Bruce Building

Bruce Building, 115 Percy St, NE1 7RY
Bruce Building, 115 Percy St, NE1 7RY

The Bruce Building on the Haymarket is a former brewery, constructed between 1896 and 1900 on the site of the Hotspur Hotel, as the new premises of Newcastle Breweries Limited. The door at the front gives some indication of the monumental interior within, walk around the back and there is a large Arch inscribed with “”Newcastle Breweries””.

The Bruce Building does not reveal too much from the outside, a large ornate doorway on Percy Street and an even larger Arch behind the building, also inscribed with ‘Newcastle Breweries’ . Inside there is a lot more of interest.

Entrance to Bruce Building
Entrance to Bruce Building

Plans were announced recently to turn the Bruce building, the headquarters of the former Newcastle Breweries Ltd on Percy Street, Newcastle, into student flats. But as developers began to draw up plans to renovate the Grade-II listed building, they came across a rare WWII fire watchers’ post. In-situ at the back of the site, the cylinder look-out is one of only two known to exist in England. The only other in-situ example is on North Shields’ ferry landing.

The plans include retaining most of the commercial uses of the ground floors, including the Hotspur pub. The ground floor and basement of the Bruce building would become a restaurant/cafe. On the first floor it is proposed to create commercial/office space. The other floors would become 60 student bedsits. Council planners describe the interior as “impressive with stunning ornate tiling and decorative plaster ceilings”. The building has a marble staircase, with most rooms having stained glass windows, and a mahogany-panelled former boardroom.

Entrance to Bruce Building
Entrance to Bruce Building

The building was designed by local architect Joseph Oswald for Newcastle Breweries and was erected between 1896 and 1900. A bricklayers’ strike during its construction added to the time it took to complete. It is an imposing, three storey building constructed of red Dumfriesshire sandstone and red bricks from Commondale, North Yorkshire, on a grey granite plinth. It is described in Pevsner’s Buildings of England as having ‘much Jacobean carved ornament, first floor oriels and a corbelled corner turret with copper fishscale dome’.

As well as housing offices the Bruce Building and surrounding brewery complex contained a mineral water works, beer-bottling plant and wine and spirit stores in the basement. There was also a stable for 36 horses, a blacksmith’s forge and coopers’ and joiners’ shops. An engine and boiler house provided enough current to light the entire premises, work the hoists, operate ventilators and run all the equipment in the mineral water factory. Under the stable yard were cellars which were reached via the brewery’s bonded warehouse in nearby St Thomas’ Street.

The building has a monumental interior with oak floors, mahogany doors and panelling, a marble staircase, stained glass windows and decorative tiling.

As large and comprehensive as the new complex was, it could not accommodate the other department of the brewery’s business that was seeking extra capacity. The brewing of ginger beer needed space and this requirement could only be met by constructing a separate building across the Haymarket in Prudhoe Place. This picture shows the ginger beer works in August 1973 when they were part of a pub called the Farmer’s Rest. The building was demolished in the early 1990s. The Bruce Building can be seen in the background.

Fire Watchers Tower Behind Bruce Building
Fire Watchers Tower Behind Bruce Building

Interior Door, Bruce Building. This doorway was used in the 2000 film Billy Elliot as the entrance to the court room.In the 1950s the Bruce Building was compulsorily purchased from the brewery for the extension to King’s College, part of the University of Durham. King’s College became the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1963 and the Bruce Building was until recently still occupied by University departments. Its use as a higher education establishment brings the story of the Bruce Building full circle as the site was formally occupied by the Percy Street Academy, Newcastle’s first college founded in 1806 by John Bruce. Among its ‘old boys’ are the engineer Robert Stephenson and allegedly, the artist William Henry Charlton.

Entrance Bruce Building
Entrance Bruce Building

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