William Armstrong, Magician of the North was shortlisted for the Portico Prize for Literature and the H. W. Fisher Best First Biography Prize. The book has had nineteen 5-star reviews on Amazon. Also available from Waterstones and Booksetc.


Dreams of Nature: the creation of Jesmond Dene

Henrietta Heald spoke recently at the Heaton History Group about William Armstrong and the making of Jesmond Dene.


Armstrong Whitworth & Co. and the Great War

As part of the series World War One At Home, Radio Newcastle acknowledges the crucial role played by the Tyneside firm.


Len Deighton on Armstrong
Portillo visits Newcastle
Swan and the light bulb
Thomas Sopwith's diary
The life of Anne Armstrong
Monster gun revealed


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Campaign to save a unique Victorian gem


The Banqueting Hall in the 1880s, with the Ouseburn in the foreground. See below for its appearance today.

Fate of the Banqueting Hall hangs in the balance

A planning application has been submitted to Newcastle City Council to build four commercial residential units on the site of the Banqueting Hall. These are in addition to the two residential units due to be inserted into the hall gatehouse, designed by the Victorian architect Richard Norman Shaw (for which permission has been granted). The Banqueting Hall, together with the surrounding parkland of Jesmond Dene, was given to all the people of Newcastle in 1883 – and all the people of Newcastle should have a say in its future.

An alternative plan to honour the Armstrong legacy by transforming the Banqueting Hall into an innovative centre for the arts and the study of local history will be published shortly. The aim is to create a cultural magnet for Newcastle that will benefit all its citizens.

Read the current planning application here. Of particular interest are the Planning Statement and the Design and Heritage Statement. If you have comments, please write to Karen Shotton, planning officer, at karen.shotton@newcastle.gov.uk. The present deadline for receipt of comments is 28 April 2015. Let us know what you think via the contact form.

Jesmond Dene was a gift to the people

Jesmond Dene is a beautiful public park on the eastern edge of Newcastle upon Tyne that follows the course of the enchanting River Ouseburn. The land was once owned by Sir William Armstrong, who in 1883 gave the park and its Banqueting Hall to the people of Newcastle in perpetuity.

Armstrong had spent part of his childhood in Jesmond Dene, and after his marriage in 1835 he and his wife created a house and garden for themselves there. They gradually acquired more land in the dene, which was farmed or laid out as pleasure grounds. The success of Armstrong's Elswick Works, which produced ships, guns and hydraulic machinery, had made him one of the richest men in Europe, but his instincts were always to share his wealth and good fortune with others.

The move to Cragside

With Richard Norman Shaw as chief architect, Armstrong built Cragside in Northumberland, the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity. Shaw also worked on Jesmond Dene Banqueting Hall, which was originally designed as a place to entertain Elswick employees.

When the Armstrongs formally handed over Jesmond Dene to the people, in the presence of the Prince and Princess of Wales, the building of Cragside was almost complete – and it was at Cragside that they entertained the Royal Family for a few memorable days in August 1884. Three years later, Sir William Armstrong was raised to the peerage as Baron Armstrong of Cragside, becoming the first scientist and the first engineer to join the House of Lords.

A passion for arts and education

The Armstrongs’ love of Jesmond Dene never left them, however, and they continued to stay often at the home they had created there 50 years earlier. Lively and gregarious by nature, Margaret, Lady Armstrong liked to be in easy reach of vibrant Newcastle, and made frequent trips to London to attend concerts, exhibitions and lectures. As well as sharing a love of the arts, she and her husband had always taken a keen interest in education, founding the Elswick Mechanics' Institute and Newcastle's College of Science (which evolved into Newcastle University).

It was natural that the Armstrongs’ should have ambitious ideas for the Banqueting Hall. They stipulated that it should be devoted to ‘lectures, recitals, concerts, banquets and meetings connected with arts, literature, science or education’. Armstrong also endowed four properties to fund the unkeep of the dene and the hall, among them Deep Dene House (Fisherman’s Lodge).

Well kept for many years, the Banqueting Hall fell on hard times in the 1970s, when the roof of the oldest and largest section was removed. Since 1985 the hall has been largely cared for by a dedicated group of artists who have studio space in the building, but there is growing recognition that a much larger initiative is needed to restore the hall to its former glory.


The neglected Banqueting Hall as it appears today, with the Norman Shaw gatehouse at the top of the hill.


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