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Newcastle upon Tyne (England)
Member Name: michaelhudson
Newcastle upon Tyne (England)
Date: 16/08/01, updated on 04/10/01 (588 review reads)
Advantages: Approximately 70% of the buildings in the city centre are listed, The most coordinated public transport system outside of London, Beaches, unspoilt countryside and famous castles are a short drive away
Disadvantages: No diversity in the local culture
Did you know that, after Bath, Newcastle has more listed buildings than any other provincial English city? Most of these can be found in the Grainger Town area of the city centre. Largely designed by the famed local architects Richard Grainger(1797-1861) and John Dobson(1787-1865), with the financial backing of the then town clerk, John Clayton(1792-1890), this area features architecture that ranks alongside the best of Georgian Edinburgh or Regency London. Grainger Town is dominated by Grey's Monument, which was completed in 1838 to celebrate the 1832 Reform Act(drafted under the Premiership of Earl Grey, a Northumbrian by birth). Recently renovated, and occasionally open to the public, the 134 foot gritstone Roman Doric column is topped by a 13 foot statue of Earl Grey sculpted by Edward Hodges Bailey, who also sculpted the figure of Nelson on Nelson's Column.
Grey's Monument sits at the top of Grey Street and Grainger Street. The former is the site of the Theatre Royal-a superb Victorian Theatre, first opened in 1837,which boasts a monumental Corinthian portico and is the second home of the R.S.C.(who perform a season of plays here every October or November, more info. available at www.theatre-royal-newcastle.co.uk). Grey Street, described by Gladstone in 1862 as "our best modern street", had sadly decayed somewhat but, as part of the Graing
er Town project(www.graingertown.tv), it has now almost been restored to the majesty which once prompted Sir John Betjeman to write:
"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 subtle descending curve".
If you follow the descending curve extolled by Betjeman to the bottom of Grey Street, you'll come to the somewhat steeper Dean Street. This is a extremely scenic route down to the Quayside(which I'll deal with at length later), lined by several cathedral buildings.
Grainger Street is no less impressive than its illustrious neighbour. Linked to Grey Street by the beautiful Central Arcade(dating from 1840 and located about 100 metres from Grey's Monument and the Monument Metro Station), it serves as the main artery linking the Central railway station to the Monument area. Notable buildings include the People's Museum of Memorabilia-a museum and antiques centre diaplaying objects of local commercial and domestic interest dating from the 18th Century-and the new location for Yates Wine Lodge(I wouldn't recommend the pub itself). Both are on the left side of the street as you walk away from the Monument.
At the bottom of Grainger Street is Neville Street, where you'll find the Central Station and the Grade 1 listed St Mary's Cathedral(one of two in the city). The station was designed by John Dobson and constructed between 1845-1850. Recently renovated it is, in my opinion, the most attractive raliway station in Britain. St Mary's, the city's Catholic cathedral bulit in the Gothic Revival style, was designed by A.W.H. Pugin, who is most famous for his interiors of the Houses of Parliament. While you're on Neville Street also look out for the grand Thistle Hotel and the French Renaissance style Union Rooms, which were renovated and tur
ned into a Weatherspoons pub a few years ago.
If you keep walking past St Mary's you'll see the International Centre for Life, a futuristic complex celebrating the discovery of the structure of DNA(www.centre-for-life.co.uk) that has received some mixed reviews since it opened last year. Further on, on the left hand side of Blandford Square, is the Discovery Museum(free admission,tel: 0191 2326789) which details the history of Newcastle. However, the main points of interest are in the opposite direction. If you turn left as you come out of Central Station and follow the street(it curves to the right) after a five minute walk you'll reach the site of the castle, built by Robert Curthouse, son of William the Conqueror, in 1080, from which the city derives its name. The castle overlies the Roman fortifications of Pons Aelius which are thought to have been the original starting point for Hadrian's Wall. You can climb the Castle Keep(built in the early 13th Century and open from 9.30am-5.30pm(4.30 in Winter), Tuesday to Sunday). Across from the entrance to the Keep, and just to the left of the Bridge Pub, are a set of stairs which wind down through through some of the remains of the castle to the Quayside. Before you go down to the riverside, you may want to take a short detour to see the Cathedral Church of St Nicholas(situated between the Keep and the Bigg Market). Designated a Cathedral in 1882, of special note is the 193 foot spire(constructed circa 1470) and the famous lantern tower.
The Quayside itself is now best known for its bars, restaurants and nightclubs. However, as the historic heart of the city, it has much more to offer than just weekend entertainment. Some of Newcastle's oldest remaining houses can be found on Sandhill, not far from the Cooperage Pub which is reputed to be the oldest in the city(both are to the right if you walk down the steps from the Castle Keep). Modern attractions include the Crown Court and
a sculpture park located between the Tyne Bridge and the new Millennium Bridge, an outdoor market that is held every Sunday morning and the Live Theatre(Tel:0191 261 2694, www.live.org.uk/public_html), a cabaret style theatre that is the home of the nationally renowned Live Theatre Company.
