Then and Now: Newcastle's Newgate Shopping Centre in 1996 - and the view today

The Clayton Street entrance to the Newgate Shopping Centre, Newcastle, in 1996
-Credit: (Image: Newcastle Libraries)

Anyone who lived, worked, or shopped in Newcastle in the mid-1990s will quite probably recall this now-transformed view at the top of Clayton Street.

This was one of the entrances to the city’s Newgate Shopping Centre, which had opened in 1969. Early tenants at the indoor mall included Freeman Hardy Willis, Northern Gas Board, Carricks, Woolworth, Bata Shoes, Milburn's Health Foods, HMV Records and Storey's Carpets.

In 1972, they were joined by a men’s boutique called For The Exclusive Man, which was part-owned and run by Newcastle United centre-forward Malcolm Macdonald, and attracted plenty of custom, as well as sightseers hanging around outside in the shape of the striker's young fans, myself included!

Sitting above the shopping centre, meanwhile, was the seven-storey, 85-bedroom Swallow Hotel. Reporting on its opening, also in 1969, the Evening Chronicle noted it was “the first luxury hotel to be built in the centre of Newcastle for more than 70 years”. Each of the rooms had a bath and television - and there was a restaurant on the top floor called The Buttery from which diners could enjoy fine unimpaired views across the city.

By the time our main photograph was taken in 1996, however, footfall at the centre had substantially declined and many of the units lay empty as shoppers increasingly flocked to Northumberland Street and Eldon Square Shopping Centre which had opened in 1976. In 2016, after standing for 45 years, the Newgate Shopping Centre and Swallow Hotel were demolished.

The corresponding 2024 view at the top of Clayton Street, Newcastle, where the Maldron Hotel is now situated
The corresponding 2024 view at the top of Clayton Street, Newcastle, where the Maldron Hotel is now situated -Credit:chroniclelive

They would be replaced by a new hotel called the Maldron. Opening in December 2018, the Chronicle reported that it boasted 265 rooms, each with a flat-screen TV, tea and coffee facilities, en-suite bathroom with rainfall shower, as well as Google Chromecast which offered guests access to streaming services.

Our report added: “The team has paid tribute to some of Newcastle’s best known heroes by naming their rooms after them. Among them are industrial designer Sir William Armstrong, railway pioneer Robert Stephenson, architect John Dobson and property developer Richard Grainger.”

Before the Maldron Hotel, however, and before the 1960s shopping centre and hotel which preceded it, the location was home to a grand building which for years played a significant part in Newcastle’s cultural history.

Built on the site of an old coaching house, the Empire Variety Theatre opened in December 1890. Designed by architects Oliver and Leeson, its grand auditorium could seat 2,000 theatre-goers. In 1903 it was further improved by the designs of noted theatre architect, Frank Matcham.

The biggest names in showbusiness would tread the boards at the Empire over the decades and, within living memory, the venue played host to the likes of Laurel and Hardy, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Morecambe and Wise, Bruce Forsyth, Johnny Ray, Slim Whitman, Lonnie Donegan, Frank Ifield, Billy Fury, Joe Brown, Ted Ray, Arthur Askey, Tommy Trinder, Max Miller, The Goons, Roy Hudd, The Inkspots among others.

In common with other struggling theatres around the country, the once-thriving venue was finally forced to close - a victim of changing tastes and fashions and the unstoppable rise of television. The final curtain went down in 1963 and the bulldozers went to work two years later as the ground was flattened in preparation for the Newgate Shopping Centre and Swallow Hotel.