Many people in Newcastle, by no means very old, will be able to remember the Nun’s Field, a vacant piece of ground now covered by East Clayton Street, Nelson Street, Nun Street, and the Markets. As a lad, Richard Grainger formed his own opinions with regard to this splendid site. The conceptions of the young genius were not castles in the air, but spacious streets and useful public buildings, and his young ideas were ultimately carried out almost to the letter. The old inhabitant will also remember the stately mansion Anderson Place, perhaps the finest house within a walled town in England, which to the great regret, and even indignation, of many, was swept away by Mr. Grainger’s army of workmen in 1834. This property was purchased by Mr. Grainger for £50,000; and when he exhibited his plans to the public, their daring character created much excitement; but the great majority of the inhabitants approved of them, and, supported by the popular voice, he changed the whole appearance of the town in an incredibly short time.
The accompanying plan is copied from an isometrical drawing by Mr. Thomas Sopwith, and we can get from it, in a small compass, a capital idea of the improvements which took the town by storm fifty-four years ago. Considering the stupendous changes which these plans effected, it seems very singular how little the original design has been departed from. It is scarcely necessary to explain the drawing. The proposed new street, 80 feet wide, is, of course, Grey Street; the proposed new street, from Pilgrim Street to Grainger Street, is Market Street; and the short street to the left is Shakespeare Street. The cathedral-like structure at the corner of Grainger Street was never erected; the theatre was built on the east instead of the west side of Grey Street; and the Central Exchange occupies the triangle formed by Grainger Street, Grey Street, and Market Street. With these exceptions, the design of 1834 has been carried out most faithfully.
From east to west, Clayton Street would have been a noble thoroughfare had not Mr. Grainger’s plan been interfered with by vested interests. This accounts for its divergence from the straight line, and its want of breadth. “Vested interests” will also explain the reason why so many eyesores were left standing in close contiguity to handsome streets, as, for example, High Friar Street, the High Bridge, Nun’s Lane, &c.
There is, perhaps, no other town in the empire that has been so much altered and improved by the efforts of one individual as Newcastle. In a wonderfully short time Mr. Grainger erected more than eight hundred houses, not including important public buildings, such as the banks and the Theatre in Grey Street, the Central Exchange, the Markets, &c. With Richard Grainger “to see was to resolve, and to resolve was to act,” and Newcastle is now reaping the benefit of his courage, industry, and his wonderful foresight.