People’s banqueting hall in Jesmond Dene on Victorian Society’s Endangered Buildings list 2024

The Grade II Jesmond Dene Banqueting Hall in Newcastle Upon Tyne, designed by John Dobson, and extended to provide a gatehouse, reception hall and display room by Norman Shaw, 1860-62 and 1869/70 is on this year’s Top Ten Endangered List 2024.

Photo credit: Guy Newton

The Banqueting Hall at Jesmond Dene is on The Victorian Society’s Top Ten Endangered Buildings list 2024 that has been launched by Griff Rhys Jones, the Society’s President. The building is suffering water ingression and needs urgent works.

Griff Rhys Jones, Victorian Society President, said: ‘We are not normally indifferent to the architect Norman Shaw. We celebrate him in books, academia and TV programmes. Why are some of his finest works here being ignored? We can’t licence new buildings when we have such important works of national importance waiting to be put to use. It’s time for some serious thinking.’

The Banqueting Hall was commissioned by wealthy industrialist William Armstrong as a venue for entertaining his employees from the Elswick Works, known for shipbuilding, guns and hydraulic machinery. Situated alongside the River Ouseburn, the land and Hall were in 1883 gifted to Newcastle by the ennobled Lord Armstrong to become a people’s park. Despite listing in 1965, the roof was removed by the building’s custodian Newcastle City Council (NCC) in 1977. Now in a state of increasing decay and with its use as an artists’ studio in doubt, the hall’s potential as an arts and innovation centre could yet honour Armstrong’s legacy and importance as a patron of architecture, as well as his intentions for the public benefit and use of the Dene.

In 2019, responsibility for the running and maintenance of all Newcastle’s parks – and the buildings within them – was taken over from NCC by a new body, Urban Green. The artists’ cooperative, Armstrong Studio Trust (AST), who use the building, have carried out ad hoc repairs over the years, to keep the building functioning and watertight, but has had minimal support from the Council and the situation has become untenable, both financially and practically. Currently, Urban Green is under severe funding pressure, making it difficult for them to invest in the building.

The gatehouse, reception hall and display room are by Norman Shaw, an architect with the regrettable honour of having three buildings on this year’s Top Ten Endangered List. Shaw is one of the most notable Victorian architects, highlighting the disturbing fact that even the work of some of the finest architects of the period is not immune to serious deterioration.

The Banqueting Hall was an integral feature of the Jesmond Dene when in the 1860s Sir William Armstrong and his wife created the model landscape which is the origin of the present Dene. It is the last building known to have been designed by the famous John Dobson, Newcastle’s premier architect. When Dobson died, Armstrong chose the then little-known London architect Norman Shaw to add a smaller hall behind the main one, an access staircase from the lane, and an attractive new lodge above. These are Norman Shaw’s first buildings in the North East. Armstrong subsequently asked Shaw to extend and rebuild Cragside, his renowned country house now cared for by the National Trust. While Shaw’s work at Cragside is very well known, that at Jesmond Dene is much less so. Professor Andrew Saint, author of the foremost book on the life and work of Shaw, believes that years of study have shown that the two places are closely related in terms of architecture and landscaping. Professor Saint says “As time has gone by, it has emerged with increasing clarity that they are among Newcastle’s most remarkable heritage assets, both in their own right and as entities within the superb and unique Jesmond Dene.” It is sobering that for forty years the Banqueting Hall and Lodge, though integral to the Dene, have survived with the diligence of the artists who endeavour to use the building. Previous plans for the Banqueting Hall have come and gone. With water ingress worse than ever it is time for the Hall and associated buildings to be restored so the people of Newcastle can keep using and enjoying them and the park that they love. A future as a centre for arts and innovation would match Lord Armstrong’s vision as well as his bequest, honouring his legacy and importance as a patron of architecture. There is a single statue of him in Newcastle, but otherwise no other memorial.

James Hughes, Director of the Victorian Society, said: ‘The future of the Banqueting Hall has been a source of concern for the Society for some years. It is significant in the context of Shaw’s work and career, and significant too to Newcastle and the north east region. It is time that uncertainty over its future is resolved and a holistic scheme that respects the site’s enormous interest is developed.’

The full Top Ten list can be read here and includes a requisitioned school where author Vera Brittain nursed during WWI, the last of one of the world’s first purpose-built amusement parks, a banqueting hall for the workers, one of the first tennis pavilions in the world, and a building where the first £1m cheque was signed. The listed buildings include a Scheduled Monument and two Grade II*- listed buildings.

The list is based on public nominations from across England and Wales, and the buildings selected represent industrial, religious, domestic, and civic architecture from across the nation with unique historical and community significance and value. Nominated buildings must be dated between 1837 and 1914. The Victorian Society has announced its list of Top Ten of Endangered buildings fourteen times.

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