The so called ‘Blue Carpet’, now barely discernable, outside the Laing Art Gallery, is probably not the best place to start on a review of Newcastle’s finest tiles. A few ‘in tact’ tiles remain, but the bulk are almost completely faded, the ravages of rain and wind rather than footfall, have taken their toll.
A better place to start might be the RVI a few of the ‘Nursery Rhyme” tiles remain accessible at the out patients entrance. For the first young patients on the children’s wards at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary in 1906, the 60 brightly coloured nursery rhyme panels adorning the walls must have been a wonderful sight. Depicting a plethora of what were then childhood favourites, Little Bo Peep, Little Red Riding Hood and Old Mother Hubbard, these original artworks by some of the best artists of the day were located above each child’s bed to entertain and amuse the sick youngsters. One hundred and ten years later, the 55 surviving Royal Doulton ceramic panels which flank the walls of wards 14 and 18 at the RVI are as beautiful as the day they were made.
With each panel standing 4ft 6in high and 2ft wide and made up of 36 individual tiles, the pictures are estimated to be worth at least £40,000 each. Today they comprise the largest collection of Royal Doulton tiles in the world.
1 – Lady Bird Lady Bird Fly Away Home
2 – Tom Tom The Piper’s Son Stole The Pig And Away Did Run
3 – Tom Went Roaring Down The Street
4 – Little Girl Little Girl Where Have You Been
5 – Little Bo-Peep Has Lost Her Sheep
6 – Let Them Alone And They’ll Come Home
7 – Ding Dong Bell, Pussy’s In The Well
8 – Little Betty Blue Lost Her Holiday Shoe
9 – There Was An Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe
10 – Little Tommy Tucker Sang For His Supper
11 – Curly Locks Shall Sew A Fine Seam And Feed Upon Strawberries, Sugar And Cream
12 – Higgledy Piggledy, My Black Hen
13 – Little Miss Muffet, She Sat On A Tuffet
14 – Simple Simon Went A-Fishing
15 – Simple Simon Met A Pieman
16 – Hickory Dickory Dock, The Mouse Ran Up The Clock
17 – The Clock Struck One, The Mouse Ran Down
18 – Where Are You Going My Pretty Maid? – I’m Going A Milking Sir She Said
19 – Then I Can’t Marry You My Pretty Maid – Nobody Asked You Sir, She Said
20 – Old Mother Hubbard Went To The Cupboard
21 – Old Mother Goose
22 – The King Was In His Counting House, Counting Out His Money
23 – The Queen Was In The Parlour, Eating Bread And Honey
24 – The Maid Was In The Garden, Hanging Out The Clothes
25 – I Had A Little Husband
26 – Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat, Where Have You Been
27 – Hush-A-Bye Baby, On The Tree Top
28 – St Swithin’s Day If Thou Dost Rain, For Forty Days It Will Remain
29 – Here We Go Gathering Nuts In May
30 – Little Jack Horner Sat In A Corner
31 – Hush-A-Bye Baby, On The Tree Top (version two)
32 – The Sleeping Beauty In The Enchanted Palace
33 – Little Boy Blue Come Blow On Your Horn
34 – Daffy-Down-Dilly Has Come To Town
35 – Hark Hark, The Dogs Do Bark
36 – Old King Cole Was A Merry Old Soul
37 – Blow Wind, Blow, And Go Mill Go
38 – Mary, Mary Quite Contrary, How Does Your Garden Grow
39 – I Have Been Up To London To See The Queen
40 – I Saw A Ship A-Sailing
41 – Baa Baa Black Sheep, Have You Any Wool?
42 – Goosey-Goosey Gander, Wither Dost Thou Wander?
43 – Lady Queen Anne She Sits In The Sun
44 – Oh, Who Is So Merry, Hey Ho! As The Light-Hearted Fairy, Hey Ho!
45 – Bless You, Bless You Burny Bee; Say When Will Your Wedding Be?
46 – Cinderella In The Corner
47 – The Fairy Sends Cinderella To The Ball
48 – Cinderella Puts On The Glass Slipper
49 – Lucy Locket Lost Her Pocket, Kitty Fisher Found It
50 – Little Red Riding Hood
51 – The Knave Of Hearts Who Stole The Tarts
52 – My Maid Mary, She Minds The Dairy
53 – And Jill Came Tumbling After
54 – The Queen Of Hearts She Made Some Tarts
55 – The Rose Is Red, The Violet Blue, The Gilly-Flower Sweet And So Are You
On the corner of New Bridge Street and Gibson Street, by the side of what is now the busy commuter route, the A193, heading east toward Byker.
Gibson Street Baths closed in 1965, and has not been used as swimming pool since then. Many of the orginal tiles and fixtures are still there but are inaccessible. The building is used occasionally as a badminton court.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Just before Grey’s Monument and Monument Metro Station, the beautifully tiled Edwardian Central Arcade (1906) on your right hand side. This is another of Grainger’s creations and the perfect way to end your stroll through Newcastle’s ‘golden heart’. The building is bounded by Grainger Street, Grey Street, and Market Street with entrances serving all three streets. The tiles, ceiling and mosaic floor are all exceptional. Rather surprisingly the mosaic floor dates from 1980. One of the most beautiful buildings in Newcastle, invariably with a busker, the building is remarkable for its beauty, helped in no small part by the stunning mosaic floor and Burmantofts tiles on the walls.
What a wonderful floor
Only been in place since 1980, the floor that is not the Arcade, the arcade was built after a fire in 1906
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
61 nursery rhyme and fairy tale panels, ordered in 1904 are still to be found spread around Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary This is probably the most complete set of such panels still in existence; they were made at the Lambeth works and signed by the artists William Rowe, John McLennan and Margaret Thompson Newcastle’s RVI Victoria Wing