Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The North

To Newcastle University to discuss presenting some great local material. Getting out of the train from London, the temperature is definitely several degrees colder. This is "The North" as the signs on the M1 so bluntly put it. Locals might insist they are from the North East, which is quite a different thing.

I was early for the meeting so spent some time walking around Newcastle, and was struck by the range and quality of architecture. Dynamic modern buildings up at the university, moneyed sandstone parades of Victorian shops and towering redbrick warehouses on the steeper roads straggling down to the Tyne.

But it was the incredible Tudor survivors down at the quay that stunned me. Much like the short stretch by Chancery Lane in London, these came as a surprise. But a wonderful one.

Some, like Bessy Surtees House are well-preserved and in use (in this case by English Heritage).

Others were sound but unused. The roofs looked watertight, but the windows were occasionally boarded and the rooms empty. Peering through dusty windowpanes from the street, they looked unmolested and original. So what to do with them?

The quay is a little cut off from the city centre, and on the cold day of my visit, I was the only one down there. The enormous bridges tower above you and you feel somewhat out of place. This dislocation has probably been the reason they're not in use.

But in most cities these buildings were swept away in Victorian redevelopment or post-war reconstruction. So to have them at all is a gift. But it feels like a gift that has been left on the shelf, waiting for someone to realise it's value.

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