The banqueting hall formed part of William Armstrong's gift of 1883, when he handed over 100 acres of Jesmond Dene and adjoining lands to the people of Newcastle in perpetuity. He said at the time that it made him happy to see the dene used for recreation by thousands of people who could only rarely take a holiday – and he now had the satisfaction of feeling that it was devoted to that purpose permanently.

The park was formally opened in August 1884 by the Prince and Princess of Wales, the future King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.

 


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JD-banqueting-hall-sketch

The banqueting hall was built to host parties for Armstrong's workers. The architects were John Dobson and Norman Shaw.

Jesmond banqueting hall marks its 150th

The year 2012 saw the 150th anniversary of the inauguration of the banqueting hall in Jesmond Dene – now a noble ruin at the centre of a restoration campaign spearheaded by the Armstrong Studio Trust, a group of artists who have been working at the hall for more than 25 years.

In the early 1860s, William Armstrong conceived the idea of building a monumental hall in Jesmond Dene, the rural enclave on the eastern fringes of Newcastle upon Tyne where he had made his home. The original plan was to have a place where he and his wife, Margaret, could entertain large numbers of Elswick workers and their families. John Dobson – the architect who had collaborated with the developer Richard Grainger to transform Newcastle into 'a city of palaces' – was given the commission to design the original hall, completed in 1862. It was later extended by Richard Norman Shaw, the architect of Cragside, who added an imposing gatehouse.

Dobson's new creation, measuring 40 by 80 feet (12 by 24 metres), was set on the west bank of the river Ouseburn. Armstrong's friend Thomas Sopwith, a prolific diarist, saw it for the first time in August 1863. 'The walls are of white brick with quoins of red brick and other facings of the same,' he remarked. 'The roof timbers are stained dark-oak colour and the plaster between is coloured a pale blue. Several niches are filled with statues, and pedestals are surmounted also with larger statues which appear to great advantage in front of crimson flags which descend like drapery.'

Sopwith's visit took place a few days after one of the Elswick workers' parties. 'Three rows of tables were in the hall and 210 chairs,' he wrote. 'Last Monday, from one to two thousand persons had tea here, and probably more than ten (some of the papers say sixteen) thousand people enjoyed themselves by Sir William and Lady Armstrong's invitation.'

In recent years, the banqueting hall has been badly neglected, however, and its original structure is now roofless. A campaign for its preservation has been launched by the Armstrong Studio Trust, an artists' colony that has been based at the hall for more than 25 years.

Banqueting-house-plaque

A plaque was erected on the Shaw gatehouse to celebrate the centenary of Armstrong's gift to the people of Newcastle.