Grainger Town - The heart of Newcastle

PUBLISHED: 23:27 19 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:37 20 February 2013

Grey Street. Picture by Graeme Peacock

Grey Street. Picture by Graeme Peacock

Grainger Town is the historic heart of Newcastle with a fine blend of old and new and surprises around every corner

Richard Grainger (1797-1861)

Builder and developer Richard Grainger worked with famed architects John Dobson and Thomas Oliver, and Town Clerk John Clayton to reshape the centre of Newcastle in the 19th century.

Born in High Friars Lane and educated at St Andrews Charity School in Newgate Street, at the age of 12 Grainger was apprenticed to a carpenter. In 1816, aged 20, he started business as a builder with his brother George, a bricklayer, who later died.

Richard carried on alone. As his reputation grew he came into contact with various leading citizens in the town and married well. His wife, Rachel, was the daughter of a wealthy leather merchant. They had 13 children - six sons and seven daughters.

Between 1824 and 1826 he built the greater part of Eldon Square, designed by Dobson, and Blackett Street, designed by Oliver. This was followed in 1827 by another Dobson design, St Mary's Place, opposite the church of St Thomas the Martyr, also designed by Dobson. In 1829 he built Leazes Terrace, Leazes Crescent and Leazes Place, all designed by Thomas Oliver.

In 1832 Grainger completed building the Royal Arcade at the foot of Pilgrim Street. This impressive building, intended as a commercial and shopping centre, was never a success and was eventually demolished in the 1960s to make way for the Pilgrim Street roundabout.

Grey Street is still the jewel of Grainger Town

In 1834 as his wealth and influence grew, Grainger planned the demolition of the old Theatre Royal in Mosley Street and the Flesh Market, which was less than 30 years old. He overcame objections by offering to build a new Theatre Royal and a new meat and vegetable market.

His plan covered a 12-acre site and was based on three main thoroughfares. The triangle formed by Grey Street, Grainger Street and Market Street contained the Central Exchange. The new meat market, which became the Grainger Market, opened in 1839 with no fewer than 180 butchers shops. The Greenmarket opened in Clayton Street.

The scheme comprised nine streets, 10 inns, 12 public houses, 325 shops, with homes attached, and 40 private houses. The jewel of the scheme was undoubtedly Grey Street, where Grainger placed Greys Monument as a focal point for this architectural masterpiece.

Grainger looked around for another scheme but buying the Elswick estate almost bankrupted him. William Armstrong bought the riverside section of the estate for his new armaments factory. Grainger built streets of terraced houses in Benwell and Elswick and several were named after his children.

He died in 1861 at his home at 5 Clayton Street West and is buried at St James Church in Benwell. He left debts totalling 128,582 and a personal estate of just 16,913. The sale of the Elswick estate paid off the debts and by 1901 the Grainger estate was worth over 1,200,000.

Graingers legacy lives on

Grainger, Dobson and Clayton are rightly credited for the creation of the centre of Newcastle in the neoclassical style. While Dobson was the creative visionary, Grainger provided the practical skills, and Clayton had the political clout to deliver the plans.

The success of Grainger Town as the commercial heart of Newcastle was short-lived as the building of the new Central Station railway terminal on Neville Street in 1849 shifted the economic focus away from Grey Street. The growth of Northumberland Street as a shopping centre further hastened Grey Streets decline.

Despite the ravages of the 1960s when most of old Eldon Square and about a quarter of Graingers original scheme were demolished, much still remains and the latest regeneration scheme has breathed new life into Grainger Town. Careful planning, good design and sensitive restoration have ensured that Graingers legacy will live on for many more decades to come.

Newcastles Grainger Town blends traditional architecture, such as Grey Street and the Grainger Market, with the ultra modern, as in the Eldon Square developments. But does it work? Tell us what you think by leaving a comment below

Every city has a heart and nowhere in the North East is this more instantly recognisable and more tangible than in Newcastle, where Grainger Town has its own distinctive heartbeat and a rhythm of life which pulsates along every street and offers surprises around every corner.

Grainger Town is massively pleasing to the senses and a stroll around its elegant streets and thoroughfares, with its covered shopping areas, bold modern buildings, cathedrals, churches, and mediaeval walls and towers, is undoubtedly of the best city centre experiences in the country, much loved by local people and rightly admired by visitors.

