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Newcastle has a long and varied architectural history: it started as a Roman fort. The first bridge across the Tyne was built by the Romans and was called Pons Aelius.

first bridge over the Tyne Pons Aelius

In the Middle Ages, Newcastle’s riverside location gave a tactical advantage, encouraging Richard I to build a castle here, thus the name ‘New Castle.’ The castle keep is still intact, albeit a portion of it was dismantled to make way for the town’s Victorian railway.

Newcastle used to have ancient architecture. It was surrounded by a walled city and divided by narrow, winding streets called ‘chares.’ During the Industrialisation, Newcastle experienced rapid growth, and the money earned by the industries was invested in construction. It has developed into a regional metropolis with stunning and intricate architecture.

moot hall newcastle archtecture history

The Neo-Classical design was used to build this new structure, influenced by ancient Roman and Greek architecture. The Moot Hall, one of Newcastle’s first Neo-Classical masterpieces, was erected in 1810 by William Stokoe. This was the county court for Northumberland.

The towering portico in front of the main building, constructed by simple pillars, is a wonderful symmetrical design with sharp Greek influences. The stark Greek design of Classical architecture was thought to be ideal for sombre state buildings. Newcastle prison was located on the ground floor.

The first architect from Newcastle to train in London was David Stevenson; he attended the Royal Academy. He had extensive knowledge of Neo-Classicism and built the framework of All Saints’ Church on the east side of the Tyne Bridge.

Stevenson adjusted the Classical design to this innovative use because the ancient Romans and Greeks weren’t Christians and didn’t build churches. He came up with the tower concept all by himself. In 1812, the headquarters of the Literary and Philosophical Society were built in Greek design. With a typical Greek style, the structure is plain and austere. Benjamin and John Green designed it. The Lit and Phil departments were at the centre of Newcastle’s intellectual life. Because it was linked with Greek philosophers, Greek architecture was thought to be perfect for an educational organisation.

newcastle literary phil building

Revival of Gothic architecture

Except for cathedrals, the Gothic design was infrequently used in Newcastle due to the overwhelming influence of Classicism. Augustus Pugin, the Gothic Revival’s leading figure, built a church for Newcastle. During 1842-4, he was the architect of Saint Mary’s R.C. Cathedral. The finances dried out during construction, and the spire and tower were left incomplete. Local architects Hansom and Dunn finally finished the tower in 1872.

Newcastle architects decided to investigate Italian and French models as the Gothic Revival reached the ‘High Victorian’ era (c.1850-70), and western characteristics appeared in British architecture. With his work, The Stones of Venice (1851-3), famous critic John Ruskin directly contributed to Northern Italian architecture, which had a huge impact on British construction.

High Victorian Gothic is unusual in Newcastle. Neville Hall (1869-72), built by the North of England Mining Institute, is an exception. Archibald Dunn’s father, Matthias Dunn (c.1789-1869), was a part of the Mining Association, which helped him acquire this position. Ruskin inspired several architects, including Dunn, to travel across Europe, sketching architectural artefacts. Polychromy, or multicoloured brickwork, is a feature of Neville Hall that was influenced by Venetian architecture. There is also a Venetian terrace.

Dunn and Edward Hansom collaborated on an architectural design. Dunn and Hansom were fervent believers in Pugin, the Messiah of the Gothic Revival. They rose to prominence in the North of England as the most notable Catholic architects. In Newcastle’s industrial west end, St Michael’s R.C. Church in Elswick is located. The effect is achieved by the powerful composition and startling massing, which complements the industrial area around it, as is customary in Tyneside churches.


The orthodoxies of Classicism and Gothic were disintegrating by the 1870s, and architects were trying out new styles. Grainger Street was originally envisioned as part of the Grainger layout and ended at the Bigg Market. Grainger Street was expanded in 1869 to offer a direct route between the station and town centre. The restorations were largely done in the classic Italian Renaissance architecture of the 1870s.

Matthew Thompson, a pretty obscure architect, built the Victoria Buildings (1872-4) on Grainger Street. Walter Scott built this as a personal office. This is in the Italian Renaissance style. The middle bay is crowned with a scrolled roof, an obvious reference to Renaissance style.

Victoria Buildings Newcastle upon Tyne

The Italian Renaissance architecture was used to create insurance companies and banks. A significant example is the National Provincial Bank, located at the corner of Dean and Mosley Streets (1870-2). This was designed by John Gibson, a specialised bank architect. For London clubhouses like the Reform Club, Sir Charles Barry popularised the design. Gibson was Barry’s assistant; thus, he was undoubtedly influenced by him.

The bank of Spence, Hodgkin, Pease, Barnett, and Co., designed by the renowned architect R.J. Johnson, exemplified the Italian Renaissance’s impact. Hodgkin’s bank is designed in the style of a palazzo, a deliberate tribute to notable Renaissance trade dynasties such as the Medici. The outside of Hodgkin’s bank is low-key, with rusticated elements that give it a fortress look. Many more Renaissance expressions were in use. The French Renaissance, which influenced British construction design on occasion in the 1870s and 1880s, was one of the most transient styles to encroach on Newcastle.

The Union Club (1877) at Westgate Road Newcastle

Fran├žois Ier constructed the Union Club in Newcastle’s Westgate Road in 1877. The design was supervised by M.P. Manning. The building’s expanded chimneys and oriel windows gave it a retro vibe, perfect for a clubhouse. This structure was enormously influential within Newcastle’s cultural networks since its members included some of the city’s most renowned and powerful persons, such as Lord Armstrong.

The rise of Grainger Street coincided with the popularity of French Renaissance architecture. A slew of new company buildings sprung up in this area. Newcastle and Gateshead Gas Company’s Grainger Street buildings are a good example (1884-6). John Johnstone was in charge of the design. Dormers, finials, and the style’s trademark mansard roofs, named after 17th-century architect Fran├žois Mansart, are crammed into the ceiling (1598-1666).

The Pilgrim Street Police Court was a building that reflected the period’s eclecticism (1874). I’m only able to show you the architect’s drawing because this structure was destroyed in the twentieth century. John Lamb, a borough surveyor of Newcastle, designed it. This building combines French and Italian Renaissance designs. The main structure had Italianate-style elevations and Renaissance-style bay windows. On the other hand, the roofline includes French features such as an octagonal tower and mansard roofs.