Houses of the Nouveaux Riches
Keywords: Newcastle, nouveaux riches, William Isaac Cookson, Benwell Hall, Jonathan Priestman, Sir Benjamin C. Browne, West Acres, William Newton, Wingrove House, Fenham, John Wigham Richardson, Heaton Hall, Hindley Hall, Stocksfield, Corbridge, Blenkinsop Hall, Haltwhistle, Guyzance, Acklington, Northumberland Eshott Hall The northern city of Newcastle Upon Tyne was one of the powerhouses of the Industrial Revolution, its wealth based on coalmining, shipbuilding and heavy engineering. The technocrats who dominated Newcastle's industries spent vast sums of money on houses for their own occupation. Many of these houses have since been demolished or altered beyond recognition, but this article uses archival images to reconstruct these ostentacious Victorian palaces.
The directors of major industrial corporations were able to obtain large sums of capital for their own use and the purchase of estates was one of the most visible forms of expenditure, bringing social prestige befitting members of a ruling class. By purchasing large estates these figures were able to express their wealth and status, and their houses were often used for business negotiations. Many lived in West Newcastle near to their industrial concerns. For example, William Isaac Cookson (1812-1888) lived at Benwell Hall, a large brick-built house that was extended, possibly by Dobson, in the nineteenth century.
Jonathan Priestman lived at neighbouring Benwell House, which he purchased from Cookson’s brother John in 1848. This was a modest two-storey Classical house with severe portico in antis. West Acres in Benwell was purchased by Sir Benjamin C. Browne in 1888 and boasted a splendid Tudor-Gothic frontage. John Wigham Richardson had grown up in Beech Grove, Elswick, a Jacobean-style house formerly owned by the leather manufacturer George Angus. He later purchased Wingrove House, Fenham in 1866. The Potter family owned Heaton Hall. Initially a Classical house, this had been re-faced in Georgian Gothick style by William Newton in the 1770s.
West Acres, Benwell, the home of Sir Benjamin C. Browne from 1888.
Wingrove House, Fenham, owned by John Wigham Richardson from 1866.
Heaton Hall, owned by the Potter family.
Increasingly, however, members of the elite began to move to rural Northumberland. John Wigham Richardson sold Wingrove House c.1903 and moved to Hindley Hall at Stocksfield near Corbridge. His Fenham estate was sold off for building purposes and the house was soon demolished. The Joiceys were the wealthiest family on the Northern Coalfield, owning a colliery at Tanfield, County Durham, and engineering works in West Newcastle. John Joicey (1817-1881) also moved to Stocksfield, purchasing Newton Hall. Other members of the Joicey family lived at Blenkinsop Hall, Haltwhistle. The coal owner Joseph Straker (1784-1867) had lived at Benwell Old House in West Newcastle. His son John Straker (1815-1885) moved to Stagshaw House, Corbridge. The shipping magnate and property dealer William Milburn commissioned Armstrong and Knowles to design Guyzance, a Tudor-style mansion at Acklington, Northumberland. Their design was published in the Building News.
Blenkinsop Hall, Haltwhistle.
Guyzance in Acklington, Northumberland.
This tendency was not restricted to industrialists. Following this migratory pattern, the retailer Emerson Bainbridge bought Eshott Hall and estate in 1877 and moved there in 1882. Located at Thirston near Morpeth, the estate comprised 1775 acres. Pevsner tentatively attributes the original design to Robert Trollope, but identifies later additions. The house is predominantly of two storeys with an elegant symmetrical frontage and rusticated quoins at the corners. A parapet runs along the roofline and swan-necked open pediments augment the windows. The drawing room has Rococo-style plasterwork executed by the Italian stuccatori who worked at Alnwick Castle. Emerson Bainbridge carried out alterations in 1881, remodelling the hall and adding 32 new apartments, as well as a lecture hall. Most important was the addition of a square Italianate tower in the manner of Osborne House, which suggests at least a rudimentary knowledge of architectural fashions. The estate had a population of 140, and Bainbridge built new cottages and a Methodist chapel. Following these renovations, Bainbridge reportedly ‘took on the role of gentleman farmer and country squire.’ Bainbridge’s son, Thomas Hudson Bainbridge, lived initially at a house called Holmwood in Jesmond. After the death of his mother, he moved to Eshott and remodelled the house, although this was apparently carried out in a different spirit. According to Gerald France:
When, at his mother’s death, he enlarged the house at Eshott, it was done in no boastful spirit to establish a country seat. He explained his motive simply to a friend: ‘I intend to make it impossible for any of my children ever to feel that there is not room for them, their friends, or their children'.
In this way the ruling class transformed itself into a landed class and built visible emblems of their authority.
Eshott Hall, Northumberland.
for more information on Newcastle industrialists, please see: