Ouseburn’s Heritage Panels

Reading heritage panels, is not everyones cup of tea, especially when out for a walk, it interrupts the rhythm of the walk. Sometimes information panels get vandalised, other times they vanish, in which case you may wish you had read them when you had the chance. In the case of the Ouseburn Culvert, one of the more fascinating episodes in Ouseburn’s history, visitors are no longer able to read the heritage panel, first it was vandalised, later it disappeared entirely. However it’s here if you want to read about this fantastic tale of municipal ineptitude.

Most of Ouseburn’s heritage panels are on the east side of the Ouseburn river, just follow the riverside path. Ouseburn has many interesting sights, perhaps more per square metre than perhaps any other part of Newcastle, and that really is saying something. Reading the information panels is one good way to start.

Ouseburn Heritage Panels

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Rising Sun Colliery Branch Line

The Rising Sun Colliery opened in 1908. Employing 1,800 men, it became one of the largest deep mines in Europe, with 60 miles of underground tunnels stretching as far as the River Tyne.  At first coal was transported to the surface by pit ponies pulling trucks.  Rising Sun Colliery used about 80 pit ponies. Housed in, underground stables, they rarely came above ground.  The site of the colliery now forms part of the Rising Sun Country Park.

The Rising Sun Colliery Branch Line, completed in 1942, linked the Rising Sun Colliery to the Cramlington Waggonway and simplified the running of the coal from the colliery to the coal staiths on the River Tyne.  This stretch is known locally as the Black Path because of the build up of coal dust that spilled from the waggons on their journey to the staith.

Rising Sun Branch Line
Rising Sun Branch Line

Middle Engine Waggonway

This is the site of the Middle Engine, which was one of the engines used on the Seaton Burn Waggonway. This stationary steam engine hauled the coal trucks up and down the lines between the High Winding Engine located at Hillheads, Killingworth and the third or Low Engine near the River Tyne at Northumberland Dock in North Shields. The natural fall of the land from the High Engine down the the Low Engine saved locomotive power on the downward journeys of the coal waggons.

Middle Engine Lane was linked to the Blyth & Tyne Line, the Cramlington, Seaton Burn and Seghill waggonways. These routes were built by individual coal companies and were only shared following the establishment of the National Coal Board in 1947. The track at the nearby Stephenson Railway Museum is on the original line of the Seaton Burn Waggonway. This track was also the original test track for the Tyne and Wear Metro.

The waggonways are important corridors for wildlife and are home to a wide variety of birds, mammals and insects. Plant life is also abundant, with many species found synonymous to the waggonways due to the rich mineral content of the soil

Tall hawthorn hedges interspersed with oak, willow and dog rose, line the pathways, providing good habitat for feeding and nestling birds such as dunnock, song thrush, sparrows, blue tit and great tit. Rosebay willow herb, a plant which rapidly colonises bare or waste ground and is often found on railway embankments, can also be seen along the path.

Leading up to Silverfox Way there are mixed woodland plantations of benefit to numerous bird species and small mammals. In springtime look out for cowslips along the edges of the path. Ditches also run along the waggonway with numerous small wetland areas filled with aquatic plants such as soft rush, reedmace, lesser spearwort and marsh marigold. These are important areas for breeding amphibians, as well as damselflies and dragonflies.

Blackfriars History

Once one of the largest friaries in the country, Blackfriars is the only remaining medieval friary in the city and one of Newcastle’s oldest surviving buildings. The Blackfriars occupied the site from the early 13th century until 1539.

The Dominican Order was founded by St Dominic in Italy in 1216 and arrived in England in 1221. Here its followers became known as the Blackfriars. This nickname referred to the black cloaks that Dominican Friars wore over their white tunics.

The Friars were part of a new monastic movement that focused on teaching and preaching in the cities. They were highly educated and excellent preachers. Dominican Friars relied on the charity of people and tended to have more modest monasteries, which were called friaries, than many older monastic orders, such as the Benedictine Monks who lived at Tynemouth Priory.

