As a keen countryside footpath explorer, I have climbed over many stiles in my life. Most of them tend to be of the wooden rickety type. But I think this one we found a couple of Summers ago at Whitburn is magnificent … and definitely the most sturdily built one I have ever traversed! There was no need to perch precariously on the top of this fine sandstone edifice. I was able to stand atop and gaze out across the meadow to the North Sea beyond, completely without any risk of the stile giving way beneath me!
Regular visitors to my blog may have seen my photo of the view looking down from the top of Newcastle’s Norman Castle Keep for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge last week. This time we are looking up the steep stone main steps to the ‘front door’ of the Castle Keep. Can you spot the silhouettes of our two boys in the dark doorway? 😀
When are outdoor stone steps called ‘stairs’? When they lead down the steep slope from the old medieval town onto Newcastle’s Quayside. There are several sets of ‘stairs’ in this vicinity. My two photos show the Castle Stairs and the Long Stairs (known in Newcastle’s Geordie dialect as the ‘Lang Stairs’). The Castle Stairs and the Long Stairs between them lead from the Castle Keep right down to the Quayside.
Another set of stairs that lead from the Castle grounds is the more oddly-named ‘Dog Leap Stairs’. Apparently ‘Dog Leap’ is an historical reference to ‘a narrow slip of ground between houses’. This set of stairs has two claims to fame. Firstly, according to local legend, when the well-to-do Bessie Surtees eloped with the coal merchant’s son, John Scott (later to become Lord Chancellor of England) in 1772, they escaped on horseback up the Dog Leap Stairs. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to have a photo of these stairs, but if you can imagine, this is a long set of steep, stone steps – on horseback? That sounds as if it would be a hair-raising experience! The Dog Leap Stairs are also mentioned in the song ‘Down to the Waterline’ by the band, Dire Straits.
At the foot of the Long Stairs is one of the oldest buildings in Newcastle. This timber-framed building dates from the 15th century. In the 19th century it was owned by a family called ‘Cooper’ and was an actual cooperage (barrel-making!). It retained the name, “The Cooperage”, but I knew it as a quaint old public house in the closing decades of last century. The pub closed down in 2009 and it seems, sadly, the building is no longer in use.
This was the chosen location for early settlements because of its defensive position high above the River Tyne – the Roman fort at Pons Aelius, an Anglo Saxon settlement and the original Norman motte and bailey castle built by Robert Curthose all occupied this site at different times. The medieval Castle Keep still stands guard on this ancient vantage point today.
I chose this image because I think of this spot as the starting point for the development of the whole of the City of Newcastle. Modern day visitors can climb to the roof of the Castle Keep and look out right across the city, just as medieval knights and soldiers in the English Civil Wars would have done in the past. The views have changed a lot, of course. However nowadays, visitors can enjoy the cityscape and spot local landmarks rather than worrying about the approaching Scottish armies 🙂
Nikolaus Pevsner, the eminent 20th century architectural historian, described Newcastle’s Grey Street as “one of the finest streets in England”. Grey Street is named after Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey. That’s the same Earl Grey who gives his name to the famous fragrant tea. However, the Monument to Earl Grey that heads Grey Street recalls something even more important than tea! It celebrates Earl Grey’s Great Reform Act of 1832 that gave Britain’s electoral system a good shake up, gave more men the vote and saw an end to the ‘rotten boroughs’ … well, at least it was a move in the right direction 😉
Newcastle’s 19th century grandeur, that is so beautifully displayed in Grey Street, was significantly influenced by two men whose names are synonymous with the elegant classical architecture that still graces the contemporary city, Richard Grainger and John Dobson. Unsurprisingly, both men have Newcastle streets named after them.
This photo shows Grainger Street, which also leads up to Grey’s Monument. Richard Grainger was the son of a quayside porter, and set himself up as a builder and developer. With the help of his wife’s wealthy family, he built up a very successful business. In 1831, it was he who created the vision of an elegant and fashionable new street, Grey Street, right in the heart of the city centre. You can read more about Richard Grainger’s vision for Newcastle’s Grey Street on this blog post by Tyne & Wear Museums service.
