Tyne & Wear

Revitalising Newcastle's St Nicholas Cathedral

St Nicholas Square, Newcastle
Image caption It is hoped the new square will encourage visitors

Appearing formidable and slightly disapproving, Queen Victoria's statue, in front of St Nicholas Cathedral, has overlooked passing revellers for 100 years.

Now, as part of plans to attract visitors to more than the nearby bars, she is surrounded by a new square.

The cathedral's chapter is trying to make it more attractive and accessible to all visitors - religious or otherwise.

Future plans to revitalise the building and its surroundings include lighting up the historic lantern tower.

For The Very Reverend Christopher Dalliston, Dean of Newcastle, the question was how they could bring people back to this part of the city.

He said: "What we're trying to do is recognise the place that the cathedral has within the life of the whole wider community and economy of the North East and in the city of Newcastle particularly."

Image caption The old square, raised in the 1950 to deter parking, has been lowered

Removing barriers

Newcastle City Council, the Society of Antiquities and the business development group NE1 have been working with the cathedral to improve the area between it and the castle keep.

They want to encourage more visitors, shoppers and tourists to use the area by turning it into a welcoming public space.

According to the dean, the square joining the cathedral to Mosely Street, with its bars and businesses, and facing the Bigg Market, was not helping to attract people.

Once a simple paved area, it had been raised in the 1950s to deter parking, forming an unwelcoming barrier.

Also, the north-west door, ahead of its time in the 1970s with its accessible ramps, had the effect of tucking the entrance away from view.

Since November, the large west doors, once locked and abandoned for being draughty and almost impossible to open, have been electronically assisted.

Image caption Cathedral plans would make the tower stand out in the skyline

Lantern tower

Traditionally lit and used as a navigation aid in the Middle Ages, the crown spire, or lantern tower, has been dark for years.

Many do not realise its significance, in a city full of iconic structures, but the dean is keen to point out its architectural importance.

He said: "It's a really, really wonderful piece of architecture.

"Quite extraordinary. The finest example of its kind in Britain really. Paralleled by St Giles in Edinburgh but I think ours is much finer."

What the dean describes as one of the "most fantastic pieces of architecture in the city" would change Newcastle's skyline if illuminated.

He said: "It'll be an adornment of the whole city, a crowning glory on the city-scape, the city skyline."

Image caption In the 1752 the spire offered a beacon to sailors

It would cost about £20,000 and so far, the cathedral has a quarter of that.

The dean is hopeful discussions with a number of organisations and individuals, said to be excited about the effect of the plans on the city, will lead to further donations.

Offering sanctuary

St Nicholas is patron saint of, among others, sailors and the dean said he liked the parallel between the sea and the church.

He said: "That kind of tradition, spiritual tradition, of the cathedral as a kind of haven, I suppose, as a place of homecoming, as a place of sanctuary and security.

"That's one of the things the cathedral still offers, I think, a place of peace, security, sanctuary, safety.

"Where people of all faiths and none are welcome to come, to enjoy the space, to find peace, to pray, as well as to enjoy the extraordinary architecture and the beauty of the place."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites