Building In Newcastle City Centre, Tyne And Wear
An ornate, Edwardian Shopping Arcade, in the centre of Newcastle built in 1906. The arcade is set within Richard Grainger's Central Exchange Building.
As the 19th Century was drawing to a close, conditions in towns and cities were becoming dirtier, less safe and more “immoral” which led to anxiety about the health and wellbeing of their residents. One of the outcomes of this was the creation of large numbers of urban parks to provide safe, clean spaces where people could escape the dirt of everyday life, another saw the creation of elaborate shopping arcades to cater to the elite through the sale and display of luxury and novelty goods.
The peak of this craze in Britain was during the 1890s although in Newcastle the last arcade built was in 1906. That was the Central Arcade which can be found within the Central Exchange Building between Grey Street and Grainger Street. The Central Exchange was built between 1836-38 by Richard Grainger, who gives his name to the adjacent street, to the designs of John Wardle and George Walker. It was intended to be a corn exchange but actually ended up as a subscription newsroom.
Following this change in function the Central Exchange quickly became one of the main focal points for the social elite of Newcastle with coffee rooms occupying the elaborate colonnaded drums that form the corners of the building. In 1870 the newsroom was acquired by the Institute for Promoting Fine Arts and converted into an art gallery, concert hall and theatre. Sadly this was all brought to an end in 1901 when fire ripped through the building.
While this fire was devastating it did allow the building to be reconstructed from within, by Joseph Oswald and Son, seeing the creation of the Central Arcade. Oswald ensured that the new arcade had an entrance in each of its three faces in order to maximise accessibility and to maintain a constant circulation of customers. A wide passage running from Grey Street to Market Street formed the central axis. Another passage led to an entrance on Grainger Street. These intersecting spaces were covered with a barrel-vaulted glazed roof supported on cast iron arches. The resulting space was flooded with light, allowing the shop windows to be adequately lit, but as light filtered through the glazed roof it gave the space a vaguely unreal quality.
While its roof is innovative, it is the decorated interior of the Central Arcade which is its most spectacular feature. Using the full arsenal of Edwardian decorative techniques (stand by for a barrage of architectural terminology!), the corridors are lined with lustrous faience tiles; the main entrances are formed from double-arches with a central column in the Composite Order; a dated cartouche is displayed in the spandrel above, proclaiming the modernity of the arcade and appealing to the public's thirst for the new; blind Venetian arches are set into the walls above the entrances; the mosaic floor features a Greek key motif and the shop fronts consist of large expanses of plate glass with fine woodwork and Ionic columns.
Glazed tiles were an ideal material for arcades, the surface reflecting both luxury and hygiene, and the ones at Central Arcade fused Renaissance details with Art Nouveau decoration in rich autumnal colours. Oswald was known for being an expert in their use, having made extensive use of them in public house commissions across the North East. There is however some confusion over who made the tiles, with some sources stating they were made by Rust's Vitreous Mosaics, Battersea, while a book on Burmantoft's Pottery claims that the Central Arcade was their last major work in external faience. Whoever did make them, helped to create one of the most spectacular and ornate spaces in Newcastle.
How To Find Central Arcade
Contributed by Andrew Gardner
I love being outdoors, in nature, and experiencing the relaxation it brings. Wandering through the northern countryside seeing unexpected buildings, historic places and occasionally surprised wildlife is one of life's great pleasures.More Places from Andrew
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