A Short History of Gateshead - CHAPTER THREE


© Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council, 1998


When one looks at Gateshead in 1974 there appears to be very little to remind anyone of the town in past centuries. The town centre was not developed by celebrated builders such as Dobson and Grainger, but nevertheless, rural Gateshead was a popular residential area for Newcastle's merchants, away from the slums on both sides of the river. However most of our old buildings have been demolished, either for health reasons or general development.

Let us go on a tour of Gateshead as it was in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries before the rapid increase in the size of the town. There was only one bridge over the Tyne, occupying the site of the present Swing Bridge. From this new bridge, opened in 1781, one could see most of the town clustered along the riverbanks and up the steep slope of Bottle Bank to what were then the outskirts of Gateshead; now the town centre.

Pipewellgate and Hillgate were narrow streets,

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the former only eight feet wide, even though they had been recently rebuilt, and as in later years, industry was to be found here alongside houses. Gas works, glass works, lime kilns, a glue factory and a tannery were situated in Pipewellgate.

The main road to Durham led up Bottle Bank, named after the Saxon word 'botl' meaning settlement. This was and, of course, still is a very steep hill. Church Street was built in 1790 to alleviate this problem and follows the same course as today, curving to the east, passing St Mary's, and then rejoining Bottle Bank at the foot of High Street. Behind these main streets were alleys and courts with poor drainage and no sanitation. The living conditions were poor, of course, but not as bad as the overcrowding later in the century when cholera, typhoid and smallpox raged. There were some fine houses fronting on to the main streets but as their owners deserted them for more salubrious surroundings to escape from the squalor of these courts, the once fine houses were tenemented and became slums.

Once he had left the river, the traveller in 1800 would soon find himself amongst houses with large gardens and fine country views. On the east of High Street, the houses with courts, alleys and streets behind continued almost as far as Jacksons Chare (Jackson Street), but on the west there were gardens and an orchard on the site of the shopping precinct and multi-storey car park. Barns

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Close was fields and Bailey Chare, later Half Moon Lane and now Mulgrave Terrace, was a country road leading from High Street to the Windmill Hills and giving the traveller fine views of the Tyne Valley. There were some houses on West Street and a windmill at its junction with Jackson Chare where the Cooperative Store stands today.

St Edmund's Hospital Chapel, now Holy Trinity Church, stood among trees in a field, a picturesque ruin. Nearby, Park Lane lived up to its name, passing between fields to Park House and its estate. There were further scattered houses along High Street; one small terrace on the west side was called Pleasant Row, probably indicative of a pleasant place in which to live. To the east of the junction of Sunderland Road and High Street were two reservoirs that supplied some of the town with water. There had been ponds on this site, filled by a stream flowing from the west called the Busy Burn. This area is now covered by the Al flyover and the now derelict All Saints School and playing field. Further south, opposite the Five Bridges Hotel, stood King James' Hospital, which was in fact an old peoples' home, an institution which still exists: new buildings have been opened on Sunderland Road. This part of High Street, known then as Brunswick Street and now Old Durham Road, was the site of St Edmund's Church, while the land between the

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old and new Durham Roads was an extensive market garden.

The rest of Gateshead, apart from Sheriff Hill, was given over to agriculture although industry was beginning to make its mark along the South Shore and coalmines were scattered throughout the area. There were still large, private estates covering most of the town. The largest was the Park Estate, which at 424 acres in 1836 was the remnant of the bishops of Durham's hunting park to the cast of Gateshead. It had been much larger than this with boundaries of High Street, Split Crow Road, Felling boundary and the Tyne. Shipcote Estate was also large, originating from the former estate of St Edmund's Hospital. The boundaries can be defined as follows:from the Cooperative Store on High Street south to Charles Street;east to High Street;south along High Street and Old Durham Road as far as the Old Cannon Inn; from here to Kells Lane; west down through Beaconsfield Road and Whinney House Dene; north to a point in line with Bewick Road, where the boundary ran eastwards to Alexandra Road; north along East Park Road and Avenue Road to Westfield Terrace; west down Westfield Road and Westminster Street to Saltwell Road; north to Bensham Road and then east to High West Street. The Redheugh Estate was one of the oldest in the town, set up as early as the thirteenth century by the Redheugh family. It consisted, apart from

