Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Cale Cross, Blagdon (NZ218775)

© Copyright Stephen Richards and licensed for 

Head north on the Great North Road and, a little short of Stannington, you will stumble upon an old relic of Newcastle. The strange classical form standing near the roadside, and within the bounds of Blagdon Hall, is Cale Cross, looking more like a daft rich man’s ornament than anything else.

Unusually, though, we have here a ‘folly’ that has – or rather had – a practical use. For it once stood at the heart of old Newcastle, marking the spot where cale (cabbage)* and other foodstuffs were once sold – a sort of mini-market which gathered at the town’s Sandhill area, near the present-day Guildhall on the Quayside. It also acted as a conduit head for some time.  A commemorative plaque now marks the site, attached, as it is, to the modern-day Cale Cross House near the footings of the Tyne Bridge. But however did this old landmark find its way to the grounds of a stately home several miles away?

Well, Blagdon Hall, as you may know, has long been the home of the White Ridleys; and the Sandhill area of Newcastle has long had a ‘Cale Cross’ – at least as far back as 1309. For many years a more ancient ‘cross’ structure marked the spot, but this was replaced by a fancier design in 1783 – drawn up by architect David Stephenson and paid for by Sir Matthew White Ridley. However, nice though it was, it soon got in the way of the local traffic and a decision was made in 1807 to dismantle it.

The White Ridleys, presumably somewhat miffed at the corporation’s change of heart, ended up carrying the said structure stone-by-stone to their ancestral home and throwing it up at the side of the main road north – for no other reason than it seemed a shame to ‘hoy it oot’. And so, like a nineteenth century Angel of the North, it sits in a prominent spot near a major thoroughfare so that passers-by can have a good gawp.

And why not. It is rather splendid.

* Some think the word ‘cale’ is derived from kail wort, a herb used in making broth and which may have been sold at this spot in Newcastle.

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