A LISTED landmark building visited by millions over the years has been saved by businessman and former Newcastle United chairman Freddy Shepherd.
The former Palace of Arts in Exhibition Park in Newcastle is the last surviving building from the immense North East Coast Exhibition, which attracted 4.3 million visitors from May to October in 1929.
The domed building was then used for many years as the Museum of Science and Engineering, housing the revolutionary Tyneside boat Turbinia.
Its last use was as the North East Military Vehicles Museum but it has lain empty and deteriorating for six years.
After Newcastle City Council decided the cost of restoring the building was prohibitive, it was put up for sale last year.
It was feared that if a buyer could not be found then demolition would follow – ironically just as the park is in line for a revamp following a £2.4m Heritage Lottery Fund award.
But now it has been bought by Shepherd Offshore Ltd and will once again became a museum.
It will house Mr Shepherd’s collection of historic horse-drawn carriages which he bought last year at Seaton Delaval Hall in Northumberland after they were put up for auction by Lord Hastings.
Also on show will be his collection of vintage cars, including a Rolls Royce once owned by King George V – who was patron of the North East Coast Exhibition. Mr Shepherd said: “The building is something I grew up with. It stands out in a prominent position in the park and near the Town Moor.
“I remember visiting the museum when it housed the Turbinia. I think it’s very important that Newcastle keeps this building which was built for the North East Coast Exhibition which attracted people from all over the world.
“It will become another great attraction when it houses the collection of carriages which go back to the 1860s, and the vintage vehicles. I hope that visitors can walk away having learned something new about the region and its heritage.
“But the building needs putting back into good condition because I couldn’t put the collections into a place that wasn’t up to standard.”
The council received bids for the building from three interested parties, and following a detailed assessment decided the best option for the building was to sell it to Shepherd Offshore Ltd.
Council cabinet member for quality of life, Henry Murison, said: “The museum is one of Tyneside’s most recognisable buildings which closed in 2006 due to its deteriorating condition.
“Following careful consideration the best option was clearly the one that would allow it to continue to be used by the public. I believe this is a great deal for the city and look forward to it being restored to its former glory and safeguarded for the enjoyment of future generations.”
The building’s use will remain unchanged so no planning permission will be required. It is hoped that the building can be restored with the help of grant aid. A charity, the Shepherd Foundation, will be set up and all profits the museum makes will go to North East charities.