Thursday, December 31, 2015



Woolsington Hall 1828

"More than 30 firefighters battled to put out a blaze at the historic Woolsington Hall in Newcastle on Tuesday night.
The blaze broke out at the Grade ll-listed building at around 8.30pm and fire crews fought to tackle the flames in high winds." (Newcastle Evening Chronicle)


Burnt down. They got their wish. Deliberately neglected by a multi millionaire who has bought his way into the north east cabal, this Grade II Listed gem was abandoned to its fate by precisely those organisations established to protect such buildings. They failed because they meant to. To achieve this level of crookedness in plain sight without the local media noticing and Plod nowhere to be seen fills one with a perverse inverse admiration for these crooks. Stitched up? They used lasers! So a shower of unscrupulous bastards is getting what they want by any means necessary. Around the north east this blatant sleaze is called 'getting things done'. Rot them!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Season's Greetings

Lower Ouseburn Park 12th December 2015

I have slowed down. I post less for all sorts of reasons. Partly, I feel the urgency has slackened; when I began to write this blog, the threats to the piece of open space I call 'Battlefield' were indeed pressing and real.

At one time the plan was to 'create' parking space for 1300 (!) cars over 'Battlefield' and build 'much needed' (sic) office space in a city that has many unfilled (some never let since built) offices even then; more so now. The last scheme to surface from the murky planning process – I am being polite here – included building strange mounds and playing surfaces over the City Stadium, as if the nearby developers of the old paint factory site owned the rest of the green space. This might still happen. After all, who can stop these people?


Battlefield, City Stadium, or whatever one calls it, should now be recognised as forming a public park. It should be thought of as being part of a chain of parks running from Gosforth in the north down (very nearly) to the Tyne. To some these are 'wildlife corridors', to others 'green lungs'. To me they are a necessity and above all, survivors. I am dedicated to their survival.

When is a park not a park? This space operates exactly as parks do all over the country. It is not dedicated to any exclusive use. As yet, you do not have to have a key or a privilege to gain access. Kick-a-bouts, sunbathing, partying, reading, strolling and even pony riding are among the activities the space hosts. It affords a subtly changing mask to the city edge facing across the impressive Tyne Gorge. Huge cloudscapes and visiting migrant birds are among its less obvious attractions. It needs no reason, no 'bottom line' to justify itself – at least not to those who use it.

We live in a time dominated by 'financial considerations' that blot out the reason why such calculations, costs and benefits, ever came into being in the first place. "They know the cost of everything and the value of nothing" quipped Wilde. It was once a joke. The difference between investment and expenditure is lost on those who have power.

I will do what I can, albeit at a somewhat reduced tempo, for as long as I am able.

Best Wishes to you for Christmas and a very Happy New Year.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


Work on the next two blocks of student accommodation on the old paint factory site have begun in a reversal of the time honoured tree planting ceremony: A lovely, graceful poplar tree that stood beside the (still blocked) footpath running alongside the site has been felled.


It's not as though there was a need to clear the path or build over it. I suspect the answer is that there will be some sort of high wall constructed around the site in due course and the tree stood in it's way.

Another new student block on an adjacent site (and not part of the old paint factory campus) has taken a different line, one that might have been copied.

Other trees have been either lopped or felled and chipped, some outside the wire fence boundary of the site.

I am sure permission to do this felling was obtained by the contractor's from the Council. But why would they bother?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Season of rituals and mellow fruitfulness

Sidestepping 'issues' for this post.

Just enjoy – as I hope – this collection of images of the open space (not) of this public park (not) that just goes on maturing and growing. I am sure someone in the Civic Centre is thinking what to 'do' with it as I write these words.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Des Res

The Observer's perspicacious (look it up yourself) architecture critic, Rowan Moore has cast his gaze over the newcomer development on the Lower Ouseburn. Link to the full article here.

My own thoughts, following a viewing when the project was still being built, was less adulatory. In fact I found quite a bit more to quibble over than Mr Moore ... Those windows.

Still, the thrust of his comments and criticism are useful considering how much more to come there may be.

Some highlights from the article.

