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  Newcastle Central Station

Newcastle Central is one of the great monuments of the early Railway Age, and remains an important and busy station, despite the loss of most of its suburban traffic to the Tyne & Wear Metro. The station was designed by the architect John Dobson and built at the joint expense of the Newcastle & Carlisle Railway (N&C) and George Hudson's Newcastle & Darlington Junction and Newcastle & Berwick Railways. It replaced three earlier stations: the temporary termini of the Carlisle and North Shields lines and the rather fine 1844 Gateshead Greenesfield terminus of the Darlington line.



The station we see today is still essentially the building which was formally opened by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on 29 August 1850, whilst en route to Deeside for their holiday. However, they only saw the inside of the trainshed and a few rooms; the building as a whole was far from complete and the Carlisle trains were unable to begin using it until 1 January 1851, while the portico, which dominates the street scene, was only finished in 1863.

In July 1862 the Carlisle company relinquished its independence and became part of the NER. With the whole station in one ownership, the NER was able to reorganise its use and increase the number of platforms without enlarging the building. Eventually, however, network and traffic growth made a major enlargement essential, and this was carried out during 1888-94. Modest extensions were later made at the west end in connection with the building of the King Edward Bridge, opened in 1906. The electrification of the East Coast Main Line was the catalyst for further change, with British Rail building an additional island platform, brought into use during 1989-90.  


Dobson's trainshed is the first of the great multi-span arched sheds of the nineteenth century. This view, looking west, shows the original three-span 'nave and aisles' shed. To start with there were five bay (terminal) platforms but only one through platform, with its edge running along the centre line of this middle span. To the left of the track serving that platform were simply carriage sidings. Originally, almost all the routine traffic was handled at the bay platforms, so those seen at far right in this view would have been reserved for the Carlisle company's trains.

The trainshed looks deceptively simple: a slender cast-iron arcade supports the valleys between the nave and aisles and the nave roof is emphasised by being raised on a band of panelling. The roof itself comprises wrought-iron ribs, fabricated from plate, which originally bore timber sarking clad in slate, later renewed in modern materials. However, the structure is more complex, as seen in the view taken when the panelling was partly stripped. This reveals a sturdy timber truss sitting on top of the arcade, with its diagonal struts diverting the loading from the nave ribs away from the arcade directly onto the supporting columns. In addition, the ribs of the side spans sit in stirrups borne by wrought-iron hangers suspended from the top member of the truss, so their loading also is carried directly onto the columns.

The incomplete state of Central Station in 1850 was due to the fall from grace of the first Railway King, George Hudson. After some initial reluctance he had backed the ambitious proposals produced by the leading Newcastle architect John Dobson (1787-1865) at the behest of the Newcastle & Carlisle Railway. These included a portico stretching the entire length of the station frontage, as had already been done at Cambridge (1845), however the Newcastle proposal was for a far more dramatic building.

Unfortunately, Hudson's wizardry in conjuring large dividends for his companies was largely based on milking their share capital, something which became apparent in the early months of 1849. He was despatched, and expensive projects were suspended wherever possible. On reviewing Central Station, his successors felt they had no need of this enormous arcade and Dobson was obliged to revise his design to incorporate more company offices while making best use of such stone as had already been cut for the arcade. Meanwhile, he drew up successive schemes for a shorter but still majestic central portico, whose implementation had to await happier times.

The revised frontage is still very imposing, with the six arches immediately either side of the main portico in the original scheme replaced by arched windows (lunettes) with plain windows in pairs beneath them. Of particular interest are the end pavilions, which retain much of the detailed treatment shown in the original design, though with pilasters substituted for the attached columns and windows replacing statues in the frontal recess.


The west end of Newcastle Central's office range housed the head office of the Newcastle & Carlisle Railway. Their boardroom was emphasised externally by the three pedimented windows on the right, while the main front of the end pavilion (left) has been only modestly changed in execution from the original proposal.

 The interior of the office range contains a number of interesting interiors towards the east end, which housed the head office of the York Newcastle & Berwick Railway on the upper floors and the refreshment rooms below. The best of the offices are a pair of double-height rooms with mezzanine galleries running round to serve book cupboards at the upper level; they look just like a library of the period. At platform level, the most ambitious interior was the first-class refreshment room, which took on a new image in 1893 when the NER Architect, William Bell, persuaded his directors to have it reclad in Burmantofts' faience. The outcome is a splendid demonstration of this lustrous and durable product of the Leeds Fireclay Company, and probably led to its adoption for Newcastle's Central Arcade, which opened in 1906.

From the portico, we enter the trainshed through a vestibule strongly reminiscent of the entry to the courtyard of an Italian palazzo, with a carriage way flanked by pedestrian ways. Nowadays this is given over entirely to pedestrians.

Looking back from the concourse, the curve of the platforms is echoed in the arches of the station roof and door and window openings, broken only by the entrance. This is topped by three portrait medallions: Victoria and Albert accompanied by King Edward VII, who was added in 1906 when he called by to open the eponymous bridge.

