The central rail station building in Newcastle upon Tyne is an amazing piece of architecture.
After the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway joint agreement to shelve the exclusivity associated with their Redheug terminus on the south bank of the River Tyne, they collaborated with George Hudson to create a public station near the Spital, just on the north of the Tyne. This means there will be no more use for the low-level bridge when crossing the Tyne and a rope-worked incline when climbing the Spital. Instead, there would be an extension crossing at Scotswood towards the north bank. The line started as a temporary station at Forth, with the first passenger train moving on the 1st of March 1847.
Hudson, at that time, was keen on linking his portfolio of railways so that Edinburgh was connected to the English network. The Act of Parliament in respect of his Newcastle and Berwick Railway was approved in 1845. However, it would temporarily use the Newcastle and North Shields Railway’s station at Carliol Square. Undoubtedly, the “Railway King” was going to build a crossing of the Tyne, but it was expected to be lengthy, consequently making the public station construction less important. The Tyne crossing eventually turned out to be the High-Level Bridge.
Fast forward to February 1864, the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway pushed for the building of the general station. Hudson subsequently appointed John Dobson as the architect to oversee the project, alongside T. E. Harrison as an engineer and Robert Stephenson. The clerk of works for the project was Gibson Kyle. This move added some clarity to the general alignment of Hudson’s railways. The plan was to have a central line connecting the south via Gateshead over the High-Level Bridge and approaching the general station from the east; the Newcastle and Berwick line would enter from the east and extend from Carliol Square; through trains from London to Scotland would be able to reverse in the new station; and finally, the west entry point would welcome Newcastle and Carlisle Railway trains.
Concise, Workable Design
Dobson came up with the general plans for the station or, better still, Central Station. He introduced a broad curve to the front of Neville Street, which makes the alignment of the approaching railways at the west and east possible. It was called the “Romano-Italien design with ornamental work of the Doric order.” The plan revealed two distinct platform lines, with two bays at the east and three at the west. Also included in the plan were three trainshed roofs, 60 feet long. There were to be extensive offices for architects Newcastle, refreshment facilities, and a covered carriage drive on the Neville Street side.
The main part of the work was officially awarded to Mackay and Blackstock for 92,000 (or 8,940,00 based on today’s value) on the 7th of August 1847. There was significant groundwork before the actual building work commenced on the large site. Despite starting as scheduled, the pace of the work was slow. In 1849, a financial shock rocked Hudson’s group of railway companies. The money market was tight, and trading was difficult, exposing Hudson’s personal dealings as shady. The merger of the previous smaller businesses led to the formation of the York, Newcastle, and Berwick Railways. The YN&BR was keen on considerably reducing its investment in the Central Station. Therefore, they struck out the covered carriage drive, the hotel accommodation, and one of the through platforms.
Commissioning by Queen Victoria
The construction of the trainshed took lesser time. Queen Victoria was on the ground to officially commission the station for use on the 29th of August 1850. It was a public holiday in Newcastle and allowed everyone to participate in the ceremony. Twenty-four hours later, the YN&BR trains were already running in the station.
The trainshed and the Lime Street Station in Liverpool were the first in the country. The trainshed was built by architects Newcastle using curved wrought iron ribs supporting the arched roof. Curved web plates were used in fabricating the larger part of the ribs; all rolled with the aid of bevelled rolls. This technique was entirely novel, as introduced by Thomas Charlton of Hawks Crawshay, and was thought to reduce the cost of the roof ironwork by 14%. It was clearly cheaper than the option of cutting rectilinear plates to the curve.
The station relied on gas as its source of power for light. The electric arc lighting beautified the entire station, although it was, at that time, considered practically impossible to serve the large station space. The platforms were placed about 15 inches above the rail level. The Newcastle and North Shields Railway shared the station in its early days, moving from its abandoned terminus at Carliol Square to the east, which had been in use since 1839.
The Newcastle and Carlisle Railway also abandoned its Forth terminus to move to the Central Station effective from 1st January 1851. A significant merger of the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway and others led to the formation of the North Eastern Railway in 1861. An amalgamation of the North Eastern Railway with the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway was also on the cards. The Corporation of Newcastle leveraged the need for a necessary Parliamentary Bill to back the amalgamation to demand the construction of the abandoned porte-cochere. This project was designed and completed in 1863 by Thomas Prosser.
Expanding the Station
There was a significant expansion of the passenger train service in the 1860s. With more branch lines opening, the six platforms became nine in 1871, twelve in 1877, and fifteen five years later, in 1894. A new through-island platform was also introduced in 1871, which took up the space formerly used for stabling carriages. These measures did not cushion the increase in traffic and the corresponding increase in train lengths. Therefore, it became necessary to extend the station.
Newcastle, which had already become a city in 1882, supported the proposed extension and considered it a civic improvement. Forth Street moved southwards to accommodate two new trainshed roofs covering the southward extension of the station. Furthermore, another major expansion to the east happened, with extra bay platforms included on the north side of the previous bays. The existing through track was blocked to create west and east bays, which means only three through platform lines existed. All of these expansion works were completed in 1894.
The newly built set of bay platforms at the east end came with their concourse quadrangle, also called the “Tynemouth Square.” A different booking hall was created for those local services. The roof covering now spans seven and a half acres in area—fifteen platforms covering 3,000 yards.
Developments in the 20th Century
The electric arc equipment replaced the gas lighting in the North Eastern Railway in 1900. More electricity was even used in 1904 with the electrification of more suburban lines with the third rail system. This led to the formation of the Tyneside Electrics System and the introduction of electric trains running in the Central Station from the 1st of July, 1904. The tracks on platforms 1 to 6 got third rails running on electricity, while platform 7 also became electrified to serve electric trains going to South Shields.
The King Edward VII Bridge was another huge development. The bridge was opened on the 1st of October 1906 and crossed the Tyne to the southwest of the station. Before then, the East Coast Main Line trains used to enter Newcastle from the south through the High-Level Bridge to the southeast. However, they would have to reverse to proceed on their journey, making the trips longer and creating a congested situation at the busy junction east of the station.
The King Edward Bridge had four tracks, sufficient enough to allow north-south trains to leave or enter from both sides of the station. There is also a triangular junction at the Gateshead side through which trains from Sunderland can use the bridge if required. Three years later, the former Blyth and Tyne Railway’s terminus at Newcastle New Bridge Street was closed. This meant the Central Station was the only major city-centre station in Newcastle, and trains were diverted there through a new link to the Manors Station.