HISTORY AND DESCRIPTION
THE CENTRAL TOWN. - MR. GRAINGER'S STRUCTURES.
"Newcastle," says a writer in "The Land We Live in" "owes no small share of the beauty which marks some of its streets, to one single individual, possessing a bold original mind, which could think, and plan for itself, and conquer, one by one, the difficulties which would have crushed a less vigorous man. If we were to regard this as a matter simply of pounds, shillings, and pence, we would have to place it on a lower level than many a building enterprise: it is not every one that, in enriching his native town, can also enrich himself, - the town retains the adornment for ages, whether the author of it dies a rich or a poor man. Let us see what has been done by Mr. Grainger, and how it has been done, at Newcastle. It is necessary to know what the town was at the early part of the present century [19th], before we can form an estimate of the amount of boldness, courage, and perseverance necessary to work out the subsequent changes. In bygone ages the Franciscan convent and the nunnery, were surrounded by twelve acres of ground, in the heart of the town - but these were, in later days, replaced by an old mansion, the temporary prison of Charles I, with its gardens and plantations. Down to Grainger's time this garden and plantation remained, - unproductive, on account of the smoke which for so many ages has enveloped the town, and useless to the town in many other ways. He watched the ill-ordered empty space with a longing eye, he thought of the excellent building-stone in the quarries near at hand, he built up in his mind imaginary terraces, and squares, and sumptuous streets, and resolved to bide his time.
"Mr. Grainger entered upon various works, as a builder, for other parties, and in the course of a few years built many portions of new streets, such as Carliol, Blackett, and New Bridge streets. Then came the rather ambitious project of Eldon Square, with its handsome rows of stone fronted houses. Every enterprise successfully brought to completion, acted as a stepping-stone to something higher. Grainger had advanced greatly and rapidly, and he next conceived the plan of building about a hundred and thirty stone-fronted houses, of a more ornamental character than any yet seen in the town, in the northern part of Newcastle, near the Town Moor: the plan was fully carried out, and the town has unquestionably gained a great ornament by it. His next enterprise was the erection of a building which, under the name of the Arcade, and opening into Pilgrim-street, presents to view a fine stone front, extending nearly a hundred feet in length, and an interior extending two hundred feet in depth. The whole building affords offices for two Banking-houses, Post-office, Stamp-office, Excise and Permit-office, and other establishments.
"Up to this date, say about the year 1832, Mr. Grainger's operations within the town had given new buildings to the value of £200,000, nearly all of them stone-fronted, and far above the standard of street-architecture in other towns. But his great work, the development of his vast schemes, was yet to come. The twelve acres of unemployed, or ill-employed, vacant ground in the heart of the town, on which his thoughts had been centred for many a year, at length came into possession of Mr. Grainger, at a purchase price of £50,000, and about the same time he appropriated another sum, of nearly equal amount, to the purchase of some old property in the immediate vicinity. What was to come out of this, nobody knew but himself, the plans were wholly developed in his own mind before his fellow-townsmen knew aught concerning them. Something notable was expected, but this something was vague and conjectural. The first feature was the construction of a fine central street in continuation of Dean-street. No ram's horn, however proverbially crooked, can be more tortuous than the entrance into Newcastle from the old bridge, and it was to lessen this crookedness, on approaching the heart of the town, that the new street was planned. A butcher-market and a theatre stood in the way of the improvement, but the improver was not to be deterred, by such obstacles. The Corporation gave up the old market, and agreed on the plan for a new one, and on the price to be paid for effecting the change. Works were commenced immediately, and in October, 1835, was opened the finest market in the kingdom, nay, it is even said to be the finest in Europe. The theatre was the next point - a few difficulties arose in this matter, for the theatre was a neat and convenient one, but Mr. Grainger cut the matter short by offering to build a new and handsomer one, and to present a good round sum of money into the bargain, this was accepted, and the theatre was built. In all these matters, and others of a similar kind, Mr. Grainger's promptness became conspicuous, and the townsmen began to look for something bold and decisive whenever he took a matter in hand. When the whole of the property for the new central street was purchased, then arose Grainger's greatest mechanical difficulties - the levelling of the ground. Such was the alternation of hill and hollow, that the formation of a fine and regular street in the planned direction struck many with amazement and many more with doubt. In some parts the ground had to be excavated to a depth of 27 feet, to form the basement of houses - in other parts valleys had to be filled to a height of 35 feet, and houses to be built thereupon, in order to form a street of uniform level. There were instances in which more masonry was buried under-ground than appeared in the whole elevation of the house above. The lowering of hillocks and ridges was so much more considerable than the filling up of hollows and trenches, that nearly five million cubic feet of earth were carried away from time to time, during the progress of the various improvements, after filling up the valleys, making mortar with some of the sand, and making bricks with some of the clay.
