The Centurion Bar in Newcastle Central Station was originally the First Class Waiting Room. In 1893 the railway company decorated the room with specially commissioned, hand made Burmantoft tiles which were very expensive and not usually used in public buildings. For many years the room was used by the British Transport Police, the tiles were covered over and largly forgotten about. The story of their neglect would make a great documentary film. In a move that would have had those elegant Victorians spluttering into their Earl Grey – this wonderful decor disappeared from view when the British Transport Police moved into the building and painted over the tiles with a garish shade of red. They languished for years under layers of concrete and paint and only came to light when redevelopment work began in 2000. The tiles are reputedly worth millions.
The waiting room is now a bar-cafe and is quite literally a work of art. To view the tiles it is best to go in during daylight hours, at night the tiles are not illuminated as well as they might be. The Victorian tiles that adorn the walls are worth over £3.5 million, considered by many to be the finest example of Bumantofts tiles outside of a museum, but then Newcastle is a great museum ‘with walls’ waiting to be discovered.
As part of an 1892 scheme by North East Railway architect Willian Bell the waiting room from John Dobson’s Central Station was clad in fabulous tiling to emerge as the First Class Refreshment Room. It is decorated from floor to high ceiling in Burmantofts Baroque style top-lit by a tile clad skylight, with columns dominating both ends of the room. A 14 ft square mural by Byron Dawson takes pride of place between two 20 ft high Doric obelisks.
Burmantofts, of Leeds, was the best known producer of tiles and architectural ceramics until the firm closed down in the late 1950’s. Other great example of Burmantofts tiles in Newcastle are in the Central Arcade (1906), Portofinos on Dean Street, the Beehive Pub in the Bigg Market