Armstrong Blue Plaque – High Bridge

William George Armstrong’s water-powered rotary engine was built here at Henry Watson’s works, 1838. Inventor, engineer, scientist and businessman, Armstrong employed 25,000 people at his Elswick works.

Armstrong Plaque - High Bridge
Armstrong Plaque – High Bridge

Cattle Run – Armstrong Park

Cattle Run Information Panel
Cattle Run Information Panel

In 1870 fewer than 400 people lived in Heaton, in just 76 houses, it was a small village surrounded by open country side growing crops and herding cattle was the way of life before the village began to expand in the 1880s for centuries cattle had been drive down to pasture by the River Ouseburn from the fields above the valley. The cutting below follows the line of the old cattle which cut through Lord Armstrong’s estate.

The path you are on was the main carriage way through the woods to Jesmond Dene.  When William Armstrong was given this land he had a deeper path dug, so that the cattle could follow the old track and be kept away from visitors and their carriages.

William Armstrong was an inventor, engineer and industrialist.  His factories built bridges, cranes, guns and warships on the Tyne.

He was a dab hand at using construction materials from his own engineering projects and he often used these on his country estates.

As you look down the cattle run, notice how it is lined with sandstone blocks like those used on Victorian Railway Bridges.

Armstrong’s Waterfall – Jesmond Dene

Jesmond Waterfall Information Panel
Jesmond Waterfall Information Panel

Lord Armstrong created many water features throughout Jesmond Dene as part of his landscaping, features which we can enjoy to this day…. He added new ponds and built rapids, weirs and waterfalls to bring movement to the river.

His biggest project was the creation of this waterfall and the deep gorge you can see downstream. Explosives were used to blast out rock and the stone was used to build up the sides of the waterfall.

There is a sluice gate behind it which could open and close to change the flow of water.

Armstrong aimed to sculpt the river, creating dramatic features that looked natural. However if you look closely at the stone below the mill you might spot the joins where the rocks were cemented together.

After heavy rains torrents of water rush down the falls filling the valley with sound.

Tucked away near the waterfall Armstrong made a grotto from an old quarry. The grotto was designed to give the visitor an experience of underground mystery.

Armstrong Works

“Their size, their completeness, their tremendous productive energy, their variety of blast furnaces, foundaries, machine shops and chemical laboratories, teeming with human life, reverberating with the shriek of steam, the clang of hammers, and the whirr of machinery, overhung by a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night, presents a picture of concentrated economic activity which overwhelms and astonishes the average observer.”
(R.W. Johnson, The Making of the Tyne,1895)

Armstrong’s huge industrial complex began with the construction of four buildings at the western end of the site. The main machine shop with its boiler house and the smiths’ shop were built north of the railway line which dissected the site, whilst the erecting shop and the Company offices were situated in the South. The design of the machine shop, using solid masonry, brick arches, cast iron columns, girders and beams gave an almost ecclesiastical appearance to this main building.

Whilst the rest of the original buildings and many of the later ones were of a more functional appearance, the survival of the nearby arched arcade reflects the architecture of the earliest buildings of this site. The surviving structure formed part of the projectile shop within the works, and the range of arches contained chutes and machinery which allowed materials to be passed from one level to another.”

Armstrong Works
Armstrong Works

Ships for the World

The name Elswick became synonymous with naval technology and shipbuilding. the opening of Elswock Shipyard, which stood on this site, was the culmination of the creation of an industrial empire. Armstrong entered into shipbuilding by cooperating with C.W. Mitchell’s yard at Walker in the construction of a gunboat for the Admiralty in 1868. This followed in 1882 by the amalgamation of the two firms as Sir W. G. Armstrong, Mitchell & Co and two years later by the opening of the Elswick yard.

The Walker yard was left to concentrate on the building of merchant ships, whilst at Elswick warships were built and armed. The awesome output of fighting ships which took place in the following thirty years produced some of the most prestigious and terrifying ships of war the world has ever seen. Beginning with two cruisers the Panther and the Leopard – for the Austro-Hungarian Navy, and then the mighty British ironclad battleship, the Victoria, the yard produced a wealth of ships for the navies of the world.

Of the many countries which came to Elswick for its ships, perhaps the most significant was Japan. In the years from 1895 to 1905 virtually the whole Japanese navy, including the cruiser Asama, was built on the Tyne. The great naval battles of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904/5 were fought with huge numbers of Tyneside ships and Elswick guns.

A close bond developed between the North East and Japan. When two of Japan’s finest Elswick-built ships, the Hatsuse and the Yashima, were tragically lost in 1904, the whole of Tyneside mourned. Following Japan’s naval victories in this war, their successful and highly respected admiral Togo visited Elswick to see for himself where his powerful navy had been produced.