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some small areas, of the land between the town fields at Bensham and the Tyne. In its heyday Saltwell Estate had been the largest in Gateshead covering approximately 500 acres, extending from East Park Road to the Team and from Bensham to Low Fell. In 1805 this area was split up into several smaller groups, one of which, the Saltwell Cottage Estate, forms the present Saltwell Park.

Other small estates filled the gaps between these larger entities. Rodsley and Field House were spread over the area between the park, Saltwell Road, Alexandra Road and Westfield Terrace west to Saltwell Road. They were divided by what is now Rectory Road with Field House on the west. Deckham was another small estate bounded by Split Crow Road, Old Durham Road, Carr Hill Road and Hendon Road. These estates passed from family to family and varied in size throughout the centuries. For example, Field House Estate to the west of the park only covered 44 acres when it was built over from 1894 but earlier in the century it had been four times as large. Part was added to Saltwell Cottage Estate and another 31 acres became Rodsley Estate. The boundaries can be traced easily in most cases by reference to modern streets. This is no coincidence as most of the land was sold for building, and naturally, houses were built right up to the boundaries so that the developers, often local

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tradesmen, could extract the maximum income from their investment.

These estates had mansions built for and occupied by the wealthy manufacturers who had left their own industrial squalor on the banks of the Tyne. In turn, the big houses were abandoned as the spread of terraced houses destroyed the privacy of the formerly secluded grounds. Redheugh Hall was a typical example of this. The Hall was of seventeenth-century origin (standing approximately 200 yards west of the Redheugh Bridge, just above the Tyne) and was bought by George Hawks as a country retreat within easy reach of his factories in Gateshead. However, the Teams and Redheugh areas were built over spoiling the privacy of the area and Hawks moved to another country house at Pigdon near Morpeth. There is a print of Redheugh Hall in the Local History and Archives Collection in the Central Library showing a fine house surrounded by trees and gardens (Reproduced in this book). There is also a photograph taken in 1910 when the same building was desolate and deserted; a sad comparison. It was finally demolished in 1935/6. Other halls, houses and mansions suffered a similar fate: Deckham Hall off Carr Hill Road was demolished in 1930; Bensham Hall and Tower to the east of Saltwell Road in the 1890s; Field House at the southern end of Ferndene Road in 1931; Saltwell Hall in Saltwell Cemetery in 1936; and Saltwell

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Towers still stands in the park, but the woodwork suffers from dry rot and it is now unused. South Dene Tower stood where the crematorium is situated and was the model for Saltwell Towers. South Dene was damaged when used as an A.R.P. station during the 1939-45 war and was later used as flats for a time before being demolished in 1953.

The street names of Gateshead are reminders of buildings, people, places and events in the history of the town, Coatsworth Road is named after William Cotesworth, lord of the manor in the early eighteenth century. He lived in Park House which was rebuilt in 1719-20 by Cotesworth and later in 1728-30 by the Ellison family. This once fine house still stands (January 1974) but forms part of the Clarke, Chapman-John Thompson Engineering Works. The derivation of Windmill Hills is obvious. It was an ideal site for windmills, being on a hill to catch sufficient wind to turn the sails. There were about ten mills on this site which covered a much larger area than today, stretching over to the 'stony flatt', the flat brow of the hill which is now Coatsworth Road.

