Spital Tongues
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Spital Tongues

Chimney Mill, 2006.
Belle Grove Terrace, 2006.

Spital Tongues is a historic area of Newcastle upon Tyne, located north west of the city centre.

Its unusual name is believed to be derived from spital - a corruption of the word hospital that is quite commonly found in British place names (for example Spitalfields) - and tongues, meaning outlying pieces of land.[1]Edward I gave two such tongues of land to the St Mary Magdalene Hospital.

St Mary Magdalene Hospital

The first St Mary Magdalene Hospital was founded in the 12th century to care for victims of leprosy,[2] the disease having been brought into Britain by the returning Crusaders. This was sited well outside the town, close to the present-day site of Lloyds TSB bank at the northern end of Northumberland Street. The St Mary Magdalene Hospital was a hospital in the medieval rather than the modern sense, concerned not with curing but with caring. Today, such an establishment would be called an almshouse.

In 1874, the hospital was moved to a new location behind the Hancock Museum, before in turn being replaced in 1959 by 38 purpose-built bungalows in Spital Tongues. These properties are still collectively known as St Mary Magdalene Hospital.

In 1884 the St Mary Magdalene charity opened the Home for Incurables in Moor Lodge, Spital Tongues. Moor Lodge had been built on land that had belonged to the charity for centuries. The charity had previously leased the house and grounds to William Hunter (the coal owner after whom the nearby Hunters Moor was named), so had to pay £500 for the surrender of the lease at this time.

A new home, still extant today, was designed by the architect Edward Shrewbrook and opened with great ceremony in 1893. This occupied the site of the Moor Lodge kitchen garden, and was extended with the addition of the Richardson Wing (providing beds for children) in 1911. The name of the hospital was later changed to St Mary Magdalene Home in 1931 (the same year that the original Moor Lodge was finally demolished, having previously reverted to use as a private dwelling), and it was renamed Hunters Moor Hospital upon becoming part of the National Health Service in 1948. Hunters Moor Hospital was home for the Regional Neurological Rehabilitation Centre until 2007 when the Centre moved to new purpose built accommodation at Walkergate Hospital. The site of Hunters Moor Hospital has been acquired by Dame Allan's Schools for development as a purpose built primary school.

Spital Tongues village

Originally some way from the centre of Newcastle, Spital Tongues was considered to be a beautiful place, surrounded by the large open spaces of the Town Moor and Castle Leazes. Over the last fifty years, new development has nibbled away at these green spaces, much of it related to the expansion of Newcastle University and the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) to the south and east. Nevertheless, for a place located less than 1 mile (2 km) from the present-day city centre, Spital Tongues retains a remarkable sense of separation and distinctiveness. Together, Hunters Moor, Nuns Moor, the Town Moor and Castle Leazes provide an effective buffer on three sides between Spital Tongues and the surrounding area, helping to maintain the area's village feel. Indeed, many older residents continue to refer to Spital Tongues as "the village", a sense of identity both reflected in and perpetuated by names such as the 'Village Chippy'.

Another feature adding to Spital Tongue's erstwhile attractiveness was the existence of its own water supply. The Pandon Burn came out of the ground at a spring in what is now Fountain Row, before running its course to the Tyne. This route crossed the road at what is now Barras Bridge, near St. Thomas' Church in the city centre. The bridge arch is still extant beneath the modern road, while the river is now culverted for the entire length of its journey between Spital Tongues and the Tyne.

Spital Tongues' rural feel was further enhanced by the presence of an orchard on the site now occupied by Burnside and Wallace Street, and by the grazing of cattle on the Town Moor - a practice that continues to this day.

A key shift in the life and character of Spital Tongues took place with the opening of Spital Tongues Colliery in 1836.[3] Basic housing for pit workers housing was constructed in Long Row, behind Morpeth Street, and demolished a century later.

The area's industrial importance was further developed with the opening of Robson's furniture factory in the 1880s. This precipitated the construction of further housing, including Chippendale Place and Sheraton Street. The terraces of Ancrum Street and Oxnam Terrace were reputedly named after the border towns from which Robson's employees originated.

Buildings and structures of note

Fenham Barracks

Alongside its industrial development, Spital Tongues also established some importance as a military settlement following the construction of Fenham Barracks in 1806. The barracks were home to the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers until 1962, though the Queen's Own Yeomanry (Territorial Army) retains a presence on the site. Other barrack buildings now form part of Leazes Parade, a development of flats for Newcastle University students.

