When in the early 17th Century the Clavering family were pondering how to tastefully demonstrate their high social standing in Newcastle, they came up with something special in home decor.
The Claverings coated the long ceiling beams at their home in the Close on the riverside in plaster, decorated with images of birds and flower-like motifs.
They are based on German engravings first published in 1601 – the only example of this type in England.
Today, the plasterwork still surivives in the Grade I-listed 28-30 the Close, between the Cooperage pub and the High Level Bridge.
“The decoration is out of this world – quite staggering,” says Newcastle architectural historian Grace McCombie.
“It is the only surviving example in Newcastle of a complete plaster scheme of that period. To find that in the middle of a modern city is amazing.”
But then the building, due to open on January 24 as the House of Tides restaurant, is itself described by Grace McCombie as “astonishing.”
She says: “No 28-30 appears to be a plain 18th Century brick building with some 19th Century ground floor alterations.
“The interior tells a different story. The astonishing truth is revealed – here is a 16th Century-early 17th Century merchant’s house.
“It is a very precious and rare survival. I know of nothing like it in the north of England in an urban setting, where such buildings can easily be demolished for development.”
The conservation plan for the building says: “It is a rare example of an early fine merchant’s house during a time when Newcastle was a major centre for shipping and trade. The design and decoration of the house demonstrate the strong trade links between Newcastle and Northern Europe, through the fine quality German design and execution of the interior plasterwork.
“The house functioned continuously as a merchant’s premises through the 17th Century and beyond.”
It is an amalgamation of three original buildings in an area where the first house may have been built in the 1300s.
It was probably re-faced in brick in the mid-18th Century. When merchants moved from the riverside to the “top” of the town, the building was used commercially, latterly as a warehouse.
As it deteriorated, it was acquired by the Tyne Wear Building Preservation Trust in 1983.
Trust director Martin Hulse says: “A programme of essential works was prepared. This involved securing the building which at this time was in a dangerous condition.”
The first move was to clear the building of rubbish before four phases of work were carried out between 1983-93 at a cost of £500,000.
This was largely funded by the Inner-City Partnership, a Government-sponsored scheme of grant assistance.
The trust was also carrying out the long-running restoration of the Grade I Alderman Fenwick’s House in Pilgrim Street and work was suspended at the Close until this property was finally completed in 1997.
The trust marketed 28-30 under terms which included conditions specifying essential conservation work, the cost of which would be paid by the trust from the proceeds of the sale.
“This has resulted in the successful restoration of the building after 30 years of effort,” says Martin Hulse.
Now a new life beckons for a building once at the heart of the most prosperous part of Newcastle.
The Close developed as land was reclaimed from the river by tipping. mostly between the 13th and 15th Centuries.
The riverside and its shipping was where money was to be made and the reclaimed land was colonised by merchants, with their private quays.
The Clavering family owned or occupied the building from the early 17th Century to the middle of the 18th Century.
It was the home of James Clavering, a wealthy merchant, and sheriff and twice mayor of Newcastle.
The family moved to Axwell Hall in Gateshead, which was completed in 1761.
The Claverings would have enjoyed fine dining in 28-30. And now, centuries later, history repeats itself.