Sweeping his gimlet eye around the local scene Moore regards the apartments built next to The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art.

"Papery and stumpy at once, their vertical accents and white-beige-russet palette pay vague tribute to the noble ex-flour mill that contains the Baltic, but succeed only in diminishing it and themselves at once. Perhaps mercifully, this development makes no attempt to mimic the shapes that the Sage cuts, but edges nervously alongside, like the nerd next to the big blonde on the dancefloor. "

When I saw a model of the proposal for the Baltic, the associated private dwellings were well below the Baltic's height. I suspect in the excitement greed over came them. Mr Moore is quite right. The result weakens the whole.

"Up on the hill is a space in the sky once occupied by Trinity Square car park, made famous in the 1971 Michael Caine classic Get Carter and demolished to the bleats and lamentations of critics, less so from the local population. This time the bleating critics were right, at least architecturally speaking: the brooding, magnificent car park has been replaced by a development of student accommodation above a Tesco: stacked-up boxes like shipping containers without the romance, over which curved roofs crawl like big grey slugs."

That about nails it for me.

Do read the rest of the article for yourself.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Pathway to the future?

One dear friend who knows the patch of urban green space I call 'Battlefield' laid out a plan some years ago for the future – or what might be done to enhance the prospects for this part of Ouseburn.

The old paint factory site had as yet nothing on it; some local youths exploited it imaginatively, creating a skateboard space and decorated some found large pieces of concrete with spray painted heads like a polychrome Easter Island. I took some photographs and posted them on these pages.

My friend's idea was simplicity and sympathy combined. Use some of the space left by the paint factory for recreation, say, skateboarding ... Then create pathways down the valley into Lower Ouseburn, linking emerging areas of creative arts, the successful Biscuit 'franchises', and already developed creative and leisure enterprises in the Valley below.

He did not speculate in vain. The proposed five blocks of student flats have resolved into two – including one just off the main site – and there are no signs of preparation on the remaining paint factory site. Other investors have seized on the student housing market (a.k.a. bubble) dotted about the paint factory like pieces on a chess board. Other schemes are building elsewhere in the city, the latest on John Dobson Street and the old Oxford Dance Hall (a night club in recent years) on what is left of New Bridge Street. Saturation anybody?

Landscaping the remainder of the paint factory site looks much more of a possibility if I am correct.

Intriguingly, some work has been taking place in and about the interstices of Battlefield and the paths along and down into the Lower Ouseburn:–

Newly constructed (sic) pathway connecting the road way to paths running beside the East Coast Mainline Byker Bridge. Part of the fencing has been removed and a hardcore base laid. September 2015.

East Coast Mainline Byker Bridge. Grade II Listed structure. September 2015'

Hedge laying! A traditional form of management. September 2015'

Newly established low seat (very!) made from old railway sleeper (tie).

The long closed public footpath through the 'back door' of the old paint factory site has been re-laid and is about to be restored. Public Rights of Way are very protected and should be defended against all comers (i.e. Nicholas van Hoogstraten ...)

Finally, a fine harvest ...

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Halls of Academe

The progress on the new Halls of residence for our two universities goes on apace.

The earlier student accommodation buildings around Shieldfield were of steel girder frame construction with brick and cladding; these two latest developments in Clarence Street and off Stepney Bank (see slideshow) are both 'modular' build where factory built 'units' arrived on site and were craned into place, stacked up like containers aboard ship. Locked together (I assume ...) these were then covered by a facade. Ripe lavender for Clarence Street, a more burly post-modern industrial stone and rust on the Stepney Bank Glassworks site, where much brick has also been deployed. Neither of these 'Halls' appears to be 'owned' by either University as exclusively for their students so far as I can judge.

The recent problems with the Chinese economy does not seem to have dented the market; but I have a slight feeling it will.

Whatever happens, this corner of Newcastle will not be left unaffected. Nearby long term residences (see Shieldfield 'piloti' flats and lovely 60s era terrace home) have had to make adjustments to this sudden influx. The rise and rise of student numbers now will have a substantial impact on the local Shieldfield district. Hopefully, a highly beneficial one.

