The Streets of Newcastle – Northumberland Street and its Offshoots

Northumberland Street is, practically, a continuation of Pilgrim Street; but the difference in the name is easily enough accounted for when we remember that the ancient Gate (figured in vol. ii., page 81) frowned equally on both in former days. We take our start from the point where the old Gate once stood.

And first we are detained for a moment on our left hand by Northumberland Court. This small court has little to stay our progress to-day; and yet it has its item of interest all the same. Some thirty-seven years ago, one William Glover occupied the upper room in a tenement house here. He missed articles from his room, and these disappearances waxed frequent. So he devised a plan by which all unauthorised intrusion on his premises should be stopped for the future. And this was his plan. He obtained a large horse-pistol, loaded it with slugs, and then attached the trigger to the door of his room in such a way that anyone entering would cause the pistol to explode, not, of course, to the intruder’s benefit. But how did he protect himself? Well, he was able to gain admission safely enough by previously pulling a string which passed through the frame of the door. Unfortunately, on the evening of December 6th, 1852, he entered his guarded room without observing this necessary precaution. Result: the pistol went off, and its contents killed him instantaneously.

On the same side of the way is Brunswick Place, at the end of which is the Wesleyan Chapel of that name. This building may be considered the headquarters of the Wesleyan body in Newcastle. It was opened for public service in February, 1821, when the preachers were the Revs. Messrs. Newton, Atherton, and Wood. Its exterior is plain even to barrenness; its interior commodious enough to accommodate two thousand persons. Some notable men have held forth here now and again. Dr. Morley Punshon won his rhetorical spurs in his early years as a stationed minister in Newcastle, and in after years few towns were visited by him with greater pleasure. Other Presidents of the Wesleyan Conference besides Dr. Punshon have occupied the pulpit of Brunswick Place. More than once the Conference itself has met in Newcastle. One of these meetings was held in the summer of 1840, when Robert Newton was president, and Dr. Hannah secretary. Two Ashantee princes were present on that occasion; but the local interest attaching to this particular meeting comes to this, that Mr. H. P. Parker, one of the foremost local artists of his day, presented the body with a large picture representing the rescue of Wesley from the fire of his father’s rectory. The painting was afterwards engraved, and became widely known.

Passing on, let us pause for a moment at the Orphan House Wesleyan School. The stranger may note the date on the front of the building 1857. Right: and wrong. Right, for it was in that year that the schools of to-day were opened for educational purposes. But wrong in this wise: they stand on the site of the old Orphan House founded by John Wesley, the foundation stone of which he laid on the 20th December, 1742. (Monthly Chronicle, vol. ii., pages 504, 570.) The Methodists occupied this building until Brunswick Place Chapel was finished.

On this same side of the street we come, next to Mackford’s Entry, so named after its builder. Across the road is a small, quiet place, called Lisle Street, and then, a little higher up, we come to Saville Row, so named in honour of Sir George Saville, Baronet, who, during the years 1776 and 1777, resided here as colonel of the West York Militia. Ellison Place is a continuation of this street; and here we find the modern Mansion House more precisely, the Judges’ Lodgings at assize time.

Singleton House we arrive at next, formerly the residence of the Rev. Richard Clayton, by virtue of his position as Master of the Mary Magdalen Hospital; subsequently occupied by Sir John Fife; then transformed into an academy; and now the photographic studio of Mr. Lydell Sawyer, and the centre of a series of temporary shops.

Singleton House, Northumberland Street

We are now opposite Prudhoe Street. On that side of the street, a step takes us to the doors of the Victoria Blind Asylum. Pause we a moment here, for a more deserving charitable institution there is not in Newcastle; and that, remember, is saying a good deal. Victoria? Why the name? The explanation is simple enough. The Asylum was built in honour of the Queen’s coronation, in lieu of squandering money over illuminations and the like; and surely none can say that our city fathers were wrong in that idea. The determination to establish an institution of this sort was formed in the month of February, 1838; but in the first instance premises were obtained in the Spital, whence the establishment was removed to the existing building in 1841. Behind the asylum there was once a Bowling Green, after the Forth had disappeared.

Blind Asylum, Northumberland Street

Across the road, again, we have Bath Road, so named by reason of its association with the Northumberland Baths. These baths owe their origin to a meeting convened on November 3, 1836, by the Mayor (Mr.C. J. Bigge), whereat Dr. Head lam and others supported the proposal that a lease should be obtained of about twelve acres of ground lying to the north of Saville Row, and that a company to consist of three hundred shareholders, at £20 each, should be established for carrying out the undertaking. The proposal was warmly taken up, and on June 24, 1839, the baths were formally opened. They were built from a design by Mr. Dobson, and the cost of their erection and fitting up was nearly £8,000.

Contiguous to the baths was a once rather favourite cricket ground, now the site of Dame Allan’s Schools, St. James’s Chapel, St. George’s Hall, Cambridge Hall, and the College of Medicine.

St George’s Hall has been erected for the purposes of local volunteers, as has also its neighbour, Cambridge Hall.