In its three decades of existence, the Elswick Yard produced a total of 84 warships.

Ships for the World
Ships for the World

Lord Armstrong

William George Armstrong, son of Alderman William Armstrong, corn merchant, was born on November 26th, 1810 at 9. Pleasant Row, Shieldfield, Newcastle. Although trained for the legal profession and practising as a solicitor until the age of 37, his real interest lay in machinery and engineering.

As a young man he visited Watson’s Engineering Works in High Bridge daily and developed his ideas on hydraulics and the generation of electricity. His ideas gained the backing of a number of monied and influential businessmen who in 1845 launched Armstrong into his engineering career. Inside two years he had successfully demonstrated his invention of the hydraulic crane, left his solicitors office, founded a new company to manufacture machinery and bought five and a half acres of land as a site for his works here at Elswick.

The development of Armstrong’s work from making buildings to making hydraulic machinery, to a 230 acre site (four times larger than the modern Business Park) with a workforce of over 20,000 was the pre-eminent industrial achievement of Victorian Tyneside. Armstrong’s own status and influence grew in parallel. Following his invention of the Armstrong gun, he was made engineer to the War Department.

As Sir William, he guided his company into its greatest period of expansion and prosperity, but gradually as he approached his seventieth year, he withdrew from active participation in business, and concentrated on the construction of his country retreat “Cragside” near Rothbury in Northumberland. The house was designed by Richard Norman Shaw a leading architect of the day and set in a huge landscaped estate of trees, bushes, plants, lakes, diverted streams and waterfalls.

Raised to the peerage in 1887, Lord Armstrong, with his wife Margaret, spent his final years at Cragside in well-earned tranquility. He died in 1900 after a life of outstanding achievement.

Lord Armstrong
Lord Armstrong

Armstrong Gun

“The Armstrong Gun, the Armstrong Gun,
What a wonderful thing is the Armstrong Gun,
Sir William’s invention astonisht them all,
Wi’ a bolt for a shot instead of a ball.

Nae spungin’ or rammin’ or servin’ the vent,
Such things are no needed to serve its intent,
In a neat little chamber breech end of the bore,
Place the powder and shot and away let it roar.”
(From a poem by an Elswick employee of the 1850s)

William Armstrong’s interest in the production of armaments sprang from an incident in the Crimean War in 1855, when British field guns weighing over two tons each had to be slowly pulled by hand up the steep Heights of Inkermanamid a huge loss of life.

Many of the features of the field gun which Armstrong developed after this event had been considered previously, but it was the thoroughness and ingenuity of the man which brought them together to produce a lightweight, accurage field gun which revolutionalised the manufacture of armaments and the way in which wars were fought.

Newcastle Business Park

The refurbished structure upon which you are standing was once part of the projectile shop at the Armstrong Works Elswick. It forms the centrepiece of the best business park development in the north east of England, a joint venture between Drybart Development (Tyne & Wear) Limited and Tyne and Wear Development Corporation.

In the middle of the nineteenth century the view west for this spot, just two miles from the centre of Newcastle Upon Tyne would have been sheep grazed pastures. By 1860 William Armstrong, a local solicitor, inventor and manufacturer, had transformed the area into one of Britain’s most important industrial sites.

In 1867 Armstrong decided to build warships as well as making equipment for vessels built by others, He entered into agreements with Charles Mitchell’s ship building yard down the river Tyne at Walker and in 1884 a ship yard in the name of Sir W. G. Armstrong, Mitchell and Co. Ltd

The connection with Walker Naval Yard is celebrated by the Armstrong coat of arms and Neptune’s head which appear on the reverse of this plaque. They were recovered from the Walker Naval Yard when it closed in 1985.

In 1981 Vickers Armstrong finally left the site. Subsequently a derelict mile-long riverside frontage was reclaimed to a 25 hectare complex of low density, high specification offices amongst extensive landscaping,

Names of roads and buildings on the site echo its history. The main thoroughfare on the Newcastle Business Park is known as William Armstrong Drive. All the remaining road, and the majority of the buildings were named after vessels launched from the site from 1885 until shipbuilding ceased here in 1981.

Armstrong Works

In the middle of the nineteenth century the view west for this spot, just two miles from the centre of Newcastle Upon Tyne would have been sheep grazed pastures. By 1860 William Armstrong, a local solicitor, inventor and manufacturer, had transformed the area into one of Britain’s most important industrial sites.

Armstrong Monument – William Hamo Thornycroft (1906)

When the swing bridge was opened in 1876 it was the largest of its kind in the world. The first ship to go through took delivery of the largest gun in the world, which was unloaded by the largest hydraulic crane in the world. Cranes and Guns designed and built in Elswick.

