now in contemplation to continue these buildings at a right angle from the south end, and to form a street opening into Low Friar Street, near the Dispensary. This plan would increase the value of the property in the Friars, belonging to several of the Free Incorporated Companies, and would furnish airy and convenient dwellings for many industrious families.

The widening of the street at the Nun-gate, where the cart-road does not exceed 19 feet in width, is an alteration so necessary and important, that it is really astonishing why it is neglected. We hope, for the honour of the corporate body, that the insinuation of its being delayed from motives of personal resentment and jealousy is totally unfounded. Major Anderson has very generously thrown back his property, which was part of the projection into the public street, and rebuilt his own premises in a tasteful and ornamental manner. He also obtained the consent of the other proprietors of this part of the Nun-gate to surrender their front buildings at a fair valuation. Surely, then, no individual can envy this gentleman the praise he merits.

At the north end of the Old Flesh Market is another awkward and dangerous passage, only 9 feet 10 inches in breadth. Nothing could have more strongly evinced the want of foresight and spirit in the corporation, some years ago, than permitting the late Mr. James Watson to rebuild his shop and warehouses, so as almost to block up one of the principal thoroughfares in the town.

It has long been in contemplation to pull down the west side of the Old Flesh Market; and, in furtherance of this plan, the corporation have purchased part of the old houses which it is intended to remove. These ancient and crazy dwellings are built in the Dutch style, with the gable-ends towards the street. Last year, a bold and grand scheme was suggested for the improvement of this part of the town. It was proposed to sweep away the whole of Middle Street, including the east side of the Groat Market, the west side of the Old Flesh Market, and all the premises that run up towards the middle of the Bigg Market, and to throw back the houses that bend forwards near the entrance to Ridley Court. Upon the large space of ground thus obtained, an extensive corn-market was to be erected. The principal entrance was to be opposite the church, and to consist of a noble colonnade, executed in a simple and grand style, to harmonize with 'the architecture of the adjoining Christian temple. The outer gates were to open upon a noble saloon, to be appropriated to the use of the corn-merchants. The farmers were to stand in regular order, according to the kinds of corn they offered for sale, within the main body of the building, which was to be lighted from the roof. Shops were to be ranged on each side of the structure. The north end was to be used as a coffee-house; and the buildings above were to contain a cloth-hall for the clothiers during the fairs, an auction-mart, and offices for the use of merchants and solicitors. The whole was to be executed in stone, and the necessary funds to be raised by the sale of shares at £100 each; the interest to be secured by the rents and certain tolls, which were to be regulated by a special act of parliament. This project was warmly and generally supported, and notice of an application for an act was given previous to the present session of parliament, which is the last of the 7th of George IV.; but further steps have been deferred until the meeting of a new parliament. The plans of this intended building were furnished by Mr. John Dobson, architect, and were conceived with his usual judgment and ingenuity.

But there is another scheme in agitation for the improvement of the town, of a still more grand and comprehensive description. If the corporation can agree with Major Anderson for the purchase of his property in the centre of the town, a consummation sincerely to be wished, an ample field will be opened for the most invaluable and desirable improvements. (fn. 1) Mr. Dobson, architect, has offered plans for the appropriation of this ground, which seem in the highest degree to combine elegance with utility.

It is proposed to make a grand central square, about 450 feet long, and 190 feet broad, containing in the whole 10,133 square yards; this area to be used as a public market, for the sale of wheat, oats, &c. and appropriate buildings to be erected on each side, at the distance of 60 feet from the market. The street on the north side to commence in Pilgrim Street, about 85 feet south of High Friar Lane, to form the north side of the square, and, passing the open space named Green Court, to open into Newgate Street, south of the houses usually called Grey's Court. The street on the west side of the square is proposed to proceed from the Nuns-gate (which it would then be necessary to widen), and to run in a straight line to Blackett Street, where Eldon Square would form an imposing termination. From this convenient street another is to run along the south side of the square, and to open into Pilgrim Street, where the shop of Mr. Richard Davies, marble-mason, now stands. The east street to commence near the portico of the new Scotch Church in Blackett Street, and to terminate at the dwelling-house of Mr. Thompson, butcher, in the High Bridge; at which place it is proposed to widen this street, by making some alterations on the south side, connected with the New Flesh Market, and tending to make a pleasing bound to the new street. Opposite to the east end of the new market, it is projected to build a Mansion House, suitable to the rank and dignity of the first magistrate of this opulent and populous town. This civic palace is planned to occupy the scite of Anderson Place, and to have four handsome stone fronts. The north, south, and west sides to rise from a bold terrace; and the latter front to be ornamented with eight beautiful pillars. The east front to face Pilgrim Street, and to have a lofty, grand portico, capable of admitting carriages, which might enter the gate at one corner of the grounds, and pass out at the opposite one; but the present walk up the middle avenue, with the trees on each side, to be carefully preserved. The necessary offices would, agreeably to this plan, be concealed from sight underneath the building, which would stand upon arches. The Mansion House, the terraces, and the ground between Pilgrim Street and the east front, would occupy 6300 square yards. The total extent of building-ground, obtained by these arrangements out of Major Anderson's present property, exclusive of streets, amounts to 37,000 square yards.

