Public Space or Transitory Shopping Zone: Old Eldon Square

Public Space or Transitory Shopping
Zone: Old Eldon Square
Peter Rogers
Postgraduate Researcher, APL
Eldon Square, Public, Consumption, Regeneration
Old Eldon Square has faced major
regeneration in the 20th century,
standing right at the heart of the city
centre and a locus within shopping
areas for all types of urban inhabitants
it represents one of the most familiar
and most used public spaces in the city.
In the mid twentieth century it was
redeveloped on three out of four sides
to be incorporated into the Modernistic
and functional red brick façade of what
was to become the Eldon Square
shopping centre, which has since
dominated the city centre of Newcastle
upon Tyne, now as a part of the Capital
of Culture 2008 bid by the City Council
Eldon Square faces another period of
redevelopment, the first major change
to the Blackett street square since
1975. This paper assesses the role of
the square in Newcastle upon Tyne
from its original form and the
development of Eldon Square shopping
centre through the last 25 years of
consumption and into the 21st century
highlighting the changing nature of city
centre public spaces and the particular
importance of Old Eldon Square to
Newcastle upon Tyne. As the city
changes into what could become
globally recognised as a capital of
culture we ask at what cost does this
occur for historic spaces in the city
Newcastle upon Tyne has seen many
changes throughout the 20th century.
From industrial boom town to
industrial hinterland to sporting centre
and cultural capital in pending it has
been a busy 100 years for the ‘Toon’.
There are many changes underway in
all of the major contemporary
cityscapes of the UK and across the
globe, perhaps non-more so than in
Newcastle upon Tyne where currently
the city is gearing up for the Capital of
Culture contest 2002. This effectively
means that the city is seeking to
reinvent its global identity at the same
time capitalising upon the inherent
strengths of the indigenous culture in
order to attract the lucrative title to the
North East of the UK. However there
are tensions to be uncovered realised
and integrated into the strategies
enacted by the local governmental
investment which fuel the regeneration
of the city and the masses and
minorities that ‘use’ the city centre.
These tensions can be seen throughout
the city centre and the nation at varying
levels by the spatial redevelopment of
surveillance technologies (Norris &
Armsrong, 1999), for the ‘protection’
of the urban fabric and the ‘orderly
flow of commerce’ (Flusty, 2000).
Also the changing nature of particular
spaces throughout the process of
architectural redevelopment can change
the basic nature of a space from a
somewhat marginalised meeting area to
consumer through-fare, this paper
argues that this is in fact the case with
Old Eldon Square. The vision of the
city centre for the meeting variable
needs of the urban populous in the
years to come as depicted by the City
Centre Managers across the United
Kingdom does not seem to include the
more subculturally oriented youth
cultural groups, it does not seem to
include the homeless or the remnants
of urban decay from the excesses of the
20th century (Ed. Fyfe, 1998).
It does appear to be the intention of the
managerial institutions that are
invested in the regeneration of the city
to create a clean and safe place for one
purpose, for the consumption of
products (Reeve, 1996). In the striving
of the managerial institutions to create
this urban commercial utopia some
elements of heritage and culture are
perceived as under threat (Flusty,
2000), as well as the diversity of urban
experience that makes living in a city
the experience that it has become.
The term gentrification has become a
buzzword in urban theory but the
increased control, surveillance and
single-minded regeneration policies of
demonstrate that it is a valid theoretical
and research endeavour (ibid.).
Public Space or Transitory Shopping Zone: Old Eldon Square▐
The cities of today are changing and
demographic’ the individual resides
depends on the effect of this
regeneration upon each individual as a
user of urban space.
North East plugging directly into the
network of capital circulation world
wide (City Centre Action Plan, 2002).
As such there is a lot of change and
regeneration as well as destruction to
The strongest examples of the diverse
architectural history of Newcastle upon
Tyne can be seen in the city centre,
from the emerging cultural district of
Grainger Town (the principle work of
the late great Richard Grainger) across
In investigating the developing
tensions between minority sub-cultural
uses of public space in the city centre
and the commercially oriented
regeneration for the purposes of this
paper I have isolated an instrumental
public space in the very centre of the
city of Newcastle upon Tyne, this
being the ‘Old’ Eldon Square public
plaza. Used by a vast range of the
urban populous and frequented by
youth subcultural groups and local
police and security this represents the
very heart of Newcastle upon Tyne. In
this paper I describe the recent history
of the space itself before investigating
the current regeneration strategies and
policies applied to the space and
possible implications thereof for the
minority groups which frequent and
make regular use of the plaza.