Friday, July 24, 2015

It never rains but it pours ...

I have a new camera. Like the old one but it fights my bad shake. I have been meaning to catch up with developments around the patch of open space I call 'Battlefield' and when the combination of new camera and sunshine came along this week I rushed out to be greeted by a sudden grey sky and then steady rain. A newly privatised post person wearing a bright red anorak and shorts puffed up alongside me in my temporary rain shelter and asked if I knew where S– House was. It was in the 60s era part of Shieldfield, one of the bits of urban planning bequeathed to the city by T. Dan Smith. I was no help. Everywhere here looks the same.

Except it doesn't. The experimental architecture style ('Pilotis') of building an horizontal tower block has now acquired a sort of retro chic feel; the trees that were so optimistically planted miraculously survived and thrived. This part of Shieldfield actually works from inside. The frontage onto Portland Road is dire however. Some contemporary 'cover the sins' Baboon Blue paint has been applied to the concrete 'feet' of the block, but as with all such 'community' initiative paint jobs, merely serves to warn; you are now entering a high dependency area.

The rain fell, my mood changed. There is after all, something about reflections; and rain is something, whereas grey sky is rarely much more than.

The next estate to this part of Modernist Shieldfield is pure model village arts and crafts. Nice spacious front and back gardens, neat layout and even a Chestersonian public house. Nearby some nice detailing that later notions of civic building shunned; a porthole, a gracious entrance now lost to a couple of plastic looking 80s 'bijou' suburban doors. But no matter; a 'chippy' among some local shops and a few more well grown trees. I noticed how there were still unruly bits; the overgrown, the 'gaps' no one had bothered with and the accidental clumsiness of the unfinished that gives somewhere a sense of a place.

Out in the rain I took a couple of shots of the Smith Era council flats. Here King Charles I played golf when a prisoner of his 'fellow' Scots before being sold to the English for cash. A small green was renovated with success a few years ago. This too has maturing trees and now seats someone might want to sit on. Once described (by that smashing architectural critic, John Grundy) as "the worst view in Newcastle", overlooking the notorious Central Motorway, this revisited green space now conveys a sense of entering a community, rather than simply a tired piece of nothing green grass, waiting to find a purpose.

A new student block is rising up. It bagan in the spring with a series of metal containers – just like the ones featured so often on the news about people hitching a ride to somewhere better than where they were. These are now being covered with a facade of bluey green plastic by men laced together high up in cradles in yellow hard hats. Is that five or six such blocks now? It's hard to keep up. Soon this area will be all students – business students apparently ... How will that change perceptions of Shieldfield? Because it must. And what happens when the Higher Education bubble bursts?

Across the most dismal road in the whole of Newcastle, New Bridge Street's approach to Byker, dismal turns to Stepney Bank. This steep hill inclines rapidly to the Lower Ouseburn  of which, more another time. Here on the edge of one of the most interesting areas in inner city Newcastle, another huge student accommodation project is under way. Like the previous block mentioned on the other side of New Bridge Street, a quarter of a mile away, this project is a complex of 'container' building on a bigger scale on a physically tighter site. Here the containers now slotted into place are being covered by a skin of brick. This scheme is adjacent to a long established city community of early 60s period flats; it is going to be interesting to see how 'town and gown' fare living close together.

One loss in all this has been the Star and Shadow cinema. It closed down earlier in 2015 and the building it occupied is now due to be re-developed. More student dwellings complete with all 'mod cons'. I suppose cinema means less if you have 50 mbs broadband in your 160 GBP per week (inclusive) cubicle.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Erasing the past

I recently visited the Olympic Park at Stratford, London.

Our attempts to reach the Park via the canal towpath ended in barriers. Instead we had to negotiate the last few hundred yards on foot past Olympic investment opportunistic apartment buildings. The canal lock and neat cottage was the only certainly pre-2012 feature we saw.

Still used.

Our first definite sighting of the Park was this imposing structure from the distant road where we left the bus.