"This arduous but most necessary operation of levelling being completed, there arose, one by one, those splendid streets, which have no parallel in England. Instances may be met with, in some of our larger towns, of isolated portions of street equal to these in beauty, but it may be doubted whether, as a group, these creations of Grainger's are equalled. Edinburgh could do more than either London or Liverpool in producing a parallel. The builder was, for the most part, his own architect, and as his new streets are mainly streets of shops, he was not bound down by precedent to such a degree as to cramp his invention. Grey-street, Grainger-street, Market-street, Clayton-street West, Nun-street, Nelson-street, Wood-street, and Shakspere-street, rose in succession - all situated in the very heart of the town, all occupied by houses presenting fronts of dressed and polished stone, altogether presenting a length of a mile and a quarter of street, from fifty to eighty feet wide, and all erected in about five years. It is not merely a list of new streets thus presented by the improvements, new public buildings of a notable character have been reared as parts of the general design. Thus, there are the new Market, the new Central Exchange, the new Theatre, the new Dispensary, the new Music Hall, the new Lecture Room, two new Chapels, the Incorporated Companies' Hall, two auction-marts, ten inns, and twelve public-houses, - besides about forty private-houses, and the three or four hundred shops which form the leading idea of the design. It has been estimated that the total value of the buildings thus planned and constructed by one man, in five years, at a fair rental, is about a million sterling, and that about two thousand persons were regularly engaged on them for many years. Let us now, shortly, see what are the appearances which this new world of buildings present. First for the Market. This sumptuous building occupies an oblong parallelogram, bounded by Grainger, Clayton, Nelson, and Nun streets, and having twelve openings to these streets from its interior area. It lies in the very heart of Mr. Grainger's scene of improvements, and is worthy of them. The market is about three hundred and forty feet long by two hundred and fifty wide, covering an area of more than nine thousand square yards, or nearly two acres. Neither London, Birkenhead, Birmingham, nor Liverpool, can present such an area of covered market as this. The area is divided into a number of avenues, or bazaars, appropriated as meat, vegetable, poultry, and butter markets. The Meat Market consists of four long avenues, crossed by four shorter ones, mostly with arched ceilings, and well ventilated. The Vegetable Market is one noble apartment, larger than Westminster Hall, having a carved oaken roof, supported by two rows of iron pillars, and a lantern-light running along the centre. The length is 318 feet, the width 57, and the height 40 - and the whole appearance is so far beyond the general characteristics of such buildings, that a local guide-book claims for it the designation of "a gorgeous hall, of vast extent, rather resembling the nave of some mighty cathedral than a market for the sale of the fruits of the earth." Without soaring to so lofty a height as this, we can well imagine how Newcastle may well be proud of such a market - and of the mind that planned it.
