HISTORY AND DESCRIPTION
THE OLD TOWN.—THE QUAYS, CHARES, AND STAIRS.
Among the odd twistings and contortions of Newcastle, one of the oddest is the absence of any main line of thoroughfare, in continuation of the bridge which connects Gateshead and Newcastle. The stranger sees before him a steep, absolutely insurmountable by streets or vehicles of any kind. This was the portion first built upon, and it subsequently became a dense mass of courts and alleys, - "A vast hanging field," as it has been described by one topographer, "of sombre and cheerless houses, huddled mobbishly into a confused and pent up mass, packed and squeezed by mutual pressure into panic retreat from the approach of wheeled carriages." In the absence of streets the only manner in which the upper part of the town can be reached, is by means of interminable flights of steps, which seem to climb the face of the hill. One of these flights, in the neighbourhood of the bridge, is a veritable Monmouth-street - boots, shoes, boots, meet us at every yard, the wonder is where can all these boots and shoes come from? Little houses or shops, or stalls, or, we know not what to call them, line the sides of the staircase, and how the occupants of these tenements manage to emerge from their dwellings without tumbling down stairs, is to us a complete puzzle.
In order, therefore, to surmount this ascent, a detour to the east is necessary. Passing on a little in this direction we arrive at an irregular open space of ground called the Sandhill, where the Exchange is situated. In the centre of this area there formerly stood an equestrian statue of James II, which, falling a victim to popular fury, was metamorphosed into bells for the Churches of St. Andrew and All Saints, The Exchange was erected about two centuries ago, its architect, Robert Trollope, lies buried in Gateshead churchyard under this epitaph:-
"Here lies Robert
The houses in this neighbourhood are many of them highly picturesque, having survived the many changes which have run through their course of fashion since the days of the half-timbered and carved-gabled houses. Turning out of the Sandhill, at its northern extremity, we come to the Side, a street running in a north-westerly direction. The house architecture here is remarkable, and the street is so steep that its ascent is rather a serious affair both to man and horse. On reaching the head of the Side we soon emerge into the open space which contains St. Nicholas's Church. On our way we pass Dean-street, which branches out on our right towards the north. Where this street now runs, there was formerly a dean, or glen, through which a brook, crossed by a Roman bridge, once flowed. But it is in going along the river's bank to the east that we become immersed among the oldest, densest, and dirtiest parts of the town. Ships and coals, coals and ships, leave their commercial impress on the houses of the Quay-side. The long roadway upon which we walk, from the bridge almost to the eastern extremity of Newcastle, presents us with the river and its shipping on our right hand, and the Custom House, warehouses, and offices on our left. We may look in vain for any good streets to lead us up from this quay to the higher part of the town, but we will find a great number of steep alleys called chares, by means of which we can arrive at Butcher Bank, and Dog Bank, in the former of which Akenside, the author of the "Pleasures of Imagination" resided. Passing beyond the Quay-side, we come to another densely-built parallelogram of chares and houses, having for its boundaries the New Road to Shields, and the New Quay. Parallel, and between these two, is Sandgate, a narrow lane, surrounded by still narrower courts. This Sandgate was one of the oldest entrances into Newcastle from the east. The Keelmen's Hospital is situated in the New Road, and is supported by the body whose name it bears. In the same line of road we have the Royal Jubilee School, St. Ann's Chapel, and one or two other places of worship, and a continuation of this route would bring us to the multitude of collieries and manufactories which lie between Newcastle and North Shields. Thus far, then, for the "along-shore" quays, and streets, and chares, and stairs. Let us now visit THE UPPER TOWN.
10 March 2008
© Steve Bulman