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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You are standing on the site of Ouseburn Bridge Pottery, established by Robert Maling in 1817. Maling & Sons became the largest pottery on Tyneside. This site was the first of three pottery works established by the firm in the Ouseburn area. Today nothing remains of this factory.
The kilns lining the wall behind you date from a later enterprise, the glass bottle works of Liddle-Henzell, operating from this site between the 1880s and the 1930s. This was the last of Ouseburn’s once numerous glass works. The kilns were used to burn coal at very high temperatures, the hot vapour being drawn upwards to larger kilns and melting pots in which the glass was actually formed. The bricks for the kilns were made by the Snowball Firebrick Works at Dertwenthaugh in Gateshead.
Opposite stands the former Livestock Sanitorium, so-called because sheep and cattle imported from Scandinavia were held there for twelve hours before being confirmed by an inspector to be suitable for slaughter.
This huge site was developed in the 1870s. The two-storey building sited immediately north of the river was built in 1877 to hold 635 cattle and 3,000 sheep. By 1900 much of the meat imported from overseas was refrigerated, and the Ouseburn Sanitorium no longer needed.
The photographs (plaque), show the Liddle-Henzells’ glass bottle works and a view of the Ouseburn Bridge with livestock sanitorium on the left. Both are from the collection of Newcastle Local Studies.
This is one of the busiest sites on the Lower Ouseburn, Barges, known as wherries, are being unloaded and their cargo of coal transferred to waiting horse-drawn wagons known as block-carts. These wagons are high sided to take the loose coal carried by the wherries. A smooth granite trackway ensured that they had a gently climb up the slipway and out to Lime Street. This trackway survives to this day.
The Wherry in the foreground is being loaded with waste material from the Ouseburn Iron Works. In the 1870s the Ouseburn Engine Works also operated from this side of the river. The men and boys who worked on the wherries were called watermen. They were highly skilled at navigating their barges up and down on the tide, and loading and unloading heavy goods and materials.
The slipway is shown on maps as early as 1838. Today it is used to repair pleasure boats. Some of these boats started life as ship’s lifeboats. Like old wherries, many are clinker-built, a traditional method using over-lapping planks of wood. A photograph shows the slipway in the 1950s.
Above the slipway runs Lime Street, so called because a large lime kiln operated here in the 1820s. By the 1890s Lime Street was lined with houses and shops. Most of these were demolished in the 1930s.”
The Lower Ouseburn Valley has more than its fair share of information panels or plaques. There are nine listed here, all of which are next to the river and can be found easily by anyone walking on the riverside path. Some of the panels have been damaged or are difficult to read, the textual contents of each panel has been reproduced here.
The site opposite was developed in the 1870’s as a location where livestock (cattle, sheep and pigs) imported from overseas could be held for twelve hours before being released to local markets. When these imports declined in the early 1900s, the large multi-storey building opposite was converted for use as a Maynards toffee works.
You can see the chimney is made of lighter, newer bricks than the original building and probably dates from 1906 when the toffee works began operation. The firm of Maynards had recently merged with a local confectionary maker called John Vose, and their new toffee works at Ouse Street was a feature of this area until the early 1970s. Their elegant chimney continues to be a landmark to this day, despite the damage caused by a severe fire in the 1990s.
For over 200 years the banks of the Ouseburn have been extended into the river, and from the 1820s a quay wall was built to support riverside industries. The 1868 Ordnance Survey shows corn mills and brick works once occupied this site.
The Glasshouse Bridge connects City Road with Walker Road and dates from 1878. It derives its name from the extensive glass works that dominated the shore of the Tyne east of the Ouseburn front he 1640s to the early 1900s.
All these industries relied on the ships and barges navigating the rivers Tyne and Ouseburn. The importance of this maritime activity is reflected in the name of the local public house, look closely at the window and you will see that its original name was the Ship Tavern.
The former Maynards toffee factory now has 24 office units varying in size between 500sq ft and 800sq ft, units aimed at the commercial creative market such as graphic designers, software engineers and architects. The building is home to 160 staff.
The remaining walls and floors of the existing Victorian building were preserved. The factory, which was under threat of demolition 10 years ago, is a throwback to when the Ouseburn Valley was at the heart of Tyneside’s industrial revolution.
The Toffee Factory is the first phase of a wider vision to regenerate the Lower Ouseburn. By attracting digital and creative types to one place it is hoped there will be real benefits to businesses that are already in the area but just a little more spread out. The benefits of having like-minded companies close to each other are well documented. The hope is to make a big impact in a relatively short period of time.