The original friary was built around 1239 on land that was said to have been donated by three pious sisters, though their names have sadly been forgotten. The building was destroyed by fire in 1248. Two years later the present building was built to replace it and was paid for by Sir Peter Scott, the first mayor of Newcastle and his son Nicholas. The scale and extravagance of the building drew criticism from the general chapter of the Dominican Order and as a consequence the Prior (the head) of Newcastle’s Blackfriars was removed from his post.

In the later 13th century the Town Wall was built through the Friary’s land on the other side of Stowell. In 1280 the Blackfriars were granted the right to make a gate through the wall so they could access the garden on the other side. The blocked up gate can still be seen (the best preserved section of) the Town Wall on Back Stowell Street, behind Chinatown.

Henry V111’s second act of suppression. The Suppression of Religious Houses Act 1539, caused the dissolution of the larger monasteries. At Blackfriars the church was demolished an the rest of the buildings were put into use as meeting rooms for nine craft guilds.

Many of the guilds continued to use the upper floors until the nineteenth century.

The ground floor was used as almshouses for the poor where people lived until 1961. By then the buildings were severely neglected and demolition was a possibility. A campaign to save the buildings resulted in the Newcastle Corporation (now Newcastle City Council) acquiring Blackfriars in the 1960s and subsequently restoring them between 1975 and 1981.

Life in a medieval town could be violent and the friars were not always isolated from this. For example, in 1341 they had to ask the King for the right to rebuild their gates because they had been broken down during a riot in the town. The riot was caused by a fight between the people of Newcastle and certain men of the county of Northumberland. However it seems that not all of the friars lived up to the high ideals of the Order and were not always on the receiving end of such violent behaviour. In 1345 for example, Edward 111 pardoned one of the friars, Adam de Alnwyk, for is part in the death of a local townsman, John de Denton, while in 1390 Richard 11 had to prevent the bestowing of a civic honour on some of the friars because of their misconduct and lack of religious dedication.

In towns, large and important friaries like Blacere quite popular among wealthy people as places to stay. Over the years Blackfriars received numerous royal and noble visits, for which they were usually compensated.

King John’s Palace

In Heaton Park are the ruins of the manor house that Adam of Jesmond, Sherif of Newcastle built around 1260. Despite its name King John never visited the house – he died 50 years before it was finished. Adam was friend and protector to Edward, King John’s grandson.

The House was built during a time of civil war between the Barons and the King. Adam wanted his house and land to be protected, so he gave it thick walls and built it like a small castle. Fortified houses like this could not be built without the King’s permission. Adam was given this as he was a supporter of the King.

Records exist showing Adam became unpopular for embezzlement and extortion and applied to Henry for a licence to enclose, fortify and crenellate his house.

Adam left his house when he joined Prince Edward, as one of his bodyguards, on crusade to the Holy Land. The Prince returned and became King Edward 1, but Adam never came back.

The palace is also known as the Camera of Adam. The main chamber of the house, on the first floor, was called the camera. This is where Adam would have held feasts and entertained his guests.

Very little remains of Adam’s dwelling, just two sides of a square tower with two window openings, but it was probably as large as most fortified houses of the period. The main structure would have angled turrets and battlements surrounded by accommodation for the dependents, stalling for horses and cattle, and stores for harvest produce.

Victorian Waggonway

Path of Victoria Tunnel
Path of Victoria Tunnel

Many people will have walked the streets of Newcastle without ever knowing what lies a few feet beneath them.  The Victoria Tunnel runs beneath Newcastle from the Town Moor down to the Tyne. It was built in 1842 to transport coal from Leazes Main Colliery to riverside staithes ready for loading onto ships.

When it opened in 1835, the Leazes Main or Spital Tongues Colliery was one of the many coal mines around Newcastle. The industrial revolution was in full steam; demand for coal was high and the competition was great.