This will demonstrate the need for a
deeper understanding of the tensions
arising between subcultural minority
groups (as users of the city) and urban
managerial institutions (responsible for
running and redeveloping the city).
The Original Eldon Square
Newcastle City centre is a diverse and
interesting place architecturally as well
as socially (Fig.1). The historical
structure of the city gives the
architectural vernacular of the city a
fragmented layering of styles from
numerous periods throughout history.
Its gradual evolution from a walled
medieval settlement which later
incorporated a Georgian town centre,
as well as the indiscretions of
Modernist architects and designers in
the later part of the 20th century, right
into the 21st century where the cities
institutions hold aspirations of
developing a regional node for the
Figure 1. Newcastle upon Tyne City Centre (www.newcastle/
Public Space or Transitory Shopping Zone: Old Eldon Square▐
the expansive modern interurban
shopping complex that is Eldon Square
shopping centre to the Civic complex
comprising of the centrally located
campuses of both Newcastle and
Northumbria university and the Civic
The focal area of this study is
highlighted in the very centre of all of
these, nestled next to Grainger town,
adjacent to the famous Greys
Monument and surrounded on three
sides by the Eldon Square shopping
centre lies ‘Old’ Eldon Square.
was obvious that these changes needed
to be planned. IN the late 1950’s a
change in power saw the Labour Party
take control of the city council and the
rise of T. Dan Smith in the council saw
the plans and designs for a new
Newcastle, ‘The Brasilia of the North’
(Fig. 2).
The 1963 plan for the redevelopment
of the town centre was the brain child
of T. Dan Smith and Wilfred Burns
(head of the city council circa 1959 and
Chief Planning Officer circa 1960) and
changed the face of Newcastle upon
Tyne bringing us closer to its present
‘Thus, as early as 1961, a set of
principles were developed which were
to endure through the Smith-Burns era
and for a number of years afterwards.
The city centre was to be modernised
Named after the late Lord Eldon the
original Georgian town houses were
sought after residential buildings in the
19th century and the early part of the
20th century. Designed by John Dobson
in 1824 and built by Richard Grainger
they were the first initiative embarked
upon by these two local legends and
represented the founding of the
partnership that changed the face of
Newcastle (Ritchie, 1981) and to this
day plays an integral part of the
cultural image projected by the city
(, how then did it
come to pass that only one of the
original three sides of this cultural
landmark remains intact 125 years
Post war redevelopment
After the second world war moat of the
United Kingdoms major industrial ities
had begun to pick up the pieces of their
shattered cities and throughout the late
50s the changing nature of urban life
was dictated not only by the necessity
of rebuilding the shattered architectural
fabric of the cities but also more
mundane but equally important
changes in population migration,
consumer behaviour and increased car
usage. The changing social valkues and
architectural opportunities afforded by
the levelling of some areas within the
city affected dramatic alterations and it
Figure 2. The Central Area Policy Map from the 1963 Plan
Public Space or Transitory Shopping Zone: Old Eldon Square▐
and its role as regional capital
strengthened and, to implement this,
major road developments were needed,
including motorways close to the
centre. Traffic and pedestrians were to
be segregated, partly through multilevel circulation. The road system was
intended to frame the three major
precincts in the city centre which
would be pedestrianised as much as
possible and traffic would be restricted
to access for servicing and car parks.’
(Pendlebury, 2001: 122)
and Percy Street extending down
through the originally residential Eldon
Square to Newgate Street and Clayton
Street, not all of those scheduled for
destruction in what became known as
the ‘slum clearances’ were levelled,
indeed the Granger Market is still
functioning and is set for a face lift of
its own in the latest round of
regeneration, but it was felt that this
plan preserved the unique vernacular of
Dobson and Grainger’s architectural
endeavours within the city centre
whilst allowing for growth and
reasonable redevelopment.
In the course of this plan a large area of
Eldon Square was heralded as
superfluous to the needs of the new
central consumption area as can be
seen in the Eldon Square Shopping
Centre plans (Fig.3, Ritchie, 1981).