The Quayside is also a great vantage point to survey the great bridges spanning the Tyne. The Tyne Bridge is synonymous with the city, but it is equalled in majesty by the Swing Bridge(designed by William Armstrong and opened in 1876) and the High Level Bridge(the world's first road and rail bridge, designed by Robert Stephenson(son of George Stephenson, the railway pioneer who features on the five pound note) and opened by Queen Victoria in 1849), which you may remember as featuring in a scene of 'Get Carter'. The aforementioned Millennium Bridge was built at a cost of 22 million pounds and is the world's first rotating bridge. Designed to resemble a blinking eye, it links Newcastle's Quayside to its Gateshead equivalent, which is the site of the Baltic Flour Mill Development(a massive visual arts centre-one of the biggest in Europe-which will feature 3000 square metres of art space with five galleries and a rooftop restaurant when it opens in March 2002) and the adjacent Music Centre. This area is the focal point of the joint Newcastle-Gateshead bid for the 2008 European City of Culture. For a great panoramic view of the Quayside, I'd highly recommend the video images found on www.medieval-quayside.de.vu.
Back up in the modern heart of the city, the areas to the North and West of Grey's Monument are also worthy of a visitor's attention. Northumberland Street is the main shopping thoroughfare in the city, and along with the adjacent Eldon Square forms one of the busiest shopping areas outside London. At the top of Northumberland Street is the Haymarket Metro station which provides easy access to both Universities, the Civic Ce
ntre and some extremely good museums and theatres. The Civic Centre is an multi-award winning building which was opened in 1968 and features the landmark River God Tyne statue(sculpted by David Wynne). Standing opposite, just across Barras Bridge, is the Newcastle Playhouse(Tel: 0191 2305151, www.northernstage.com). Along with the affiliated Gulbenkian Theatre(adjacent, same contact details), the Playhouse stages some of the RSC Season as well as more contemporary productions than the more austere Theatre Royal. Situated behind the Playhouse are the Hancock Museum and the Museum of Antiquities. The former was opened in 1884 and is rated by the A.A. as one of the best Natural History Museums in the country. Admission is four pounds fifty for adults and two pounds ninety-five for children aged 4-16(Tel: 0191 222 6765). The Museum of Antiquities is located on the campus of Newcastle University and features Prehistoric, Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Medieval artefacts from Northumberland(open 10am-5pm, closed Sundays. Tel: 0191 222 7846).
The Laing Art Gallery is the main point of interest to the east of Grey's Monument. A five minute walk up New Bridge Street, the Laing is open from 10am to 5pm Monday to Saturday, and from 2pm to 5pm on Sundays(generally free admission, tel: 0191 232 7734). Focusing on the visual arts, it recently housed the Lindisfarne Gospels when they were loaned to the region by the British Museum. There is much more to see to the west of the Monument. If you walk towards the football ground, passing Old Eldon Square and the Cenotaph on your right, cross Percy Street, follow the road to the left of Barclays Bank and take a left immediately in front of the coach station you'll see a pub called Rosie's. This stands at the entrance to Stowell Street, which is the city's Chinatown area. The West Walls, the best remaining section of Newcastle's medieval defensive fortifications(built in 1265), run behind the street. You can see
one of the remaining wall towers at the bottom of Stowell Street, opposite the Friar Street junction. Friar Street itself is distinguished by Blackfriars, a former monastery dating from the 13th century. The complex has been renovated and now features several craft shops, restaurants and a small tourist information centre. Probably the most peaceful spot in the city centre, Blackfriars is well worth at least an hour or so of your time. It's open daily(except Sunday and Monday in Winter) and admission is free. Once you've seen this, go down to the very bottom of Stowell Street and follow the route of the walls down Bath Lane. As you reach the junction with Westgate Road you'll see the Tyne Theatre and Opera House(an ornate Victorian theatre which houses the English Shakespeare Company) directly opposite. From here you can walk down the bank to the bottom of Grainger Street(take note of the Art Nouveau Northern Goldsmiths building near Burger King).
Newcastle has a wealth of sights for the visitor and I'd fully recommend a trip here to anybody. In truth, however, the council is rather guilty of neglecting its cultural duties when it comes to the local population. With a serious shortage of music venues there are very few places for up-and-coming bands to play, and both the Baltic Complex and the Music Centre are aimed more at showcasing international artists than promoting or inspiring local talent. The recent Love Parade debacle merely underlines the narrow minded thinking which stops Newcastle from really achieving its full potential. To sum up: a wonderful place to visit, but still just about an average place to live.
www.tyne-online.com-lots of information about the city and surrounding area.
www.btinternet.com/~mal.douglas/newcastle_link s.htm-a superb site with a host of useful links.
There are two main tourist information centres. One is located inside Cen
tral Station and the other is in the Central Library(Princess Square, opposite the Virgin Megastore on Northumberland Street). There are also information points scattered around the city centre.
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