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In the heart of Newcastle upon Tyne lies a gem of historical and architectural significance – the Palace of Arts in Exhibition Park. This iconic structure is the last surviving building from the grandiose 1929 North East Coast Exhibition.

The Exhibition was an ambitious endeavour, emblematic of a World’s Fair, conceived to celebrate and promote Craft, Art, and Industry at the onset of the Great Depression. This era was a challenging period, not just for Newcastle, but for the world at large, yet it spurred a creative and industrious spirit among Newcastle architects.

The North East Coast Exhibition, hosted in Newcastle upon Tyne from May to October 1929, emerged as a beacon of hope amidst an economically challenging era. Its primary objective was to invigorate the local heavy industry, a sector significantly impacted by the economic slump that followed the First World War, leading to shipyard closures and high unemployment rates in the North East region​​.

The exhibition was a grand affair, orchestrated in response to the economic decline that had beleaguered the region. Yet, as the event unfolded, it transcended its initial remedial intent, morphing into a grand exposition of regional capabilities and potential​.

Over 4 million individuals graced the exhibition, reflecting its resounding success and the allure it held for people far and wide. The attendees were treated to a visual spectacle of Egyptian-style pylons, and a vivid display of regional industrial prowess in the Palaces of Arts, Engineering, and Industry​. The North East Coast Exhibition wasn’t merely an event; it was a symbol of regional pride and industrial success. It portrayed the robust industrial and commercial landscape of the area, serving as a tangible advertisement for local industry and commerce. The event resonated with a message of hope and potential, portraying a promising outlook for the region’s economic future​​.

All in all, the North East Coast Exhibition of 1929 wasn’t just a showcase of architectural and industrial prowess, but a pivotal endeavor to galvanize the region towards economic recovery and sustainable growth. The Palace of Arts, with its majestic facade and intricate design, stands as a living testament to the architectural ingenuity and resilience that characterise the city’s built environment. Designed to inspire and foster a sense of pride and hope during a time of economic despair, the Palace of Arts embodies the enduring spirit of Newcastle’s architectural community.

The North East Coast Exhibition was more than a display of regional craftsmanship; it was a bold statement of the region’s capability and potential. It drew the attention of the nation to the North East, showcasing the skill and innovation inherent in Newcastle architects and artisans alike. Amidst a backdrop of financial uncertainty, these architects envisioned and brought to life structures that not only served a practical purpose but also lifted the spirits of the community.

palace of arts

The Palace of Arts

Today, the Palace of Arts continues to be a beacon of Newcastle’s rich architectural heritage, a source of inspiration for contemporary architects in Newcastle. It serves as a tangible link between the past and present, reminding us of the transformative power of architecture in shaping not only the cityscape but also the societal narrative.

As we traverse the corridors of this historical edifice, we are transported back in time, and yet, propelled forward into a future where the legacy of Newcastle’s architects continues to resonate. The survival of the Palace of Arts is a narration of hope, a story of how architecture transcends beyond bricks and mortar to embed itself in the fabric of society, making an indelible mark on the collective consciousness of a community. The narrative of the Palace of Arts is a compelling chapter in the long and illustrious history of architectural innovation in Newcastle. It underscores the pivotal role that architects in Newcastle play in narrating the city’s tale through their designs, making an indelible imprint on the cultural and historical identity of this vibrant city.

The design of the Palace of Arts was orchestrated in an Art Deco style by the official architects W and TR Milburn of Sunderland, who had substantial experience in theatre and cinema design. The construction was executed by Henry Kelly Limited of Newcastle, bringing to life a venue that was part of a larger ensemble including the Palace of Engineering, the Palace of Industry, the Festival Hall, Garden Club, and a stadium with a 20,000 capacity among other structures​.

Post the exhibition, the Palace of Arts underwent several adaptive reuses. Initially, it was repurposed as a science museum, housing the Turbinia, a significant piece of industrial history, currently residing at the Newcastle Discovery Museum. The venue later transitioned into the Newcastle Military Vehicle Museum in 1983, which remained operational until 2006 when it was closed due to concerns regarding the building’s structural safety. The grounds of the exhibition turned into a public park and were used in the 1960s for the Tyneside Summer Exhibition​.

In more recent years, the Palace of Arts faced a period of dereliction, but the narrative took a positive turn when Rob Cameron and Dave Stone, individuals with a long history in the city’s creative and cultural sector, rejuvenated the building. It was repurposed into a multi-functional arts and entertainment space, now housing the Wylam Brewery, one of the region’s longest-standing independent craft breweries, marking a significant chapter in its rich history​.

A notable feature outside the Palace of Arts was a bridge that facilitated access during the North East Coast Exhibition in 1929. However, this bridge no longer exists, yet its memory is intertwined with the rich historical tapestry of the Palace of Arts and the Exhibition Park​.

The architectural heritage encapsulated by the Palace of Arts is a mirror to the enduring spirit of Newcastle architects. Through times of prosperity and adversity, their creative imprints continue to narrate the city’s evolving narrative, melding the past with the present, and fostering a legacy for future generations of architects in Newcastle.