Cragside, Armstrong’s house was the first house powered by electricity, from hydro electric power. Lord Armstrong gave Newcastle, Jesmond Dene, one of its most beautiful parks.

Particularly interesting for the two plaques underneath.

Cragside, Armstrong’s house was the first house powered by electricity, from hydro electric power. Lord Armstrong gave Newcastle, Jesmond Dene, one of its most beautiful parks.

Banqueting Hall

The Banqueting Hall is being restored by the Tyne & Wear Building Preservation Trust. The Hall was still being used for events and weddings as recently as the late seventies. Archive photos tend to feature warmly dresses diners,indicating low temperatures. A 1959 picture shows a 20 foot picture of Prince Hal, current whereabouts unknown. The Hall was built because Lord Armstrong’s dining room was not large enough. The Hall originally featured a water powered organ, water supplied courtesy of Paddy Freeman Park, visitors to Cragside in Northumberland will be familiar with Lord Armstrong’s penchant for pioneering hydroelectric schemes.

To get to the Banqueting Hall from Jesmond Dene, follow the road past the assorted peacocks and pot-bellied pigs, walk along with the river on your left until you see the aptly named Banqueting Hall Bridge. Climb up the stairs and cross over then follow the path to the left which leads up to Lord Armstrong’s Banqueting Hall, built by John Dobson in 1860.

For many years Lord Armstrong lived in a house overlooking Jesmond Dene but as his success and fame grew he needed a hall big enough to entertain his many guests. He hosted evenings for his workers here as well as visitors from across the world.

Armstrong's Banqueting Hall
Armstrong’s Banqueting Hall

The building was designed by John Dobson, the Newcastle architect famed for designing much of the centre of the City in the 1800s. The building was added to in 1870 with a gatehouse designed by the architect Norman Shaw.

In 1884, a royal ceremony was held to mark the gift of Jesmond Dene to the people of Newcastle Upon Tyne. Prince Albert Edward, eldest son of Queen Victoria, and his wife Alexander were guests of Lord Armstrong.

A turkey oak was planted by Princess Alexandra behind the Hall, which you can still see today.

Armstrong Bridge

Armstrong Bridge was designed by William Armstrong and built at his Elswick Works on the Tyne, it has a span of 168 metres (552 feet).  The Bridge took two years to build and was opened in 1876 at a cost of £30,000. When it was finished Armstrong gave it to the people of Newcastle along with the Park, it was used by pedestrians, horses and later on cars.

The bridge affords magnificent views of Jesmond Dene which was another of the great mans lasting legacies. It is said that Lady Armstrong took pity on horses toiling up Benton Bank, pulling carts laden with coal or market produce and suggested a high level bridge to her husband. A bridge was built at the Elswick Works, opened in 1878 and later presented to the borough.

Motor traffic was stopped in 1963 and after pedestrianisation a market was established. A delightful arts and craft market, held here regularly on Sunday mornings, continues to this day.


Armstrong Bridge
Armstrong Bridge

Lady Armstrong

Lady and Lord Armstrong, had no children, they gave large sums of money to the RVI, the Hancock Museum and of course, donated Jesmond Dene to the City.

Lady Armstrong was a very keen botanist and was largely responsible for Jesmond Dene which was the Armstrongs back garden, before they gave it to the city.

The Dene was a semi industrial woodland until they enclosed it, built waterfalls, rock pools and planted shrubs and trees, a lot of work was done under her guidence, before it was opened as a park by the then Prince of Wales.

Lady Armstrong gave some of her fossile collections to the Great North Museum, collections which are still in there today.

Great North - Hancock Museum
Great North – Hancock Museum

Swing Bridge

The largest opening bridge of its kind when it was opened in 1876, its hydraulic opening action was originally driven by steam pumps but these were replaced with electric pumps in 1959.  The bridge was needed because the small arches of the old stone bridge prevented large, sea-going vessels access to Lord Armstrong’s expanding Elswick Works. Lord Armstrong built not only Newcastle’s Swing Bridge but the hydraulic mechanism that operates London’s Tower Bridge.

IMG_04041891-1991 Centenary Award for Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement The Tyne Bridges Landmarks which was become The Symbols of Tyneside

Lord Armstrong built Newcastle’s Swing Bridge and the hydraulic mechanism that operates London’s Tower Bridge. Constructed on the site of the Roman and medieval bridges which crossed the Tyne at this point. During its construction, two Roman altars were dredged from the river. Dedicated to Neptune and Oceanus, they probably belonged to a shrine built to protect the Roman bridge from the Tyne’s tides.

Swing Bridge. Built: 1868-76

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Swing Bridge, River Tyne - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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