BBC Broadcasting Centre

One of the most recent additions to Spital Tongues, occupying the prominent site on the corner of Hunters Road and Barrack Road, is the BBC Broadcasting Centre, affectionately known as the 'Pink Palace'.[4] Opened in 1986, it brought together the BBC's TV and radio operations in the North East from a range of city centre locations, notably the former Lying-In Hospital building in New Bridge Street that now forms part of the Newcastle Building Society headquarters.

Huntsmoor House

Huntsmoor House, Hunters Road, was built as a soldiers' home in 1899 to meet the social needs of those soldiers stationed at Fenham Barracks.[5] During the fifties large steam presses were installed for finishing tailored garments. Many of the operators of the presses were adults with learning difficulties. They congregated in the centre of Newcastle each morning and were then walked to Huntsmoor House to begin their work. Occasionally, one of the workers would lean out of a window to call over children playing in the backlane between Hunter's Road and Ancrum Street to send them on an errand for sweets to Jenny Proctors sweet shop. A small twist of Victory V lozenges was a favourite purchase and the child running the errand would be rewarded with half a lozenge on their return. Later, Huntsmoor House was used as a warehouse by the Newcastle bookseller Thornes[6] before being turned into student accommodation. A three-storey red brick structure, the design of Huntsmoor House is unusual, topped with a crenellated tower featuring carved shields and a flagpole. The central section is flanked by two arched windows that rise through two storeys, with a Tudor style exposed beam gable above.

Chimney Mill

Chimney Mill, Newcastle upon Tyne

The Chimney Mill was constructed in 1782 in Claremont Road,[7] replacing a previous windmill on the site. Grade II listed, it is significant on a number of levels - as the only surviving smock mill in the region; as the first 5-sailed smock mill in Britain; and for being designed by the civil engineer John Smeaton,[8] the man responsible for the third Eddystone Lighthouse (later dismantled and rebuilt as Smeaton's Tower on Plymouth Hoe).

The Chimney Mill was powered by wind until 1891, decommissioned in 1892 and later converted into the clubhouse for Newcastle City Golf Club. The Club transferred to Gosforth in 1907,[9] after which the windmill's sails and fantail were removed (in 1924 and 1933 respectively), with the windshaft and cap being dismantled and replaced by modern boarding in 1951.[10]

In the mid-1970s the property was bought and restored by the architect Thomas Falconer. His conversion created a design studio on the top floor, an architect's studio on the first floor and space for rent on the ground floor. The building has been used as offices for the fashion design company Nigel Cabourn Ltd since 1983. In September 2006, the property was being marketed for sale at a price of £775,000.

Victoria Tunnel

The Victoria Tunnel was built to transport coal from Spital Tongues Colliery, opened in 1836, to the river Tyne.  mi (4 km) long and up to 85 ft (26 m) deep, the tunnel was built by 200 men between 1839 and 1842, and came about as a result of the owners, Latimer and Porter, being refused permission to build a surface wagonway across the moor and city. Its Spital Tongues entrance was close to what is now the junction of Belle Grove West and Ancrum Street.

The tunnel ceased to be used in 1860, and remained unused for the next eighty years, except for a brief period from 1928 to 1929 when Thomas Moore, a Gateshead entrepreneur, attempted to farm mushrooms in the tunnel.[11] It was reopened for use as an air raid shelter during World War II, with £37,000 spent on alterations and new entrances in order to provide seating capacity for 9,000 people.[12] Though no longer used, some of these entrances remain very visible today, notably the entrance in Claremont Road next to the Hancock Museum. The northernmost (Spital Tongues) entrance was filled in when Belle Grove West was built in the 1870s and is therefore not accessible.

At the end of the war, most of the fittings were removed and all of the entrances except Ouse Street were closed. This entrance had been built on private land: the garden of number 14 Ouse Street. Luckily, it was left open and it is now possible to step into the Victoria Tunnel and explore Newcastle's hidden heritage. Guided tours are available most days each week throughout the year and these can be booked via www.ouseburntrust.org.uk.


The house now called Whiteknights was originally known as New House[13] prior to being opened as a lunatic asylum in 1766. At this time the property was renamed St. Luke's, before changing its name to Belle Grove Retreat in 1795. The property went on to give its name to the various other streets and buildings built in Spital Tongues from the 1850s, such as Belle Grove Terrace, Belle Grove Villas, Belle Grove West and the Belle Grove public house. The Belle Grove Retreat reverted to use as a private house in 1857, and assumed its current name in 1900. It is Grade II listed.[14]

Belle Grove public house

On the corner of Belle Grove Terrace and Ancrum Street, the Belle Grove was a public house dating from 1857 until its closure in 2008. The adjacent house at No. 19, now part of the pub, was once the home of the artist Ralph Hedley until his death in 1913, a connection marked by a commemorative plaque.[15] It was incorporated into the pub in 1923.[16]

Belle Grove Terrace

No. 13 Belle Grove Terrace was also once home to T. Dan Smith, the leader of Newcastle City Council from 1960 to 1965, and the man behind the intended reinvention of Newcastle as the 'Brasilia of the North'. The 15-storey Mill House tower block in Spital Tongues is one of many such residential towers erected across Newcastle during Smith's leadership; he lived there in an upper-storey flat from the early 1980s until his death in 1993.

