Architectural stroll along ‘Silver Street’

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Good architects and builders understand the importance of light, shade and detail. This is why, so often, it’s the older streets of a town or village that are the most interesting.

Today we look at the topmost end of Newgate Street. It used to be called Silver Street because of its well-to-do residents. The name has gone, but this part of the town still has a sense of comfortable prosperity about it.

We begin with number 93, Beeswing.

The ground floor bay window gives a reassuring sense of a gracious home life within, but the door is unusual. There are two doors, not one. They are curved, and while the three-pane light above is conventional enough, the small windows in the doors take you off-guard. You’re not sure what to make of them. Finally, the whole corner is curved, the curve being followed in every part, including the door itself and the first floor window. Altogether, quite a one-off.

Beeswing has alternated between being a shop and a private residence, as you can see from the faded sign over the doorway.

Beeswing was a famous racehorse. She won 24 gold cups, including the Doncaster Cup at her last race in 1842. She was stabled here overnight, on her way home after the race. Her owner was William Orde, of Nunnykirk, (1774-1842). He died just a month later.

The architect, whoever it was, was a person of uncommon ability, which is one reason for believing it to be Dobson.

A little further along is number 101, one of two houses in Morpeth that were probably designed by John Dobson (1787-1865.) The architect, whoever it was, was a person of uncommon ability, which is one reason for believing it to be Dobson. The other is the way the windows and front door are set back in deep reveals, with a distinctive panel below the downstairs window.

The entry at the side has a simple boarded door, but with a semi-circular fanlight, set off by an arch in the stonework above.

Side entries are a practical solution to a problem created by continuous street frontages, and are found in every period from the Middle Ages to the present day. They give access to the back premises without the need to go through the house, but here there have been houses in the yard behind since the 18th century so that what was once a yard is now Newminster Terrace.

The red brick house on the left has splayed lintels, a common feature in 18th and early 19th century work. It’s purely a fashion statement and has no structural significance.

Alec Tweddle's Town Trail No. 2, 1984, says that the stone-built house on the right was “disguised by plaster”. We now see that it has walls of coursed rubble, but the doorway has a carved stone hood supported on long brackets. Look too at the more refined stonework between the upper and lower windows. All in all, this looks like a vernacular building, perhaps of the 17th century, that has had a Regency or Victorian make-over.

Both sides of the street are rich in 18th or early 19th century frontages. The characteristic feature on what are otherwise mostly plain facades is the doorcase. These were normally carpenters’ work, joinery being cheaper than stone and just as effective. Provincial builders relied on pattern books for their ideas, and for keeping up to date with fashion.

Two of our pictures illustrate different styles. Both are set in red brick walls, but number 96 is severely plain — Alec Tweddle actually says that it’s modern — while number 90 has a handsome semi-circular fanlight set in an open pediment. Number 96 also has a little sundial above the door, with splayed lintels on the ground floor and plain ones above.

Further up the street you can see Dawson Place, an estate of small town houses. It was originally a council estate, and was ‘opened’ in 1974 by the last Mayor of the old Borough of Morpeth, Alderman W.A Mitchell. It used to be a common practice to ‘open’ housing developments, but was decidedly unusual by 1974.

Number 90, Lansdowne House, with the more ornate doorway, has a string course, an attractive feature that gives emphasis to a building. The house on the left, Bon Accord, was part of the Girls' High School.

Number 88 is another vernacular building, again probably of the 17th century. Notice the timber lintel. It goes above both the door and window, and is a reminder that, until the great fire of Morpeth in 1689, most of the town was timber-built. The long lintel looks like a hangover from the practices of timber construction.

Morpeth Girls’ High School was established by the county council in 1908, and our last picture is of its main building, which Pevsner dates to about 1840.

Like Beeswing and the Dobson house, it’s a work of art. The gateway is a Tudor-style arch with pretend machicolations and battlements, the battlements being repeated on the oriel window.

The ground floor has a string course below, and horizontal hood moulds over the outermost windows. The two pointed dormers give height to the frontage, but can be of no practical use. They must surely be there only for effect.

In their different ways, both the horizontal ground floor and the vertical dormers set off the oriel window. It dominates everything else and speaks authority. I thought it must have been the window of the headmistress’ study, but it wasn't. Miss Mary Creighton, an ‘old girl’ of the school, tells me that it was the chemistry laboratory.