There were others mills in the town: the last to be demolished was Snowdon's Mill at Carr Hill in 1964, but their memory has been preserved in names of public houses such as the 'The Five Wand Mill'. Windmill Hills was the town's first public park, given to the people of Gateshead on

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18 November 1861, but it had been a park in all but name for some years before this. As an open area near to the town centre it was used for fairs or 'hoppings', sports days, concerts, election meetings as well as being a pleasant place to go for a walk. Holly House, one of the town's oldest buildings still standing is situated on the north east of the hills. Reputed to have been built in the seventeenth century, it was altered in the late eighteenth century. It was used as a private house until the beginning of the twentieth century when it was bought by the Corporation and used as a reception centre by the Welfare and Social Services Department. It was abandoned in 1971 and now stands vandalised and derelict but it cannot be demolished without the permission of the Department of the Environment. A campaign to preserve the house has attracted the attention of the local press but at the time of writing there are no plans for any restoration work.

Ellison Street is named after the Ellison family, Lords of the Manor from 1730-1857. The best known member of the family was Cuthbert Ellison (1783-1860), M.P. for Newcastle from 1812 to 1830. Although he lived at Hebburn and London for the latter part of his life, he gave generously to many Gateshead charities.

Sheriff Hill is so called from the custom whereby the Sheriffs from Newcastle came to what is now Sheriff Hill to meet the judges from Durham

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coming north to hold assizes. At that time the area was little more than barren waste and moor with some miserable hovels and cottages and the Old Cannon Inn which was used as a place of refreshment during the judges' journey.

Half Moon Lane acquired its name in an unusual fashion. The street was originally a narrow alley known as Bailey Chare but in the early nineteenth century it was widened to allow the passage of wheeled vehicles. A stone mason and sculptor named Jopling wanted the new street to be called 'Marble Street' and fixed this name on the front of his premises which stood where the approach is to the High Level Bridge. The innkeeper of the Half Moon Inn was a Mr Birch, a retired comedian who had become a publican after marrying the daughter of the previous landlord. Birch objected to 'Marble Street' and his choice, 'Half Moon Lane' was put on his premises. Eventually, Jopling died and a Mr Murray took over the premises as a chemist's shop, fixing a signboard over 'Marble Street' and so in due course Half Moon Lane became accepted as the only name. In 1847 the old houses were demolished to make way for the present street.

There are some local legends that have interesting historical associations. There was an old stone house known as 'King John's Palace' at the southern end of Oakwellgate. This tradition is now discounted but J.R. Boyle, the historian, has

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put forward the theory that this house may have been on the site of the old manor house of the bishops of Durham as it is very close to what was once their forest and hunting park to the east of the town. At one time the house was known as 'Palace Green'.

Daniel Defoe is often said to have written his famous novel Robinson Crusoe in Gateshead. He was a resident for a brief period around 1710, staying in Hillgate with one Joseph Button, a bookseller with a shop on the old Tyne Bridge. However, it is now thought that this book was written in Stoke Newington. The first part was published some nine years after he left Gateshead.

Another tradition is that Charles I stayed in Gateshead at a house in Oakwellgate known as the 'Bush Inn'. Part of the building was later to form a public house of that name and the rest was used as the first Town Hall in Gateshead. It is now demolished and the site is occupied by a garage, behind which is a yard still known as Bush Yard. It seems highly unlikely that Charles I would have stayed in Oakwellgate even though it was one of the better areas of the town. He would travel with a considerable retinue that would not have been adequately housed in Gateshead at that time. One would have thought that the king would have preferred to stay in the more secure and spacious houses in Newcastle.

Despite the wholesale redevelopment and slum

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clearance, which has demolished most of older Gateshead, there are still historical buildings worthy of note. The two oldest churches are St Mary's and Holy Trinity. Each of these churches reputedly built on the site of Gateshead monastery but there is nothing to show its exact location. The monastery may have been attacked and destroyed by the Vikings, but this is a matter of conjecture. Nevertheless, St Mary's is a very old church. The well-known historian, John Hodgson, who was once a curate at St Mary's, thought that as some of the stones were shaped or hewed after the Roman style, they could have been taken from an old Roman building. In 1080 the bishop of Durham was murdered in St Mary's, but this church is reputedly situated slightly to the north of the present building. St Mary's church has been burnt down, restored and altered several times during the years since the Norman Conquest so that very little of the original structure remains. The present tower was built in 1738-40, while in 1854, during the great fire of Gateshead, the church was so badly damaged that there were proposals to demolish what was left and build an entirely new church. Fortunately, this plan was not carried out but the twelfth-century chancel and stained glass windows were beyond repair. St Mary's still remains as a clearly visible link with Gateshead's historic past, the 'Mother Church' of the town.

