Hidden Newcastle phone app brings 800 years of city's history to life

Stories from 800 years of Newcastle's history are brought to life with a new app from Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums (TWAM) and NE1 Ltd

www.hiddennewcastle.org Westgate Road
Westgate Road

A happy ending was not in prospect the day the three bears visited Newcastle and caused panic across the city centre.

The incident 60 years ago happened when the bears, due to appear in a show at the city’s Palace Theatre, escaped from a temporary cage in which they were being exhibited in Eldon Square.

The ensuing hour which saw shoppers fleeing and several people injured is one of 75 tales and bizarre happenings from the last 800 years of Newcastle’s history.

Now they are available as a free Hidden Newcastle mobile phone app for use on a walking tour of the city.

The app is a much expanded and revamped version of an initial venture trialled two years ago.

The number of stories has been increased by 50, with new features which include an alert when the walk nears locations connected to the tales.

A map allows users to see stories in text, images and video and uses information from documents, photographs and newspaper cuttings from Tyne & Wear Archives and Newcastle City Libraries.

The map allows people to match stories to locations, and listen to them while standing in the spot where they took place.

The new app comes from Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums (TWAM) and NE1 Ltd, the business improvement district company for the city centre.

In the case of the three bears, they ran off separately to the Haymarket, Percy Street and Morden Street, injuring several people in their path who included shoppers, a car park attendant, an Evening Chronicle photographer and a policeman.

www.hiddennewcastle.org Grey Horse Inn
Grey Horse Inn

The bears – standing 6ft on their hind legs – were on the loose for an hour before being recaptured, tethered and muzzled.

One had ripped the bumper from a car, bit a woman on the back of the neck, and knocked down a police inspector when he tried to placate it with sugar lumps.

The bears’ trainer, Norwegian Hans Peterson, said they would be performing that night as usual in the theatre.

Window stickers will be posted at sites across the city to highlight Hidden Newcastle points of interest.

John Coburn, TWAM digital co-ordinator, said: “Hidden Newcastle isn’t like your average city guide and the things you’ll hear about aren’t the types of people and events which are commemorated with a blue plaque on a building – these are strange, dark and forgotten stories and characters which we’ve brought back to life.”

Sean Bullick, chief executive of NE1 Ltd, said: “Newcastle has a rich and colourful history and it is great to be able to bring it to life in this new free app. There’s so many weird and wonderful facts and the app gathers them all together.

“We hope it will inspire a new generation of history lovers and will generate a greater pride and knowledge about the city and its colourful past.”

Hidden Newcastle is a free app available for iOS and Android. It can be downloaded for free at www.hiddennewcastle.org

Chief Executive for NE1 Ltd Sean Bullick
Chief Executive for NE1 Ltd Sean Bullick

App stories include:

The arrival of a Siamese elephant for a show at the Theatre Royal.

With bad weather preventing travel by sea, the elephant walked from Edinburgh to Newcastle “preceded by her keeper without rope or chain and with perfect indifference”.

Several thousand greeted her arrival in the town at Barras Bridge. She was allowed as much beer and wine “as anyone chose to give her”.

Tea merchant William Dakin’s machine for cleaning and roasting coffee beans had taken three months to assemble.

The revolutionary system boiled water piped from an engine on the ground floor of his warehouse in Shoemaker Row, Blackfriars, to a cylinder in an upper storey where the roasting and cleaning operation would be carried out.

The first trial in May 1848 had been going to plan when Mr Dakin arrived at the warehouse from the patent office where he had completed the formal application for the machine.

He had been in the room for only a matter of seconds when the cylinder exploded, killing him instantly.

Men and women suspected of living off immoral earnings and criminal gains in the 1700s were listed in what was called The Rogues File. They included alleged prostitutes, “brother keepers” and publicans who lived around Castle Garth, Castle Stairs and the Quayside.

In 1733, a showman drew a huge crowd to the Castle Keep, claiming that he was about to fly from the top, wearing wings. But, erring on the side of caution, first he strapped the wings to a donkey for a test-flight.

The animal fell like a stone but survived, its descent being broken by landing on an onlooker – who died as a result.

Newcastle joiner Skipper Clarke was challenged to an eating and drinking wager at a pub in 1742. He tucked into a 10-pound (4.5 kilos) leg of mutton, a large loaf and six pints of ale and polished off the lot inside two hours.

On another occasion, he was presented with seven sheep’s plucks (internal organs) plus a pound of bread, three quarts (3.4 litres) of broth mixed with an ounce of jalap (a laxative), and a quart of beer. Enjoy.

A reading tour in 1861 brought Charles Dickens to the Gaiety Theatre in Nelson Street, With him was his mistress Nelly Ternan, who as a child had lived with her parents and sister at 53 Westgate Road, then in 1841 at 113 Pilgrim Street in Newcastle.

Dickens was to make Nelly the model for Estella in Great Expectations.

A discovery by children playing in Shieldfield on June 11 1815 sparked something of a “gold rush.”

They found several guineas amongst rubbish strewn around which had been collected from the Grey Horse pub on the Quayside.

Word spread rapidly and people flocked to where the money was discovered – many of them finding more. One girl picked up 22 guineas.

It was said that a former landlord at the pub had amassed the money but died without telling anyone where he had hidden it.

Other stories include the American actor and politician Arnold Schwarzenegger training for Mr Universe at the City Pool, police carrying out “chastity patrols” when The Beatles performed in the city in 1963, suffragettes bombing the post office on Barras Bridge in 1913.


David Whetstone
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