Decaying North East hall in dire need of rescue on 'endangered' buildings list

The Banqueting Hall at Jesmond Dene was commissioned by wealthy industrialist William Armstrong <i>(Image: GUY NEWTON)</i>
The Banqueting Hall at Jesmond Dene was commissioned by wealthy industrialist William Armstrong (Image: GUY NEWTON)

A crumbling 19th-century banqueting hall for industrial labourers in the North East has been ranked among the most “endangered” Victorian buildings by a charity dedicated to their preservation.

The Victorian Society’s annual top 10 list of buildings and structures in need of rescue – released on Wednesday – was described as “terrifying” by the society’s president, comedian Griff Rhys Jones.

The Banqueting Hall at Jesmond Dene, Newcastle, 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.

The Northern Echo: Jesmond Dene Banqueting Hall, Tyne and Wear
The Northern Echo: Jesmond Dene Banqueting Hall, Tyne and Wear

Situated alongside the River Ouseburn, the land and Hall were gifted in 1883 to Newcastle by the now Lord Armstrong to become a people’s park.

Despite listing in 1965, the roof was removed by Newcastle City Council (NCC) in 1977 and it is now in a state of increasing decay.

The Northern Echo: Jesmond Dene Banqueting Hall, Tyne and Wear
The Northern Echo: Jesmond Dene Banqueting Hall, Tyne and Wear

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.

The Northern Echo: Jesmond Dene Banqueting Hall, Tyne and Wear
The Northern Echo: Jesmond Dene Banqueting Hall, Tyne and Wear

The gatehouse, reception hall and display room are by Norman Shaw, one of the most notable Victorian architects.

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.

The Northern Echo: Jesmond Dene Banqueting Hall, Tyne and Wear
The Northern Echo: Jesmond Dene Banqueting Hall, Tyne and Wear

Previous plans for the Banqueting Hall have come and gone. With water ingress worse than ever, The Victorian Society believes 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 they love.

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.

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"It is significant in the context of Shaw’s work and career, and significant too to Newcastle and the North East. It is time that uncertainty over its future is resolved and a holistic scheme that respects the site’s enormous interest is developed."

Griff Rhys Jones, Victorian Society president, said the list was “a testament to the excitement, variety and invention of the Victorian Age”.

“How terrifying to see buildings I have known, loved or used all my life... in need of rescue,” he added.

“But come on. Look at the character on display here. They all add colour and story to any urban landscape.

“Their restoration and reuse make huge commercial sense. They are attractions in themselves. They are already destinations. They should be part of local pride.

“What do we want? A parking lot? A faceless block in their place? A slew of new carbon pollution? When they have so much colour, continuity and history on their side already?

"It’s time for some serious thinking."