Category Archives: Newcastle

An Art Gallery and a Museum in Newcastle

The Laing Art Gallery sits on the edge of Newcastle’s famed and beautiful Blue Carpet, the open city square laid with a unique pattern of blue tiles (hence the name!)  The Blue Carpet draws the buildings which surround it together, unifying both the old and the new, to create an intimate space for relaxing or on occasion, for performance.

The Laing Art Gallery
The Laing Art Gallery

The Laing recently claimed the prestigious ‘Large Visitor Attraction of the Year’ prize at the North East England Tourism Awards. It has a superb permanent collection, including works by Henry Moore and paintings by the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood group. The works of local artists, like wood engraver Thomas Berwick, the painters of the Newcastle School of Art, founded in 1843 and more recent artists like Oliver Kilbourn, are a glimpse into the creative, as well as the social history of the city.

At the other end of town, The Discovery Centre sits at the intersection of two busy main roads. It is a large, imposing brick building which looks very much like some grim relic of an early nineteenth century educational institution.

The Discovery Centre
The Discovery Centre

Inside, one exhibition tells the story of the shipping industry and the Tyne which was and still is the life blood of the region. Another traces the history of Newcastle from the Romans to the present day. The “Working Lives” exhibition outlines the “hard graft and ingenuity” that is the story of the Newcastle worker. Finally, DVDs in a little video corner introduces some famous Newcastle inventors like George and Robert Stephenson, of the locomotive fame, Joseph Swan who invented the filament light bulb in 1978, Gladstone Adams, the father of windscreen wipers, Arthur George, the author of the Joystick and a clutch of 21st century corporations like DUK responsible for Biometrics fingerprinting, Global Point Technologies who introduced satellite tracking and Peratech of the Touch Smell Robot.

While an afternoon browse through a gallery and a museum can only really give a summary of a place and its history, the Laing and the Discovery Centre sum up Newcastle, its history and its people most impressively.

 

Newcastle’s Grainger Town

Newcastle has a boom and bust history and nowhere is the boom of the 19th century more apparent than in its city centre, Grainger Town.

Grainger Town
Grainger Town

Having made their fortunes in coal and shipping and having earned Newcastle a place of prominence on the British as well as the world stage, the city fathers of the time were inspired to build a new Newcastle, to reflect their golden age of wealth and power. As their model, they chose ancient Rome in its golden age and appointed the architect Richard Grainger to realise their dream.

When finished in 1842, the area was described as the city of palaces. Recently regenerated, it is a precinct of elegant Victorian and Georgian neo-classical buildings which now house cafes and restaurants and offer fantastic shopping. It includes the splendid Central Railway Station, with its monument to George Stephenson, the Novacastrian who invented the steam locomotive. Grey Street, the city’s “main” street remembers Earl Grey, a name which resonates with tea-drinkers the world over. The focal point of the area is Grey’s monument, at the top of the street, which features the great teaman himself and was built to commemorate the Reform Act of 1832, drafted when Grey was Prime Minister.

Running off Grey Street is the Central Arcade which, with its triple domed glass and steel ceiling and tiled walls, is reminiscent of those beautiful, 19th century Parisian “galeries”. It was built in 1840 for Richard Grainger and is believed to the work of the architect John Wardle. It was originally a commercial exchange, then later a newsroom later still an Art Gallery. It was rebuilt in 1906 after a fire and today houses a number of retail outlets, a Starbucks café and the Newcastle Tourist Information Centre.

To walk in Grainger Town is to walk in another world, a world which is a monument to wealth, power, vision and beauty, a world which has carefully preserved the past, brilliantly harnessed the present and judiciously keeps a window open to the future.