Initially, the coal was carried on carts from the colliery through the streets of Newcastle to the river, ready for shipping.  This was slow and because of the annual charges involved expensive.  Porter and Latimer, the colliery owners, therefore employed a local engineer, William E. Gilhespie, to construct an underground waggonway.

Permission to build the Tunnel was granted in 1838 and work started the following year.  The Tunnel was probably dug in sections.  The engineers would have excavated a shaft down to the right level, then tunnelled out to link up with the next section.  The walls of the Tunnel were lined in stone and a double brick arch supported the roof.  It is approximately 7ft 5in (2.3m) high and 1.9m wide.  This was just large enough to accommodate custom built chaldron waggons.

Heaton Windmill

This old windmill was sited on the edge of the valley where its sails harnessed the power of the wind. The sails turned the grinding stones, which ground wheat into flour. There was plenty of wheat to be milled, provided by the farmers of Heaton.

For centuries wind and water were used to power a variety of mills and they played an important role in the economy. Windmills built from stone or brick and topped with a wooden cap for the sails, were once common on Tyneside

Gradually windmills declined as bigger mills powered by steam engines appeared.

By 1844 this mill was a ruin and the surrounding countryside was beginning to change. the farms disappeared to make way for more housing for shipyard and factory workers

In 1827 there were 49 windmills, 12 watermills and 18 steam mills in and around Newcastle.

Ouseburn Village Green

Location: Ouseburn Village Green

The Village Green was originally a place to live, being the site of a tenement and a number of houses for over a century. commemorative plaques have been attached to the railings and granite seating area to recall this heritage.

The old properties were demolished before the War and for many years Village Green served as an informal beer garden for the Ship Inn. Over the years the seating and assorted tables deteriorated in quality, whilst the bank lost much of its grass and became unsightly. The re-landscaping of Village Green was designed to reverse this decline.

The lower half of Village Green is designed to act as an open piazza, with increased seating space facing onto an open performance space at the top of the slipway leading down to the river. This was achieved through the use of granite to provide seating that will stand up both to the weather and to regular use. This seating is tiered both to provide uninterrupted views of the musicians who gather here during the Ouseburn carnival.

The upper level was returfed and planted with shrubs and trees to act as a screen along Lime Street.

New tables, seats and a litter bin were installed. These seats have been named after flowers that can also be girls names, and each has a decorative insert to reflect the historical association of the area with the white lead works, one of which stood directly opposite Village Green.

The decoration of the seating is one of four pieces of work commissioned from artists to enhance the creative character of the landscaping.

The entrance to Village Green is framed by towers of stainless steel bowls, similar in size and appearance to the earthenware bowls used in the old white lead trade. The photograph shows these bowls being stacked by some of the women that worked in that terrible trade.

The same artist supplied the circular discs inset into the surface of the riverside walkway. These also reflect the heritage of the area in their choice of subject matter.

In the doorway to the chimney adjacent to Village Green you can find artists impression of what the people who lived here during the last 100 years might have wished or believed. How much of this is true we will never know.

Heritage Panels – Site Map

It’s surprising just how many Heritage Panels there are scattered around the City of Newcastle, some of these panels are in great condition, others not so. The Panels contain a wealth of information, many of the Panels are relatively unknown, some of them no longer exist. Hopefully they won’t all disappear. This sitemap shows all the Heritage Panels and Plaques listed on this web site and provides links to them all.

Information Panels

Palace of Arts – Exhibition Park

Palace of Arts Exhibition Park

The building was originally named the Palace of Arts, and was first used to house art work from across the world at the 1929 North East Coast Exhibition. The North East Coast Exhibition was planned as a tribute to the region’s skills and industry. the intention of the exhibition was to show the world wha the north east was capable of producing. It was also aimed at being an antidote to the recession of the 1920s but by the time the Exhibition closed the North East was affected by the full blown effects of the depression.