John Dobson Street
Here’s a contrast of architecture on John Dobson Street (though neither of these buildings were designed by John Dobson!) – Newcastle’s 21st century Central Library building and the early 20th century Laing Art Gallery, built in the Baroque style. John Dobson was a 19th century Newcastle architect and a contemporary of Richard Grainger. Dobson had trained in London and returned to Newcastle with many fashionable ideas from the capital. Working together, John Dobson and Richard Grainger put their elegant stamp on new developments in Victorian Newcastle.
The Tyne Bridge
No trip to Newcastle would be complete without a view of our world-famous Tyne Bridge. To close my entry for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week, I have chosen this photo taken looking west along Newcastle’s historic Quayside. You can see four of the seven bridges that span the river within a short distance of each other along the city centre stretch of the River Tyne. Reading from the river surface upwards, we have:
I hope you’ve enjoyed my Newcastle cityscapes. The links in the text will take you to more information and photos about the people and places mentioned, either in previous blog posts of mine or via other resources I have found.
A monument to one of Britain’s most famous seafarers stands looking out over the mouth of the River Tyne at Tynemouth on the North East coast. From his elevated position on a substantial sandstone plinth, stands the statue of Admiral Lord Collingwood.
The plaque on the plinth recalls Collingwood’s role in the Battle of Trafalgar.
This monument was erected in 1845 by Public Subscription to the memory of ADMIRAL LORD COLLINGWOOD, who in the Royal Sovereign on the 21st October 1805, led the British Fleet into action at Trafalgar and sustained the Sea fight for upwards of an hour before the other ships were within gun shot, which caused Nelson to exclaim, “See how that noble fellow Collingwood takes his ship into action.”
We can also read that Collingwood was born at Newcastle upon Tyne in 1748 and died in the Service of his country on board of the Ville De Paris on 7th March 1810 and was burried in St Paul’s Cathedral (London).
Finally, we learn that the four guns on the monument belonged to his ship the Royal Sovereign.
Here we have another of North East England’s famous sons. This wall-mounted sculpture of Thomas Bewick marks the location of his engraving workshop near St Nicholas’ Cathedral in Newcastle upon Tyne. Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) is renowned for his wood engravings, many of which were published as book illustrations. Bewick was a keen naturalist and observed nature closely. Some of his finest wood engravings form the illustrations of his two-volume “A History of British Birds” – Volume 1, Land Birds, was published in 1797 and Volume 2, Water Birds, soon followed in 1804. You can see a few classic examples of Bewick’s work here on the Bewick Society’s website.
After looking at the acclaimed wood engravings of Thomas Bewick, I thought we’d take a look at another wood carving of a bird but this carving is of rather a different sort. This majestic bird of prey sculpture stands perched on its pole at one of the viewing points in our local woodland.
Lines and angles abound in the our built urban environments. The above urban ‘still life’ was captured by my son – he loves to spot quirky geometrics. This shot is packed full of lines and angles – from the intersecting lines of the paving stones and the edging angle of the grass, to the strong parallels of the bench and the deep toned angled shadows.
This is a fairly typical street scene in Newcastle upon Tyne city centre. The street and its lines of perspective lead your eye to Grey’s Monument in the distance. The buildings lining the street incorporate many lines and angles in their designs. The road itself offers its own take on lines, with the painted ‘No Parking’ and bus lane lines. The shadows add their individual angles to the scene.
The Stephenson Works here in South Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, are the preserved part of George and Robert Stephenson’s historic engineering workshops. It was in these Victorian workshops that their famous locomotives, “Locomotion” and “Rocket”, were built. The careful brickwork of the building and the uniform windows with their many small panes create a pattern of lines and angles. The steel chimney provides a focal point as it climbs the wall, developing its own angles as it goes. The fencing, ventilation grating and signage add further lines and angles to the scene.
The iconic arches of the Tyne Bridge span the river, linking Newcastle and Gateshead. This detail shot shows the lower stretch of the arch on Newcastle’s Quayside, as the steel structure dips below the road level. The Tyne Bridge design incorporates many lines and angles.
