The image of Newcastle as a shipbuilding city with a party town atmosphere tends to hide the fact that it has some wonderful classical buildings, especially in the area known as Grainger Town.
Richard Grainger was the man behind the area’s development in the first half of the 19th century, and one of his most notable achievements was the construction of Grey St, which runs over the top of the Lort Burn.
The Lort Burn used to flow openly downhill to the Tyne, but eventually became just an open sewer until the lower section was transferred underground with the construction of Dean St over the top of it in 1749.
When Grainger’s elegant extension to Dean St was completed in the 1830s it was called Upper Dean St, but with the completion of Grey’s Monument in 1838, it was renamed in honour of the former Prime Minister.
Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, KG, PC, was born in 1764 to a well-established family, based at Howick Hall in Northumberland. He became a Whig politician and was Prime Minister between 1830 and 1834. During his term in office he oversaw the (Parliamentary) Reform Act of 1832 and the Abolition of Slavery in 1833, but for all his achievements in politics he’s probably best remembered for his blend of tea that he personally made for himself when he was living at Howick Hall.
As for the monument itself, the 130ft column was designed by local architects John and Benjamin Green, and the statue of the Earl was created by Edward Hodges Bailey, the very same sculptor who was responsible for creating the statue of Lord Nelson on top of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square.
In July 1941 Earl Grey had his head knocked off by a bolt of lightning, but after some patching up the man is still able to keep a watchful eye on what goes on below, which is probably quite a bit because this is not only the focal point of Grey Street, but of Newcastle City Centre where people meet up for all sorts of reasons.
Another Prime Minister, W.E. Gladstone, was so impressed with Grey Street that he referred to it as “England’s finest street”. There are probably other contenders for that title, but there’s no doubt that the sweeping arc of this fine Georgian thoroughfare and its monument is one of the city’s architectural highlights.