Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Taking Central Stage; A Wonder of the Railway Age Which Has Welcomed Millions to Newcastle Is in the Spotlight, as TONY HENDERSON Reports

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Taking Central Stage; A Wonder of the Railway Age Which Has Welcomed Millions to Newcastle Is in the Spotlight, as TONY HENDERSON Reports

Article excerpt


THAT great gateway to Newcastle, the Central Station, has been lauded as one of the most impressive in the country.

But according to some experts, if all of Newcastle architect John Dobson's original designs had been carried out, it would have resulted in one of the best 19th century classical buildings in Europe.

Nevertheless, the station we have today has been variously described by railway and architecture writers as "one of the great achievements of the Railway Age" and a "classical tour de force."

The spotlight is on the station, with Saturday marking the 165th anniversary of its opening by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

It will also feature in a new exhibition, Destination Stations, at the National Railway Museum in York, from September 25-January 24.

The opening of the station on August 29, 1850, was declared a public holiday in Newcastle and the occasion is commemorated by carved images of Victoria and Albert above the interior of the building's main entrance.

For the royal opening, the railway company sold viewing places on special stands erected in the station train shed and along the tracks on the High Level Bridge.

Dobson's original designs included a portico of much grander and elaborate appearance than the one which was eventually built 13 years after the station opening.

After all, the station was intended to be a crowning addition to Richard Grainger's striking new streets which had transformed Newcastle into what was called "the City of Palaces."

Dobson's original portico included two covered carriage drives, meeting in an enormous central section, with great paired columns and flanking arcades and pavilions, and a tall tower.

An image of what was intended, produced by Dobson and Tyneside artist John Wilson Carmichael, is in the collections of the Natural History Society of Northumbria.

But the plans were revised, and after Dobson's death in 1865, the North Eastern Railway Company which by then had transferred its headquarters from Newcastle to York, scaled down the portico concept.

Railway company architect Thomas Prosser, who also designed Durham Station and the Forth Goods Station in Newcastle, drew up plans for a smaller portico which was completed in 1863.

When the station opened, even without the portico, it was still pronounced as "the best railway station in the world" by The Journal.

The station is also highlighted in the new English Heritage book The English Railway Station, by Dr Steven Parissien.

It describes how, with the help of Robert Stephenson, Dobson designed the station's huge train shed, comprised of three arched glass roofs.

"The end result was the first true iron and glass vault on a giant scale," says the book.

This was the time when "the English railway station reaches its high-Turn to Page 22 From Page 21 est moment of functional adventure and discovery.

"Newcastle Central is the ancestor of all the other great city station train sheds, a standalone structure that did not rely on columns rising from the platforms which could get in the way of the passengers, but which soared above both trains and passengers."

Dobson worked closely with the ironwork contractors to produce curved, wrought iron ribs to support the arched roof.

The Newcastle train shed was the first to use round-arched, rolled iron ribs and this won Dobson a medal at the Paris Exhibition of 1858.

The station's adjoining hotel opened in 1852 but was enlarged in 1863. Offices fronting Neville Street were added by NER architect William Bell, who also designed Tynemouth Station. …

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