We like to join in the Chinese New Year celebrations that are held in Newcastle upon Tyne each year. There’s always a colourful parade through Stowell Street in the centre of Newcastle’s ‘China Town’. Happy crowds of people line the street and follow the parade as it dances energetically on its way.
The bright yellows of Coltsfoot are always a welcome sight in early Spring. I loved the way these ones were emerging through last year’s dry Beech leaves.
The gorgeous crimson red of these poppies really brightened up the edge of the field near my house this Summer.
When I first ‘rescued’ this Cyclamen plant from a plant stall a couple of years ago, it looked very sad and bedraggled. With some loving care and attention, I have managed to transform my Cyclamen into a more respectable-looking specimen. The magenta flowers really do have a bit of ‘zing’ and certainly brighten up my kitchen window ledge. I took this photo outside to be sure the colour looked its best!
Crochet is my favourite textile craft and I am always delighted when I see it being acknowledged or even celebrated in the public arena. A particularly historic example of significant crochet was on display on our recent visit to the exhibition “A Brilliant Mind: Sir Joseph Swan 1828-1914” at the Discovery Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne. Let me tell you more about this.
In my earlier post about the exhibition, I was showing you Joseph Swan’s most famous invention, the lightbulb – or more correctly, the Carbon Filament Lamp. He had first demonstrated the lamp in the early months of 1879. In his subsequent efforts to improve the filaments for his lamps, Joseph Swan began experimenting with extruding nitro-cellulose that had been extracted from plant fibre.
Swan’s experiments built on previous work by others including the German-Swiss chemist, Christian Friedrich Schoenbein, who had discovered nitro-cellulose around 1846. Initially, nitro-cellulose or ‘guncotton’ was used as an effective propellant for military purposes. Nottingham University has produced an informative and dramatic video on the chemistry of nitro-cellulose and guncotton as part of their Periodic Table series on YouTube.
Swan was looking to make strong thin filaments rather than dramatic flashing flames and he found that by squirting nitro-cellulose dissolved in acetic acid through a small hole and into a bath of alcohol, he could produce a thin continuous thread. This thread was thin enough to be used as a textile fibre. Joseph Swan called his invention ‘artificial silk’. Hannah Swan, Swan’s wife, crocheted the new ‘artificial silk’ fibre into doilies, table mats and the edging of this silk handkerchief. This exhibit is currently on loan to Newcastle’s Discovery Museum from the Science Museum in London.
Hannah Swan’s crocheted textiles were displayed as part of the Exhibition of Inventions in London in 1885. (You can see a clearer image of the crochet edging on this webpage.)
International exhibitions were something of a feature of the cultural scene in the later years of the 19th century, starting with the Great Exhibition of 1851, held at the purpose-built Crystal Palace in London. With over 2 million visitors attending the Exhibition of Inventions during the Autumn months of 1885, I can imagine Hannah Swan was very proud that her crochet had taken its place in the history of inventions.
Joseph Swan understood that his fibre could be an alternative to silk but although he did obtain a patent for the production method, Swan’s ‘artificial silk’ was not produced commercially in Britain. It was the French chemist, Chardonnet, who had also been working on the use of nitro-cellulose for fibre production, who became known as the ‘father of Rayon‘. Rayon was the name by which this type of cellulose-based fibre became known. The header image I have added to this post shows an example of woven rayon fabric on a vintage shirt of mine. However, it was another cellulose-based substance, viscose, that became the basis for the artificial silk industry in Britain.
From the early years of the Industrial Revolution right through the Victorian era, the ingenuity of the human mind leapt on at a great pace, with discoveries and inventions of all kinds. Joseph Swan was in his element during this period. In 1906 he was quoted as saying:
“If I could have had the power of choice of the particular space of time within which my life should be spent I believe I would have chosen precisely my actual lifetime. What a glorious time it has been! Surely no other 78 years in all the long history of the world ever produced an equal harvest of invention and discovery for the beneficial use and enlightenment of mankind.”
I liked that Joseph Swan saw the technological developments of his lifetime as being beneficial and could stimulate future developments – though I would like to think he meant ‘womankind’ too 😉 … especially given his wife Hannah’s assistance with the historically important crochet!
