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The Sage
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A Brief History

Origins
Since Roman times there has been a settlement on the Gateshead side of the River Tyne, around the old river crossing where the Swing Bridge now stands.

The name ’Gateshead’ itself may mean ’head of the (Roman) road’, though a more popular notion of its derivation is that the headland above the river at this point was once roamed by goats.

St Mary’s Church
The first recorded mention of Gateshead comes in the writings of the Venerable Bede in Saxon times. He referred to an Abbot of Gateshead called Utta in AD 653. So we know that there has been a religious settlement in this area for many hundreds of years.

Bearing witness to this is St Mary’s Church, now the Gateshead Quays Visitor Centre and base for Gateshead Tourist Information Service.

An archway in the church porch dating from the twelfth century confirms the ancient origins of the building, though we know little of this early period. A church in Gateshead was certainly the scene of the murder of the first Norman Bishop of Durham by disaffected residents in AD 1080. Whether this was St Mary’s or not, we know that a church of this name had been established by 1291, and by 1340 it housed an anchoress (a female hermit who generally had teaching duties).

In ensuing centuries, St Mary’s was the focus for the growing settlement of Gateshead, becoming a substantial and much loved parish church until it finally closed its doors in 1979 - by which time the area in which it stands had become a backwater, cut off by road and railway systems from the main life of the borough.

St Mary’s and its anchorage have been used for many purposes over the centuries. Government troops occupied the building in 1644 during the English Civil War, close to the site of the Battle of Windmill Hills. In the Victorian period, St Mary’s anchorage housed the borough’s first school, referred to as far back as 1693. The anchorage was also used by Gateshead’s vestry meeting, an institution which was a predecessor of our town councils.

In 1854 a huge explosion and subsequent fire, which started in a factory and warehouse below St Mary’s devastated the immediate area and seriously damaged the church. The fact that within a year the church had been restored, with many fine stained glass windows and a new tower, demonstrates the size and vigour of the congregation at the time. It was another fire in 1979 that saw the demise of this historic building as a place of worship; but it by 1991 it was again a living building, having undergone sympathetic restoration by Phillips to become an auction house for the last years of the twentieth century.

The growth of Gateshead
Since medieval times, Gateshead has housed an array of small craft workshops and industrial concerns, many connected to the river. However, the swelling city of Newcastle across the river took control of the region’s vital commercial activity. This meant that Gateshead was unable to benefit as much as its rival from the use of the Tyne as a key conduit for trade and transport or from the rich coalfields that lay below the borough.

The land south of the Tyne including Gateshead was owned by the Bishops of Durham, who used its wooded hills and valleys as hunting grounds and then gradually leased out large areas as estates. In the 1500s the Burgesses of Newcastle saw the economic potential of land directly south of the river, an area called Saltmeadows. In 1555, despite opposition from the burghers of Gateshead, they were granted a 450 year lease on Saltmeadows and thus gained control of an important piece of land which not only gave them valuable coalfields and access to the river for shipping coal out, but which also gradually became a prime site for industry.

Until the 1940s when Gateshead eventually bought back most of the land, the revenue gained from renting land to the many factories, engineering and chemical works established in Saltmeadows went to Newcastle, depriving the small borough of public funds for investment in its own infrastructure. Despite this, Gateshead prospered in the nineteenth century, transforming itself from a major market garden for the north-east into one of the north’s foremost railway towns.

LNER’s Greenesfield Locomotive Works, which covered many acres beside the High Level Bridge - itself a wonderful innovative structure opened in 1849 - employed thousands in its sheds in its hey day. Large enterprises such as chemical works, rope works and cement factories in the Saltmeadows area gave employment to thousands more people. The Victorian terraces stretching back from the river as far as Saltwell Park are witness to the huge rise in population at the time.

Decline along the river
Many of these businesses had come and gone by the end of the First World War, however, and the depression saw the closure of even more large scale concerns such as the LNER locomotive works. For the area around St Mary’s, the nineteenth and twentieth century was also a time of great decline. The jumble of buildings clinging to the steep hillside and narrow river bank was still a characteristic mixture of housing and small sca1e industry, but slum conditions prevailed for the most part. Much of this teeming area was pulled down as part of slum clearance programmes in the 1930s - if it had not already been cleared by the 1854 fire or by the construction programme for the approach roads for the Tyne Bridge a few years earlier.

In Victorian times fashionable houses on the streets around St Mary’s such as Oakwellgate and Church Street were replaced by industrial or public buildings j such as the borough’s first bath house before decay set in again. What had i been the rectory and rector’s field became a gas works, and this in turn became a permanent site for travellers in the late twentieth century. Above the rectory, a station and a large railway junction were built in the 1840s by the Brandlings, one of the area’s coal owning families. These fell into disuse as well, and the arched junction eventually became the site of a scrapyard.

Below St Mary’s, Hillgate Quay was built at the end of the 19th century This was an attempt by the Town Council to revive the fortunes of the riverside by defying Newcastle’s dominance of river trade, but it was never very successful. The area, however, did see a revival in its use in more recent times as the site for two unlikely ’ships’ - a succession of floating night clubs (currently the Tuxedo Princess which had an earlier life as a ferry on the Stranraer - Larne route) and HMS Calliope, the Royal Naval Reserve’s training base, named after the RNR’s first floating home on the Tyne.

Further east along the river, towards Saltmeadows, 19th century industrial giants such as Hawks and Abbots declined or disappeared. Although some businesses were replaced by new concerns, others, like Rank’s Baltic Flour Mills, only lasted for a few decades themselves - the Baltic, opened in 1950, closed as a mill in 1982.

Regeneration
Along today’s Gateshead Quays you can still detect evidence of the past if you look for it. But it is new buildings and the remarkable Gateshead Millennium Bridge that catch your eye. The river bank has changed in character dramatically over the centuries, from rural manor land to industrial heartland, falling into sad decay as the twentieth century marched on. Now, as part of the East Gateshead Regeneration Area, the riverside is coming to life again in a third guise - as place of leisure, pleasure and life enhancing experiences. History, as St Mary’s Church itself demonstrates, never stands still.


Millennium Bridge
Millennium Bridge






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FEATURED STORIES



Coal Mining in Gateshead I
Coal Mining in Gateshead I
Thomas Hepburn and the battle of Friars Goose

Coal Mining In Gateshead II
Coal Mining In Gateshead II
The Rise of The Miners’ Union

Durham Church Leases, See and Chapter

Durham County Constabulary
Durham County Constabulary
It was a fair cop, m’lud.

First Felling Co-Operative Society

Gateshead at War
Gateshead at War
Looking back at Gateshead during Two World Wars

Gateshead Quays
Gateshead Quays
Regeneration of the South bank of the Tyne

History of Gateshead Libraries
History of Gateshead Libraries
Where we were to where we are...

It's Murder in Gateshead
It's Murder in Gateshead
Three Tales of Despicable Acts..

John Lennon Drama
John Lennon Drama
Accidents will happen... in ventilation shafts


libraries@gateshead.gov.uk

Gateshead Central Library
Prince Consort Road, Gateshead, NE8 4LN
Tel: 0191 433 8410

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