The recently-regenerated Grainger Town lies in the historic heart of Newcastle. It is dominated by hundreds of fine Georgian and stylish Victorian buildings which have led to its architecture being dubbed Tyneside Classical.

Based around stylish streets built by one of the citys best known sons, Richard Grainger, an exceptional developer, between 1824 and 1841, Grainger Town has some of Newcastles finest buildings, including the Grainger Market, Theatre Royal, Grey Street, Grainger Street and Clayton Street.

Grainger Town covers approximately 36 hectares and one of its main streets, Grey Stree,t was described as 'one of the finest streets in England' by Sir Nikolaus Bernhard Leon Pevsner (1902-1983) the German-born British scholar of history of art and, especially, of history of architecture.

With its sweeping curve and fine facades, in 2005 it was also voted the Best Street in England by Radio 4 listeners. Its many fine buildings include the Theatre Royal and former Bank of England building, now a sophisticated bar called Barluga.

Almost all of Grainger Town is within Newcastle's Central Conservation Area, one of the first to be designated in England. The Central Exchange, with its beautifully tiled Edwardian Central Arcade, lies between Grainger Street and Grey Street. A staggering 244 buildings in Grainger Town are listed, including 29 Grade 1 and 49 Grade 2.

Earl Grey, he who invented the distinctive blend of tea, was the Prime Minister responsible for the 1832 Government Reform Bill which modernised parliament in Britain. His statue by sculptor Edward Hodges Baily (also responsible for Nelsons Column) tops a column, Greys Monument, of 41 metres (133ft). It has remained a favourite meeting place since it was unveiled in 1838.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, this once-prosperous area of the city declined as new retail and commercial centres emerged in and outside the city. Many properties fell into disrepair and around one million sq ft of floor space was unoccupied and the area's residential population was falling.

The Grainger Town Project was established in 1997 in partnership with Newcastle City Council, English Partnership and English Heritage with the aim of reversing this trend. A 120 million regeneration programme continued until 2003. A total of 40 million of public sector investment attracted a further 160million from the private sector. This has produced Grainger Town 2010, a unique blend of old and new.

The Victorian Grainger Market buzzes with character and atmosphere

The Grainger Market is the City's largest traditional market, situated in an elegant, classically-styled building in Grainger Street just down from Grey's Monument. This under-cover market was the largest in Europe when first built in the 1830s and in recent years it has been refurbished to modern standards, while retaining its original features.

There is a great buzz and friendly warmth about the Grainger Market. Whatever the time of year it has a great atmosphere. After the restoration there was an attempt to introduce piped music, but this was quickly dropped after stallholders and customers said that there was nothing better than its own sounds, sights and smells, which combine to give the place a its distinctive appeal.

The Grainger Market specialises in meat, fruit and vegetables alongside a good variety of other stalls from music to shoes, clothing, cheese, coffee and flowers. There are many other specialist stalls, each with its particular character.

One such stall is the Pumphreys Coffee Centre, where the tantalising aroma of fresh ground coffee from around the world adds to the ambience of the main market hall. The arched aisles and main market hall are always thronged with thrifty shoppers looking for bargains.

Marks and Spencers Original Penny Bazaar in the Grainger Market is the last surviving example of the shops that gave birth to a legend in retailing. Michael Marks opened the first Penny Bazaar in the Kirkgate open air market in Leeds in 1834, with the motto "Don't ask the price - it's a penny!" It was hailed as a revolution, providing high quality goods at affordable prices to all.

The Gate is the new face of leisure and entertainment

The Gate is Newcastles premier leisure and entertainment centre with a wide range of restaurants and cafes, pubs, bars and clubs as well as a casino. All the latest blockbusters can be seen on 12 screens at the state of the art Empire Cinema, which replaced the old Odeon in Pilgrim Street. The Gate has 19 venues spread across three floors.

At a cost of 80 million The Gate was opened in 2002 and takes its name from one of the mediaeval town gates on Newgate Street. It was built to replace the 35-year-old, Newgate House, which was home one of Newcastles best known music and dance venues, the Mayfair.
Outside the Newgate Street entrance stands the impressive 12m tall sculpture, "Ellipsis Eclipses" designed by Danny Lane. The equally eye-catching 24m high glass faade was designed by Space Decks Limited.

