Visit to Newcastle 11-14 June 2018
Newcastle may be thought of by many in York as the city up the road that is just worth a day trip for shopping or the theatre. Those who went there with the Society may beg to differ.
We began at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, located in a converted Flour Mill. Guided by MT, one of the Crew, to the viewing galleries we had a perfect view of the City and its bridges, as well as being able to see the kittiwakes, nesting on the Flour Mills ledge. MT explained that two of the galleries were being prepared for the Great Exhibition of the North, due to open in a fortnight, but we were able to tour part of the “Idea of the North” exhibition, which included thought-provoking photographs by the Amber Collective, documenting working class communities in the North-East from the 1970s to the present day,
Our next destination was a contrast. The gardens of Whalton Manor are a foil for the house, which is a listed building, roofed in stone tiles. We were fortunate to be guided by the Head Gardener, who explained the planting scheme and was happy to provide planting tips. Resisting the temptation to buy plants, we succumbed to the temptation at teatime of large slices of home-made cake.
The Grand Hotel at Tynemouth provided our accommodation: an Edwardian hotel, built overlooking the sandy beach and dunes. Tynemouth is a centre for surfers as well as all those who enjoy the seaside. It was a short walk from there to the station and we used the Metro into the city centre for a busy second day. This began with a tour of the City led by Pat, our blue badge guide. Beginning at the Grey Monument, we admired the elegant buildings and townscape developed by Richard Grainger in the early 19th century, before walking into the Central Arcade, then on to the covered market where the oldest Marks & Spencer stall still exists. Only one member tried the scales in the Weighing Shop – still operating daily for those who wish to check their weight for 50p - and learnt about the City’s “Chares”, which in York would be snickleways. We ended our walk by the quayside and heard about Bessie Surtees, who eloped by climbing from one of the windows of her parents’ home in 1772. The house – and the window – are still to be seen.
A rare treat in the afternoon was to climb into the organ loft of the Roman Catholic Cathedral for an explanation from the organist about the workings of the instrument and listen to a brief burst of a Toccata and Fugue by Bach. The organ and its balcony are recent innovations, the result of a generous benefaction, and they complement a most interesting and colourful building. We ended the day with a guided tour of the pre-Raphaelite pictures at the Laing Art Gallery.
Wednesday saw us on the coach to Jarrow, where there is the original Burtons factory (Burtons Tailoring, that is), and the Gin & Ale House. Both buildings are covered in early 20th century tiling, which has survived. The staff in Jarrow Town Hall kindly allowed us to see their Jarrow March memorabilia case, a sobering reflection of the difficulties encountered by communities in that area. Jarrow Hall with the Bede Museum and Anglo-Saxon Farm came after that. South Shields Town Hall climaxed the day – completed in 1910 and built with confidence by local craftsmen and with the best materials. We were welcomed by the Mayor, Kenneth Stevenson, and his Mayoress, and by Fay Cunningham, a former Mayor, who shared her passion for the building with us.
A tour of the Theatre Royal was the first stop on Thursday morning, and our guide took us from the gods to the pit as well as everywhere between – comprehensive and fascinating. On to Trinity House to hear more of the maritime history of the City, before we ended at the Anglican Cathedral, where it was good to discover that our guide, Canon Steven Harvey, was a former Chaplain at St Peter’s School. He proved a delightful and knowledgeable guide to the Cathedral.
We returned to York exhilarated and exhausted. Such Visits take a great deal of organisation, and Joanna Finlay must be congratulated on the variety of places that she chose for us to see. Visits are an excellent way for all members, whether new or established, single or partnered, to get together.