This may have been due to the
wholehearted preservation of the
Grainger Street and Grey Street and the
particular architectural vernacular thus
two sides of ‘Old’ Eldon Square were
set to be demolished as an integral part
of the redevelopment plan, with Old
Pendlebury (2001) in his assessment of
conservation in the city, where among
the key issues were the changes to
Eldon Square, addresses several
development issues within these plans
which were to become central to the
future of the city centre. In fact the
implementation of the Eldon Square
Shopping Complex plan as the 1963
plan continued into the 70’s was not
unproblematic including as it did the
almost total demolition of a large area
of central Newcastle and several
locally respected, if not listed,
This plan contained much of the
initiatives for the next 20 years of
development in Newcastle and allowed
for the conservation of the majority of
the Grainger Town area, now
becoming a cultural district in its own
(, however several
listed buildings throughout the city
centre fell into the scheme including:
Grainger Market
Clayton Street No. 11-43
Eldon Square No. 1 – 26
War Memorial
Nelson Street No. 1 – 37
Percy Street No. 7 – 9
Newgate Street No. 148
This effectively cut into a large area of
offices and small local traders in the
area between Northumberland Street
Figure 3. Eldon Square Original plans (Ritchie -1981)
Public Space or Transitory Shopping Zone: Old Eldon Square▐
Eldon Square to be retained as an open
public space. This demolition of old
façade to make way for the new
shopping centre, was not lost on the
council and the centre was named
‘Eldon Square shopping centre’ in
order to smooth the transition for the
local residents and consumers who
would be using the new shopping
‘Strong protests were made about the
destruction of listed buildings and in
particular Eldon Square which was of
great historical significance to the city.
In 1965 the Minister for the
Environment, Richard Crossman,
described the demolition of Eldon
Square as, ‘…a real aesthetic and
historical loss’ but felt that’s its loss,
‘…was decisively outweighed by the
urgent need for a piece of urban
renewal of critical importance…to the
whole region.’ (Amery, 1977: 225 in
Ritchie, 1981)
within regeneration which was
projected by the local councillors
during this period created a shift in the
use of Eldon Square from residential to
commercial property which had begun
earlier with the shift of use from
residential to office in the original
buildings. This compounded the
changing use-value of the plaza from
accessible and public, effectively
creating a marginal consumer space in
synchronicity with a unique public
space, still a part of but not entirely
integrated into the city centre.
25 years of Consumption
Eldon Square has stood proudly and
successfully as the central focus of
economy and consumption in the city
centre of Newcastle upon Tyne since
its completion and opening in 1975,
and in the year 2000 celebrated 25
years of supplying the city under the
moniker ‘25 years of Consumption’.
Standing fast against the development
of the huge Metrocentre in Gateshead
which for may years stood as the
largest Mall in Europe. Still against
these odds the city centre has
flourished. However there has been
This dramatically changed the usevalue of the Eldon Square plaza in
relation to the city centre. The
separation of the previously residential
homes and a cornerstone and central
point of Newcastle upon Tyne became
known over the next 25 years as ‘Old’
Eldon Square or less formally by some
users as ‘The Green’ (Fig.4). The
central focus of the city moved from
the Eldon Square plaza to Grey’s
Monument just a few hundred yards
down Blackett Street. However this
short distance marginalised ‘Old’
Eldon Square from the city centre, it
became a marginal space nestled
between the red brick façades of the
new and modern shopping centre, only
one if the original three sides to the
plaza remained intact, and these too
became shops and cafes over the years
to come.
This discord between the conservation
of the local architectural vernacular and
identity with the desperate need for
fiscal growth and economic stability
Figure 4. Old Eldon Square before demolition (above), June 2001(below)
Public Space or Transitory Shopping Zone: Old Eldon Square▐
increasingly an imbalance in the
distribution of success for stores in the
city centre. Increasingly those store
located in the top of the shopping
facilities, near the universities in the
north end have been more successful
and the southern end of the Eldon
Square complex has suffered from
falling rents and low levels of
consumer footfalls.
In the initial plans for Eldon Square the
supply of retail space was to be
balanced across the whole of the centre
with key stores located either side of
Old Eldon Square in both the North
and South Blocks.
