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  New Bridge Street Passenger & Goods Stations

The railway presence at Newcastle's New Bridge Street originated with the construction of the Blyth & Tyne Railway's Newcastle branch, which had its terminus there, opening to goods and coal in 1863 and passengers in 1864. What made the site of particular importance was the construction in 1904-6 of a reinforced-concrete goods station, which was a notable early essay in the application of this construction to buildings which had to bear the rolling load of railway wagons. It was built during 1904-6 as a replacement for John Dobson's Trafalgar goods station, which stood in the way of a link line between the former Blyth & Tyne system and Manors station. It was extensively damaged during an air-raid in 1941 but was partially patched up and continued in limited use until 1967. It then stood empty for a time before being demolished in the context of link roads to the city's urban motorway. The site now forms part of Northumbria University's eastern campus.

The 'New Bridge' over Pandon Burn seen c1812-20, looking from the NW, with the tower of All Saints Church straight ahead and Gateshead's windmills on the horizon. After 1863 the foreground would be transformed into railway sidings.

In the early nineteenth century, this area was a pleasant rural retreat with the Pandon Burn flowing down from Barras Bridge through a steep-sided valley spanned by the three-arch masonry bridge built in 1812 to carry a branch of the North Shields turnpike road; hence the name New Bridge Street for that portion of the road. The high ground above the valley was developed with new terraces and villas, which enjoyed a pleasant outlook until the arrival of the Blyth & Tyne Railway in 1863. They culverted part of the burn in the course of making a site for their goods and passenger terminus on the north side of the street. Passenger trains began in 1864 making use of open platforms next to Picton House, an elegant neo-classical villa by John Dobson whose gardens had disappeared under railway tracks and which was employed for the company offices and passenger facilities.

A portion of the second edition 6-inch OS (rescaled) showing the location of New Bridge Street terminus in relation to Trafalgar Goods. The latter is shown in red along with Picton House and the B&T goods shed.

At that stage a small portion of the Pandon Burn was still visible either side of the street but further south it had been culverted and become a dumping ground for town rubbish by the eighteen-thirties. The resulting site had then been utilised for the Newcastle & Berwick Railway's Trafalgar goods station, constructed in 1848-9.

New Bridge Street Passenger Station

When the Blyth & Tyne merged into the NER in 1874, the people of Newcastle confidently expected the railway to be extended the short distance to Manors to permit through running to Central Station. The NER prepared a scheme for this but Newcastle Corporation set out a number of costly requirements for street improvements which the NER was not prepared to finance, and the idea was dropped for three decades. By the eighteen-nineties, the B&T route was serving growing and generally affluent residential quarters in Jesmond and Gosforth and the trains were coming up against competition from the horse trams, with the prospect of electric trams looming in the near future. New Bridge Street station, however, remained an uninviting spot. The Ordnance Survey conducted in 1894 shows three platform faces, one next to Picton House plus an island platform, totally bereft of roofing.

Picton House in the nineteen-sixties

As a palliative, the NER roofed in the New Bridge Street terminus in 1896, providing a covered concourse alongside Picton House and a substantial length of roofing on each platform. Since the work was intended as a stopgap measure, the new roof was not overly ambitious yet nor was it done on the cheap: costing just over £3,000. The contract went to the Glasgow firm of A&J Main, specialists in small-scale iron/steel buildings, and the arched roof truss, assembled from standard steel sections, clad in corrugated iron and topped by a glass skylight, is what one might expect from them. However, this was borne on some highly ornamental cast-iron columns and spandrel brackets.

 Stylistically, these look quite old-fashioned for the time and were obviously not designed specially for the job in the office of the NER Architect, William Bell, who was responsible for the work. Instead, they appear to have been subcontracted by Mains to another Glasgow firm, Walter MacFarlane's Saracen Foundry, which was one of the world's leading suppliers of architectural ironwork at the time. The columns are gothic in style, not very different from the sort of work Bell had been doing in the eighteen-eighties, but the spandrel brackets are an eclectic confection: their cusped edges are decidedly gothic but the flowing foliage and flowers within are derived from classical Greece. MacFarlane enthusiasts (and their work warrants enthusiasm) will find the brackets a near fit to pattern 85 and the columns are pattern 123.

Newcastle Corporation took over the trams and began running an electric service from the start of 1901. This in turn prompted the NER to electrify its north Tyneside suburban services from Newcastle to the coast, so from 1904 New Bridge Street played host to multiple-unit electric trains as well as steam trains to the Blyth district. By then the company had committed itself to the long-awaited link line to Manors, which eventually opened on 1 January 1909. This followed the line of the Pandon Burn, through the site of the Trafalgar Goods Station, to an extended Manors station. New Bridge Street passenger station was closed and a coal depot took its place, while Picton House remained in office use, latterly leased by the city council in connection with the 'distribution of welfare foods'. The depot closed at the end of 1967 and Picton House was demolished in 1970.

