8 Reasons to Love the Historic North East

This Sunday tens of thousands of people will take part in the largest half marathon in the world. Now in its 36th year, the Great North Run kicks off in Newcastle and ends on the seafront at South Shields, taking in a number of historical landmarks along the way.

Whether you’re a runner or a spectator, here’s a quick guide to some of our favourite heritage highlights along the Great North Run:

Exhibition Park

Exhibition park 2008
Exterior view of the museum pavilion from across the boating lake to the south, Exhibition park 2008 © Historic England Archive

Starting on Claremont Road, the Great North Run takes in Exhibition Park, which got its name from a history of showcasing local industry.

In 1887 it was the site of the Royal Mining Engineering Jubilee Exhibition, part of a wider celebration for the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. It drew over 2 million visitors, with exhibits including gardens, a theatre, art galleries and photography.

The only remnant from the Jubilee Exhibition is the bandstand, which is Grade II listed.

Bessie Surtees House

Bessies 1945 - 1980
Bessie Surtees House 1945 – 1980 © Historic England Archive

The Newcastle riverfront has been in use as a quayside since Roman times, when the first bridge was built over the Tyne. By the 16th century, many prominent merchants owned property in the area. Bessie Surtees house is one such example of Jacobean domestic architecture. It has a romantic past, being the scene of the elopement from a first floor window of Bessie Surtees with John Scott, later Lord Chancellor of England.

Visit Bessie Surtees House

Newcastle Castle

Newcastle Castle 2008
Newcastle Castle 2008 © Historic England Archive

The site of this medieval fortress has been in use for over 1800 years. During the 16th and 18th centuries the keep was used as a prison, and by the 1800s the fortress was home to a bustling community of slum housing, shops and taverns. Railway works in the 1840s saw much of the private housing demolished, leaving two imposing structures of The Keep and Black Gate and uncovering medieval remains underneath. The castle is now open to the public.

newcastle castle
The Black Gate and the Castle Keep viewed from the north west 1969 © Historic England Archive BB69/03744

The Tyne Bridge, Grade II listed

Tyne_Bridge_(south_approach)_(2001)_(geograph_2145501)
Great North Run 2001, Tyne Bridge © Copyright Graham Hogg via Geograph

A popular section of the Great North Run, in 2011 54,000 runners passed over the bridge, beating the record set by the Gothenburg Half Marathon as the World’s Largest Half Marathon. In preparation for the 2012 Summer Olympics, the largest Olympic rings in the UK were erected on the Tyne Bridge. At 25 metres wide and 12 metres tall, they set the scene for the Olympic torch relay in which adventurer Bear Grylls zip wired from the top of the arch to Gateshead quayside.

The Swing Bridge, Grade II* listed

Swing bridge 1945 - 1980
Swing bridge 1945 – 1980 © Historic England Archive

Running alongside the Tyne Bridge, the Swing Bridge was built by the River Tyne Commission 1868-76 to expand trade in the North East. It was first used for road traffic on the 15th June 1876 and opened for river traffic on the 17th July that year. Up to the 31st December 1981 (the same year as the first Great North Run!) the Bridge had opened 286,281 times enabling 448,090 vessels of over 220 million total net tonnes to pass through. Today, the Bridge opens approximately 4 times per week.

Sage Gateshead

Sage Gateshead 2008 - 2009
Sage Gateshead 2008 – 2009 © Historic England Archive

Opened in 2004 on the south bank of the River Tyne, Sage Gateshead is a landmark concert venue and centre for musical education. The curved glass and stainless steel design by Foster and Partners has won a number of awards and divided public opinion with some people drawing comparison to a large slug. The Sage has played a key part in Tyneside’s regeneration and can be seen as runners pass over the Tyne Bridge.

The Baltic Flour Mill

Baltic 2007
Baltic Flour Mill 2007 © Historic England Archive

The Baltic flour mill was a dual purpose factory from 1950 – 1981, producing flour and animal feed. Upon its closure the site lay derelict, until 1998 when construction began to produce a major new contemporary visual arts facility. Only the north and south facades of the original building remain in what is now home to BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Arts.  Since 2002, over 190 exhibitions of work by 388 artists from 53 countries have been seen by more than 6 million visitors.

Trow Rock ‘Disappearing Gun’

Trow Rock 2009 Photo © Andrew Curtis (cc-by-sa2.0)
Trow Rock 2009 Photo © Andrew Curtis

This Victorian artillery piece is named for its experimental moving platform that allowed for the gun to be raised and lowered using air pressure pumps. It was installed around 1887 as an experiment but proved unsuccessful – it was too slow. It is now Grade II listed as a relic of late 19th century artillery development experiments, and can be visited by the public for free.

Written by the Historic England North East team, based at Bessie Surtees House. Follow them at @HE_NorthEast

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