Northumbria University Art Trail
Art Newcastle City Centre Tyne And Wear

Northumbria University Art Trail

Art In Newcastle City Centre, Tyne And Wear

Exploring the old and modern art around the Northumbria University Campus.

The Campus at Northumbria University (formerly Newcastle Polytechnic) hosts a number of pieces of art and sculpture with a mixture of old and modern. The same can easily be visited during an excursion to Newcastle city centre offering a look at some lesser known public artworks. It includes hidden rivers, remnants of Lord Armstrong's first home and the only statue of a non-royal woman in the whole of Newcastle!

This post takes you past some of the sights to be seen across Campus but there are others to be found too!

You can use the What3Words locations to create a stroll around the campus!

Book Stack (1992)

To commemorate the year Newcastle Polytechnic became Northumbria University in 1992, Book Stack was unveiled. The granite sculpture was made by Fred Watson who taught fine art at the University. The 15 granite books were officially unveiled by the Duchess of Northumberland.

If you visit at the right time of the year you can see the flowers in full bloom surrounding the sculpture! Another piece by Fred Watson called 'Inside Out' can be found at the Tranwell Unit of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead.

Pillar Man (2004)

Pillar Man stands tall at 6.5 metres and is purportedly the largest bronze sculpture ever cast in Norway! The sculpture was made by Nicolaus Widerberg and was unveiled in November 2004. The sculpture was commissioned as part of a Hidden Rivers scheme across Newcastle city centre.

Below the statue is a line of polished granite which represents the Pandon Burn which flows underground down to the River Tyne. The Hidden River schemes is a series of public artworks to serve as a reminder of the many burns which divided the city in the medieval times including the Pandon Burn.

When exploring the city you may have noticed many streets with 'bridge' in the name despite no apparent bridges, places like New Bridge Street, Barras Bridge, High Bridge and Low Bridge. This is because as the city developed many of the burns were filled in and now flow through culverts deep underground. So though not visible the city still retains its waterways.

The Pandon Burn flowed through the Pandon Dene, imagine a tree lined ravine running through the heart of the city, right by the civic centre. By the end of the 19th century it had been completely filled in, lost to rapid expansion of the city. How different it must have looked!

Newcastle Council records report how in 1977 during President Carter's visit to Newcastle some of the infill over Pandon Dene, south of the Civic Centre actually subsided as a result of the weight of the crowd!

Pillar Man was unveiled by George Douglas who was the Lord Mayor of Newcastle and at time and was attended by Nicolaus Widerberg himself and the Royal Norwegian Ambassador to Great Britain, Tarald O. Brautaset.

Pillar Man is not the only artwork to feature by Nicolaus Widerberg who comes up multiple times!

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Three Figures (2007)

Another bronze statue by Norwegian Nicolaus Widerberg. This one is situated in Northumbria University's East Campus on the eastern side of the central motorway. Widerberg is one of Norway's most famous artists and has prominent works at the Norwegian Government Building and was commissioned to create 52 memorial sculptures following the tragic 2011 Norway attacks.

Five Figures (2006)

Similar to Three Figures, Five Figures is the third of four bronze sculptures in the Northumbria University Campus by Nicolaus Widerberg. The armless statues stand in a line in alternating directions near the pedestrian bridge over the central motorway. The expressionless faces are a little bit haunting but certainly draw attention.

Armstrong House Door Lintel (1904)

The original door lintel to the house which the First Lord Armstrong grew up is situated by Northumbria University on Falconar Street on the site where the house stood. William Armstrong was born in 1810, living at 9 Pleasant Row, Shieldfield with his parents and his sister Anne.

The family moved to Jesmond Dene after. The street and house no longer survive. In the 19th century the Shieldfield area was desirable with grand terraced houses built and occupied by wealthy, professional people.

Armstrong would go on to build Cragside near Rothbury (the first house to be lit by hydroelectricity), restore Bamburgh Castle and found the Elswick Works. He would also go on to gift Jesmond Dene to the city of Newcastle. Armstrong would be both knighted and receive a peerage becoming Lord Armstrong of Cragside.

And in case you're wondering what a door lintel is, it's a horizontal beam fit across the top of a door opening which would support the bricks above it. Important for structural integrity.

