Open Wednesday–Sunday, 10.00–17.00. Free entry.

The Building

1820s – Eldon Place & Barras Bridge

Barras Bridge and Eldon Place was a thriving hub of retail and innovation during the 19th and 20th centuries.

W. Owen and Sons, the inventors of Lucozade, operated just round the corner from where the buildings are, and it’s likely this is where the product was invented. Rail pioneers George and Robert Stephenson also lived for a period in 17 Eldon Place, roughly where The Henry Daysh building now stands, in the 1820s.

1894 – 1896 The Claremont Buildings' Construction

The Farrell Centre occupies most of the Claremont Buildings, which were constructed between 1894 and 1896, when they opened as a department store. They were designed by the architect William Hope, from Tynemouth, and it was his first big commission – there was a bit of nepotism involved, as it was from his farther-in-law, Fairless Harrison! There’s no record of Hope’s architectural training, however he was listed as a full member of the Northern Architectural Association from 1891. William Hope also designed many local theatres, including the now demolished Grand Theatre in Byker.

Fairless Harrison was the owner of a tannery on Stepney Bank and made his money through this business. Stepney Tanneries is also where the Tanners Arms pub gets its name! In the 1861 census, it was recorded that Robert Harrison (Fairless’ Father) was employing 50 men across Stepney Tannery and his glue works on Low Friar’s Street.

1905 – The extension

Just shy of a decade after the buildings were completed, they were already outgrowing the space! So the family decided to add an extension onto the back of the building, which is now our atrium space and the main visitor staircase. This expanded their retail and accommodation offer.

When looking from Eldon Place, you can see that the exterior of the main bulk of the building, completed in 1896, looks similar but slightly different to the extension in 1905, with a different arrangement of windows.

1951 – 1964 Life as a department store

Some of the first stores housed in the buildings included grocers, painters, musicians, a tobacconist and even a private investigator. The shops in the store continued to change and saw the Berlitz School of Languages, North British Academy of the Arts, elocution teachers and an enquiry agent move in among others. The ground floor became a canteen during the Second World War and the upper floors were rented by a telephone rental company.

By 1951 the building was being rented by Thornes Bookshop (now Blackwells) after it moved from Percy Street. Thorne’s proved to be very popular among the students, using 3 floors of the building by the time it left the building in 1964.

1964 – When the University took over

In 1964 Newcastle University got a compulsory purchase order on the land between Claremont Road, Barras Bridge, Queen Victoria Road and St Thomas Street as a means of allowing the university to grow after they threatened to move operations to Gosforth in protest of land prices in the city centre.

From 1967 the Claremont Buildings were mixed use with its longest standing tenant being the Chaplaincy. The chaplaincy offered accommodation for many years as well as a place to worship, and free tea/coffees through the day, and they were situated on the first floor.

Part of the building was also used as a Health Centre, and we’ve had a visitor tell us that their mother found out she was pregnant with him in this building!

Other uses include rooms for student union use, including the Women’s Centre and the SCAN – Student Community Action Newcastle – shop, which was where the Tea Rooms are now. Societies were also offered rooms in the Claremont Buildings as well such as Nightline.

1980s – Facing demolition

In the 1980s there was talk of demolishing the Claremont Buildings as the newly built Civic Centre deemed them to be an eyesore and the university were looking to house a new underground car park and sports centre here. An excerpt from an article in the student newspaper, The Courier, at the time explains:

Plans have been under way for some time to demolish the Claremont Buildings which are situated to the left of the car park and the Playhouse.
      At present they house various University facilities such as the Health Centre and the University police as well as SCAN, Nightline, a mosque and societies’ rooms such as AIESEC, the Woman’s Room and the motor club.
      The buildings are thought to be an eyesore and an obstacle to the view of the Civic Centre and Handcock Museum. Basically, as Simon Spalding, Union President, commented, the argument is that the site is aesthetically displeasing to the eye. Professor Fells, Chairman of the Sub-Committee in charge of landscaping plans, said that the city council had for some time been encouraging the demolition. The buildings were in need of considerable repair and continued maintenance would be at great expense.

The plans never came to be due to costs and because the building was listed in March 1987.

2019 – The Farrell Centre

Sir Terry Farrell, who is an architect and urban planner responsible for the East Quayside regeneration, The Centre for Life and the refurbishment of the Great North Museum, identified the potential of the building in Newcastle University’s cultural quarter.

In the 2013 Farrell Review, he noted that “every city should have an Urban Room”, a space for people to come and have their say about changes in their city.

In 2019, plans for the centre were well underway and Sir Terry donated his archive as well as £1M for the renovation of the building into the Farrell Centre. We opened to the public in April 2023.