Dame Allan’s charity is attached to the parishes of St. Nicholas and St. John. The school was founded by Eleanor Allan, of Newcastle, who, in 1705, assigned for its support a farmhold and tenant-right in Wallsend parish. The farm, held of the Dean and Chapter of Durham, contained about 131 acres; and when first assigned it brought in an annual rental of £61 19s. 5d. In 1708 this good lady died; and in the next year the school was opened in trust for forty boys and twenty girls, the parishioners agreeing to subscribe annually for the clothing of the scholars. Other donations towards increasing the benefits of the charity came in afterwards. In 1723, Gilbert Campel, “innholder,” left it £20, and Samuel Nicholas, organist, 10. Mrs. Chisholm, a clergy-man’s widow, of Wooler, contributed £500 later on; and in 1733, Mrs. Elizabeth Rogers, of Newcastle, left it £50. In 1738, £250 was left by John Hewitt, or Huet, goldsmith, also of Newcastle. A good, sound, useful education is understood to be given to the scholars of Dame Allan’s School. The new building is ornamented with a medallion of the benevolent founder.

Dame Allan's School, Newcastle

A view of the College of Medicine, the foundation stone of which was laid by the Duke of Northumberland on November 5, 1887, appears on page 46, vol. ii.

St. James’s Chapel, a spacious building, has sometimes been called by its supporters the Cathedral of the Congregationalists of the North. We have spoken of this body when dealing with Blackett Street, and need not repeat the story here.

We may now return to Northumberland Street by way of Ridley Place, a quiet street running parallel to Bath Road. Of Ridley Place there is nothing particular to be said, save that it was built by one Mr. Grey, and by that Mr. Maskford whose name we have already found associated with an entry a little way from the present spot.

Next to Ridley Place is Vine Lane, at the end of which stand St. Thomas’s Schools. Some good work has been done here. Amongst old scholars in the boys’ department may be mentioned Mr. J. J. Pace, the borough treasurer of Newcastle; Mr. Ralph Willoughby, the energetic superintendent of the Ragged and Industrial Schools in the New Road; Mr. T. Albion Alderson, organist and composer: the late Mr. William Mitcheson, for many years the head master of St. Andrew’s School; Mr. Andrew Beat, long the Workhouse schoolmaster; and others that might easily be named. These were all pupils of the late Mr. Henry Page, for more than twenty years the master of the boys’ school, and a self-made man. Commencing life as a working joiner, he became a certificated master by dint of hard private study. Even his recreations were intellectual. He took to the solution of mathematical posers as the duck takes to water; in a game of chess he was a formidable opponent; and music was the solace of his lighter moments. He ended his days in Newcastle as the pensioned ex-master of the Victoria Blind Asylum. At St. Thomas’s School he was succeeded by Mr. John Coulson, another self-made man, who from St. Thomas’s went to Durham University, with the object of entering the ministry of the Church of England. In due course he was ordained; he was further successful enough to win the prize of a fellowship of his University, and became afterwards the vicar of Holy Trinity, South Shields.

We are now nearly at the end of Northumberland Street, so far as our right hand is concerned. We are quite at the end of it when we come to St. Mary’s Place.

But before quitting it for good, let us record one of its traditions. Seventy years ago, one Alexander Adams, who lived in Northumberland Street, bequeathed a fortune amassed in commerce to his natural son, then a resident in India. The devisee soon after died in Calcutta, a bachelor, and left all he had to his cousin, Thomas Naters, who was settled in New York, in the United States. In October, 1836, Naters died in Switzerland, and left his fortune, amounting to between £200,000 and £300,000, to a respectable builder in Newcastle, named William Mather. The Swiss authorities were very loth to part with it, and claimed £50,000 as legacy duty. The British Government remonstrated, arguing that Naters was not a naturalised subject of Switzerland. The controversy went on for some time; but eventually the claim was settled by Mather consenting to pay the Swiss £12,000.

One more note we ought to make also, namely, that the houses terminating the north-west side of Northumberland Street were formerly called Pedlar, or Pether Row, as having been built by one who laid the foundation of his fortune by hawking or peddling.

Before us we have now the beautiful church of St. Thomas the Martyr. An old chapel of the same name stood for nearly six hundred years at the Newcastle end of Tyne Bridge. In the ninth year of the reign of James I. (June 12, 1611), this old foundation was, by Royal Charter, annexed to another venerable institution the Leper Hospital, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen. The time came when the ancient chapel, obstructing the traffic over the Bridge and blocking up the end of the Sandhill, had to be removed. It was pulled down, and in 1829 the present edifice, from designs by Mr. John Dobson, was erected in the Magdalen Field the place whereon the Magdalen Hospital formerly stood. Our drawing, which originally appeared in Richardson’s “Table Book,” represents the church as it appeared about 1840. The ministers of St. Thomas’s are Masters of the Hospital. One of the most popular of them was the Rev. Richard Clayton, and at his death, in 1856, it was considered that the time had come when the institution should be re-organized. Many were the heartburnings and squabbles over the matter, and needless is it to recall them now. Suffice it that a majority of the Corporation appointed as Mr. Clayton’s successor the Rev. Clement Moody, Vicar of Newcastle, on the understanding that he was to accept such alterations in the constitution of the charity as might be adopted. The minority wanted an investigation into the state of the hospital by the Charity Commissioners; the congregation desired the appointment of the Rev. T. D. Halsted, Mr. Clayton’s assistant, whose Evangelicalism had made him popular. A split was the result of the appointment, with the consequence that the Clayton Memorial (now usually called Jesmond) Church was built by the dissatisfied members.

St Thomas's Church, Newcastle-On-Tyne, 1840

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