The North East's Greatest Railway Architecture

October 26, 2021

The North East boasts some serious railway heritage and train enthusiasts will definitely get their money’s worth exploring it. So, it is not surprising that the popular TV programme The Architecture the Railways Built presented by Tim Dunn on the Yesterday Channel has recently returned to the region for the third time to showcase some of our greatest railway architecture. But even if you’re not that into trains or architecture, Tim Dunn’s enthusiasm is so infections you’ll soon be drawn into wanting to see more. In this blog we’ll have a closer look at what sights the series has explored so far.

In the most recent programme of The Architecture the Railways Built, Tim Dunn returned to explore two structures in Newcastle upon Tyne that made history. Newcastle Central Station, one of only a few Grade I listed stations in the whole country and the ground-breaking structure of Newcastle’s high-level bridge. 


One of the most recognisable views of Newcastle upon Tyne is the Quayside vista with the seven bridges spanning the Tyne. The oldest of these bridges today, the High Level bridge was revolutionary in its design when it was first opened by Queen Victoria in 1849. It was crucial in the completion of one continues railway line from London to Edinburgh in what is now known as the East Coast Main Line. Financially pushed by the infamous “Railway King” George Hudson, it was designed by local engineer Robert Stephenson, son of the “Father of Railways” George Stephenson, this so-called tied arch or bow-string design of iron with masonry piers was revolutionary at the time as it combined road and rail traffic on two levels. The ironwork was produced by the local firm of the Hawkes family with factories in Gateshead and the bridge spanning over 400 metres across the Tyne Gorge. The bridge is still in use today with the road deck carrying local buses and taxis southbound and the rail deck still in operation. It also offers spectacular views of the city when crossed on foot or bike.



The former chairman of the National trust and deputy chairman of English Heritage, Simon Jenkins, listed Newcastle Central Station in the Top 10 in his book titled Britain’s Best Railway Stations, he says “the grandest of the provincial stations, street façade, concourse, trainshed and curved tracks offer some of the finest views in British Architecture”. 

Located in the city’s historic Grainger Town, just a stone’s throw from the Norman Castle Keep – Newcastle’s name giver – it’s a spectacular building. Financed by the infamous “Railway King” George Hudson it replaced three earlier stations and created a central connection for train lines from the North to the South and the West. Designed in classical style using finely dressed local sandstone by John Dobson, one of the most prolific local architects of the 19th century, its façade stretches over 180 metres.

Newcastle Central Station Facade
Newcastle Central Station Facade

The whole site covers approximately 3 acres. John Dobson worked with well-known local engineer Robert Stephenson on the design of the truly magnificent trainshed, one of the first to be designed and built in Britain using curved wrought iron to support an arched roof. The roof spans over three parallel bays each 18 metres wide and over 240 metres long, the central span being slightly higher. Hence it is often described as a Railway Cathedral. Thanks to the cast iron arcades supporting a glass roof, it’s so light and airy.

Newcastle Central Station Train Sheds
Newcastle Central Station Train Sheds

After having to cut costs and tone down much grander initial designs and delayed by nearly a year, it was finally opened by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1850 and their plaques can be seen above the huge entrance doors.

It has changed over the decades with the recent addition of the glazed portico providing a more welcoming atmosphere for guests arriving by train and as an important gateway into Newcastle a £4 million pound renovation is about to commence. Plans include new entrances to the west towards the Life Science Centre and the south towards the new Stephenson Quarter, the birthplace of railways, where George and Robert Stephenson opened the world’s first purpose built locomotion works in the world. It was there that the famous “Rocket” and “Locomotion No. 1” were constructed. 


The North East is the birthplace of George Stephenson, dubbed the “Father of Railways” whose legacy lives on in our standard gauge used by most of the world’s railways. Together with his equally famous son Robert Stephenson, he built “Locomotion No. 1”, the world’s first steam locomotion to carry passengers on a public rail line in 1825 – and yes – we’re heading towards BIG Bicentenary celebrations for the opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railway in 2025.  For the opening of the rail Skerne Bridge was constructed in Darlington. It carried the first train on 27 September 1825 and is still in use today, making it the oldest railway bridge in continues use in the world. 


Link to Season 1, Episode 9


For centuries it had been the transport of coal, not people, that was the driving force behind a series of innovations. Railways connected collieries in County Durham and Northumberland to the Tyne, giving rise to the famous saying “Carrying Coals to Newcastle”.    Starting off on wooden rails carriages were drawn by horses before the age of steam arrived with locomotives replacing horsepower. In County Durham, you can follow a section of one such old waggon-way at Tanfield Railway, dubbed the “world’s oldest railway” dating to 1725. Carrying this line is also the oldest surviving single-arch railway anywhere in the world, the Causey Arch Bridge.


Link to Season 2, Episode 4

Anna Unger

My name is Anna and I'm not as English as you might think!

Back to Blog Home

Stay in Touch

Thank you! Your submission has been received!

Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form