According to the Ouseburn Trust, some of the only remaining Victorian-built houses left in the Shieldfield area of Newcastle are those on Falconar Street. When admiring the door lintel take in the historic houses too, many of which have now been converted into flats.

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Collar and Wave (2012)

The fourth and final bronze sculpture by Nicolaus Widerberg sited in the Northumbria University Campus is this piece titled 'Collar and Wave'. The University had to apply for planning permission before they could install the four metre high granite piece!

It is made out of labrador granite which is from Widerberg's home country of Norway. It's said to give off multiple colours.

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Untitled by Austin Wright (1981)

Although the name makes it sound unassuming at over 19m long, it's a good size! It's also surprisingly easy to miss as it set on a wall behind some trees. Made of aluminium it is said to depict the shapes and forms of a landscape as though looking down from above.

Austin Wright started creating large-scale aluminium works in the 1960s and was said to be considerably skilled at it. He mastered the technique of argon arc welding where two pieces could be joined together at an absolute minimal point when reaching temperatures in excess of 6,000 degrees centigrade. It sounds dangerous! (don't try it at home!).

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Dame Eleanor Allan Statue (1882)

Reputedly the only statue of a woman in Newcastle with the exception of those of Queen Victoria, the statue of Dame Eleanor Allan sits high in the wall of the former headmaster's house of Dame Allan's former College Street school.

Dame Eleanor Allan was the widow of a tobacco merchant and landowner. Not much is known about her life but when she became a widow she set up a school to instill Christian values in poor children and to help them become literate and improve their job prospects.

Her first school was founded in 1708, after her death. The school moved around the city before arriving at College Street in 1882. The buildings on College Street now form part of the Northumbria Unviersity Campus whilst Dame Allan's school carries on at the other side of the city in Fenham.

To memoralise Dame Allan's contribution in founding the school, the statue at College Street was built. It certainly has a religious look to it.

A report by Northumbria University, however, reminds us that whilst Dame Allan was indeed a philanthropist at least part of her wealth would have come with links to the slave trade. Much wealth at that time would have inevitably have had some links. It highlights the complex historical picture the city's past has!

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Burt Hall Miner (1895)

The Burt Hall Miner stands high on the roof top of the former Northumberland Miners' Associated Building. The building was designed by John Dyson and completed in 1895. There is a plaque on the wall commemorating the construction of the building, it says Burt Hall:

"was built by the miners' in recognition of valuable service rendered by Thomas Burt M.P. as general secretary for 27 years, and to commemorate his appointment as Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade in 1892."

Thomas Burt was a famous trade unionist and the first working class member of parliament (he was also the first miner to become an MP). He was MP for Morpeth, eventually becoming the so called 'father of the house', a title given to the most senior member of the House of Commons who has the longest continuous service.

The statue of a miner with pick and lamp on the roof is actually modeled on a famous Ralph Hedley painting called 'Going Home'. The paining is now owned by the Laing Art Gallery who have a large collection of Hedley's work (over 40 pieces!).

Hedley's paintings would record everyday Tyneside life. As well as a painter Hedley was also a woodcarver and his work can be seen in both St Nicholas' and St Andrews.

Hedley died in 1913 with the Newcastle Daily Chronicle reporting that:

"What Burns did for the peasantry of Scotland with his pen, Ralph Hedley with his brush and palette had done for the Northumberland miner and labouring man."

That is high praise indeed!

Whilst the building is no longer the headquarters for the Northumberland Branch of the National Union of Mineworkers, it is now part of Northumbria University and occupied by its Department of Arts, Faculty of Arts and Design and Social Sciences. It's great to see historic buildings retain use and life.

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As you can see from this post, next time you're in the city centre it is worth paying the Northumbria University campus a visit as there's lots to see!

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How To Find Northumbria University Art Trail

Where Is Northumbria University Art Trail?

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54.97724, -1.608019

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Where To Park For Northumbria University Art Trail?

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54.979504, 54.979504

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Park in the Civic Centre car park and the sculptures are only a short walk away.

Contributed by Sean Linley

A keen walker and wildlife enthusiast and dog dad originally from Leeds but a Newcastle resident for 10 years with a passion for history and heritage. Always curious about my local area and always on the lookout for something new. You’ll often find me studying the OS map for new places to explore!

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Northumbria University Art Trail was listed in Art // Tyne And Wear // Newcastle City Centre