"But Grey-street is the great work. This street is, by the crossing of other smaller streets, divided into sections, each of which is made to comprise a distinct architectural design, worthy of study, independent of the rest. All, however, agree in this - that the front and entire decorations of the houses are of solid stone; that the stone is of a warm, rich colour - that the ranges excel those of Edinburgh, in being more ornate - and that they excel those of Regent-street, in London, as truly as good stone excels shabby stucco. Taking the west side of Grey-street, we find it divided into three compartments by the crossing of High Bridge and Market streets. The south compartment comprises a Corinthian design in the centre, with two wings, derived, in many of its details, from the interior of the Pantheon, at Rome. The entablature of the centre front rests on eleven lofty Corinthian columns, and the whole is surmounted by a double range of balustrades. This central portion is occupied by the offices of two banking companies. The next group, or compartment, about half the length of the southern, presents an Ionic design, after the temple on the Ilyssus at Athens - the middle portion is occupied by a large inn. The northern compartment, the shortest of the three, comprises one side of a triangle of houses, the area of which triangle is occupied by the Central Exchange. This spot is perhaps the most central and the most magnificent in the whole group of new buildings. The Exchange is a rich and beautiful semicircular building, imbedded in a triangle of noble houses, whose fronts are in Grey-street, Grainger-street, and Market-street. Seven entrances lead from these streets to the Exchange. It is a semicircle, about a hundred and fifty feet long by a hundred in width, wholly lighted from above, as the building is encased in a triangle of houses. The roof is supported by fourteen Ionic columns, twelve of which form a semicircle, and within the columned area of this semicircle is the News-room - on the outside of the semicircle are the corridors, entrances, and staircases leading to the Coffee-room and other apartments. Above the entablature, round the top of the semicircle, spring a series of curved ribs, one over each column, and these ribs form the skeleton for a magnificent glass dome, through which descends ample light into the area of the room. In an upper part of the building are apartments for the School of Design. The triangle of houses, within which the Exchange is thus singularly placed, are of uniform design - the front presented towards the three streets are each an adaptation of the design of the Corinthian Temple of Vesta, at Tivoli - and the three points of the triangle are each finished by a dome springing from a nearly circular range of Corinthian columns.
Next taking a glance at the east side of Grey-street, we find the entire length distributed into five architectural compartments, separated by the crossing of other streets. The first or southern compartment, from Mosley-street to Shakspere-street, has in the centre a colonnade of lofty Corinthian columns, with wings having pilasters and balustrades. The second compartment, from Shakspere-street to Market-street, is almost wholly occupied by the front of the new theatre. This theatre is one of the largest and most beautiful out of London; as the portico projects completely over the foot pavement, and is formed wholly of highly enriched stone-work, it constitutes one of the greatest ornaments of Grey-street. Continuing our route up this street, we come to the third architectural compartment, lying between Market-street and Hood-street. Here, according to Mr. Grainger's original plan, would have been a splendid range of buildings, occupied by the Town and County Courts, Council Chamber, Town Clerk's, and other corporate offices and chambers, and a residence for the mayor; but difficulties interfered with the carrying out of the plan, and Mr. Grainger has made a portion of his architectural design available for other purposes. The centre of this compartment, as now completed, is occupied by a banking company; it presents a highly enriched facade in the upper storeys, supported by more sober Doric pilasters beneath. The fourth compartment, occupying the space between Hood-street and High Friar Lane, is of the Ionic order, with recessed columns in the centre, and pilastered wings. The fifth and last compartment, ending at Blackett-street, is more simple than all the others. Such then is Grey-street; and this detailed view of its architectural features will serve as a general representative of all Mr. Grainger's beautiful streets. A somewhat less ornate version of this magnificent street will serve to describe each of the others. At the point where three of them meet, at the top of Grey-street, is Bailey's statue of Earl Grey, on a lofty column.
Mr. Grainger is still active, and still builds houses as fast as they are desired. He has purchased the great Elswick estate, for which he has paid £200,000. It contains a plentiful spring of water, which will supply the whole town. He has a plan comprehending the junction of several railroads, the formation of extensive quays, the erection of ranges of manufactories, and on the high ground behind, of villas and terraces. So there is some reason for the following lines :—
"Where canny Newcastle
will gan to at last,
"For toon within toon, and
street after street,
Such was, and such is, the town of Newcastle. Let us now take a brief review of its history,1 and of the transactions which have taken place within and around its walls. In doing so, brevity must, of course, be observed, our limits precluding us from giving more than an outline of some of the principal events which have here transpired.
William Whellan & Co., History of Northumberland, 1855
1. Not yet transcribed.
04 April 2007
© Steve Bulman