Blackett Street is one of the most important improvements ever effected by the corporate body, who evinced a laudable steadiness of purpose in resisting the attempts made to obtain an alteration of the original and elegant plan of the square. All the scites are now sold except three, and the purchasers have yielded to the proposal requiring the houses to be erected with stone fronts. Had Northumberland Court been purchased by the corporation previous to the formation of this street, the abrupt angle nearly opposite to High Friar Lane might have been avoided, and more space afforded for the adjoining houses. (fn. 2)

Another bold scheme of improvement is in contemplation. It is proposed to continue Blackett Street in a straight line, and, crossing the foot of Gallowgate (which would then become a back street), to proceed behind Mr. Archbold's house, and, cutting off part of the premises belonging to the heir of Sir Cuthbert Heron, to pass the corner of the Leazes, north of the gate. Here the street would form a gentle angle, and, crossing the Ponteland road at the pant, proceed in a direct line, joining the Carlisle turnpike road near to Gloucester Hall. According to the plans, which have been projected by Mr. Dobson, this long street will be 70 feet wide, with a space of 15 feet in front of each house, making the entire space between the buildings on each side 100 feet. Trees are intended to be planted on both sides of the road, which will not only break the blasts of wind, but also add to the beauty and healthiness of the street. It is likewise designed to give variety to this grand line of communication by the formation of two squares; and should the disposable capital and increasing population of the town require an extension of the plan, streets may be made to branch out conveniently from both sides. The ground through which the street would pass on leaving the Ponteland road, belongs to the heirs of the late Mr. Isaac Richardson and the late Mr. Thomas Anderson, to Mr. Russell of High Heworth, and Isaac Cookson, jun. Esq. The parties concerned seem inclined to afford every facility to the execution of this plan; and there exists no doubt of an amicable agreement being made between the proprietors and the mayor and burgesses, for the few yards of ground wanted at the corner of the Leazes, for which a sufficient equivalent would be given.

The building of a stone bridge across Pandon Dean has invited an extension of the north-east suburbs of the town. It is, however, to be lamented that the commissioners of the North Shields turnpike road were compelled to abandon the original plan of continuing this new branch in a direct line across the Ouseburn, joining the old road north of Byker-bar. Perhaps, if mounds, arched underneath, had been thrown across both Pandon Dean and the Ouseburn, the money expended upon one stone bridge would have been found adequate to the completion of the whole design. It was once intended to continue the villas from Picton Place, at the north-west corner of the New Bridge, in a bold sweep to Vine Lane; but this project is now given up. Trafalgar Street was before noticed; and few schemes of improvement could have combined more advantages. This street, after passing Corner-tower, will proceed through Messrs. Shadforth and Todd's raff-yard, and then, intersecting the Red Row, follow the course of Pandon Burn, and enter the Quay at Burn Bank. This will certainly form a most convenient street, the ascent from the Quay being easy, and the communicating branches numerous: nor will this useful undertaking be so difficult and expensive as might at the first glance be apprehended, as most of the ground in this line belongs to the corporation, and the houses in general are very old and of little value. This road from the Quay to the higher parts of the town would decrease the crowd of carriages with which Dean Street is constantly occupied. It is also determined to make a branch street, 42 feet wide, to extend from Trafalgar Street to Croft Street, which it will join at the north side of the New Prisons. The continuation of Mosley Street to Trafalgar Street still remains a desirable object. It would pass a little to the south of the New Prisons.

When mentioning the Quayside, it may not be improper to suggest, should circumstances favour the project, the utility of extending the Quay, and making a continued and commodious cart-road down to the Glass-house Bridge. This improvement would increase the value of property in Sandgate Shore and the North Shore, and lead to such alterations as would greatly increase the conveniences and favour the health of the numerous and industrious inhabitants of this district.