Actor Alun Armstrong was Smith's neighbour whilst studying Fine Art at Newcastle University.[17]

George Arrowsmith's

Though of little architectural significance, the shop on the corner of Belle Grove West and Hunter's Road has historical interest as the site of George Arrowsmith's general store. Opened in 1903, the shop was owned by the Arrowsmiths - one of Spital Tongues' most well-known families - until 1940. George and his wife Margaret had fifteen children following their marriage in 1882, and members of the Arrowsmith family continue to live in Spital Tongues today.

The former Arrowsmith shop has remained in continual retail use, and is now one of only a handful of shops in the village. It represents a sharp decline from the Co-operative store and 27 other retailers that Spital Tongues boasted in the 1920s.

Benson Memorial Church

The Benson Memorial Church in Ancrum Street was opened as a Sunday school in 1867, recognising the role of John Benson in setting up the school in temporary premises in 1845. Today, the building continues to serve a community function as the home of the Apostolic Church.[18]

Moorbank Botanic Garden

Moorbank Botanic Gardens is located on Hunters Moor, at the top of Claremont Road. The Gardens were opened in 1923 as a plant research station for Newcastle University. Although not open to the public every day, access is granted to booked groups and on Open Days linked to the National Gardens Scheme. In 2012, Newcastle University announced its intention to withdraw its support for the facility [19]

Spital Tongues today

Just as Spital Tongues has long sought to balance its competing rural and urban faces, the village today remains protected by its green collar at the same time as facing immense development pressure within the existing built up area.

The continued expansion of Newcastle University remains a challenge, with more than 2,000 students already living in University-owned accommodation in Spital Tongues - Castle Leazes Halls off Belle Grove West and Richardson Road flats between the Dental Hospital and Wallace Street. Plans for a series of new blocks of up to ten storeys at Castle Leazes Halls were rejected by the Planning Inspectorate in 2006, following significant local opposition and an earlier refusal by Newcastle City Council.[20]

Yet, while many local residents believe that Spital Tongues' student population has reached saturation point, there is no doubt that the student presence helps to support local shops, pubs and services that may not otherwise be viable. On the other hand, the diminishing number of permanent residents has undoubtedly contributed to the closure of other local services such as the school (in 1977) and post office (in 2005), meaning that residents must make the journey into the city centre or to neighbouring areas of Fenham and Arthur's Hill.

However, the insatiable demand for housing in Spital Tongues[] is testament to its continued popularity as a place to live, combining relative proximity to the city centre with a unique, semi-rural atmosphere.


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 7 August 2016. Retrieved 2016.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ "BBC Shows and Tours - Tours - BBC Newcastle".
  5. ^ http://www.twsitelines.info/smr/7882
  6. ^ Goulden, R. J. (1991). "Reviews". The Library. s6-13 (4): 374-378. doi:10.1093/library/s6-13.4.374.
  7. ^ "Chimney Mill and Mill House, Wingrove, Newcastle upon Tyne".
  8. ^ "Leading designer waves farewell". 8 July 2005.
  9. ^ "Leading designer waves farewell". 8 July 2005.
  10. ^ SINE Project (2004), Structure Details for Chimney Mill. Archived 13 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ "Newcastle Victoria Tunnel tourist attraction hits visitor milestone of 25,000 visitors". 20 January 2015.
  12. ^ "Newcastle Victoria Tunnel tourist attraction hits visitor milestone of 25,000 visitors". 20 January 2015.
  13. ^ Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1186234)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 2015.
  14. ^ Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1186234)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 2015.
  15. ^ Newcastle City Council (2005), Local List of Buildings, Structures, Parks and Gardens of Special Local Architectural or Historic Interest in the City of Newcastle upon Tyne: Draft Local List - Wingrove Ward. Archived 30 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ http://www.twsitelines.info/SMR/9948
  17. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 21 January 2015. Retrieved 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  18. ^ http://www.twsitelines.info/smr/7879
  19. ^ "Newcastle University botanic garden set to close - the Journal".
  20. ^ Young, P. (2006), 'Battle against student tower blocks is won', Evening Chronicle, 11 May.

External links

Coordinates: 54°59?06?N 1°37?46?W / 54.98500°N 1.62944°W / 54.98500; -1.62944

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