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Historic Newcastle: A tour of some of the city’s most iconic buildings

posted by Chris Valentine

Architecture is one of the most defining features in many of the UK’s major cities, and the diversity that each location boasts has a legacy which stretches back centuries. Knocking buildings down comes at a cost to everyone, and construction sites can become something of an eyesore when they spring up in our bustling city centres. So, it’s great when a building that was created centuries ago finds a new lease of life away from its original purpose and can continue to serve the public.

We’re taking a tour through the vibrant city of Newcastle Upon Tyne, exploring the origins of some of the most historic buildings.

Blackfriars

The Blackfriars site dates back to 1239, and the picturesque cottage style building was once the rectory of a friary. The building was home to the ‘Black friars’ and built on land donated by three sisters. The building itself was funded by Sir Peter Scott, the first Mayor of Newcastle.

The friars would tend to the gardens surrounding the priory, which helped to sustain the work of the nearby infirmary with the diverse array of thriving plant life. As well as providing shelter for the friars, the priory housed King Henry III as the town had no inn at the time for royalty. Payment for his stay came in the form of white cloth, which covered both his stay and the damage caused by his retinue!

The gifted white cloth provided tunics for the friars, which were worn with traditional black cloaks. It is said that this outfit inspired the black and white football strip of Newcastle United.

Following King Henry VIII’s decree that all monasteries be closed, the building sadly fell into disrepair. The priory lost everything, and the church was demolished. Only the non-religious buildings of the cloisters remain. The friary’s former refectory survived and is now used as an 80-seat restaurant, believed to be the oldest dining room in the UK.

Sallyport Tower

Erected between 1265-1307, the first purpose of Sallyport Tower was to defend Newcastle’s city walls. Though the top part was destroyed by a Scottish siege in 1644, it was restored in 1716 for its second use as a meeting place for the Shipwright’s and Carpenter’s Guild.

The tower is often inadvertently overlooked by the people of Newcastle, despite it being a notably distinctive site. As such, when photographer Kevin Radcliffe acquired the ancient building in 2015, he dubbed it ‘The Secret Tower’ and transformed its space into a gallery and an area for photoshoots in-between event bookings, such as weddings.

The Sallyport Tower opens twice a year for public admission, as a part of the Heritage Open Days calendar.

The Royal Station Hotel

Stay the night at one of the most historic hotels that Newcastle offers, The Royal Station Hotel is arguably one of the most iconic buildings in the region. The hotel has had many famous guests, including Laurel and Hardy, Laurence Olivier, and Muhammad Ali. But perhaps the most famous hand to grace the doors of the hotel was that of Queen Victoria, who opened the premises in 1850. This standout building makes it one of the most striking hotel Newcastle has to offer, and naturally, it has become a top pick wedding venue as well, with its ornate structures making for the perfect romantic scene.

The site is a Grade I and Grade II listed building, yet it holds many modern facilities which would surprise anyone observing the traditional exterior. From an indoor swimming pool, fitness centre, sauna, hot tub, and free Wi-Fi facilities, The Royal Station Hotel is a must visit for anyone venturing up to the toon.

The Toffee Factory

Nowadays, the Toffee Factory is a quirky office building full of creative businesses, but can you guess what it started life as?

The answer is fairly obscure, as it was in fact a cattle sanatorium. Perhaps not what you were expecting.

The striking U-shaped building that is now the Toffee Factory was constructed in 1878 after the original buildings for the sanatorium were built in 1877. The reason for this apparent extension and expansion of the original buildings is unclear, with theories tending to fall on it being a place to slaughter diseased animals, or a simple need to increase storage capacity.

Following a foot and mouth endemic in 1893, along with progress made in refrigerated transport capabilities, the sanatorium fell out of use. They enjoyed a brief stint as a timber yard and saw-mill business, and the original sanatorium buildings were used by R Steenberg & Son from 1903 onwards for warehousing and the storage of goods such as lard and canned food. The company operated for many years, eventually moving out in the early 1990s.

The original building was demolished, the U-shaped build that would later become the Toffee Factory. Maynard’s Ltd leased the building from 1906, producing all kinds of sweets; beyond Maynard’s Toffee, the factory produced:

  • Acid Drops — boiled sweets with a sharp taste
  • Black Bullets — peppermint flavoured boiled sweets
  • Cloves — red and white striped candy
  • Pear Drops — pink and yellow sweets with a pear and banana taste
  • Humbugs — black and white striped sweets with a peppermint taste
  • Aniseed Balls — hard candy flavoured with aniseed oil for a strong taste
  • Rock — hard candy sticks usually sold in coastal areas

A fire in 1993 left the factory building severely damaged, and it was abandoned for many years up until its refurbishment in 2011. It is now an office space that houses many creative industries, from advertising to virtual reality and landscape architects.

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