The ArcelorMittal Orbit by Sir Anish Kapoor

Apart from Kapoor's mangled tower – as if someone had tried to turn the Eiffel Tower into V. Tatlin's 'Monument to the 3rd International' ...

Vladimir Tatlin's Tower

... the rest of the vast space that lay in baking sunlight in front of us was pure corporate entertainment unscape; a scene devoid of history. All previous occupation of the site, whether it be distant Anglo Saxon's hunting the banks of the Lea, medieval eel fishers, Cockney kids out swimming, railway history, – any history at all – was no where to be seen. The site was as blank as a piece of A4 paper.

Zaha Hadid's fine London Aquatic Centre stood up to scrutiny; on an horizon dominated by the frankly mediocre 'cake tin' architecture of modern edge-of-town retail parks, it had a lovely sense of scale and grace; even slightly inscrutable.

The London Aquatic Centre by Zaha Hadid

I somehow doubt Hadid can be faulted for the coloured pencils along the canalised River; it helped that a Sedge Warbler was scratching out it's tuneless song from the emergent reeds in the foreground. The sound of something unplanned, adventitious and promising that in due time this otherwise soul less place might acquire a life.

Within three days we were mooching around an entirely different re-claimed site over looking the Tyne at Dunston. The contrast illustrated something important.

Obviously the organisers of the London Olympics had to deal with a range of problems and issues that far, far exceed those that Gateshead has in re-inventing the Dunston Staithes. No meaningful comparison is to be made I will grant. Yet, in their different ways these two examples express something about the way re-development could embrace history rather than banish it. In accepting the story of the past in what remains, the depth of our understanding of place is held in mind for the future.

Dunston Staithes

A housing development overlooking the river and the Staithes is a truly uplifting example of how old industrial land can be re-developed and enhanced by built history.

Dunston Staithes slideshow (off site link)

If you visit Dunston Staithes do try the Staithes Café. Recommended.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Between the showers

I nipped out to post a letter – yes, crazy old man, I still write (or type, my handwriting is so bad) letters and use stamps.

It was a day of low grey to charcoal skies and sudden clear blue horizons and streaming window panes glinting with beads of rain.

Battlefield lay across the street. Suddenly it looks fantastic. It is as if the trees have suddenly broken free and stand taller than I have ever seen them.

After the rain.

I went for a stroll and took a few photographs. Beside the old paint factory site I heard warblers calling. Garden Warblers? I shall have to check. Very musical in a limited way. Then Chiff Chaffs, another woodland species. People came and went and only one cyclist tried to break the land speed record.

Footpath no more?

The old footpath down to Shieldfield Lane is still blocked. Will it be re-instated? It would serve students in the new halls of residences with a short cut to their nearest Post Office and off licence.

Wood or Garden Warblers?

I began this blog to try to place on record something of a counter weight to the storyline being pumped out by the Council and prospective privatisers of open space* that this was a 'threatening place' rather than a resource and green lung for a city, an important link in a chain of green spaces leading from the distant Green Belt through the city to the banks of the Tyne. Despite the threats, the reality is the ground beneath is infill and so cannot accept the kind of developments some hoped to put in place. The original threat was to build offices over the former paint factory site and use the green space as a car park for – wait for it – thirteen hundred cars. Tarmac to replace grass.

Though I deplored the tree felling that preceded it, the creation of the cycle way does I think remove many threats, though some remain. I felt the tree felling went too far and the subsequent re-planting too small in scope. Ten years seem to have been a long time in this transformation. I think it safe to say a new way of looking at the environment and the growth of green awareness have played a part. The 'big business is good' way of doing things has left people cold, thankfully.

The space is well used. It could be more so, particularly as a venue for large out door events in summer. Joggers and dog walkers (mostly very responsible), parents with small children and just strollers going to the shops, use the space well. A friend pointed out how some land could be used to create a green way down to the Lower Ouseburn behind the old paint factory, ducking beneath the bridges to Stepney Bank. Combined with another cycle route, this has much to offer. In the last decade much has happened in Lower Ouseburn and the creation of a 'student city' around Portland Road would seem to suggest a synergy might be easily made.

