The Northumberland and Newcastle Society are Making Plans for their Centenary
For almost 100 years the members of the Northumberland and Newcastle Society have acted as guardian angels, protecting and enhancing areas of the North East to future-proof them for generations to come
The Northumberland and Newcastle Society is a registered charity run by local volunteers who make up a committee of members. As one of the oldest civic societies in England, the Society has been campaigning to protect and enhance the landscape, culture and buildings of Newcastle, Northumberland and North Tyneside since 1924.
After almost 100 years, the Northumberland and Newcastle Society are looking to highlight the incredible work they have been doing by creating a history book of some of their most successful activities, as well as to showcase key alumni. An idea born of a conversation between Colonel J.D.Mitchell and Councillor D. Adams at a Newcastle Rotary luncheon, has blossomed into a celebration of their legacy to coincide with their centenary in 2024.
In the early days, the small group of well-connected enthusiasts had the aim of protecting and enhancing the buildings within Newcastle’s city centre. The Society quietly got on with its work, raising awareness of countless campaigns to preserve the best of the North East’s architecture, landscapes and culture. In 1929, the Newcastle Society expanded to include wider areas of the North East. ‘The original founding members were encouraged to spread their work to the county of Northumberland, which of course at the time ran all the way down to the Tyne – you only had Newcastle and Northumberland, not the area which is now known as North Tyneside – so it was purely the Northumberland and Newcastle Society,’ John Matthews, chairman of the society, explains.
Meetings for the society within the first few years were all about forming the structure of what the society members would actively look into. Members then got involved in the protection of the historic buildings and monuments, as well as looking at controlling advertising, which was a big issue in the 1920s. ‘The house that sat on New Bridge Street and belonged to John Dobson, who was responsible for Grainger Town, was covered in billboards in the 50s and you couldn’t see the building. This was one of the issues the society got involved in, alongside noise abatement, problems of smoke pollution and how to manage the motorcar,’ John tells us.
Fast forward almost 100 years, and John says the aims and values of the Northumberland and Newcastle Society remain largely the same. ‘I think it’s safe to say the ethos remains unchanged and is still relevant in today’s ever-changing world,’ he says. ‘You could argue that because there has been a great change in protection of Heritage England, as well as in conservation areas in Newcastle and protective status of listed buildings, there are a lot of positive things that have happened over the hundred years, and could question if the society is still relevant. We think it is, because more often than not, we are looking at developments that are questionable, whether that be the scale or their standards – especially within the last few years where developments seem to have spearheaded around the North East.’
The work of the Society is carried out by three committees made up of volunteers. The Tyneside Committee help protect the historically built environments of the City of Newcastle, as well as North Tyneside and its suburbs so that future generations can enjoy the architecture. The County Committee help to protect cherished environments such as rural towns, villages and landscapes within the county of Northumberland, whilst the Northumberland Environmental Policy Group offer valid and independent opinions regarding wind energy within areas of Northumberland, as well as providing their thoughts on other Northumberland County Council policy.
One of the core values of the Northumberland and Newcastle Society is the ethos of making a difference within the areas of protection and enhancement. ‘There are lots of things throughout the 100 years that I could mention, but for example, we purchased the Kielder Viaduct when we realised it was going to be lost to the rising waters of the reservoir,’ John tells us. This was in the late 1960s, and it was bought so that it could be saved from demolition. Thanks to the work of the society, the viaduct is one of the best preserved examples of a skew-arch bridge in England, and now forms part of the Lakeside Way within Kielder Forest Park. ‘We approached the County Council and other bodies, persuading them to reinforce the base of the bridge so that the viaduct wouldn’t be affected by the rising waters – and we have subsequently maintained it,’ John explains.
Another core value is caring for our urban and rural environments, which face multiple threats. The society look to create new opportunities for enhancement and work to ensure that any developments that are put forward are sympathetic to the environment and the natural surroundings. ‘We’re not against any new buildings – far from it. We appreciate good, new designs, and there is nothing better than looking at the streetscape and seeing a collaboration between old and new. For instance, we have a range of buildings at the Haymarket near the University, some which are very new 21st century designs and some of which were built in the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian eras, and they all look great together because they have been designed with empathy,’ John explains.
The Northumberland and Newcastle Society have several members with years of experience in architecture, town planning and construction who can offer positive feedback, not just criticism. When the society began, the committee was led by some of Tyneside’s most prominent figures including Sir Charles Parsons, and newspaper magnate Sir Joseph Reed. ‘Some worked as consultants and architects forming various committees which looked at new building designs and new roads going through Newcastle in the 1920s,’ John explains.
Now, the Northumberland and Newcastle Society is made up of ordinary men and women who have knowledge and experience within their own industry, and others who just have a passion for protecting and enhancing areas of the North East. ‘I was in the construction industry for 40 years whereas other chairs of the Tyneside committee have been professionals in the police force or architects. We have a retired town planner who now works for the Tyneside committee and they bring a lot of expertise – it’s not only a passion, but genuine past experience that allows us to help and advise others,’ says John.
Looking ahead to the Northumberland and Newcastle Society centenary in 2024, John tells us they are hoping to pull together a book of the society’s history, looking back over the last 100 years and highlighting the most memorable activities and events. ‘I’ve got some old documents from the late 60s and early 70s, and we’re going to try and go to the likes of the Lit and Phil and the Central Library to do a bit of research, pulling together a book for our 100th anniversary. We also thought about planting 100 oak trees, one for each year of existence of the society – 50 in Newcastle and 50 in the old Northumberland, which would work out as 25 in North Tyneside and 25 in the county,’ says John. The Northumberland and Newcastle Society have history when it comes to tree planting, with many trees being planted at Wallington Hall in 1968 in honour of Lady Trevelyan, who was chair of the society for 30 years.
With two years left to plan the centenary celebrations, the society will continue to focus on protecting and enhancing the landscapes, culture and built environments whilst also encouraging new members to join them in their quest. John explains that the society would like to re-engage with a younger membership. ‘We think that there will be a lot of young people out there who go around Newcastle enjoying the restaurants and pubs which are located in beautiful old buildings and think about the places that they are in,’ he says. ‘It is important that the society continues to grow so that we can carry on protecting and enhancing the areas with Newcastle and Northumberland for future generations to enjoy.’
To find out more about the Northumberland and Newcastle Society or for information about getting involved visit nandnsociety.org.uk