Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Holy Jesus Hospital, Newcastle (NZ251642)

© Copyright Andrew Curtis and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Now cruelly hemmed in by motorway madness and the seventies creation that is the Pilgrim Street Roundabout, the building known universally as the Holy Jesus Hospital sits cheek-by-jowl with all that is bad with the modern-day city.

This curious structure is difficult to find. Like the centre of a maze, you know it exists – and may even be able to see it – but actually reaching it across/under/over the myriad of pathways and underpasses is no mean feat. When you finally get there you may wonder how it escaped demolition at all.

Though most of the present-day building was thrown up in the 1680s, masonry survives from the old Augustinian Friary which occupied the site from the thirteenth century. In time, the old structure found royal favour – though the Dissolution of the Monastaries eventually put an end to that friendly arrangement. It still retained a certain air of importance – including acting as a back-up venue for the Council of the North in the mid- to late-sixteenth century – but eventually fell into disrepair.

Passing out of private ownership and into that of the town corporation, the present ‘hospital’ structure was built during 1681-83 to house retired freemen and their kin. It was (is) built of brick – a fairly new-fangled material at the time of its construction. Amazingly it remained in use as an almshouse until 1937.

The famous ‘Soup Kitchen’ was added in 1880, and served the ‘deserving poor’ for a decade or so. Though the hospital carried on, the various other buildings on the site were used by a variety of private enterprises during the early twentieth century. By 1960, though, the place was a mess.

Whilst all around the hospital was demolished and roads driven hither and thither, the old building somehow escaped the bulldozers and even enjoyed a revamp – re-opening as the John George Joicey Museum in 1970, focussing on the history of the city. Its hopeless situate, however, meant it was little visited and it eventually closed in 1993.

A further renovation saw the building re-open yet again in 2004 – this time as the local HQ of the National Trust’s Inner City Project. It seems, though, that this latest phase in the history of the Holy Jesus Hospital building is set to end soon – and the future remains uncertain.


  1. I have very happy memories of visiting the museum, which closed when I was only 6 years old. Shame that the future of the building accessible to public is in doubt but thanks for posting this article: very interesting.

  2. Thanks, Liam. Yes, I too remember the old museum - the items formerly on display are now to be found at the city's Discovery Museum. You can usually get yourself a free guided tour of the Holy Jesus Hospital on Heritage Open Days.

  3. My paternal grandmother was possibly the only person recorded as being born there. Her mother was staying with a relative (an aunt?) who was a resident.