After months of eager anticipation, the doors of Wylam’s new premises flew open last weekend. For those that don’t know, the brewery has itself a new home close to the heart of the city namely The Palace of Arts in Exhibition Park. The setting is a fascinating location. For while it is literally a 5 minute walk from Northumberland Street, the heart of the city’s shopping area, the setting is incredibly tranquil and will make for a brilliant spot to enjoy the sunshine and of course the freshest beer, in beautiful surroundings. I was fortunate enough to be invited along to the launch party to have a good neb round the place.
The history of this building is fascinating and I couldn’t resist a blog post covering what I’d learned of the site.
It’s impossible to do this building justice without first considering the site. Location, location, location as the old mantra goes and for me this is a cracking spot. As a city, Newcastle is rightly proud to have what are known as the moors, basically large areas of green green grazing land on which the freemen of the city are entitled to keep their cattle (I kid you not). These are often referred to as the cities lungs as they provide the perfect antidote to the man-made emissions on the roads. The moor area in Newcastle is split into two areas (the Town moor and Nuns moor) by the central motorway, but the total size is larger than Hyde Park and Hampstead Heath put together at 1,000 acres.
Tucked into the corner of the moor is an area called Exhibition Park. The park was developed for the 1929 North East Coast Exhibition. However after many years of steady decline, it has recently undergone a major £3.2m restoration project. The park includes a central lake, a Victorian bandstand, tennis courts, a basketball court, children’s playgrounds, two bowling greens and, right next to the Palace of Arts, is the home of The Tyneside Society of Model and Experimental Engineers (TSMEE), who operate a miniature steam railway.
The North East Coast Exhibition was the brainchild of Sir Arthur William Lambert (great name!). Born in 1876, he attended the city’s Royal Grammar School, becoming a local councillor in the city in 1910. He went on to serve with the Northumberland Fusiliers during the First World War and in 1919 he was awarded the Military Cross for his services. Away from his military services, he was a director at Townsend & Co, which was a company set up by his grandmother which specialised in china and glass. They were suppliers of decorative plates depicting images from the North East Coast Exhibition, created by the now very collectible Mailing Company. One such design included a picture of Sir Arthur Lambert himself. He was Lord Mayor of Newcastle on two occasions, the second of which covered the time that the North East Coast Exhibition ran. He was knighted in 1930 for his work with the exhibition.
The aim of the North East Coast Exhibition was to showcase the strength of north east industry, in particular the regions engineering abilities and to promote the skilled workforce, thus attracting other employers to the area, whilst also generating further orders for the already established businesses in the region. This was a time of impending recession and the leaders in the city wanted to do all they could to lessen the impact of the recession on the region.
This was a massive event which ran from 14 May 1929 and closed with a huge firework display on 26 October 1929. In that time the exhibition attracted 4,373,138 people and still remains the largest event ever held in the city. Several buildings within the park were built to house the exhibitions themselves, the Palace of Arts being the only one which remains. My memories of the building are of it being the Military Vehicle Museum. My visits were only when I was very young, but distinctly remember my Uncle taking me along to see all the various tanks and troop carriers on display. But that was many many years ago and my memory of the building itself are very vague.
In 1929 there was a large wide highly decorated bridge which spanned the lake outside giving pedestrians a direct route to its front steps. With that bridge no longer there, the building does sit quite nicely on the edge of a lake, which having been cleaned up is now home to Swans and other wildlife. All the other buildings were built of sheet asbestos. The Palace of Engineering showcased classic north east industries, such as ship building, mining and railway engineering. The Palace of Industries, included exhibits on tin can manufacturing, printing presses and carpet weaving. In addition there was an Artisan’s pavilion, a women’s pavilion, a pavilion for the Empire Marketing Board, an amusement park, an African village, a huge chicken incubator (which housed enough chickens to lay 800 eggs a day) and a Festival Hall which could accommodate nearly 1,500 people and an open air stadium which could accommodate up to 20,000 people. This was an event with an average daily attendance of 30,000. The final day was attended by some 120,000 people.
The Palace of Arts was built to house works loaned to the exhibition from a great many Lords, Dukes and other renowned art collectors at the time. It is now a Grade 2 listed building and actually the glorious nature of the building is incorporated into the description on the National Heritage list for England, here’s what they have to say about it:
“Steel framed with concrete cladding. Single storey. 15 bays by 19 bays. The main façade has a projecting central portico with 10 base-less and capital-less square fluted columns, raised on a 7 step base, with a 3 step flat parapet which continues around the whole building. Either side are 3 bay blind wings with 3 blind windows each. The building is surmounted by a central octagonal cupola, topped by a shallow octagonal dome. The side facades are articulated with 20 base-less and capital-less fluted pilasters. Interior has a central domed space and linking galleries all round, divided by wooden panelled walls with Art Deco style doorways between.”
Granted some of the wording is very much functional descriptors of the buildings features, but step back from all the individual features and they all come together as a whole to make for an incredibly fascinating building. It’s far from delicate, it’s one of the first buildings in the UK to be built from reinforced concrete, but then why should it be delicate. It was built to house an exhibition which was a show of strength for the region, the building was intended to be impressive in stature and its contents all the more so. However, the star of the show is the central octagonal cupola, which is a stunning space which will be the main events hall, with a stage at one end, bars at the other and decorated with Wylam’s own barrel aging project on display for all to see, just incase you forget for a minute that you are infact in a brewery. Its architectural features like this which make the use of such buildings so desirable. Wylam could have quite easily moved to a purpose built building somewhere, which would probably be effectively a large warehouse, so it’s incredibly refreshing to see a brewery adapting an underused building to bring another offering to enhance the Newcastle beer scene.
I also find it incredibly appropriate that in 1929 this building was used to attract visitors from all over the country to come and see what great things were going on in the North East. Roll the clock forward to 2016 and once again, this building could become a real symbol of the booming beer scene here in Newcastle.
Wylam themselves have moved quickly to make the building more than just a home for the brewery & more than just another taproom. There is a very active number of events planned. There are already several musical performances lined up, but for me most significant are the Brewers markets. The first such event taking place on 10th/11th June will feature North East breweries Allendale Brewery, Almasty Brewing Co, Box Social Brewery, Cameron’s Brewery, Three Kings and special guests from out of the region, Northern Monk. Now to me that is a pretty impressive line-up of top quality breweries from the region. It’s great to see that Wylam aren’t simply all about themselves, they’re really driving a collective community with events like that. They have the fantastic platform and for them to share it with other North East breweries is incredibly forward thinking. Let’s face it, one brewery alone may draw a large volume of people to visit the city. However, a fully developed and exciting beer culture across the city will make it far easier for every aspect of the beer community on Tyneside to flourish. A rising tide lifts all boats as the saying goes.
Currently in the planning/development stage are taprooms for Northern Alchemy and Tyne Bank Brewery which will soon become reality and further enhance the offerings on Tyneside. The beer scene here is really going to take off in 2016 and I can’t wait to see where it ends up. One things for certain, by the end of the year we’ll be placed firmly on the craft beer map.