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Newcastle and the Queen's Gardens

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Historian Fred Hughes writes....   

My memories of Newcastle’s Queen’s Gardens are of a Sunday evening in the mid-1950s. A crusading evangelist was preaching to a full house in the Municipal Hall blessing his converts as they trooped to the stage. Suddenly some girls began screaming and youths fighting. The troublemakers were the fashionable Teddy Boys who were swiftly booted into the Ironmarket where they spilled into the Queen’s Gardens causing havoc among families listening to the brass band. From here the Teds made their way to High Street pushing people from the pavement, wielding bike chains and damaging property.


Historian Jim Worgan’s recollections are more prosaic than mine, but just as colourful......

“The Queen’s Gardens have always been the focal point in Newcastle,” he tells me. “It was a meeting place for courting couples, a diversion along the so-called ‘monkey-run’. It was a centre of leisure and recreation; a green space, possibly the most important place in town. On Sunday after tea and after service at the Ebenezer chapel, I’d promenade around the gardens with my parents. In those days you’d find more people in town on Sundays than on a weekday.

People went out window-shopping meeting friends and neighbours. They come in from surrounding villages, and if there was room in the overcrowded gardens they’d find somewhere to sit and listen to the band. At Christmas it was the centre for lights and decoration. Across the road were the Roxy Cinema and the genuine Compasses public house. And there was always something going on in the Municipal Hall. It was a fantastic place to be.”

It still is a fantastic place to be; although some things have changed.

“The Municipal Hall was demolished in 1966. The Cinema has gone, replaced by offices. The Compasses is a lap dancing club. The iconic Borough Treasurer’s building on the edge of the gardens has gone, and the statue of Queen Victoria was once moved and has now been returned. But you have to go back 110 years to recall the location before the gardens were laid out,” says Jim, chairman of Newcastle Civic Society.

“In 1897 the country celebrated Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Towns, cities and villages throughout the British Empire responded by building statues of the Queen in an outpouring of public affection. It seemed as though each district wanted to outdo each other in patriotism. And nearly every one of these statues has the same structure – a rather heavy queen in coronation robes carrying the orb and sceptre, symbols of empirical power. Newcastle was certainly at the forefront of these tributes.”

The renowned, and sometimes controversial statue of Victoria, is these days situated in the middle of Newcastle’s Queen’s Gardens.

Queen Victoria's statue c.1920's
Queen Victoria's statue c.1920's
Queen Victoria's statue is pictured here in its original position in Nelson Place.
The statue was given to the town in 1903 by Sir Alfred Haslem and was unveiled by the Grand Duke Michael of Russia, to celebrate the coronation of Edward VII.


“Although preparations were being made, the opening of the gardens didn’t take place until 1899,” says Jim. “And the statue came later in 1903 when it was sited in Nelson Place and unveiled by the Grand Duke Michael of Russia.”

It’s amazing to consider these royal connections. Here is Michael, a Romanov cousin of the ill-fated Tsar Nicholas; a committed anglophile whose destiny was to live in part-exile at Keele Hall. A royal who was overjoyed when Newcastle conferred upon him the distinction of Lord High Steward of the borough, privileged now to be rubbing shoulders with the hoi-polloi in the new Queen’s Gardens in Nelson Place.

“A stately esplanade leading to the Ironmarket ran alongside the gardens,” says Jim. “Newcastle was almost regal in its connections. Rich people lived here. It was a centre of society until society changed. When Nelson Place became congested, the statue was hidden away out of town for a generation until 2001. Then, under sponsorship of the Civic Society, the old dear was returned to her rightful place of honour in the gardens named after her.”


Historian Steve Birks has been doing his own research into the famous Newcastle location.

“Back in 1698 the land at this point was known as the Marsh,” he explains. “Who owned it then is still the subject of some debate. It’s possible it belonged to the parish of St George. But much of it was under water with a lake at the centre known as Colleswaynes, or sometimes Coleshull.  However, it was not until 1782 that the borough acquired an Enclosure Order to make the land usable. Then in 1818 a list of new streets was published. These were Queen Street, King Street, Brunswick Street and Hanover Street, all reflecting connections with the German royal House of Hanover. A later map of 1838 however still described Nelson Place as Glebe Land.”

Just before Queen’s Gardens were opened another map of 1898 shows the ownership of the gardens being shared by the school of St Giles’ and St George’s and the church rectory.

“Of course the school has now moved but hopefully the buildings can be brought into future heritage use,” says Jim. “Queen’s Gardens are a perfect oasis of harmony, an award-winning estate of blooms where folk can take a break away from life’s troubles."


 more on Queen's Gardens


20 October 2008

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