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Georgian re-development of Newcastle's town centre

Georgian re-development of Newcastle's town centre

This image of Eldon Square in Newcastle upon Tyne was drawn by the Newcastle-born artist Thomas Miles Richardson (1784-1848) and engraved by William Collard (1792-1847). The east terrace of Eldon Square remains and is Grade II* listed. However, the west and north terraces were demolished in the 1960s and replaced with the Eldon Square Shopping Centre.

In the early-Nineteenth Century, Newcastle experienced a major reconstruction of the town centre, thanks to the architect John Dobson (1787-1865), builder Richard Grainger (1797-1861) and town clerk John Clayton (1792-1890). (Newcastle was not granted city status until 1882.) Eldon Square was built 1825-1831 as part of this re-development and comprised three terraces, each two and a half storeys high, organised around a central square. 

The Local Illustrations, of which this engraving is part, often depict buildings which have since been altered or demolished. They therefore provide a good, if slightly idealised, record of lost buildings and the architecture and town planning which shaped the city. The collection also contains scenes depicting other places in the North East of England. 

Reference: ILL/11/258, Eldon Square (18–?), Local Illustrations, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

Potential research ideas

The image depicting Eldon Square could prompt research into the roles of Dobson, Grainger and Clayton in transforming Newcastle in the early-Nineteenth Century. You could, for example, find out what was on site before they developed it. You might think about the motivation for their town planning master plans. The 1820s were relatively peaceful. The decade began with domestic tensions which manifested themselves in such events as the Peterloo Massacre (1819) and Cato Street Conspiracy (1820) but ended with the repeal of several repressive laws. It was a time characterised by the Industrial Revolution: photography, rail transportation and the textile industries dramatically expanded. Newcastle was particularly known for its shipbuilding and engineering. At the same time, there was little effective medicine, over-crowding and disease was rife and often fatal. Were the new buildings a response to these issues? Or, did the building programme happen despite them? You could think about the legacy of Dobson, Grainger and Clayton. For example, did they in any way prepare Newcastle for becoming a city in 1882? What has their impact been on Newcastle? You might ask, too, whether their designs have any relevance today: leader of Newcastle City Council in the 1960s, T. Dan Smith, paved the way for the demolition of Eldon Square and the site’s redevelopment with the Eldon Square shopping centre that opened in 1976. How has the city’s architecture come to define the city and its people?

Selected background reading

What can I find here in Special Collections?

What can I find elsewhere?

  • Tyne and Wear Archives holds a wealth of historic archives relating to the regional Local Authorities, including town planning and building control, and local life. For example, searching the archive catalogue for ‘Grainger’ finds (among many other entries):
  • DX885/4 Deeds relating to the purchase of 2 messuages and a skinnery in Gallowgate, Newcastle by Richard Grainger of Newcastle, builder for £1600 in 1835 (1831-1843)
    - DT.SC/384 Plan of the projected new market [Grainger Market] and new streets [Grey Street, Grainger Street, Market Street, Nunn Street, Hood street, Nelson Street, Clayton Street and Blackett Street] in the Nuns and neighbourhood (1834)
    - DX922 Richard Grainger and the Theatre Royal, Newcastle (1836)
    - DX168/5 Notes stating that the North of England Joint Stock Bank will give Mr Grainger £7,500 for the premises they occupy in the Arcade providing rooms etc are constructed [c.1837]
  • DX1366/4 Report of Robert Thorp protesting against Richard Grainger’s offer to rebuild the courts (1838)
  • Newspapers can be a fantastic source of information. Through the library, you have access to a wide range of digitised historic newspapers; local, national, and international: https://libguides.ncl.ac.uk/news/historic.
  • The British Architectural Library (hosted by the Royal Institute of British Architects) is open to anyone and free. Among other materials, its collections comprise drawings, photographs, archives, rare books and pamphlets. Newcastle is well-represented in their collections, for example, AP390/295-AP390/542: 248 photographs described as Views of Eldon Square shopping centre (1930-1982)

Interested in architecture, town planning or local history?

In addition to the Local Illustrations, you might want to investigate our Maps and seek out contextual information in the form of trade directories. 

We have other architectural and town planning collections: 

The Burns Dick (Robert) Archive comprises copied, and some original, photographs, papers and documents relating to the architect Robert Burns Dick (1868-1954) who had substantial influence in the north-east of England, particularly in the city of Newcastle upon Tyne. Among the buildings he designed are: Newcastle University’s Student Union; Spanish City (in Whitley Bay); Berwick Police Station; and the Laing Art Gallery. Although his scheme was never realised, he was particularly interested in creating a ‘green belt’ for Newcastle and in improving amenities. He was admitted as Fellow to the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), in 1906 and served as President of the Northern Architectural Association, 1914-1918.

The Sharp (Thomas) Archive contains correspondence, unpublished works, original plans, documentation on key planning cases, press-cuttings, documentation relating to unsuccessful commissions, typescripts and creative writing by Thomas Sharp. Sharp was a significant figure in town planning and a major influence on the development of ideas of townscape and on the forms that town and countryside should take through such publications as Town and Countryside (1932), Town Planning (1940) and Town and Townscape (1968). His plans for historic cities such as Durham, Oxford and Exeter in the 1940s were also potent.

For local history publications, take a look at the Clarke (Edwin) Local Collection which comprises topographical descriptions, travel guides, histories and more that were printed 1655-1993.

This image of Eldon Square in Newcastle upon Tyne was drawn by the Newcastle-born artist Thomas Miles Richardson (1784-1848) and engraved by William Collard (1792-1847). The east terrace of Eldon Square remains and is Grade II* listed. However, the west and north terraces were demolished in the 1960s and replaced with the Eldon Square Shopping Centre.