The Lord Mayor of Newcastle Upon Tyne, Sir Arthur Lambert, was elected Chairman of the North East Coast Exhibition Committee in 1927. Sir Arthur Lambert and other organizers wanted to showcase the success of north east engineering to established clients and to find new ones. The ethos of the exhibition was to endeavor to bring new industries to provide work for the large numbers of unemployed in the region. The exhibition ran for six months and gave endless pleasure to almost 5 million people before closing with a huge fireworks display.

The Palace of Arts was designed by W. & T. R. Milburn Architects of Sunderland. The building is made from reinforced concrete and is one of the earliest examples of this. Because the building was designed to house important works of art from across the world, it was structurally stronger than the majority of other temporary exhibition buildings. Work was carried out in 2014 to stabilise the Palace of Arts structurally.

The majority of the temporary buildings were also designed by W. & T. R. Milburn and were formed from compressed asbestos. the Marketing Board Pavillion was the only building to be designed by different architects. This was due to it being sponsored by the government and being designed in-house by a government architect.

The Palace of Arts is a Grade II listed building, and the only remaining building built fro the 1929 North East Coast Exhibition. A ‘listed building’ is a building, object or structure that has been judged to be of national importance in terms of architectural or historical interest. The building or structure is added to a special register, called the List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historical Interest.

The Palace of Arts was an integral part of the Tyneside Summer Exhibitions from the 1960s until 1987. From the 1980s to 2006 the building was home to the Military vehicle Museum which closed due to the buildings deteriorating condition.

The Tyneside Society of Model and Experimental Engineers is a well established group who celebrated their 70th anniversary in 2014. Permission was granted in 1948 for the erection of a passenger carrying railway in Exhibition Park. It was opened by Lord the Mayor on 12th May 1951 and the completed railway was some 00 feet in length. 50 feet was removed in 1960 to accommodate the “Turbinia” extension to the Science Museum. The track was re-laid with a reduced length of 647 feet in 1962. Since its opening, the railway has given enjoyment to countless generations of members, local residents and visitors to Exhibition Park

Ouseburn Culvert

Heritage Panel – Ouseburn Culvert – (Missing 2017)

You are standing at the south end of the Ouseburn Culvert, the concrete chamber that allows the Ouseburn to flow beneath the public landfill now known as City Stadium. Before 1907, this area was a steep-sided valley that divided the east end districts of Newcastle from the town centre. The landfill was supposed to support new roads and houses. The houses were never built but the culvert was used as an air raid shelter for many local residents during World War 11.

Culvert Construction: In 1904, Newcastle Corporation secured permission to enclose the Ouseburn in a ferro-concrete culvert, 700 metres in length. Work on this major engineering project began in 1907.

Old industries like the Ouseburn Lead Works were demolished, then an arch of concrete, reinforced with a skeleton of steel rods was built around a temporary wooden frame. Everything was then buried beneath the infamous Ouseburn Tip. Up to 30 metres of household waste and coal ashes were dumped on the open ground above the culvert over a forty year period. On hot summer days this mixture would self- combust causing localised fires and lots of smoke.

For some people the Ouseburn Tip was a boon. Local residents would scavenge for rags, metal and other valuables, that they could sell, or shoes and clothes that their families could wear. This was known locally as ‘scrannin on the tip’, and the many pieces of broken china and pottery collected by a generation of children was known as ‘boody’ and used as a form of coinage.

Air Raid Precautions: In 1939, the culvert was converted into an air raid shelter. This $11,251 scheme involved adding a concrete platform inside the culvert. The Ouseburn continued to flow beneath the platform, while lighting, protective blast walls, benches and bunk beds were added in the space above to create temporary accommodation for 3000 local residents. People accessed the shelter from steps built into the tip. You can still see part of the culvert arch, but the remains of the war time entrance is under the floor of the riding area.

City Stadium: The Ouseburn Tip could not support the housing originally planned by Newcastle Corporation, and in 1961, Councillor T. Dan Smith proposed that the area be used as a sports stadium, to be completed in time for the Empire Games of 1966. These plans never materialised. Today a much smaller arena allows pony riding in front of the culvert, whilst the tip itself is an open expanse of grass and trees.