The original trainshed was big enough to cope with traffic growth for thirty years, with an additional island platform being opened on the site of the carriage sidings around 1871, but enlargement could not be put off indefinitely and a major scheme was planned by the NER Engineer, Thomas Elliott Harrison, and set in motion shortly after his death in 1888. The trainshed extensions and buildings were designed by the company Architect, William Bell, and the work was completed in 1894. There were two distinct parts to the scheme. One was a southward extension of the trainshed with two further spans in a mildly-modernised version of the original Dobson design: This allowed two of the existing through platforms to be replaced by a new island within the enlarged shed; the old platforms were stopped up in the middle, making them into bays and leaving space for an enlarged concourse. The other element was an eastward extension of the station under a fully-glazed ridge and furrow roof. This allowed the through platforms to be lengthened and a distinct suburban station to be formed, with its own concourse.


Central Station from the SW, showing the three spans of Dobson's trainshed and the southern span of William Bell's extension. Among city landmarks behind can be seen the Tyne Improvement Commission offices, Grey's Monument and (far right) the roofscape of the Royal Station Hotel, which was considerably enlarged as part of the 1890s improvements and boasts some good Burmantofts faience interiors.

The station's east end in the 1920s, showing the full extent of the roof along with the famous crossings, where the main-line tracks heading north crossed those leading onto the High Level Bridge (bottom left).

(left image) The junction of the Dobson trainshed (right) with the Bell roof; the cast-iron arcade replaced the original sandstone south wall of the shed. (right image) The east end roof seen c1970, when it had been partially dismantled, with the castle keep in the background.

The east end in 2005, with the ridge & furrow platform roofing removed and only one east-end bay platform remaining. This enabled a simple track layout to be adopted, leading to 2 tracks over the High Level Bridge (formerly 3) and 3 over the Newcastle Viaduct (formerly 4). The wooden gables on the right belonged to the former parcels' office.

With the contraction of suburban services, all but one of the east end bay platforms have been closed and all that remains of their distinct roof is the portion over the former suburban concourse. In contrast, the need for through platforms has increased and an additional island platform, athwart the back wall of the trainshed, was built in 1989-90. The opening of the King Edward Bridge,in 1906, made it possible to run East Coast trains through the station without reversal and, in anticipation of this, platforms were lengthened at the west end, accompanied by new roofing which all survives and which demonstrates the lightness of touch achieved by the architect's office, under William Bell, in their late designs.

View out from the west end; the building in the background originated on a different site as the Newcastle & Carlisle Railway's Forth goods station (1854) but was rebuilt here as a carriage shed and subsequently much altered. Loading docks were located under the glazed roof to the right of this view, fronted on Neville Street by the dignified screen wall seen in the right-hand picture.

 Over the years a variety of buildings have come and gone on the station platforms. The NER left a legacy of wooden offices and shops lining the concourse, the flavour of which can be obtained from the following view of the No. 2 signalbox (operational 1894-1959). These were gradually cleared away (a process hastened on by the old signalbox catching fire) and in 1985 a slick new travel centre took their place, designed by Nick Derbyshire, then of BR Eastern Region Architect's Office, and seen here in 2004. The growth of on-line ticket purchasing has put paid to this building in turn, its place being taken by some modest retail units.

If the NER's wooden concourse buildings looked somewhat ill at ease in such a formal setting, this was infinitely more true of the parcels office at the east end of the station. This was created in 1906, utilising the arches under the station, with a shallow frontage building presenting a bucolic sequence of wooden gables to Westgate Road; its site has now been developed for a budget hotel. In startling contrast, just along the road is the dignified frontage of Irving House, built by the NER during 1910 as office accommodation, primarily for their divisional goods manager, on a site backing onto the station. This is one of several distinguished office buildings commissioned from William Bell during this period: others can be found at Darlington, Sunderland, West Hartlepool and Hull.

Irving House (left) has a frontage scaled to fit in with Westgate Road, but rises a further two storeys at the rear, overlooking Central Station. The Royal Station Hotel (right) framed by the Mining Institute and the station portico.

Heading round the corner from Irving House, one passes the Gothic delights of the Mining Institute to arrive at the Royal Station Hotel. Dobson's scheme for a hotel building was dropped during the 1849 scare although some guest bedrooms were provided within the east end of the station building. A proper hotel was finally completed in February 1863, to the design of the NER's first architect, Thomas Prosser. A major extension was begun at the close of 1888, comprising everything from the street corner (seen above) up to and including the main entrance. Subsequently a further two storeys and attic were placed on top of the 1863 building, while the LNER added an extra bedroom wing and banqueting room at the rear in 1925, followed by a mildly art-deco entrance from the suburban concourse in 1934. The chief interest lies in Bell's Burmantoft's faience interiors which have been gradually emerging from the mindless overpainting which overtook them during the latter decades of the 20th century.






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© W. Fawcett, 2011