Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead. Originally published by Mackenzie and Dent, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827.
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THE Exchange is described by Leland, who visited Newcastle between the years 1536 and 1542, as "a square haul place for the towne." It stood on the south side of the Sandhill, and, according to Bourne, was built by the opulent and generous Roger Thornton. This structure was pulled down in 1655; and the present Exchange, with the suite of courts and offices attached to it, were finished in 1658. Robert Trollop, of York, architect, covenanted with the corporation to build it for £2000. The articles of agreement are in the archives of the town. Bourne, however, was informed that it cost above £10,000; of which Alderman Weymouth gave by will £1200, and the corporation contributed the rest. (fn. 1)
Mr. Trollop was presented with the franchise of the corporation of Newcastle for the skill, ingenuity, and abilities he displayed, in erecting the Exchange. The architecture of this structure was a mixture of the Gothic and Italian styles, and, in its original state, was certainly very beautiful. The Guild-Hall is a noble room, 92 feet long, and 30 feet broad. The ceiling is adorned with various paintings, and the floor laid with chequered marble. The windows are on the south side; and one was in form of a Catherine-wheel, in which was a large sun-dial of painted glass, with the motto, Eheu fugaces! Under this window was a large balcony, which overlooked the river. The entrance to the hall was by two flights of steps, each of which ran under an arch from the east and west, and were, on the side next to the Sandhill, protected and adorned by balustrades, such as run along the north gallery in the Guild-Hall. The landing-place was under another high arch, above which, in a niche, stood the statue of king Charles II. in a Roman habit, and which was first placed above the Magazine Gate, upon the Tyne Bridge. It now stands at the foot of the Court stairs. The steeple, in architecture, harmonized with the rest of the building; and, in memory of the erection, "every alderman had his name cast in one of the chimes. That bell which had Alderman Barnes' name upon it, was afterwards removed, and put up in a new chapel, erected without the walls," (fn. 2) i.e. St. Ann's. In 1783, a pair of crows built their nest upon the spire above the vane of this steeple. They met with great obstructions from other crows repeatedly by force taking away their materials, notwithstanding the courageous resistance of the owners; and what was still more remarkable, the iron rod, whereto the vane was fixed, went through the centre of the nest, which turned with every change of wind. They attempted to build it again the year following; but other crows pulled it to pieces before it was finished. In the years 1785, 1786, 1787, and 1788, the same crows, as it was thought, built on the same spot, or rather point, and succeeded each year in hatching and rearing their young.
The Guild-Hall received considerable damages from the outrages of a mob, on the 26th June, 1740; and the west end was injured by fire, in August, 1791. Five years afterwards, the common council determined to repair and modernize the entire north front. The old steeple and stair-case were entirely taken down; and the present front, which bears some resemblance to the Assembly Rooms, was erected, and the clock placed conveniently in the front. The pillars in the Exchange and the front of the Court-house were also new-cased with freestone; and the old windows, with strong mullions, were replaced by light modern sashes. These alterations were conducted under the superintendance of Messrs. Newton and Stephenson, architects, In 1809, the south side was new fronted in a corresponding style. The south side of the Exchange was also walled off parallel with the inner range of pillars, and converted into subscription news-rooms, for the convenience of gentlemen frequenting the Exchange.
The Guild-Hall, as before observed, is a spacious and magnificent court. The interior has undergone few alterations. The benches at the west end are considerably raised above the floor, and have been recently enlarged. Here the assizes, quarter sessions, courts of request's, sheriffs' courts, &c. are held. A circular light, from the suggestions of Counsellor Scarlett, was lately made in the roof immediately above the round table. Perhaps the Court would be much improved if all the south windows were built up, and the light admitted by large domes. Above the judge and alder men's bench hang portraits of Charles II. and James II. at full length, and as large as life. (fn. 3) Between them is a portrait of his late majesty king George III. taken by Ramsay in 1760, and presented to the town, in 1779, by Sir Matthew White Ridley, Bart. At the east end of the hall, and over the entrance into the Merchant's Court, hangs the portrait of the gallant Admiral Lord Collingwood, painted by Lonsdale. It was presented to the town, 6th August, 1812, by the Newcastle Volunteers. On the one side is the whole-length portrait of Lord Chancellor Eldon, and on the other that of Lord Stowell, judge of the Admiralty Court. They were both painted by Owen, and elegantly framed by Messrs. Farrington. This illustrious trio are natives of Newcastle.
