Newcastle's Forth Goods was one of the major British railway goods depots, something recognised in its featuring in 1900 as the second location in a short-lived Railway Magazine series; No. 1 had been the LSWR's Nine Elms depot in London. That has vanished completely but the Forth has fared slightly better. It fell out of use following the opening of a short-lived Tyneside Central Freight Depot at Gateshead in October 1963 and much was demolished in 1972, however most of the undercroft of the NER building survives along with the whole of the additions made in 1904-9 as a consequence of building the King Edward bridge. These Edwardian buildings have now been adapted and extended to form a northern command headquarters for Northumbria Police, which was opened in 2014.
The site came into railway ownership around 1838, when it was purchased by the Newcastle & Carlisle Railway (N&C) as a possible location for their terminus. At the time it consisted of grass fields and stopped about 55m short of the street known as Forth Banks, which drops steeply down towards the Tyne. The street frontage, comprising houses and a brewery (on the corner with Pottery Lane), remained in other ownership. In 1847 the N&C extended their line by a viaduct climbing along the north side of the site and across Forth Banks to a temporary station, from which their trains were ultimately diverted into Central Station on 1 January 1851. This extension had entailed additional land purchases, including part of the Forth Banks frontage, but the brewery site remained in private hands until about 1902. Taking advantage of their newly-acquired road frontage, the railway built a coal and coke depot on a small part of the Forth site in 1847, but their goods station continued to occupy temporary premises alongside Railway Street. At last, on 2 January 1854 the N&C opened their permanent Newcastle goods station at Forth Banks. Although this only occupied a small area of a large and predominantly empty site, it was a substantial building, designed by their engineer Peter Tate and to some extent modelled on John Dobson's Trafalgar goods station.
The building was a one-storey transhipment shed, approximately 260 feet (79m) long and 80 feet (24m) broad, making it almost the same length but half the breadth of Trafalgar, and it was roofed with seven transverse spans whose gables were treated like a sequence of classical pediments crowning the side walls, an approach borrowed from Dobson. Lunettes (semicircular arched windows) in the pediments brought daylight, and arched doorways within alternate bays evidently gave access to cart docks. The roofs were timber framed and borne on iron beams spanning the shed with intermediate support from a pair of cast-iron columns. The building was executed in sandstone ashlar with fine joints and only light surface tooling.
This first Forth Goods was served by 4 tracks, presumably flanked by a pair of platforms although only the northern one can be firmly identified. It was accompanied by a small office building from which a garden stretched up to the back of a boxy Tudor-Revival villa looking out onto Forth Banks. This was the home of Richard Lowry (1811-98), who had served as the N&C Newcastle Agent from 1841, though from 1849 he shed his responsibilities for passengers and concentrated on goods instead.
The merger of the N&C into the NER in 1862 prompted the NER Engineer, Thomas Elliot Harrison, to consider the best use for the very large Forth site. The N&C engine sheds and workshops were soon despatched from the west end to Gateshead and in 1866 he secured the consent of his directors to develop the whole area for goods traffic. The existing goods station was seen as an obstacle to the rational planning of this and had to go but there was no point wasting a new building, so it was carefully taken down and re-erected, two bays longer, at the west end of Central Station as a carriage shed. There it housed six carriage sidings, with another six immediately outside, all linked by a traverser which bore the carriages sideways through an arched opening in the side wall. That arch survives, though blocked, and bears testimony to just how short the carriages of that day actually were. This work was completed in the middle of 1873 but the building survived barely a decade in that form before it was raised and re-roofed in three spans running lengthwise; these covered a central light well for the carriage shed flanked by office ranges for the NER Accountant's staff. The Accountant himself enjoyed spacious premises within William Bell's handsome new entrance building at No. 1, Neville Street. The carriage sidings had fallen out of use by 1900 and that part of the building was adapted for other purposes while some gentle surgery was conducted to make space for the station re-arrangement consequent on the opening of the King Edward Bridge. The ensemble remains well tended in a variety of uses.
(above) view of the re-erected first Forth Goods, looking from Neville Street. (below) view from the opposite side, showing the blocked archway which had formerly provided access for the small, early carriages.
(below) William Bell's entrance building at No. 1 Neville Street houses a formal staircase with the accountant's private office in the room on the right.
The Forth Goods had to remain in full operation throughout the construction of the new building and yard so this proceeded in two phases. The first phase, occupying the southern half of the site, was brought into use in March 1871, whereupon the N&C warehouse was removed and the second phase was completed in 1874. The new goods station was planned by Harrison and designed by the first NER Architect Thomas Prosser. It was essentially a very tall, one-storey transhipment shed perched on a vaulted undercroft which was designed to be let as warehousing to major customers, The cellar floors were level with Pottery Lane, which runs along the southern boundary of the site, and the storage premises were provided with entrances and office space opening onto that street. Conditions were ideal for the storage of beer, brought in barrels by train from Burton, and the original tenants were nearly all in this trade which continued to dominate the scene down to closure in 1963. Despite the 1972 demolition of the building above, the undercroft remained in partial use by small businesses and is an atmospheric place, largely comprising brick groin vaults borne on octagonal brick piers.
