Celebration of the River Tyne's tributaries and hidden underground watercourses

New book by Ken Smith probes the subterranean streams under Newcastle upon Tyne

Crawford Bridge, over the Ouseburn, in Byker
Crawford Bridge, over the Ouseburn, in Byker

While the River Tyne takes centre stage in the economic and cultural story of the landscape through which it flows, its supporting cast of tributaries deserve their share of the limelight.

The bridgescape over the Tyne Gorge between Gateshead and Newcastle is one of the great sights of the North East.

But the array of bridges over the lower reaches of one of its main tributaries, the Ouseburn, also makes a dramatic impact, with the 18th Century stone humpback Crawford’s Bridge set against the Victorian railway viaduct, and Byker road and Metro bridges.

Tributaries such as the Ouseburn, Don, Team and Derwent join the now culverted subterranean waterways running under Newcastle in flowing into the Tyne.

Crawford's Bridge over the Ouseburn in 1910
Crawford's Bridge over the Ouseburn in 1910

These burns were once part of the natural landscape of waterways and denes which were eventually covered by an expanding Newcastle.

All are the subject of the latest book from Tyne Bridge Publishing. The Story of the Tyne and the Hidden Rivers of Newcastle is by Ken Smith and Tom Yellowley at £7.99.

The Ouseburn disappears into a substantial culvert in Jesmond Vale, emerging from the tunnel near the valley’s bridges.

The culvert was built between 1907-11 to allow the valley to be filled in between the city centre and Heaton.

Pandon Burn flows under Barras Bridge, named after the original span built to cross the watercourse. The burn skirts the Civic Centre, and continues under the Northumbria University campus, then the Central Motorway East to New Bridge Street, named after the span built over Pandon Dene in 1812.

The New Bridge built over Pandon Dene
The New Bridge built over Pandon Dene

The Pandon waterway is joined by the Erick Burn near All Saints Church. Near the Tyne an arch, called Stock Bridge, crossed Pandon Burn.

The Lort Burn runs from Castle Leazes into the lake at Leazes Park and continues to the junction of Grainger and Market streets, where it meets the Lam Burn, which has its source in the Gallowgate area.

The Lort Burn passes under the length of High Bridge connecting the Bigg Market with Grey Street, and at the junction of Dean Street and the Side it is joined by another stream before flowing across Sandhill into the Tyne.

The dene of the Lort Burn was crossed by two spans, the upper one in the vicinity of High Bridge.

The Lort Burn was tidal, a process which left a mound of sand at its confluence with the Tyne, leading to the name of Sandhill.

The culverted Lort Burn, containing part of the High Bridge
The culverted Lort Burn, containing part of the High Bridge

The burn runs down part of Grey Street, but its dene was once used as a disposal route for all manner of waste. Lort is the Anglo-Saxon word for dirt.

Skinner Burn originates at Bath Lane, a street which was built over the watercourse and was the site of Newcastle’s first public baths, which opened in 1781.

The burn flows under Westgate Road, Waterloo Street and Marlborough Crescent, then down Forth Banks.

Another of the now-undergound burns is The Swirle, which was culverted in the 19th Century.

It formed part of Newcastle’s eastern medieval boundary and is remembered in the naming of a short stretch near the Pitcher and Piano bar on the East Quayside as The Swirle.

The Ouseburn culvert under construction in 1907
The Ouseburn culvert under construction in 1907

An artwork on the Quayside, marking the shipping and trading connections of the Tyne, is called the Swirle Pavilion.

The pavilion is an example of how the hidden waterways have fired the imaginations of modern artists.

The Lort Burn is marked by an artwork in the Side called Tributary. It is also celebrated by The Flowering of the Lort Burn in Leazes Park, featuring blue slabs and plants, and ceramic and metal flowers.

The Pandon Burn is commemorated by a sculpture, formed from a glacial boulder, called Give and Take in Trinity Gardens On the East Quayside and Pillar Man, a bronze work next to the Northumbria University Gallery.

Inside the Pandon Burn sewer
Inside the Pandon Burn sewer

The Skinner Burn is highlighted by Tyne Line of Txt Flow in Thornton Square, consisting of words on a metal strip.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
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