Meanwhile the trees thrive, the migrant birds are here for summer and the days are long.

Slideshow here. (Off site link)

* The space I call Battlefield is not official designated as 'Open Space'. It could, following recent legislation passed by the previous Coalition government, be sold off in whole or in part. It might be possible to build on parts of the site, though much was created by infilling part of the Lower Ouseburn dene by an equally short sighted Council in the 19th century.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Student City 2015

The seemingly never ending, unstoppable, rise of student accommodation 'blocks' continues. It looks like a very competitive market for student cash.

My most recent jaunt around my patch took me to sites dotted about Shieldfield in more and more surprising places; a former building construction premises has speedily vanished and is being replaced even faster by a children's playing brick style development where the living spaces are pre-fabricated in factories and fitted together on-site. Around the corner on Stepney Bank another such venture (The Glassworks) is speedily joining recent and not-so-recent additions.

I shall have something more to write on this stream of development activity, meanwhile, enjoy the photographs here (off site link).

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Ouseburn Walk Part the Three

The final part of an early year check up on what has been happening in the Lower Ouseburn.

Some new developments – the Byker Bridge Housing Association apartments for one – are welcome. Lower down besides the infamous barrage, sustainable housing has created a blot on the landscape. Whatever the merits of the buildings as energy efficient dwellings, the architectural short comings are obvious, and at this date, somewhat puzzling. How did the plans get approved? Desperation might be the answer.

Sustainable 'architecture'

After all, the Council needs to generate a lot of income to pay the charges on the debt run up by the 6 million plus GBP Ouseburn Barrage.

Otherwise the photographs show why Ouseburn has been a wasting asset in this city. A wonderful combination of topography, industrial heritage and natural regeneration. It seems able to cope with whatever is thrown at it by those without eyes to see.

Link to photographic slideshow here.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Ouseburn Walk Part the Two

Sometimes I think one should be silent and let the images do the talking.

Link to Part the Two slideshow here.

I would say just this. How much I love the inconsequential and the unplanned; a roadway made long ago from pieces of volcanic dolerite jumbled together are to be treasured. Jacob's Sheep and nearby a veteran Rolls-Royce (when they were such). Views of places that might be far outside rather than inside a city.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Ouseburn Walk Part the First

A run of days of clear blue, cold skies. Time to record the passing season and note the changes taking place between 'Battlefield' open space and the Lower Ouseburn Valley as the days grow longer.
Increasingly, I am attracted to chaos. Interposed against the creep of planning, its order and mediocrity, are the stubborn, the ugly beauty of chance and accident. Despite the earth movers and cranes, tarmac and 'directions', Ouseburn retains its scraps and scars like a unloved fringe, waiting for recognition. 

I hope you agree. Link to off site slideshow gallery here

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A View from the Bridge


Amber Films – a collective of like-minded film makers and photographers – made this short film in 1974. It is about Newcastle and was made for the City's planners at a time when the city was being re-developed along Modernist lines. Some of the city's fine architecture that had been valued and was of historic importance regionally and nationally, had already been demolished by this time. More was to follow in the next decade.

You can watch it on this link here.

The film was rejected by the planners – they appear at the end of this film working in an office that is high up in the then newly built Civic Centre where T. Dan Smith, the controversial leader of the Labour local government, worked to bring about this transformation of a run down, but still magnificent Georgian Victorian city, into somewhere that could have been anywhere. Smith later fell from grace and went to prison for corruption – though he personally seems to have made little or nothing from this. After his release Amber Films made a film about him instead of one about the city he and his associates set out to destroy. The film about Smith is somewhat better than this one Amber made on Newcastle, but it does give a truthful portrait of how the city looked and felt forty years ago. Perhaps that is why it was rejected.

The opening shots of Newcastle's Quayside and the bridges is taken from the then run down area called The Side, where Amber were based and still are. Murray Martin, who produced this film, went on to nearly single handedly prevent the destruction of the Quayside by the planners. If you watch the planners in their office playing with their tiny plywood rectangles and plain faced tower blocks you can get a sense what might have been.

Bigg Market