The shed itself comprised seven spans of composite wrought-iron and timber queen-post trusses carried on panelled girders borne on cast-iron columns and decoratively detailed spandrel brackets. Public offices were situated at yard level at the east end but most of the offices were sited on mezzanine galleries at each end of the shed, linked by cantilevered iron footways. This helped determine the facades, with bold, round-arched openings at yard level and strings of small segment-headed ones above. The cellars formed a visual plinth on Pottery Lane, finished in rock-faced sandstone, while the building above was of smooth red brick though graced with extensive sandstone dressings. During 1891-3 the building was extended to the west giving it a site area almost twice the size of the original Central Station trainshed. No cellars were provided under the new section, since the ground was already well compacted, but William Bell carried through the new work in strict accordance with the original design.
Part of the west front accompanied by a section through the south wall and details of the roof colonnade.
Plan of the Forth Goods Station as existing in 1900, with broken lines (bottom right) showing the route which would soon be adopted by the northern approach viaduct to the King Edward Bridge. At bottom left is one of several groups of horse stables serving the goods station, accompanied by a pair of large provender (feed) warehouses linked by a railway bridge crossing Pottery Lane.
The shed contained three transhipment platforms, borne on vaults a little higher than those under the remainder of the building. This enabled Prosser to include shallow windows in the platform walls, providing a small amount of natural light into the cellars although the entire building was fitted out originally with gas lighting. Harrison planned the tracks to facilitate the movement of individual railway wagons around the shed without conflicting with one another. So there were the usual cross-tracks, intercepting the other lines through wagon turntables, but there were also traversers which could move wagons sideways between platform lines and shunting lines. The motive power was hydraulic pressure, sustained in an accumulator tower next to Shot Factory Lane, and it drove all the cranes, the traversers and the capstans used to rope-shunt wagons around the shed.
(below) a 1900 view of the interior, looking east from the mezzanine. In the foreground is one of the hydraulic cranes supplied by Sir William Armstrong.
(below) hydraulic accumulator tower and pump-house adjoining Shot Factory Lane, with the seven-gabled west front of the Forth Goods immediately behind. The bridge on the right carried the main line to Carlisle.
(below) the approach viaduct from the Kind Edward Bridge carved its way through the east end of the Forth Goods, as seen in this view looking north. The shadowy building in the background had been the 18th-century Newcastle Infirmary, which moved to its present Leazes site in 1906. To the left is the No. 3 signalbox, opened in 1906 as part of the Newcastle west-end resignalling associated with the new bridge.
Although the 1906 King Edward Bridge approach lines bridged over the Forth Goods tracks and platforms they entailed some loss of office accommodation and cellarage. To compensate, the NER bought out the brewery site at the corner of Pottery Lane and constructed two additional buildings: a warehouse and an office range, both making significant use of a relatively novel material: reinforced concrete. William Bell adopted the Hennebique system, engaging its British agent, Louis Gustave Mouchel, as his design consultant. The office range occupies most of the Forth Banks frontage and looks like a traditional building faced in brick and terra-cotta. Under that demure skin, the reality is very different, with the lower portion (extending from street to yard level) formed as a reinforced-concrete box, from which concrete stanchions rise to the fireproof concrete floors of the upper storeys. The warehouse extends along Pottery Lane from the corner and wears its concrete on its face, so its significance has been more readily appreciated. It comprised an extension of the earlier cellars, in space-saving Hennebique technology, with a single-platform transhipment shed perched on top.
(left) warehouse range at the corner of Pottery Lane and Forth Banks looking rather forlorn prior to its conversion for Northumbria Police; (middle) main entrance to the offices; (right) view down Forth Banks on completion of the adaptation, highlighting the fall of the street from yard level.
Driving Bell's choice of technology were the poor ground conditions (part of the site was the infilled valley of the Skinner Burn) and knowledge that Mouchel had already employed the Hennebique system to great effect in the Co-operative Wholesale Society warehouse (now Malmaison Hotel) at the Newcastle Quayside. Work on the office building began in 1903, although it was not brought into use until 1907, which makes it exactly contemporary with Glasgow's well-known Lion Chambers, also a Mouchel/Hennebique product but one in which the material is openly exposed. The warehouse contract was let in 1906 and its facade expresses the essence of the structure as a grid with integral infill panels; the Prosser building is echoed in just one feature: the prominent pediment at the street corner. The recent adaptation and extension of these buildings for Northumbria Police is an excellent example of how historic buildings can be conserved and put to totally new uses.
For many years, horses were extensively employed at the Forth for local collection and delivery, and the NER built a number of groups of stables nearby. This view of the west end, taken during the 1972 demolition, shows on the right one of two provender warehouses where horse feed was prepared for distribution to other NER locations. The arch in the middle allowed a railway track to run through, via a bridge over Pottery Lane, to a second warehouse, behind which were eight separate stable blocks, with a capacity for 120 horses. Other stables were built further along the road, at Dale Street and Cookson's Lane. This warehouse outlived the Forth Goods building by a number of years, while the Dale Street stables, adapted as industrial premises, were still there in the nineteen-nineties but have since gone.
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© W. Fawcett, 2011