It does appear that the Greenmarket, an
indoor market of a more modern design
which complemented the Grainger
Market located over Clayton Street but
immediately adjacent to the Eldon
Square project appeared to give the
southern end of the shopping centre a
lower budget ambience, and took up a
lot of valuable floor space leading in
part to the lower success of large stores
located within the southern block,
however this is unsubstantiated by the
apparent success of the Greenmarket
and the Safeway food store to which it
is connected (despite which plans to
replace the Greenmarket are currently
in the council pipelines).
Eldon Square shopping centre changed
the face of Newcastle and the way in
which people and consumers moved
around within the city centre. The
compact design of the centre in the end
proved to be the main reason for the
concentration of shopping activity in
redevelopment plans aims to expand
and redevelop the centre forming an
‘octopus’ with its increasing number of
insinuating the mall ever deeper into
the fabric of the city, at the centre of all
this Old Eldon Square remains.
The space that resulted from the
development of the Eldon Square
shopping centre on all but one side of
the Old Eldon Square has become a
contested and important space in the
city of Newcastle upon Tyne. In the
1980’s another mall development
linking directly into the expanding
commercial lock in of Newcastle’s
central point in the form of Monument
Mall. This extension to the shopping
centre facilities already in place gave
direct access to the Monument
underground Metro station and retail
space for a number of new department
stores (currently including Virgin
Megastores and the Gadget Shop). The
continued development of a city centre
for the high spending Geordie culture
has continued apace throughout the last
decades of the 20th century and new
managerial powers and conglomerates
are pushing even harder for further
changes to the fabric of the city centre.
Contemporary Context for
As a part of the local council’s plans
and regional motivation behind the
newly emergent Newcastle-Gateshead
partnership, the regeneration of
Newcastle upon Tyne has shifted gears
again at the turn of the century. The
current slew of regeneration initiatives
has been geared differently to those of
the 1960’s and 1970’s, many of which
were only ever partially completed or
are broken into segments by the
planning permissions and political
pressures levies against wholesale
destruction of the city center by
political action groups of the time.
Whilst still much rooted in the need for
economic growth and stability in the
city, there is a new face to the purpose
of regeneration and this is the spectre
of culture.
Newcastle upon Tyne has submitted in
2002-3 to be the United Kingdoms
entrant into the European Capital of
Culture Contest for the year 2008
( With this much
sought after title comes massive influx
of investment, capital generation, and
the city generates a much higher global
profile and from thence raised tourism,
an influx of all things good for the
economy of Newcastle upon Tyne and
for the continued development of the
city towards its global aspirations, as a
key member of the international
Technologies, economy and status) and
networked megalopolis (Going for
Growth – DATE?, City Centre Action
Plan, 2002).
However the culture that is being
driven forwards and prescribed onto
the city and its inhabitants would by
the nature of the majority of these
redevelopment schemes, not just in
Newcastle upon Tyne but across the
country as other cities become involve
in this cycle of reinvention and
regeneration, seems to be one
predominantly of the leisured and
consuming middle classes. This in
itself seems ironic with the fine history
of the city as an industrial workhorse of
the UK, and of the blue-collar identity
associated with the ‘Geordie’ regional
identity and culture.
The urban managerial institutions (e.g.
City Centre Manager, Regional
Development Agency, Local Council
etc.) plan for the redevelopment of the
city has resulted in a mix of policies
and projects ranging from the
extremely successful and tasteful (The
Millennium bridge, The Baltic Quays)
to the over budget debacle (The Love
Parade, The Blue Carpet). However
cultural these redevelopments claim to
be they have often been referred to by
the press and council alike primarily by
their ability to create jobs, revenue and
increase cash flow in the city rather
than their contributions to developing
and aiding in the cultural identity and
viability of the city and its residents. In
this sense there are fears that culture
may be wielded as an economic tool
Public Space or Transitory Shopping Zone: Old Eldon Square▐
and this economic imperative will drive
regeneration in a direction which may
not be in the best interests of either the
people of Newcastle or the city itself.
Similar questions have been raised
throughout the academic community as
this trend spreads across the UK
(Reeve, 1996).
