An Old Convent
Remnant of teh nunnery
Nun's Lane and the old building

The Nuns
Sat. 19th Oct., 2002

In 1834, when Richard Grainger wanted to replace the old markets to develop Grey Street, he used some land that once belonged to a nearby convent. It was an open area marked on old maps as "The Nuns".

The main buildings of the Benedictine convent occupied the site of the
Grainger Market. This is now surrounded on four sides by the new streets of Grainger Street, Clayton Street, Nelson Street and Nun Street.

Built in the early 1800s by the then land owner, Major Anderson, this antique fashion building with the Anderson crest just visible, is on the former site of the St. Bartholomew's Nunnery Gatehouse. This small house lies on Newgate Street where Nun Lane leads to Nun Street. It is now occupied by a photography store.

During the 18th century the area near the river was unhealthy and crowded and the prosperous moved a little north to the graceful Clavering, Charlotte and Hanover Squares. Here, near the northern boundary wall, the convent, St. Andrew's Church, and the monasteries of the Black and Grey friars dominated the scene.

Between 1763 until 1812 much of the town wall and major gates were demolished. Dean Street and and Mosley Street were constructed in 1749 and the Lort Burn was filled in. This drastic development and rationalisation of through routes, predating Grainger's efforts, included much change to the old ways.

A contemporary anonymous poet wrote in part thus, being a crow's account to a fellow bird on returning to the town.

Their foolish pride, there's nought can stop,
Improvements all the go;
Unseemly's everything that's old.
So, all that's old's laid low.
Each relique of their sires is gone,
Or got a modern face on:
The poor old Castle, Gotham's Pride,
A modern cap they place on.

The Westgate boasts its Palace now,
On the Moor another's seen;
And (to please the nabobs of the east)
A bridge has Pandon Dean:
To see their church they've pulled down,
Many a good and bad house:
There's one thing more, howe'er they want,
And that's a spacious Mad House!

Nun's Lane emerges into Nun Street
Nelson Street and New Eldon Square at the now end of Clayton Street
Nun Street Grainger Street junction

By the time of Grainger's development the nunnery seems not to have been active, and it is true to say that Newcastle at the time was rather squalid and many tiny dwellings were piled precariously one upon another.

In the midst of this press on space was the decaying pile that was Anderson House and its grounds. Grainger's grand plan relied on his acquiring this estate. It had been the seat of Sir Walter Blackett until 1777 when George Anderson, a building developer, purchased it ahead of the then cash strapped Corporation. It passed to his son who renamed it, and he was eventually forced to sell in 1826 to pay mounting debts.

It extended from almost this point in the south to Pilgrim Street and Blackett Street junction at its north east corner of a rectangular plot.

When the new Grainger Market opened in 1835 it replaced the old Flesh Market situated where the lower end of Grey Street runs now. The Greenmarket for vegetables and Fish Market were situated between his new Clayton Street and the old Newgate Street. This added to a well established mediæval trading area.

His Clayton Street sported two grand alehouses, The Lord Collingwood at the junction of Nelson Street, and the Duke of Northumberland at the junction of Nun Street.

These two grand buildings remain as bookends to the new Greenmarket, part of the 1970s Eldon Square development.

The right view shows the view along Nun Street towards the newly cleaned and inhabited part of Grainger Street.

Nun Street looking east
Central Curiosity Shop
Duke of Northumberland pub
A remaining street trader

The Duke of Northumberland is currently awaiting new tenants, but its twin, adjacent to the chunk of New Eldon Square development than protrudes into the north west corner of this square, The Lord Collingwood is  much frequented by shoppers and market traders alike.

Nelson, and his famous comrade, Lord Collingwood, had beaten the Napoleonic fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Indeed, it cost Nelson his life, and he was a popular hero of the day. Collingwood was a son of Newcastle, being born near St. Nicholas'  Cathedral where Millburn House now stands.

When Grainger was laying out this area Nelson was still a popular often remembered British hero who overcame the evil dictator against all odds. Today, 57 years after the end of the Second World War, Winston Churchill is still held in high regard for much the same reason.

Despite the nearby modern Greenmarket, street traders jealously maintain their rights to these established retail plots. I have the impression that the local Council would rather these traders came inside and stopped littering the streets in this untidy fashion, but they rely on ancient rights that even the petty officials cannot challenge.

Their cavalier attitude towards the Grainger Market traders and later plans to close the Greenmarket in order to let in their big business friends and franchised fast food retail barons came to grief. These anti-people Tory plans were thwarted by trader power and public disgust at the money grabbing attitude openly displayed by the Council appointed tin pot dictators.

T. A. Quinn Stall trader
The new Greenmarket
Nelson Street looking towards Grainger Street
The new Cordwainers' Hall
Music Hall entrance
Grainger Market entrance
Grainger Street Nelson Street junction

That gentleman standing at the entrance of the new Greenmarket is at the site of an older junction. Clayton Street ran left to right towards the north, and St. Andrew's Street running west from this point to Newgate Street and it was on this corner that the Bird and Fish Market stood.

The northern façade of Nelson Street has been preserved and forms an outer wall for the new Eldon Square development. For example, the
Cordwainers Hall (Workers in shoe leather) is now home to a coffee house and snack bar (Not Starbucks!).

Further along the entrance to a music hall hides on the ground floor a computer store and above it a large branch of MVC, purveyor of recorded music and films.

Some traditional street side units have been let as cafés, high fashion outlets, and trendy mobile phone shops. However, be not misled, they are part of the Eldon Square complex, even though they look old fashioned.

During the earlier excavations when Grainger was flattening the Nun's fields and Anderson Place to make way for his development in the 1830s builders found a decomposing corpse of a child in a manure heap that they were clearing.

All work stopped and experts were called, and soon a Coroner's court was convened. The poor jurymen poked and prodded the putrid remains and pronounced that it was an human child in a state of advanced decay. The Coroner, who was also a surgeon then examined the object and found it to be nothing more than a wooden doll.

The most likely explanation was that Stephen Kemble, once manager of the doomed old Theatre Royal built in 1788 and commandeered by Grainger for his Grey Street, was bitter and planted this theatrical prop as a stroke of revenge.

Grainger, of course, built the now splendid Theatre Royal as a replacement for the earlier demolished version. Those that knew both said that the replacement was many times more grand that the one it replaced.

Despite the local Council's now scuppered plans for rendering the Grainger market a venue for the wealthy to show off, it still remains a lively shopping resource for Newcastle residents. Grainger's vision was to provide grand and wealthy buildings but make them for the use of the people, not an elite few. His transformation of Anderson Place to today's Grainger Town is ample evidence of this.

His vision was years away from the ideas embodied in the Communist Party manifesto or even the British Labour Party's egalitarian ideals, but he knew well that Britain had narrowly escaped a social revolution like that in France. Those same destructive forces could arise in Britain. The established social divisions along the lines of wealth, whilst not being capable of being eradicated, could have their more ostentatious and sharper edges removed.

The small white plaque on the Nelson St. junction tells us the names of some illustrious shoppers calling in at a bookstore once at this spot. These included
Giuseppe Garibaldi 1854; Louis Kossuth 1856; and William Lloyd Garrison 1876.

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

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