The Ouseburn flows for fourteen kilometres from its source near Callerton north-west of Newcastle to this point where it joins the River Tyne. William Grey, writing in 1649, describes ‘the Ewes Burn, over which is a wooden bridge, which goeth down to a place called Glasse Houses where plaine glasse for windowes are made’.
The wooden bridge later replaced by one made of stone. In the drawing can be seen this old bridge stood just in front of the Ship Tavern now the Tyne public house. In 1908 the stone bridge was replaced by an existing low-level bridge. The photograph opposite shows the old bridge being demolished and the larger Glasshouse Bridge, built in 1878.
The mouth of the Ouseburn was a mooring point for the barges, called wherries, that used the tidal action of the River Tyne to navigate up and down the Ouseburn. In the drawing, a waterman is pictured using a pole to steer a fully laden wherry on its journey out of the Ouseburn into the Tyne
On the far side of the Ouseburn stood the River Police Station and the Dead House, where bodies found in the Tyne were laid out for identification. These buildings were demolished in 1906.
Ballast Hills Cemetery was a burial ground for non conformists who had to be hurried outside the church walls. There were a lot of plague victims buried there with the earliest burial taking place in the Plague year of 1609.
As the name suggests the graves were dug in what was a Ballast Hill – the Ballast coming from ships on the nearby Tyne. In C17 Gray Observed, ‘where women upon their head carried ballist which was take forth of small ships, which cam empty for coals’ adding ‘the Ballast Hill were used for the drying of cloths’ as well as general recreation.
The graveyard was formalised in 1785 with a wall being built and charges being made for burials. The last burial was in 1853 when it was closed because of a cholera outbreak.
It was turned into a kids playground in the 1930s and the grave stones layed out as a path. Those of former non conformist ministers, still stand near the back of the school.
Natural weathering means many of the inscriptions are becoming illegible. However the monumental inscriptions were recorded when the cemetery was converted into a park. The majority of headstones were recycled in two ways,they were used as paving stones, with the inscription being placed face down or used as the base stone in oven ranges in some Tyneside Flats.
Known locally as to Grannies Park either because a ghost called granny haunts the park or that it was simply a park that grandmothers took the kids to play.
The sandstone ruin, inscribed ‘Northumberland Lead Works’, is easy to miss, standing in the middle of a garden surrounded by vegetables and plants, in the middle of the Ouseburn Farm
The sandstone ruin is one of many reminders of Ouseburn’s harsh industrial past. It once housed a steam engine that drove the spinning machines of a nineteenth century flax mill. In 1871, the site was taken over by the Northumberland Lead Works, and the engine was used to power heavy grinders that crushed white lead into a fine powder. White lead is a toxic but once common pigment in paint and varnish. A significant number of the workers employed here became ill or died, and the land was contaminated for many years.
For centuries white lead was mixed with oil to create an opaque paint that easily covered over marks and mistakes. Demand and therefore production increased throughout the second half of the nineteenth century. Newcastle was a major centre of white lead production in Britain and this site was one of several lead works in the city.
The process of creating white lead was surprisingly primitive. This sheets of white lead were laid between up to twelve layers of earthenware bowls insulated with wood bark. The bowls contained ascetic acid, which evaporated over time and corroded the lead to produce a blue paste This lead paste was then dried in large stoves to create a dry white carbonate that could be ground into a fine powder and packed for distribution.
‘Some of them gets lead-poisoned soon and some of them gets lead-poisoned later, and some, but not many, niver, and tis’ according to the constitooshuns is strong and some is weak’. Charles Dickens, the Unconstitutional Traveller, Ch34.
Lead-poisoning develops through exposure, as blood levels become too high. Factory workers constantly breathed in the deadly dust which drifted in the air like fine snow. Sufferers often developed headaches, anemia, ‘wrist drop’ – a weakness of the muscles , and a tell tale bluish line around their gums.
Victorians were aware of the dangers of lead poisoning , but it was just one of the countless causes of premature death. Women like eighteen year old Lizzie Dawson, unskilled and with family to support, were grateful for work that paid relatively well and included meals. They often worked for short stretches of time and many took little notice of the recommended health and safety measures.
Lizzie died at her home in Lime Street in 1891. The inquest confirmed that she had lead poisoning. The press at the time reported dozens of similar deaths which provoked a popular campaign to address the problem. In 1900, working conditions were improved, the old drying stones were abolished and the lead works were banned from employing women.
The Northumberland Lead Works continued as Elder Walker Paint Works until the 1960s. Today, this site is part of the Ouseburn Farm, an environmental education and training centre.