Akenside Hill and All Saints Church

All Saints Church and Akenside Hill
All Saints Church and Akenside Hill

All Saints Church was built in the years from 1786 to 1796 by the architect David Stephenson. Sir John Betjeman, the former Poet Laureate, described it as one of the finest Georgian churches in the country. It has a magnificent elliptical auditorium and splendid classical pillars. A church has stood on this site since the twelfth century, the medieval All Hallows’ Church giving way to the present church. The building was used as a place of worship until 1959.

Akenside Hill was once the principle link between Pilgrim Street and Sandhill and the Quayside. It was previously known as Butcher Bank. There had once been 33 butchers shops in the Quayside area and Butcher’s Bank was the centre of the trade. In the early nineteenth century, one historian reported that the Lort Burn (which was later filled in to form Dean Street), had become a vast nauseous hollow as a result of the butchers disposing of offal in the stream.

On Butcher Bank was the birthplace of Mark Akenside, the son of one of the butchers on the steep street. Born in 1721 he later attended the Royal Free Grammar School and became a leading poet and physician. Different historians’ views on his merits, however, vary considerably.

R J Charlton said of him that “His character is not a pleasant one to dwell upon… his appearance is described as unpromising, if not grotesque… he had no sense of humour, was peevish and sententious and took a joke very ill. He is said to have been ashamed of his native place, so that “he would sneak through Newcastle when occasion called him thither”. Despite his reported faults his name lives on in the name of Akenside Hill and Akenside House, built in 1912 to the design of Marshall and Tweedy. Whilst Akenside’s birthplace survived the Great Fire of 1854, it was swept away in the great changes which took place around the Quayside following the construction of the Swing Bridge in the 1870s.