Subterranea Britannica

Grainger Market Air Raid Shelter

Clayton Street, Newcastle NE1 5PN
OS Grid Ref: NZ247643
Date of visit: June 2014

[Source: Chris Rayner]

The Grainger Market, designed by architect John Dobson, was built in 1835 by city entrepreneur Richard Grainger who was responsible for the shaping of much of 19th century Newcastle., including Grangertown. Building it involved more work than might be anticipated for what appears to be a lightweight structure, records indicating foundation trenches up to 54ft (16.5m) deep in places which must have been a remarkable undertaking for the time.

The Grainger Market was, at the time it opened, the largest covered market in Britain, covering 2 acres. Its opening was marked with an enormous dinner for 2,000 people, although sexes appear to have been strictly segregated with 300 – 400 ladies watching the spectacle from a balcony. A contemporary description from the 1840’s speaks of “street after street of Butchers’ Shops in which are displayed hecatombs of fresh killed meat. Rosy-faced butchers surround us on all sides until we reach the regions where the eggs, bacon and other provisions are displayed. In the centre a large stone basin with a fountain (nicknamed the Butcher’s Spittoon) which on market days played and had very pretty effect when the ducks brought for sale were allowed to swim in the water.”

During the late 1930s air raid shelters were provided under the vegetable market, one of which is still accessible. This shelter is unusual in being particularly intact, retaining not just benches and gas curtain frames, but also the original hessian modesty curtains in front of the chemical toilet recesses. Part of a sign dated 1942 remains on two sections of timber boarding, possibly the remains of a noticeboard or timber door. A roll of doped hessian stiffened with timber battens is also present, the remains of a gas curtain.

The shelter is lined with precast concrete wall and roof panels, later stiffened with steel angle strapping, however traces of an older brick barrel-vaulted roof can be seen at certain points, into which the concrete linings appeared to have been set. Through a small hole in a wall forming the south end of their shelter, the same kind of vaulting can be seen beyond the confines of the Market. There are stories of further tunnels, as there often are in the popular urban culture, in this case running down to the central station and under the rest of the market. An unsolved question though is why, if there was an earlier brick tunnel into which the wartime precast concrete lining was set, it had regular blast offsets.

Visit by kind permission of Newcastle City Council

[Source: Chris Rayner]

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