The 1896 platform roofing had been dismantled by the NER and ten of the columns (along with their brackets) were re-used at High Shields station, replacing the outer line of platform roof columns there, dating from 1863-4. The original square columns were retained next to the station buildings. Other roofing may have been re-used to provide outdoor shelters at St. Mary's Hospital, Stannington (the Gateshead Borough Asylum) which was under construction during 1910-14.

New Bridge Street Goods Station

The main physical obstacle to the link from New Bridge Street to Manors was the Trafalgar goods station, which could not be removed until its replacement had been completed. This was built on the east side of the New Bridge Street depot on partially made-up ground, which had been part of Pandon Dene, but it also required excavations on the eastern boundary where the tracks came well below the natural ground level. To cope with the problems this raised, William Bell called in Louis Gustave Mouchel (1852-1908), who had already devised a solution to the ground problems at the Forth Goods. Mouchel was a consulting engineer, expert in the system of reinforced-concrete construction devised by Francois Hennebique, and one of several attractions this offered was the creation of monolithic structures in which walls and columns acted as one to resist ground pressure and spread loads.

New Bridge Street Goods Station (1906) Ground Plan showing main transhipment floor.

New Bridge Street Goods Station (1906) Cross-section within the northern half of the building.

New Bridge Street was designed as a transhipment shed on two levels with mixed storage above: part for general bulk goods and part for bagged grain and flour. The upper transhipment floor was at ground level, directly entered by railway tracks, the lower one was a basement reached by a pair of wagon hoists at the north end although road vehicles enjoyed ramped access. The drawing shows a cross section through the north end of the building, with travelling cranes serving the platforms and adjoining tracks within the upper goods station; these, along with all the other machinery in the building, were powered by electricity - thereby eliminating the problems associated with hydraulic power supplies to moving cranes. The building was divided transversely at 10m (33 feet) intervals by the concrete stanchions and arches seen here supporting two upper floors. The two main platforms of the upper station were themselves an integral part of the concrete structure; those below were of timber. The customary sack hoists were provided along the side walls of the building, electrically operated and protected by prominent cantilevered hoods.

New Bridge Street Goods Station: view looking west across the southern portion of the goods shed, prior to the insertion of the sloping floors of the flour store. These were borne on the stepped triangular girders leading away from the eye and carried by the concrete Warren truss and stanchion seen in the foreground. These belong to the eastern-most of the three lines of internal columns running the full length of the shed.

At the south end, the three bays corresponding to the 'grain discharge area' on the plan were spanned additionally by a sequence of giant triangular concrete girders bearing an 'automatic' flour store, employing a design patented by the prominent York flour millers, Henry Leetham & Sons. This store comprised a series of parallel, sloping floors forming shallow compartments into which bags of flour or grain could be inserted, allowing different types to remain segregated from one another. Hinged doors at the bottom of each 'shoot' were operated electrically, allowing remote control from a central point, and the sacks were disgorged onto electric belt conveyors.

New Bridge Street Goods Station: an early view from the SW. Bell has echoed traditional forms in his use of a dentil course to head the recessed panels of the upper floors and mock rustication to the arches below. They give a valuable hint of surface depth to the image but the squat office range looks wholly out of place.

New Bridge Street therefore combined various elements of the best new technology. The NER was the second major British railway to get seriously into reinforced-concrete construction. The first was the Great Western, whose New Works Engineer, Walter Young Armstrong, was an enthusiast for the material having first employed it in a warehouse at Plymouth Docks in 1899 and going on to use it for entire warehouse buildings and bridges. Nonetheless, The Engineer welcomed New Bridge Street in glowing terms as 'the first case in which a building has been designed to carry the rolling load of six goods trains, in addition to heavy dead loads, on a ferro-concrete floor supported by columns of the same material. This feature alone is sufficient to constitute the new goods station of the NER one of the most noteworthy engineering achievements of the present day.'

The first construction contract was let in December 1903, several months after work had begun on the lower stage of the concrete-framed offices at Forth Banks, and the new goods station was opened on 1 October 1906. Work then began on demolishing Trafalgar Goods and constructing the new link which dropped gently into a cutting, with the goods station on one side and the passenger station/coal depot on the other. Whether the automatic flour store proved a great asset or not we cannot tell but the new premises played a valuable role down to 1 September 1941. The centre of Newcastle fortunately experienced little in the way of air-raid damage but that night saw several bombs hit the goods station, whose upstairs contents included a lot of sugar which continued to blaze for a long time. Given the intensity of the fire it is surprising that any of the structure was salvable; indeed the south end had largely collapsed. However, in 1943 the LNER was able to bring the goods station back into use, cutting it back at the south end and trimming off the wreckage of the upper floors. Its proper career ended in 1967 but it was still utilised for storage for some years prior to demolition.









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© W. Fawcett, 2011