The commodity and consumer oriented
theme has dominated the bulk of
regeneration initiatives by the local
council since the 1960’s and 70’s and
that resulted in the questionable
destruction of the original Eldon
Square (which has bloodied the nose of
the council ever since), and once again
one of the newest of these
redevelopment schemes to date
involves the same space. The city
centre has once again been the charting
a new stage of redevelopment and both
a new look and use-value for ‘Old’
Eldon Square and the Eldon Square
shopping centre.
Regenerating the Green: From
Public Plaza to Consumer
The newest stage in the plans for urban
regeneration linked to the Capital of
Culture bid, is set to begin in the
Autumn of 2002 and continue over the
next several years. The full details will
be published in the redrafted City
Centre Action Plan 2002, but is still at
the time of writing in its final stages of
drafting and publication.
The plan sets out 7 key areas for
redevelopment in Newcastle upon
Tyne, these include:
Grainger Town – Inner city
housing, art & culture events,
redeveloped Grainger Market.
Eldon – Shopping Centre expanded
and the Eldon Square area to be
given facelift.
University – Reduce traffic
congestion, improve vernacular
around entrance areas
East City – Development of
coordinated redevelopment plan
Quayside – Improved transit links,
continued redevelopment of area
redevelopment of areas behind
Central station
Boulevard – Gallowgate & St
James area, improve access &
The Eldon Square shopping centre is
poised between many of these
development areas and its expansion
plans entail works from relocation of
the bus station to allow for new
shopping level, improved access by
transforming ‘Old’ Eldon Square from
a marginalized plaza into a main
entrance and access point to the newly
planned shop expansion area, links to
the south end of the shopping centre
over Blackett Street (which already
affected the ‘Old’ Eldon Square plaza
with the extension of Blackett Bridge),
new shop frontages along Blackett
Street, replacement of the trees in
Eldon Square to improve lighting and
encourage grass growth (Evening
Chronicle, Feb 12, 2002), Demolition
of the Green Market in the shopping
centre, improvements to the Grainger
Market, the opening of a large new
leisure facility nearby and connected to
the shopping centre under the title of
‘The Gate’ and in general more shops
all around.
Among the drastic affects that this
redevelopment plan will have on Eldon
Square will be the demolition and
possible relocation out of the square of
‘The George and Dragon’ Public
House, the potential lease review of
traders in the remaining original Eldon
Square buildings, the removal of Eldon
Walk a throughway which skirts the
upper periphery of the plaza improving
access to the Eldon Square shopping
centre, to be replaced with more
aesthetically pleasing glass frontages
around the new entrance (Fig.5) and all
of this in synchronicity with the current
legislative prohibition of certain
activities in the square, such as skating
and roller-blading and concentrated
surveillance in the area.
This regeneration plan promises to
change the use-value of the space from
the unique public enclosure it has been
for almost 25 years since the original
opening of the shopping centre into a
more generic consumer throughway.
Eldon Square has been openly
accessible to any and all users
Figure 5. Eldon Square regeneration plan, artists impression (Citylife, May -2002)
Public Space or Transitory Shopping Zone: Old Eldon Square▐
throughout that time, though debate has
arisen more than once over the youths
who mass there on bright days,
weekends and holidays concerning the
detrimental affect they have on
consumer activity in the area, and the
perception of danger they inspire in
less confident city centre users.
As a potentially marginal space it has
remained on the fringe of the bustle of
the shopping activities in the city
centre for so long precisely because of
its unattractive red brick architecture
and defensive space, so the tensions
surrounding this redevelopment have
been considered thoroughly over some
time by the relevant parties and some
minimal consultation has been
undertaken by the council, however
with unclear results.
Despite these issues, and much to the
chagrin of several managerial and
consumer oriented institutions in the
locality this self-styled or accidental
separation from the consumer related
bustle of the city centre appears to have
been a by-product of the original 1963
plans and the building of Eldon Square
shopping centre which effectively
reinforces the use of the square as a
meeting place for particular subcultures
within the city. It has in fact become a
central locus point for several youth
cultures in the city to the point where
there have been altercations between
some of the youth groups that ‘hang
out’ and meet in the area, located as it
is next to both the Eldon Square bus
station (just through the George and
Dragon) and the Blackett Street bus
‘hooligans and thieves’ to ‘damage to
the grass’, and though there is little
perception by these youth groups of
any targeted persecution by other
groups in the city, including the
authorities, they are aware of the
discomfort their presence causes both
some of the other city centre users and
the local shops and authorities (Rogers
- forthcoming).