We love museums. One of our longtime favourites here in Newcastle is the Discovery Museum, our local museum of science, engineering and local history. Before it became a museum in the 1980s, this classic red brick Victorian building was the headquarters of the North East branch of the Co-operative Wholesale Society. Called “Blandford House”, the building first opened in 1899. The domes on the turrets are made of copper and have developed their distinctive green patina over the years.
The contemporary colourful entrance arch leads visitors to the glass entrance hall. The building has been partially modernised inside too, for example, the addition of glass lifts (elevators 😉 ) and a modern open aspect stairwell, but it does also retain some wonderful Victorian features such as the Great Hall on the fourth floor which is now used for special events and some visiting exhibitions.
The modern features contrast with the solid painted brick walls and the old metal painted pipework that is still visible around the ceilings of the galleries. The building still has much of the feeling of a Victorian industrial workshop and this works well as the setting for a museum journey into the history of inventions and the lives and culture of the people of the North East.
In our family, we associate the Discovery Museum very much with the hands-on exhibits in the Science Maze – the numerous interactive science activities that demonstrate electricity, magnetism, light, pulleys, gears or sound. Many happy and informative hours have been spent in this part of the museum. There are also lots of interesting exhibits here, some of which celebrate the bright ideas of some of the North East’s home-grown inventors including Charles Parsons and William Armstrong.
There are some suberb static steam engines that have seen service in industry and training colleges in the region alongside a range of technology ‘relics’ – from mid-20th century TV sets and reel to reel film to mini-disc players and Sony Walkmans. There are 19th century telegraph machines demonstrating the capacity to transfer information using electrical signals – a kind of pre-cursor to the internet, and there are telephones too, including such ‘old-fashioned’ things as car phones and mobile phones from the early years of this century. These exhibits show just how fast the technology aspect of our lives has changed in the last century or so.
The image below shows the huge metal amplifying horn that formed part of Charles Parsons’ early version of a music amplifier – the Auxetophone. The machine worked using an air control valve that was attached to the gramophone needle and then passed the pulses of air through into the horn to amplify the sound. It was extremely loud apparently at up to 90 decibels, with little in the way of volume control! Charles Parsons is rather better known as the inventor of the steam turbine and his first steam-driven vessel, the very impressive Turbinia, stands in her own gallery on the ground floor of the museum. The Auxetophone was merely a hobby project for Parsons. The horn stands around eight feet high (almost 2.5 metres).
The reason for our cultural caper to the Discovery Museum this week was to see a particular exhibition on one of our Victorian inventors from the North East, the chemist, Sir Joseph Wilson Swan. You may not be familiar with the name of Joseph Swan, but you are likely to be familiar with one of his most famous inventions – the lightbulb.
As part of the exhibition, appropriately entitled “A Brilliant Mind: Sir Joseph Wilson Swan, 1828 – 1914”, the Science Museum in London had loaned several items including the original lamp that Joseph Swan used to demonstrate his invention in Newcastle and Gateshead in the early months of 1879. In 1880 Swan asked his friend, the inventor and industrialist William Armstrong, if he could try out his invention to light up Armstrong’s country house at Cragside in Northumberland. William Armstrong had previously created his own source of hydroelectricity using a stream that ran through the grounds of his house. I think it is very interesting that the first house in the world to be lit with electric lamps was also powered by renewable energy – and this was 1880!
By 1883 Joseph Swan had teamed up with American physicist, Thomas Edison, who had also been working to develop a filament lamp. You can see their lamps side by side on this link to the Science Museum. Together Edison and Swan formed the first company to produce lightbulbs commercially – the Edison and Swan United Electric Light Company which was located at Benwell in Newcastle. The Discovery Museum’s example of the first commercially available electric lamps of the type used at William Armstrong’s Cragside home is shown displayed as part of the Swan exhibition.
Another of Joseph Swan’s inventions that may be of interest to all you photographers out there was his Carbon Process that allowed photographers to print their photographs in permanent pigments, patented by Swan in 1864. Swan’s process for the first time provided photographers with a permanent printing process that could be carried out with readily available materials. Prior to this, early photographic prints had suffered with fading. The carbon powder was used in a thin film of gelatine and was sensitised with potassium chromate.
