While strolling along Riverside Walk passing 36 Lime Streets artist’s studio’s and Seven Stories National Centre for Children’s Books, have you ever stopped to wonder about the noble ruin sandwiched between Lowes Hall and the Motor Boat club? The building is the silently decaying 26 Lime Street, the last undeveloped 19th century Ouseburn building, with a chequered industrial history.

The building, along with the adjacent granite slipway and red-brick Victorian public convenience behind it, together form a site the Ouseburn Trust have plans to transform into an Ouseburn Cultural and Heritage Hub. The project will protect, interpret and bring into the public realm this at-risk waterfront industrial heritage site in the Conservation Area. One aim of the project is to save the historic quay wall on which the building sits, providing a 200-year layered construction history. In 2017 well-known local historian Mike Greatbatch researched the history of the site.

26 Lime Street is one of Ouseburn’s most fragile historic structures that derives its considerable heritage value from the fact that its east-facing façade provides a unique record of its 220-year history. Standing directly on the edge of the quay wall, it rises through four distinct historical layers of building history, from its early 1800’s dressed sandstone foundation to its late-20th-century slate roof.

Adjoining this structure is one of the Ouseburn’s most valuable historic landscapes; a slipway that for hundreds of years has formed the meeting point between land transport and water transport. Indeed, the photographs of traditional Tyne wherries moored at the slipway in the 1890s are amongst the most iconic images of the area’s industrial heritage.

The Slipway

The slipway at Lime Street has been a defining landscape feature of the lower Ouseburn since at least the 1820s as it is clearly delineated on a plan drawn c1829 that is now part of the Watson Collection at the North East Mining Institute. John Wood’s survey of 1827 records the adjoining boundary walls but does not show the slipway itself.

Nevertheless, its origins are undoubtedly much earlier than the 1820s as the Minutes of the Newcastle Common Council record the leasing of keel berths and staithe rooms at the Ewesborne for receiving ballast and loading coals from the 1640s onwards. A map of the Tyne dating from this period (published in volume 9 of the Northumberland County History) shows a wainway connecting coal pits in Shieldfield to a point on the west side of the Ouseburn formed by the bend in the burn south of the ford, that is, at what later became Lime Street. This wainway was an early waggonway used for bringing coal to waiting keels, and it suggests that the slipway might originally have been a staithe room established at this point where sand and silt would naturally form a bank over time.

A far more detailed record is Thomas Oliver’s survey of 1830 (published in 1831) that shows how the embankment at this point has been levelled over time to support a cart road (Lime Street), the lime-kiln that gave the area its name, and a clearly defined slipway connecting this road to the burn. Lime Street by 1830 is well developed for both industry and housing, as is the west bank of the Ouseburn immediately north of the slipway that includes a small square structure with an adjoining yard in the possession of William Boyd.

Ouseburn Valley slipway

26 Lime Street

William Boyd acquired a lease at this point on the Ouseburn in 1810, with permission from the landowner, Newcastle Corporation, to build an oil mill and a quay wall `beginning at the abutment of an old quay wall on the south side and extending northwards along the said burn’. This `old quay wall’ was probably the one built by Thomas Brown, millwright, on land adjoining the limekiln granted by lease from the Corporation in March 1798. It isn’t clear who built the first version of 26 Lime Street, Thomas Brown or William Boyd, but this structure is not evident on John

Wood’s survey of 1827, though this might simply be because of its limited size compared to more obvious landmarks nearby.

Nevertheless, the structure shown in some detail on Oliver’s survey is also recorded (with little obvious change) on the first edition of the Ordnance Survey of 1859, and it is the structure that today provides the sandstone level visible at the base of 26 Lime Street, sitting directly above Boyd’s quay wall of dressed sandstone. An older quay wall is today just visible, set back slightly and extending south from this point, and this may well be Thomas Brown’s quay wall of 1798.

Boyd’s oil mill was in operation until the late 1840s, probably crushing seeds for industrial oils. However, from the early 1860s the site is occupied by Thomas Green’s `chemical works’, a generic term for a wide range of early industrial processes which in Green’s case was the manufacture of grease and phosphates from animal bones.

Animal bones would be brought to the site by barge in huge quantities to be boiled to extract grease or crushed to make organic fertilizer. The premises are referred to as a manure works when, in January 1870, local newspapers reported Green’s appearance at the Newcastle Police Court on charges of causing a nuisance through releasing noxious smoke from the works’ chimney. He was fined 40 shillings and costs, for infringing the local bye-law designed to limit the impact of such industrial premises on public health.

In April 1879, Green again appeared at the Police Courts but this time as the injured party to a break-in and theft of bones four stone in weight, stolen by Andrew Wilson from Green’s warehouse. The Newcastle Courant reported that a policeman on duty on Lime Street saw Wilson `climb over an outhouse into Mr Green’s premises’ only to reappear shortly after `carrying a bag of bones’. The outhouse in question may well have been the small detached building that later became 26 Lime Street.

Thomas Green died in September 1882, and his business, `T. Green & Co. Ltd’ is described as a soap works in the 1890s. In the early 1900s the site appears to be vacant and later used as a warehouse until it became the premises of a cellulose spraying business (c1947-65), after which it was used as a motor vehicle repair and painting premises, first by Heron Motors (c1968+) and most recently by AMCars, the last business to occupy the building.

This history of occupation is today recorded in stone and brick, providing a unique layer cake of the area’s industrial history, from the dressed sandstone of the c1810 quay wall, the rubble sandstone immediately above (also c1810), the hand-made 19th-century bricks of its second story (c1860s), and upwards to the late-20th century brick and slate roof of its third story level.

The adjoining slipway presents a similar record in stone, with its splendid pink granite tramway for horse-drawn carts, laid end-on to form a smooth surface for the cart wheels whilst the ponies and horses gained traction on the cobbled surface in between. Apart from the one at Hanover Street (near Forth Banks), no other example of such length and quality survives in situ in Newcastle. On the north side, between this tramway and Lime Street, stands a late 19th-century public convenience, another increasingly rare fragment of Newcastle’s urban-industrial historic environment.

Today this site and its historic structures stand neglected and in need of investment. Self-seeding shrubs and trees threaten the structural integrity of the historic features, including 26 Lime Street and its quay wall. The longer this situation continues the harder (and more expensive) will be the task of saving this Ouseburn time capsule in brick and stone.

26 Lime Street, Ouseburn Valley in 1961

26 Lime Street site in 1961