Fraggle Report~ Saltwell Towers & Park~April 2017~part 1

The History Bit

Saltwell Park is a Victorian park in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, England. Opened in 1876, the park was designed by Edward Kemp and incorporates the mansion and associated grounds of the Saltwellgate estate owner, William Wailes, who sold his estate to Gateshead Council for £35,000. Upon opening, it became known as “The People’s Park”. The park was expanded in 1920 when the council purchased the adjacent gardens to the Saltwell Grove estate and added these to the park. This extended the park’s total size to 55 acres. Towards the end of the 20th century, the park had fallen into disrepair, but between 1999 and 2005, it was subject to a £9.6 million restoration project, funded collaboratively by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Gateshead Council and is now host to around 2 million visitors per year.

The park is split broadly into three sections. Saltwell Grove, the southern section, is an area of grassed open space with a bandstand to the western corner. The central area contains the centrepiece of the park – Wailes’s former home, the Grade II listed Saltwell Towers and its surrounding belvedere walls. These have been fully restored and are now a visitor centre. There are also three war memorials, a yew-tree maze, a dene and an area containing several species of caged animals known as Pet’s Corner. The largest section of the park is the Northern Fields section which contains a four-acre boating lake with a wooded island at its centre, as well as three bowling greens and two pavilions.

Sophie and I have visited Saltwell before though I haven’t done a report on it before that I can find, so I am combining photo’s from the two outings, but Sophie and I went this weekend specifically to photograph the wonderful path of cherry blossom trees that appears at this time of year. But other stuff first!

Saltwell Towers

Saltwell Towers, former home of William Wailes and later to lawyer Joseph Shipley (founder of the nearby Shipley Art Gallery), was the seat of the former Saltwellgate estate and has been described by a BBC report as a “fairytale mansion”. The building is a dark red and yellow brick construction with asymmetrical towers, tall chimney stacks and corner turrets. It has been used for a number of purposes, including as a hospital during the First World War and as a museum from 1933 to 1969, but was then abandoned and fell into considerable disrepair. However,after a £3 million,five-year refurbishment programme the restoration was completed in 2004.

There is a Boer War memorial in the central section of the park around 100 metres south of Saltwell Towers. This consists of a bronze angel perched on a granite plinth and is dated 1905.

The Charlton Memorial Drinking Fountain, a stone and granite fountain inscribed in memory of George Charlton, the mayor of Gateshead between 1874–75.

The ‘Salte Well’ at the west entrance to the central section of the park is dated 1872 and is a sandstone construction with a basin in the central alcove.

There have been animals kept in Saltwell Park since June 1877 – initially, these included monkeys, deer and a raccoon. Caged animals are still kept in the north-east of the park in an area called “Pets Corner”, where there are a peacock and peahen, pheasants, rabbits and guinea pigs kept in a pair of aviaries built in 1880 and paid for by John Elliot, then chief constable of Gateshead. The aviaries are stone and wrought iron, octagonal constructions which were listed at Grade II by English Heritage in 1973.

I don’t like to see caged birds in such a small enclosure. Plus the spaces between the bars make for impossible photography!

The principal feature of the northern section of the park is a boating lake. This has been in situ since a tender to install a 4 acres lake with an island in the centre was accepted in August 1880.

More to come, so stay tooned!

 

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