But one of the most advantageous and desirable improvements ever agitated in this town, was projected, during the mayoralty of Archibald Reed, Esq. by Mr. John Dobson, architect, who recommended its adoption with all the enthusiasm of a man devoted to his profession. He proposed to make the old Castle a permanent prison for debtors, and to build a grand and lofty public gateway at the south-east corner of this ancient fortress. Over this gate was to be a covered gallery of communication between the Castle and the governor's house, which he proposed to erect on the ground south of the Castle. Adjoining to this house was to be built a gaol for felons, a house of correction, and a hall for the occasional use of the magistrates, where also felons might be tried during the assizes, which would, from its vicinity to the county courts, be a great convenience to the judges and lawyers. All these buildings were to be castellated, and inclosed by a lofty stone wall, with corner towers, so as to correspond with the style of architecture which the old Castle exhibits. Another part of this ingenious plan was to pull down the houses at the west side of the north entrance to the Tyne Bridge; to throw a dry arch across the Close, a little beyond the Castle Garth Stairs; and, proceeding along the brow of the hill, to wind round the outer wall of the new prisons, and terminate the street at St. Nicholas' church.

The rise in this proposed street would not be equal to two inches in a yard, or about half the steepness of Dean Street. The few buildings proposed to be cleared away along the bank are mere rubbish; and, indeed, none of the property in the line of this improvement is of much value until we reach the Head of the Side, where it has long been in contemplation to throw the houses back, so as to range in a parallel line with Queen Street. (fn. 3) This scheme of converting the Castle into a permanent prison was recommended by considerations of economy, as it was calculated to save £5000 of the public money. Its adoption would also have excited the admiration of strangers; as the county courts, the old Castle, the new prisons, and St. Nicholas' steeple, would have presented an incomparably grand and imposing group of objects. The rejection of this apparently desirable object, no doubt, proceeded from strong reasons; though the public are unacquainted with their nature and force.

It is at present in contemplation to widen the north entrance to the Tyne Bridge, by pulling down St. Thomas' chapel, and rebuilding it in the Magdalen Meadows, near the Barras Bridge, where it will form a fine and picturesque object, (fn. 4) ; and be a great convenience to the numerous and genteel families that now inhabit the northern suburbs of the town. It is likewise proposed to erect an elegant and commodious custom-house at the east side of the Sandhill, by which the principal establishments connected with the trade and government of the town would be concentrated.

Many other schemes of improvement have been suggested; but they are either too extensive for the present trade and population of the town, or too trifling to merit general attention. The corporation are evidently actuated by a sincere desire to benefit and beautify the town; and it is hoped that they will, in future, pursue, with undeviating steadiness, one general plan. (fn. 5) Perseverance overcomes the most formidable difficulties.

Footnotes

1 Though Major Anderson has always displayed a laudable zeal in promoting public improvements, yet it is generally believed that he is pertinaceously resolved to hold this portion of his property entire during his life-time. This is not the fact: on the contrary, he is anxious to witness improvements that would render the place of his nativity one of the most compact and beautiful towns in the kingdom. He has therefore offered to sell this ground at a certain price, and to allow the purchase-money to remain at interest in the security of the corporation. Both parties in this important negotiation would do themselves the highest honour by bringing it to a successful conclusion.
2 The inconveniences resulting from the want of a general and comprehensive plan of improvement, is partly exemplified in the awkward front presented by the Scotch Church in this street, which was finished in May, 1822. It will now be necessary to pull it down, and rebuild it in the line of the street. The Clergy Jubilee School, the Girls' Jubilee School, and several other public buildings, seem to have been placed where they stand as if by some unfortunate accident.
3 Mr. John Davidson, tobacconist, offered to give the ground gratis wanted for this purpose, on which his premises partly stand. Such public-spirited offers deserve to be recorded.
4 The steeple of the intended new chapel will, it is hoped, contain a good clock. There are no public clocks within the distance of two-thirds of a mile from this place; and it is very convenient for persons entering the town to be able to ascertain the exact time by the town's clocks.
5 The houses in the different streets of the town are now being numbered, a regulation much wanted; but unfortunately the mode of its execution is capricious and objectionable. In most cases, the occupiers, not the houses, appear to be numbered; and it sometimes happens that one shop is divided between two tenants, while a third occupies the house. In other towns, the houses alone are numbered. In some streets, the numbering proceeds regularly from one end to the other; but in Mosley Street it is made to run in a zig-zag direction. If a stranger comes to No. 8, he must cross the street to find No. 9!