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The oldest part of Holy Trinity Church in High Street is the south aisle. This was originally the chapel of the Hospital of St Edmund, founded in about 1248, and later became a branch of the Convent of St Bartholomew, believed to be Newcastle's oldest religious establishment. Along with other institutions, St Edmund's suffered during the dissolution of monasteries in 1536-40. It remained in a ruinous condition until 1836 when Cuthbert Ellison gave it to the Rector and Churchwardens of Gateshead. A public subscription raised sufficient money for restoration, which was carried out under the supervision of John Dobson and Holy Trinity church was opened in 1837. The church today stands in a busy street, passed by thousands who do not know of its historical connections. It was close to Holy Trinity that a Roman Catholic priest was martyred for his beliefs in 1595. There was formerly a cross on the site.

There is a list of buildings to be preserved for historical or architectural reasons. There are nineteen remaining in Gateshead in several grades. The only grade one (most important) building is the High Level Bridge. We could hardly do without it! Several churches are included as well as the Housing Department at the corner of Nelson Street and West Street; donated by the Swinburne family and used as the Dispensary from 1855. The printing works of Robert Kelly Ltd., at the junction of Ellison Street and West Street is a grade

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three building. It was opened in 1837 as a Congregational Church, then became a Presbyterian Church in 1845. It has been used as a printing works since 1895. By coincidence, another local printing firm, Howe Brothers, occupied the former Bethesda Methodist New Connexion Chapel in nearby Melbourne Street. It was at this latter chapel that William Booth, later to found the Salvation Army, was given his first permanent post. The Bethesda Chapel was demolished in 1964.

Two public houses are worthy of note. The 'Queen's Head' in High Street (a grade three building) and the 'Half Moon Hotel' (unlisted) are generally recognised as the oldest in the town although both were rebuilt in the nineteenth century, the 'Queen's Head' was rebuilt in 1854 and the 'Half Moon' in 1891. The rebuilding of the latter was necessitated after one of Gateshead's early steam trams ran out of control in High Street and demolished the hotel which had been showing all the signs of old age. The compensation paid to the owner must have been considerable, as the 'Half Moon' was rebuilt as a much improved establishment. It was obviously a most fortunate accident!

Oakwellgate Baths, opened in 1855, still stand today (January 1974). These were Gateshead's first public baths and washhouses and cost £4,300 to build. The washing facilities included 'ingenious' wringing machines and about 400 people

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per week made use of them, but the baths were expensive and were therefore little patronised. The charges were as follows: warm baths---first class sixpence; second class two-pence; cold baths -two-pence and one penny respectively while washing was charged for at one penny per hour.

Industrial archaeology is a growing branch of historical study and there are relics of Gateshead's industrial past to be seen. The most famous, of course, is the High Level Bridge. The main contractors were Hawks and Co. of Gateshead. The railway-bridge, over the road on the Newcastle side of the High Level, bears a plaque naming Abbot & Co. of Gateshead as the builders in 1848. The route of the Brandling Junction Railway can be seen from the Redheugh Bridge, climbing the riverbank towards Greenesfield and passing under the approaches to the King Edward Bridge. The riverbanks to the east of Gateshead were, of course, leased to Newcastle and were the main industrial areas of the town. Much of the dereliction has now been cleared and a park and industrial estate have been created on a former chemical waste heap. There were also collieries here and due to the proximity of the river; they needed a steam engine to pump the workings dry. The old engine house of one of these pumps can still be seen in the riverside park at Friars' Goose.

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"A Short History of Gateshead". © Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council, 1998