Newcastle's golden girl turns 80: A history of Northern Goldsmiths

Tony Henderson looks at the history of a golden girl who has become part of a firm’s - and Newcastle’s - heritage as she turns 80

She turns 80 this year and she has been as good as gold from the moment she joined the ranks of a city centre business.

Over the years she has become one of Newcastle’s best-known figures as she poses, Venus-like, on top of the clock outside the Northern Goldsmiths store on the corner of Pilgrim Street and Blackett Street.

Finished in 24 carat gold leaf, she captured the imagination of the young Christopher Goulding.

“When I was a kid my mother would drag me around the shops and in those days the buildings were black with soot,” says Christopher, now an English teacher at Newcastle Royal Grammar School.

“I have memories of how the golden clock and figure stood out more than it does now.”

Christopher used the golden girl as one of the main characters in his children’s book Tinseltoon, in which she comes to life on Christmas Eve and sprinkles magic dust on other Newcastle statues so that they too spring into action.

Now she and her clock have been restored and reinstalled at the store, which is in the middle of a £1m makeover.

It closed in April so that work could start and is due to reopen in July.

The listed building, dating from 1892, is now part of the 111-store national Goldsmiths estate.

Northern Goldsmiths lit up for Christmas.

The Newcastle shop was opened as a family business by Thomas Cooke, whose father came from Dalton in Northumberland.

Thomas hired a young architect called James Cacket to design the store for the Pilgrim Street junction.

His first week’s takings were £155. By 1973-74 the annual turnover was £2m.

Before starting Northern Goldsmiths and Silversmiths, Thomas traded as a jeweller in New Bridge Street under the name of Field & Co.

He was also a partner in jewellers Street & Co in Westgate Road, the Equitable Loan Company, pawnbrokers in Pink Lane, and bankers Hedley, Turnbull and Cooke.

Thomas was also a founding director of Tilley’s restaurant in Blackett Street and had been elected to Newcastle Council.

In 1907 Thomas’s second son, Crossley, joined Northern Goldsmiths. He was called after his godfather, the Northumbrian James Crossley Eno, who invented and made a fortune from Eno’s Fruit Salts.

The plush interior of The Northern Goldsmiths, Blackett Street, Newcastle
The plush interior of The Northern Goldsmiths, Blackett Street, Newcastle

Thomas Cooke died in October, 1914, but left behind two streets, Sidney Street and Crossley Street in the West End of Newcastle, named after two of his sons.

His third son, Fleming, was named after Thomas’s friend John Fleming, of Newcastle’s Fleming Memorial Hospital.

in 1916 a Swiss watchmaker called Forrestier and a British watchmaker named Smith joined the company and made very high quality pocket watches.

Several watches were submitted to the National Physical Laboratory for 45-day tests for accuracy and all were given “A” certificates.

One set a British timekeeping record and was sold in 1922 for 200 guineas, and was bought back by the company in a chance purchase many years later.

The company also made marine chronometers and in 1921 the explorer Ernest Shackleton placed an order for use in his ship Quest on his Antarctic expeditions.

The instrument saw service in the Second World War when the company loaned it to the Admiralty.

The golden girl and clock at Northern Goldsmiths
The golden girl and clock at Northern Goldsmiths

The golden girl and her clock, along with her twin at the Westgate Road shop, was installed in 1935.

Three years earlier, Britain had come off the gold standard and a state of national emergency was declared.

A gold sovereign suddenly became worth considerably more, and the price of gold in jewellery, sold for melting, rose quickly.

The company was besieged with people selling sovereigns and jewellery.

Amid such a gold rush on a Saturday in May, the Blackett Street shop ran out of cash.

The years between the wars saw the biggest single order in the company’s history, from a soap manufacturer who planned an advertising offer of bread knives at a bargain price.

An initial order for 5,000 was followed by a second for 25,000, a third for 50,000, a fourth for 100,000 and a fifth for 250,000.

During the Second World War, to guard against a complete loss of stock from a direct bombing hit, parcels of jewellery were deposited in small banks in the West Country while senior members of staff kept bulky articles in their homes to spread the risk.

Now, a new chapter in the Goldsmiths history is being forged.

Craig Bolton, executive brand director for Goldsmiths, said of the £1m shop revamp: “We’re very excited to be bringing Northern Goldsmiths, Newcastle into the 21st Century, yet mindful of its unrivalled history and heritage of which we’ll be careful to maintain through its beautiful listed features.

“We are currently refitting over 40 of our Goldsmiths stores in the UK this year as part of a major investment and I’m delighted this Newcastle showroom has been chosen as the flagship redevelopment.

“Being born and bred in Newcastle myself, I remember its importance.”

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