Swan’s patent was bought up by the Autotype and Publishing Company in London and the process was used for around a hundred years to produce high quality photographic prints. Here is the example of Swan’s Carbon Process for photographic prints that was on display in the exhibition (with a reflection of my son and Charles Parsons’ Turbinia in the background 😉 ).
All in all, we enjoyed a fascinating visit to the Discovery Museum. From a parent’s point of view it was also interesting to see how our boys have ‘moved on’ from the hands-on interactive exhibits to being keenly interested in studying the technological developments displayed in the exhibition cases. My youngest son’s only criticism was that he wanted more information on each of the exhibits! Museums and art galleries are such a fabulous educational experience and I always consider us very fortunate to have access to so many of these education treasure houses locally to us, free of charge – though we do post a voluntary donation in the strategically-placed collection boxes, as we know such places do not run on fresh air. Thank you to Tyne and Wear Museums and Archives service for these wonderful resources!
Clues to an industrial history criss-cross our now-green-and-peaceful landscape in the form of old railways and waggonways. These old transport tracks now serve as walking and cycling trails by which we are able to explore a significant amount of the north east region and also further afield. Throughout much of the nineteeth century railways and waggonways abounded in our region, particularly to enable the transportation of coal. Many bridges were built either to carry the tracks across the steep-sided streams that are a major feature of our valley, or to allow established roadways to cross the newly-built railways. Some of these bridges were lost during the later decades of last century when rural railways were abandoned on a huge scale here in the UK, but fortunately many bridges survived and now form historical features of the walking and cycling trails.
Thinking about black and white for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week led me to remember and seek out images of some of these bridges I had collected a few years ago for another project.
The bridge in this first image carries the old road over what was the mineral railway line that carried coal from our village ‘pits’ down to the River Tyne. We often walk this way so we have seen it in all weathers. I think the snow seems to add something to the ‘by-gone era’ feeling of this Victorian stone-built bridge.
Only a short distance away on this same old railway there is another stone bridge, built in a similar style to the first. This one carried the single-track railway over a farm track that provided access to the fields and woods beyond. Now the bridge arch is largely filled with earth underneath, as on this stretch the old railway forms the boundary to a golf course. Unlike the first bridge which stands as a well-known landmark and proud historical reminder, this one is almost hidden away and overgrown.
It’s not a railway bridge, I know, but it is a nineteeth century construction and it was built to aid travelling, so I decided to include it in this post. There are several of these arched stone-built or brick-built culverts dotted around our woods. As with this one, the culverts were used to carry the streams underneath paths and tracks. Earth would have been embanked on top of the culvert to help level out the path as it passed over the steep-sided stream, making it easier to walk, ride a horse or transport goods by cart through this part of the wood.
Another Victorian railway line and another Victorian bridge. This lop-sided bridge still carries a farm road over the Derwent Walk Railway Path. No, it isn’t your eyes, or my dodgy photography [not this time!] … the bridge does slope downhill from left to right. This railway through the picturesque Derwent Valley formed the Consett branch line of the North Eastern Railway. Opened in 1867, it was a busy railway linking Consett to Newcastle, carrying passengers and goods. There are no rails on this track any longer but it remains busy as part of the C2C route of the Sustrans National Cycle Network – the C2C literally crosses the UK from coast to coast, east to west … or west to east depending on which direction you choose to cycle!
I’ve saved the biggest bridge until last! The Nine Arches Viaduct is one of those marvels of Victorian engineering at 500 feet long and rising 80 feet above the River Derwent. One of four viaducts along the Derwent Walk Railway Path, the impressive Nine Arches Viaduct only came to be built because the Earl of Strathmore refused to allow the railway to cross his land at Gibside on the south side of the valley. Looking underneath the arches of the viaduct, you can see where a ‘second’ bridge has been added to allow a second track to be laid along the route. There are some marvelous views to be had from this vantage point – perhaps I can show you another day.