Riverside Industries

Ouseburn Information Panels
Ouseburn Information Panels

In the 1820s the channel of the Ouseburn was deepened by the removal of sand and the banks were strengthened by the construction of a quay wall. This wall absorbs some of the water whilst holding the river-bank in place when the tide recedes. In 2003, the wall was strengthened by adding a concrete parapet.

Opposite stand the remains of large engine house. Like the quay wall it is made of sandstone. This stone has been cut and shaped to support machinery and timber flooring. The thick stone walls supported a beam engine. This engine powered machines that could spin flax fibres to make linen for sail cloth and canvas. A flax spinning mill stood on this site from the 1830s to the 1850s.

In 1871, a white lead works was built on the site. Paint and pigments were made here until the 1960s. A sign for the Northumberland Lead Works survives.

A later flax spinning mill survives as the Cluny Warehouse, so called because it was used from the 1930s to distill whiskey, the bars on the window are from this period. Originally built in 1848, it became a flour mill in 1860. New warehouses were added in the 1870s. You can identify these warehouses because they were built using bricks, in contrast to the stone used for the Mill. Note how these buildings stand on top of the quay wall, facing onto the river.

Crossing and Docking

Ouseburn Information Panels
Ouseburn Information Panels

This crossing point was originally a ford. It was one of the oldest crossing points on the Ouseburn, and was probably in use from Roman times.

The ford is now a slipway but at low tide you can see granite paving laid end-on to form a smooth surface through the cobbles. Originally there were two rows of paving, laid parallel to make a smooth surface wide enough for a horse-drawn cart or wagon. The lowest part of this trackway has a rut in it, created by many years of wear from steel rimmed wheels of fully laden wagons.

Barges known as wherries sailed up the river on the incoming tide. They brought heavy cargos such as coal and grain to be unloaded into waiting wagons, which were then hauled up the ford by a horse or a pony.

There was also a docking facility, just big enough for a wherry. This sock was built in the 1830’s on the east side of the ford, near where the footbridge now sits. It dated from the 1830s, was discovered in january 2004 by workers repairing the river wall. The dock wall still has a mooring ring attached to it, to allow wherries to be held in position when the water level dropped with the outgoing tide. The green stain on the wall opposite indicates how deep the water is at high tide.

Procters Warehouse Seven Stories

Procters Warehouse, Seven Stories
Procters Warehouse, Seven Stories

This magnificent seven-storey warehouse dates from the 1870s and is one of the finest examples of industrial architecture in the lower Ouseburn.  The warehouse was used to store grain and flour from the adjoining flour mill. The owners Messers Proctor & Sons, had converted an empty flax mill, originally designed by John Dobson and built in 1847-48. The two buildings together make a major contribution to the historic environment of the Ouseburn. both buildings face onto the river, with their rear elevation on Lime Street. because of the steep bank, the entrance on Lime Street is higher than the level sitting on the quay wall.

The original architect’s drawings show a number of features that still characterise the building today. These include cast iron columns on each floor, and the distinctive frontage to Lime Street.

Looking at the warehouse, you can see how it has been designed to fin the bend in the river so that sacks of grain could be raised from loaded wherries to any level of the building. This cargo was replaced with sacks of finished flour that were taken on the turn of the tide. It is still possible to see the location of the winch that once raided and lowered these heavy sacks.

The renovation of the historic building was completed in 2005 when all seven floors were brought back into use as a home for Seven Stories, the Center for Children’s Books. Seven Stories is where our rich heritage of children’s books is collected, explored and celebrated. It is the only place in the UK that actively collects material by British Children’s writers and illustrators. Visitors to Seven Stories enjoy exhibitions, performances, events and activities that reveal the working lives of authors and illustrators and the wonderful stories they tell,

Sea Song Sang is the Seven Stories boat. It was built by artist and boat builder Andy Comley. Andy and children from nine schools in North East England imagined a magical story boat and the journeys it might take. It is built from recycled materials and is solar powered.