The changing face of Eldon Square is a shoppers paradise in the citys modern retail quarter

As Britain's largest city centre shopping centre, Eldon Square shopping complex attracts more than 25 million people every year. There are over 140 shops and department stores covering some 13 acres and it has a good choice of restaurants, food courts and pubs to suit all tastes and pockets.

Eldon Square is a shoppers' paradise, with the giant John Lewis and Fenwick department stores and many other famous names, most of whom regard Newcastle as their flagship store. As well as the big names in shopping, there are dozens of smaller shops each with their own specialities. The adjoining Eldon Garden malls add another dimension to the Newcastle shopping scene.

Eldon Square has been transformed considerably thanks to Capital Shopping Centres 170 million project designed to improve and extend the centre to a total of 119,500 sq m with phased completion until spring 2010.

The first phase provided an additional 22,000 sq ft of new retail along Blackettbridge Mall and two restaurants Strada and Wagamama - that overlook Old Eldon Square, which recently won a prestigious prize for refurbishment in The Lord Mayor of Newcastle's Design Awards. The winning scheme, by architects CDA for Capital Shopping Centres and the city council saw the restoration of the old Eldon Square site and the area surrounding the citys main War Memorial.

A state-of-the-art bus station opened in March 2007 and the latest phase of St Georges Way started in February 2008. This new mall gives better access to the centre and incorporates a new Waitrose supermarket and 15 new shops, including Argos Extra, Boots, John Lewis, Starbucks Coffee, Serendipity, Esquires Coffee, Oil & Vinegar, and Waitrose, as well as new modern toilet and baby changing facilities

Work is well underway on third and largest phase of development, comprising 38,089 sq m of retail space. This has seen the demolition of the existing shopping centre mall between Clayton Street and Newgate Street and the building of a new Debenhams department store, due to open this month (February 2010) and two level modern shops along a wider mall.

The Town Walls were built to keep out invading Scots

In 1265 the people of Newcastle added to the defences of the castle with the building of town walls to protect them from the raids of invading Scots. The walls extended for over two miles around the town and were never less than seven feet thick and up to 25 feet high.

The castle and its Black Gate were not part of the town walls but were enclosed within them. Today a stylish restaurant is also housed in what claims to be the UKs oldest dining room alongside the remains of the 13th Dominican Priory of Blackfriars.

The names of the six main gateways around the walls have a familiar ring to todays Novocastrians. Sand Gate, West Gate, New Gate, Pandon Gate, Pilgrim Gate, and Close Gate were situated in the walls along with 17 towers and a number of smaller turrets built as lookout posts situated at intervals between the towers and gates.

During the reign of Henry VIII the famous antiquarian John Leland described Newcastle's defences as "far passing all the waulls of the cities of England and most of the cities of Europe" in their strength and magnificence.

Today the most impressive surviving section of the mediaeval old town wall can be found in Grainger Town behind Stowell Street, where the remains of four towers (Durham, Morden, Ever and Heber) may also be seen contrasting with the modern architecture of Newcastle Universitys new Business School. A smaller section of wall survives near Forth Street behind the Newcastle Central Station but nothing remains of the walls to the north of Newcastle. To the east only the remains of three isolated towers survive.

An explosion of colour and taste as Stowell Street celebrates Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is one of the most important celebrations for the Chinese community all over the world. It's a time to celebrate new beginnings and hopes for the future. The Chinese lunar calendar follows 12 years, each named after an animal the rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.

Every February the streets of China Town are transformed as the city celebrates Chinese New Year and Chinese New Year 2010 explodes into life on Sunday, February 14, with a barrage of Chinese firecrackers and traditional Dragon, Lion & Unicorn dances to banish evil spirits and make way for good fortune and prosperity in The Year of the Tiger.

The festivities start at the impressive and colourful Ceremonial Arch at the Gallowgate end of Stowell Street, which offers a mouth-watering choice of Chinese eating places to suit all pockets. This is followed by an afternoon of family entertainment with street performers, music and a Chinese Market with arts, crafts and delicious Chinese food.

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