Revamp plans for former brewery HQ unearths relic of WWII

A planned revamp of a listed former brewery headquarters with a “stunning” interior has uncovered a rare World War II relic

The Bruce Building, Newcastle University, which still has a World War II observation post attached to the back of it
The Bruce Building, Newcastle University, which still has a World War II observation post attached to the back of it

A planned revamp of a listed former brewery headquarters with a “stunning” interior has uncovered a rare World War II relic.

Plans have been timetabled to turn the Bruce building, the headquarters of the former Newcastle Breweries Ltd on Percy Street, Newcastle, into student flats.

But as developers began to draw up plans to renovate the Grade-II listed building, they came across a rare WWII fire watchers’ post.

In-situ at the back of the site, the cylinder look-out is one of only two known to exist in England. The only other in-situ example is on North Shields’ ferry landing.

Jennifer Morrison, Tyne and Wear archaeology officer at the council, said: “The warden would stand inside it and look out during air raids to spot where bombs and, in particular, incendiary bombs had landed and started fires. There are other pill boxes but not of this design. In-situ they are quite rare.”

The red sandstone Bruce building was built in 1896 for the newly-formed Newcastle Breweries Ltd, created by a merger of smaller local breweries, including Allison’s, Barras and Carrs, and wine and spirits Swinburne and Co. No expense was spared on the building in Percy Street, Newcastle, which fronts on to the Haymarket.

At the time, Alexander Bruce was a leading light in the local brewing industry.

The building was last used by Newcastle University for its museums studies department. Today, the city council’s planning committee will consider a bid by Michigan Investments Ltd for 115 Percy Street - the Bruce building - and the adjoining properties at 101-111 Percy Street which are on the council’s Local List of buildings of architectural interest.

The plans include retaining most of the commercial uses of the ground floors, including the Hotspur pub. The ground floor and basement of the Bruce building would become a restaurant/cafe. On the first floor it is proposed to create commercial/office space. The other floors would become 60 student bedsits.

Council planners describe the interior as “impressive with stunning ornate tiling and decorative plaster ceilings”. The building has a marble staircase, with most rooms having stained glass windows, and a mahogany-panelled former boardroom.

A Newcastle University spokesperson said: “We sold a long lease of the Bruce building. The building had been vacant for a while. It was not flexible enough for academic use. The proposed use is complementary to the university.”

Planners are advising councillors to back the planning application.

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