Future Implications
The redevelopment of the Old Eldon
Square plaza from the marginalised yet
accessible plaza it has become over the
last 25 years, where it has been largely
ignored in local policy (bar the
imposition of restrictions on youth
activity) and regeneration plans has
come as welcome to some and
disappointing to others, it remains to be
seen when the building work begins
where the displaced groups will gather
and the changes the new access and
entry ways as well as the orientation of
use-value from a public plaza towards
a more transitory space will have on
the flow of people and commerce
through the area itself and the city
center as a whole.
It is hoped by some that the
redevelopment will encourage stronger
connections to the southern end of the
city centre, which has been less
successful in attracting customers and
has less retail space for the larger
outlets which are frequently found in
the main shopping area in between
Northumberland Street and the
Haymarket and Percy Street sides of
Eldon Square (Fig.1).
The hope that this connection will
encourage a flow of people using
Eldon Square as a transitory space, a
linking walkway to pass through on
route to shops in the south of the city
centre will potentially change many
features of this urban public space: the
user demographic, the time spent
relaxing in the square, the tricking
biker’s which are now springing up in
opposition to the sins which proclaim
clearly ‘No Skating, Boarding or
blading. Maximum fine £500’ may in
fact be forced into other areas as the
flow of passers by limits the space
available for such activities, and the
flow of consumers will doubtless result
in tighter restrictions and firmer
policing of the area. This transition
from public plaza to linking walkway
is only likely to be fully realised if and
when Blackett Street itself is fully
congestion caused by the movement of
buses through the area, this would also
reduce the noise levels and create a
more peaceful atmosphere which could
reinforce the nature of the plaza as a
place to relax and encourage the
maintenance of the plaza as ‘Old’
Eldon Square, but there is even tension
here as a transitory space the area
would benefit from pedestrianisation as
well, making it safer to walk through
without having to dodge buses and
traffic as you cross Blackett Street
Many of the office and shop workers in
the city have been known to use Old
Eldon Square as an informal lunch
room staying in the pleasant green
space that may now be nothing more
than a through-fare for shoppers, yet
pedestrianisation of this area is bound
to bring more youths willing to ‘grind’
any slide rails and perform ‘manual’
tricks on smooth marble or concrete
and shiny new surfaces that spring up
and the redevelopment moves on. The
contested nature of this space and the
use-values applied to it are diverse and
defiantly conflictual, in fact there are
so many possibilities there is no doubt
that this space will continue to be a
hotbed of social and architectural
tensions regardless of the direction of
Contemporary research into the
regeneration of public spaces needs to
assess why the regeneration takes
place, for what reason does each space
need to be changed? For example ‘will
the changes proposed in schemes such
as the Eldon Square regeneration
benefit the users of such a space?’
Referring not just to the droves of
Public Space or Transitory Shopping Zone: Old Eldon Square▐
spending consumers already in the city
centre with many spaces to use, but
also to the subcultural youth and social
minorities who exist on the fringe of
urban society. Regeneration and
creation of an aesthetically pleasing
architectural environment may well be
economically the best option for a
capital of culture, but the culture that is
already there inherent in the
environment and emerging from the
minorities and youth groups should
never be forgotten in the process of
planning and regeneration.
Often the oppositional nature of such
groups, like skateboarders make
catering for these groups problematic
but in the drive to attain a unique urban
culture and an architectural vernacular
that reflects both the diversity of
Newcastle’s urban citizenship and the
strength of its economic and cultural
foundations as regional capital then
perhaps more reflection could be
focused on the gaps and conflicts
between urban citizens and the
application and sometimes imposition
of the larger scheme for Newcastle
upon Tyne upon the resident users of
particular spaces.
It does appear that redevelopment is
imposition of a particular ideal and
aesthetic citywide, creating a fantasy
city of consumers and controlled
spaces (Hannigan, 1998, Zukin, 1998)
rather than a reflexive interpretation of
what each space is in practice for the
people who actually use it, not the
people who the governing institutions
want to attract. Both the city and its
populous require and deserve such
investigation if the city is to be
deserving and successful as a contender
for the title ‘Capital of Culture 2008’.
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Public Space or Transitory Shopping Zone: Old Eldon Square▐