Glendale, History Society

View of Wooler
View of Wooler

Tour on the Tyne

Twenty-one members of Glendale Local History Society enjoyed a visit to Newcastle Quayside and Trinity House.

Before walking over the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, we took advantage of the Viewing Terrace of the Baltic to take in the panoramic view of the River Tyne.

Patsy drew on her experience of membership of the Board of the Tyne and Wear Development Corporation to give us a run-down of how the scene came about.

It was fascinating to hear how the once thriving Quayside had declined from the 19th century. First, it found its energy drained by the focus on Graingertown by Richard Grainger and John Dobson, only to suffer further neglect through the attention paid to the area around Northumberland Street and Eldon Square in the later 20th century.

The notion of development corporations, which flourished from the 1940s, was resurrected, and following the examples of London and Liverpool, Newcastle embarked on a project to revitalise its Quayside. Certain provisos existed: the Co-operative building had to be preserved, the Copthorne Hotel had already been built and the Law Courts development had begun.

When a protest movement began by artists in Ouseburn against what they perceived to be an inappropriate upmarket development, some members joined the planning body.

The economic situation at that time was not favourable and the property market was in the doldrums. Enormous risks had to be taken.

After a slow start when teams of developers were invited to suggest ways of regenerating the area, Terry Farrell was brought in to produce a design for the area from the Copthorne in the West to St Peter’s Basin in the East. This produced a coherent scheme based on how people would use the space.

The corporation also invested in public art and repairs to the quay walls. Some buildings were renovated and new ones erected. Offices for large firms were created. As the property market improved, apartment projects began and people started moving back to the Quayside.

A new atmosphere was created and the area was further enhanced by Gateshead Council through the spectacular Sage Music Centre, Baltic Art Centre and the Millennium Bridge, none of which had been envisaged when the development began.

Our tour of Trinity House on the other side of the river provided a strong contrast to the modern buildings. Our knowledgeable guide was Geoff Hines, who is a Friend of Trinity House.

The oldest part of the building dates to 1505 when seafarers formed a charitable guild to support Newcastle’s growing maritime community and its dependents. The land was provided at a peppercorn rent of one red rose each year, and later more land was procured for rental by “one pottle of wyne”. It is a very long time since this rent has been collected.

During James ll’s reign all shipping from Whitby to Berwick came under the jurisdiction of Trinity House, which meant it acquired great wealth through the collection of duty. It created almshouses in 1787. But it lost some powers after the Tyne Improvement Commission opened in the 19th century. It continues to examine and license deep-sea pilots. Nowadays income is earned by letting some of the property to barristers.

Walking through the rooms of Trinity House brings the impression of walking into another world, preserved through five centuries, a real time-travelling experience.

The Banqueting Hall is lined with wood panelling and has a beautifully-painted ceiling, on which appears a fleur de lys. Walls are covered with priceless paintings by famous artists such as Carmichael. We were told about this artist’s tradition of including in his paintings a man wearing a red hat, and managed to find several examples.

On display is The Oar Mace from 1606, the earliest dated example in the country. The glass in the windows is very old, as borne out by the names of John Dixon 1836 and William Johnson 1829 scratched into the panes.

The Board Room provided the opportunity to hear about the conservation of navigation charts, and it was interesting to view the chart of 1840 showing plans for the two piers proposed for the mouth of the Tyne.

We were curious to know how one becomes one of the Brethren of Trinity House. Elders are appointed by invitation to ships’ masters with a minimum of 12 months service since qualifying. Young Brethren must have obtained their Master’s Certificate and be working towards achieving command of a ship. Honorary Brethren are also appointed.

One wall is given over to books in a glass cabinet, including accounts of early voyages. A concealed door allows entry into the Chapel, the oldest surviving part of the building. Three services a year are held, in addition to weddings and funerals. The pews were installed in 1643 from wood reputed to be 1,000 years old, and the ceiling beams are 12th century.

We heard about the ghostly presence in the chapel. Was this the ghost of Martha Wilson, who hanged herself in the almshouses? Or perhaps the young girl who was a victim of the plague?

Trinity House is a real gem and it is remarkable that it has survived with all that has gone on around it.