At the east end of the Exchange stood the Maison de Dieu, built by Roger Thornton in 1412, over which was the Merchants' Court. This building having become almost useless, and the hall insecure, the whole was pulled down early in 1823, and a handsome and convenient edifice erected upon its scite by Mr. John Dobson, architect. The foundation is very deep and secure, upon the original bed of the river. In digging, the bottom of the town-wall was removed, about twelve feet below the surface. The east part of this beautiful building is semicircular, and the basement is used for a Fish-market. It is supported by eight Doric pillars, which run around the exterior; and the interior is divided by strong cast iron pillars. The fish-dealers are accommodated with sloping stone benches, divided into thirty-six compartments, which form a semicircle and a right line between the ends of the arch. There is an excellent forcing pump, by which a plentiful supply of water can be easily obtained; and when the plugs are drawn, six fountains are seen playing from the reservoir. The whole is enclosed by ornamental iron rails and gates, and a flagged foot-path extends around the outside. This splendid market-place, besides being one of the handsomest architectural ornaments of the town, has cleared the Sandhill of the lumber of fish-stalls, and widened the entrance to the Quay, which before was inconveniently narrow.
The grand staircase to the Merchants' Court is entered from the east end of the piazza of the Exchange. It is built in a remarkably free, elegant, and substantial style, and is lighted from the top. A stone at one of the landing-places is fifteen feet long, and five feet in breadth. At the bottom of these stairs will be the Town's Chamber or Hutch, with an open office for the chamberlains, &c. and, above this, the offices of the receiver and the town's surveyor. The Merchants' Court will be a fine square hall, each side measuring thirty feet. It is on a level with the floor of the Guild-Hall, and will have a ribbed roof, twenty-two feet six inches high, and finished in the style which prevailed early in the seventeenth century. The large, old, carved chimney-piece, with its scriptural figures, is to be replaced; and also all the other carved wainscotting belonging to the old court. This noble apartment will thus acquire a grave, rich, antique appearance. Even the door-way from the Guild-Hall is to be altered, so as to preserve uniformity of style in the building. Beyond the Merchants' Court will be an elegant office for the town's clerk, twenty-two feet long, and nineteen feet six inches broad, with three windows, commanding a view of the river and the Quayside. This communicates on one side with a private office, and on the other with a clerk's office, separated by pillars from a waiting apartment. Both these offices are lighted by three windows, and they will all be wainscotted in the same manner as the adjoining court. Above these spacious apartments are an office for the deputy town's clerk, and another for the prothonotary; also, other offices for the town's clerk, with a fire-proof room, in which the records and papers belonging to the corporation are to be deposited. There is a pipe for conveying heated air from a stove below into this room, and another for the purpose of ventilation. They are both so secured as to be proof against accident. At the landing-place to this suite of apartments there is a waiting-place for bailiffs, &c. Nearly all the closets in the different rooms will be fire-proof. The different cross-walls are very ingeniously supported by strong iron trusses; though in some cases they are suspended by a similar contrivance. There are water-closets and other conveniences to accommodate the different classes of persons that will be employed in this building. All the windows have double sashes, for the purpose of excluding sound. The whole expense of erecting this handsome, substantial, and capacious building, will not, it is estimated, exceed £7000. The masonry work has been executed in a masterly manner by Messrs. William and George Brown, and the carpentry work by Mr. Thomas Hall. (fn. 4)