New pictures emerge of historic North East Coast Exhibition

New photographs have emerged from a hoard of 150,000 images discovered in the loft of a Newcastle building

Ward Philipson Photo Memories The North East Coast Exhibtion, 1929
The North East Coast Exhibtion, 1929

Precisely 85 years ago today an invited gathering sat down to a dinner at the Old Assembly Rooms in Newcastle.

The meal, at which the Duke of Northumberland proposed the toasts, consisted of clear Imperial cream of chicken soup, boiled turbot, fillet of veal, roast duckling, pears and mixed pastries and bacon and mushrooms on toast.

The dinner in 1929 was in honour of the committees which had helped to organise the biggest event to be held in the region.

The North East Coast Exhibition, which had been opened by the Prince of Wales in May, 1929, closed on Sunday October 26.

It attracted a staggering 4,373,138 visitors.

Among its features was the Palace of Engineering, the Palace of Industries and the Palace of Arts – the only exhibition building to survive today.

The buildings were created in Art Deco style by Sunderland architects W and T Milburn, who were specialists in theatre and cinema design.

Now new photographs of the exhibition have emerged from a hoard of 150,000 images discovered by John Moreels in the loft of a Newcastle building once occupied by photography firm Philipsons.

Backed by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant last year, John has launched a website, and had also published three books based on the pictures.

The Philipson photography company stand at the North East Coast Exhibition
The Philipson photography company stand at the North East Coast Exhibition

John and volunteers have now scanned 2,000 images for the website, and as they did so they came across the North East Coast Exhibition views.

Among the pictures are crowds thronging the exhibition, the stand for Philipsons who were the event photographers, and a rare shot of the 100-acre site at Exhibition Park in Newcastle under construction.

John says: “ Every time I see photographs of the North East Coast Exhibition, they just amaze me. It was an enormous event.

“From the outside, the exhibition looks like something from Disneyland.

“The average daily attendance was 30,000 and on the last day it was 120,000. Gold watches were presented to every millionth visitor.”

A sign of the times was that although there were more than four million visitors, the car park was used by only 48,260 vehicles.

There were also just seven offences recorded – six for drunkenness and one for pick-pocketing.

With the Depression of the 1930s looming, the exhibition was staged to raise the profile of the North East, its industries and the talents of its people.

A rare picture of the North East Coast Exhibition site under construction
A rare picture of the North East Coast Exhibition site under construction

Among the new-found pictures is an image of the front page of the Evening Chronicle, reporting the Prince’s opening speech which is said to have gladdened the hearts of the thousands in attendance.

“The industries of the North are not yet knocked out of the ring. They are fighting back gallantly with a good Northern punch,” said the Prince.

“The aim of this exhibition is to revitalise existing industries.

“To restore our economic prestige we need courage and imagination – courage in ruthlessly scrapping all methods of machinery that do not come up to the most modern standards,” he said.

Twelve towers fronted the main entrance to the exhibition that led to the Palace of Engineering which, like the other buildings – except the Palace of Arts – was constructed from sheet asbestos.

It showcased shipbuilding, bridge building, mining and railway engineering. There was even an automatic model colliery.

The Palace of Industries staged working demonstrations of carpet weaving, the manufacture of tin cans, the churning of milk, making confectionary, working printing presses and the Andrews Liver Salts Fountain of Health.

Tyneside industrial giants who were represented included Parsons, Vickers Armstrong, Clarke Chapman, Reyrolle and Swan Hunter.

Also on show was Bainbridge’s store, Be-Ro, Carricks, Smiths Crisps, Ringtons, Pumphreys, Newcastle Breweries, Windows, Callers, and the British Hygiene Council whose slogan was “Restraint Brings Health.”

Referring to the Artisans’ Pavilion, the official exhibition guide says: ”Nowhere in the whole kingdom are there to be found more intelligent and industrious artisans than those who dwell in the North East.”

The Women’s Pavilion featured artistic pursuits, embroidery and basketry.

The North East Coast Exhibition at night
The North East Coast Exhibition at night

The Festival Hall could accommodate 1,400 for events like concerts and the stadium took crowds of 20,000.

The Pavilion of the Empire Marketing Board promoted the products of New Zealand, the Irish Free State, South Africa, India, Canada and Australia.

Next to the Great Lake and its ornamental bridge was the Palace of Arts, with works loaned by the likes of the Duke of Northumberland, the Earl of Durham, the Marquises of Londonderry and Winchester, and the lords Barnard, Armstrong and Joicey.

The Amusement Park included the Himalayan Railway, enjoyed by 760,160, the Giant Water Chute, the Diabolic Whirl and exotic animals.

There was an African village whose huts were populated by 100 Senegalese who would “pursue their daily duties and amusements.”

The guide said: “There are native dances, and there is native music, not perhaps up to Chamber Concert standard, but music nevertheless.”

Accompanying the Senegalese were Fullah tribespeople.

“These people are practically savages and have with very great difficulty been persuaded to come to England,” said the guide.

A further attraction was a huge chicken incubator which hatched 800 eggs a day.

The guide once more excelled itself, saying : “With so many chickens coming almost simultaneously into existence, they find themselves in a position analogous to that of the great mass of the human unemployed. The problem of what to do with them is a problem indeed.”


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer