Tower reflections

Broon Brewing
Sat. 11th Jan., 2003

A couple of times per week the west of central Newcastle rejoices in the alluring smell of cooking hops and barley as the brewery makes yet another batch of famous ale.

It has occupied the west central location for almost 100 years, and has grown from a regional producer to a world trader. The production and distribution facility has matured from relatively small premises to take over adjacent warehouses and even a vacated school.

Its most famous brand has to be Brown Ale, but it also produces Exhibition Ale and a variety of products marketed under the McEwan's, Younger's and Foster's brand names.

Wellington Street looking west

Wellington Street has been the home for the brewery since its move from rather restricted Percy Street premises, now occupied by some commercial ground floor shops and owned by the University of Newcastle.

The fanciful building with the clock tower and adjacent silos marks the core of the operation, and the much altered brick range along the southern side of Wellington Street to its junction with Corporation Street was taken over for increased operation.

From further up the street, the trees give a welcome break from brick and that wall is deceptively new, forming the boundary of the distribution and packing plant.

That clock tower was once atop the "Ord Arms" on the approach to Scotswood Bridge. It was removed to its present location when the pub was demolished during the redevelopment for the construction of the new bridge during the 1960s. The 1906 picture below shows Scotswood Crescent, a convenient tram terminus. Those tram tracks were to prove useful later in allowing railway engines to travel to the river from the nearby Armstrong Works.

Scottish and Newcastle owns about 1,400 pubs in the UK, and also brews Kronenbourg, John Smith's and Foster's beers. Its national headquarters used to be in Edinburgh until the site was acquired for the Scottish Parliament. The large 1960s glass and concrete office box between Wellington Street and Barrack Road is now vacant and for sale. The company's national HQ is in a new 12m prestige Northampton greenfield development called "The Lakes".

Wellington Street looking east
Clock tower from the old Ord Arms
Ord Arms, Scotswood. 1906

 ©1997 West Newcastle Local Studies

Since the demolition of that older Ord Arms another came and went at Cowgate in the north west of the city. The company has developed a flair for truly inappropriate name changes. For example a Suffolk pub known since the 16th century as "The One Bull", referring to a Papal edict rather than an animal, was revamped as "Ye Olde Cloisters" despite there being no connection or proximity to the ruined abbey. The name change was reversed after a mighty local protest.

Another crass change occurred in Sunderland. "The Wolseley" is named after Sir Garnet "I am the very model of a modern Major-General"
Wolseley. The brewery decided that a new sign would attract more trade and so they erected a copy of Holbein's portrait of Cardinal Wolsey!

Brewery building, Wellington Street
Older grand entrance to warehouse
Bishop's Arms over entrance

A spokesman for the The Brewers' and Licensed Retailers' Association, Mike Ripley, floundered when he recently used his historical ignorance to explain name changes.

"Pub names do change - if they didn't they'd all still be called the St. Peter or the Virgin Mary, because before the Reformation, they were owned by the Catholic Church. The beer was brewed in local monasteries. Henry VIII came along and did away with the Catholic Church so landlords were faced with a choice - change the name or lose your head. That's why so many pubs are called the Red Lion - his coat of arms - or the King's Head." Thankfully, Mr Ripley is not paid for his knowledge of history or heraldry! Hardly a word of his is true.

Whilst It it easy to poke fun at the ill-informed marketeers, be not diverted from the principle concern of S & N; that is to sell more beer. Their pre-tax profits for the year ended April 2002 came in at 442.3m at a 16.6% return on capital employed for the accountants amongst us.

They continue to mount determined campaigns to increase alcohol consumption, particularly by the young. The constant shift of themed and renamed pubs is an attempt at grabbing this rich market. Let not historical details and truth get in the way of a good business opportunity!

This has two undesirable results. Firstly, local traditions and sensibilities are outraged and trampled upon; then secondly, young people are encouraged to drink even more than they do now, and more alarmingly, outside the constraints of their local community.

The nearby Blenheim Street has been redeveloped into St. James' Boulevard. This is a fast dual carriageway link from the northern end of the Redheugh Bridge to the full-stop that is the Gallowgate/Barrack Road roundabout. The National Bus coach station at this junction is to be relocated to a plot along this new road close to the bridge entrance, allowing the old site to be redeveloped for more retail/office activity.

Car access to the Percy Street area has been artificially restricted by the introduction of bus only lanes and traffic lights replacing the roundabout at the junction with Gallowgate.

Whilst in favour of precedence being given to public transport, I do wonder why a super fast double sized road was built to end in a junction to nowhere. Wait, I forgot about football!

St. James' Boulevard looking south
Footballer Milburn statue

The original name for the new road was to have been "Central Boulevard" but the replacement "St. James" should give a clue to the driving force here. Not the patron saint of pilgrims, but the location of the Newcastle United football stadium.

Pictured left is Susanna Robinson's 1991 depiction of footballer Milburn in action. The famous "Wor Jackie" lived from 1924 to 1988 and was regarded as one of Newcastle United's best players.

This bronze and slate sculpture was originally erected in Northumberland Street shopping thoroughfare, but was moved to this Boulevard/Corporation Street location following vandalism. It was paid for by public subscription organised by a local Thomson newspaper, "Evening Chronicle".

Football stadium from Gallowgate

The football stadium lies on leased land on part of St. James Park, adjacent to the later Victorian Leazes Park. Originally a pitch with a corrugated tin shed along one side, it has now grown to this ugly spider.

The planners were prevented from moving outwards in their expansion plans so upwards it went. The football club and local Council hatched a plan to swipe great tracts of public land in adjacent public parks and turn gentle recreation areas into frantic footie franchising and profit machines. The local people were understandably angry at the money grubbing proposals and after many protests the Councillors ditched the idea in favour of common sense.

The result is this explosion in a knitting needle factory.

Strawberry Place
Football Stadium entrance

On the day I took these photographs there were no football crowds. I had expected to see milling millions sporting the usual black and white stripes merrily making their way to another "Toon Triumph". However, not a single stripe was on view. I find the Football phenomenon inscrutable.

The proximity of the brewery and the football stadium is, I suspect, coincidence, but their connection, at least in people's minds, is a firm icon for the region.

Click here to see high quality album copies of these and other photographs from the same shoot

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