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Pub Visit - England

Bridge Hotel 1

Thursday 5th December 2013

Bob Thompson

The Bridge Hotel is located in the most historical part of the city and there is no getting away from it, as the pub is opposite the Castle that gives the city its name. Originally built of wood in 1080 by Maurice the Engineer who was also responsible for Dover Castle; it was ordered by Robert of Normandy, son of William the Conqueror. It was later replaced by a stone structure ordered by King Henry II that was in construction from 1172 to 1177. This is the keep that can be seen today through the front windows of the pub.

It's a bridge gives the pub its name and the view of the nearby bridges is the iconic scene associated with Newcastle by visitors from all over the world. As can been seen in the photograph there is a bridge literally alongside the pub.

Bridge Hotel 2This is the High Level Bridge, designed by Robert Stephenson and opened in 1849. It revolutionised transport in the city as it had two purposes with a railway on the top and a road on the lower level. This enabled the Central station, opened in the following year by Queen Victoria, to be constructed.

For the first time through trains could run from the south to the city and on to Scotland without passengers having to alight in Gateshead and negotiate the steep streets on either side of the Tyne to cross on the Low-Level road bridge.

In a similar vein the road traffic benefitted by having a flat crossing over the river. The other bridge seen in the photograph is the Tyne Bridge, completed in 1928 to provide another road crossing in the age of the motor car.

Bridge Hotel 3Of note nearby is the Swing Bridge of 1876 that replaced the Low-Level Bridge. There are also rail crossings in the same area. The King Edward VII Bridge was opened by the eponymous King in 1906.

This was important as it enabled trains to enter the Central Station from the west and south and leave to the east and north towards Scotland without the need for a reversal.

The other rail bridge was opened in November 1981 and is the distinctive blue-painted Metro Bridge. It is disconnected from the national network, and it is fascinating to see the Metro trains emerge from a tunnel about half way up either bank, climb to the summit in the middle of the bridge, then shoot downhill and plunge in to another tunnel on the opposite bank.

Bridge Hotel 4There is one other bridge in the area and that is the Millennium Bridge for pedestrians and cyclists. It has a very novel design that enables it to tilt to allow shipping through. However on the very day I visited Newcastle the eastern coast of Britain bore the brunt of a massive storm; the worst for sixty years. It was during the massive tidal surge on that day that the machinery and mechanisms that allow the bridge to tilt, were totally flooded. It is still open to cross by foot or bike, however.

Standing by the castle looking at the bulk of the Bridge Hotel you would think it was an easy matter to find out when it was built and for whom? After, all we know the exactly what years the castle was constructed 850 years ago, so why not the pub opposite that was built at the turn of the last century? I have read the following dates: 1897 or 1901. So I thought I would look at the document describing it when the building was listed as Grade II in 1987. Obviously hedging its bets, it says circa 1899. Thanks, that's a lot of help!

I find this rather strange and would be very grateful if someone could advise me further. The other odd thing is: who was it built for? A source says John Fitzgerald, yet the firm states it was formed "just under a hundred years ago", not the (approximately) 115 years required for them to have constructed the pub and hotel.

Bridge Hotel 5I realise that it doesn't matter too much but I don't like loose ends. Nevertheless, allow me to present you with the Victorian (or is it Edwardian?) splendour of the Bridge Hotel.

Entering the door on the left and walking up a short corridor you come to the main room, which I suppose was subdivided at one time. There is a very long bar on the left, made of a varnished dark hard wood with a beautiful marble surface. As you are being served you may care to look up and admire the wonderful carved wood above you.

There are still separate rooms available and at the front of the building there is one of these with leaden glass windows that have stained glass at the top. The walls of the pub have many mirrors and there is some stunning engraving on some of them. In fact, I don't think there are any large areas of glass in the pub that are not etched or engraved.

When not covered with mirrors the walls are home to many old prints and photos of old Newcastle. At the rear of the pub there is an outside terrace overlooking the Tyne.

However, I do have a small problem with this pub and that is, how much of this interior is original or possibly not? There is a room opposite the bar with a magnificent mahogany fireplace. In conversation with a drinker in the pub he said that it wasn't an original feature. I was surprised, as the exterior chimney flue behind it is mentioned in the listing description. The problem is that the descriptions used to determine if the building is worth listing, which were written between the 1960s and the 1980s, almost never include the interiors of pubs.

Bridge Hotel 6Any additional original features have to be added to what has already described and it is not easy. This includes windows, which explains why so many beautiful pub windows have been destroyed over the years, especially when converted to housing. They are just as much a part of the pub as anything else.

What makes the pub so good is the beer range offered. So, on top of the magnificent interior, it is a great place to drink cask beer. There are two regular beers and these are: Caledonian (Edinburgh) Deuchars IPA (3.8%) and Jarrow Brewery (Bede, Jarrow, Tyne & Wear) Rivet Catcher (4.0%). The usual cider is Weston's (Much Marcle, Herefordshire) Old Rosie (7.3%).

There is normally a huge range of guest beers and this was what was on offer when I visited: Anarchy Brewing (Stannington, Northumberland) Blonde Star (4.1%); Houston Brewery (Houston, Refrewshire, Scotland) Killellan (3.7%); Black Sheep (Masham, N Yorks) Best Bitter (3.8%); Fyne Ales (Achadonon, Argyllshire, Scotland) Jarl (3.6%); Allendale (Allendale, Northumberland) Pennine Pale Ale (4.0%) and Black Grouse (4.0%); finally, Three Kings (North Shields) Castle Keep (4.2%).

A lot goes on in the pub as live bands play in the upstairs function room. There is a Modern Jazz night every Sunday and there is a Folk Club night every Monday. In fact this has a very long history as it was founded in 1957. In 1962 Luke Kelly was working as a labourer in the city and heard folk music here for the first time. He returned to his native Ireland and formed the Dubliners, who are still with us today.

Bridge Hotel 7No less a figure than Pete Seeger, father of modern American Folk music, attended the 20th Anniversary event in 1977. Yet even that visit was eclipsed in the early 1960s when Bob Dylan visited one night. It is said that the line "The bridge trembles at midnight" in Love Minus Zero / No Limit is a reference to the effect of the trains passing by on the adjacent High Level bridge. I personally don't believe it, but who knows?

Other activities are the Knitting Club on Tuesdays and the Sacred Heart Singing Club on Tuesday evenings. A meeting of the Backgammon Club occurs on the first Monday of each month. As can be seen, there is a lot going on in the pub giving a number of more reasons to visit.

Important Information:

The Bridge Hotel, Castle Garth, Newcastle NE1 1RQ. Tel: 0191 232 6400

Open: Monday-Thursday 11.30-23.00; Friday-Saturday 11.30-24.00; Sunday 11.30-23.00

The Bridge Hotel is just over five minutes from the Central station which has main line train connections to many parts of Britain. You will also find a Metro station there. It's around 15 minutes walk to the Eldon Square Bus Station although it is convenient for buses crossing the High Level Bridge to Gateshead.