150 years of the High Level


Tyneside's Industrial fame as a world headquarters of engineering design and technology spanned the century between the Napoleonic Wars and the First World War. The Century opened like any other in previous history with candle light, horse power and sailing ships but would end with electric power, aircraft, automobiles, radio and cinema. It began with colliery locomotives by William Hedley and George Stephenson which in turn demanded rapid improvements in mechanical and civil engineering and the quality of materials and manufacture.

The success of Robert Stephenson and Co.'s 'Rocket' locomotive pioneered the passenger train and the world wide development of railways. Only 20 years after the 'Rocket' entered service on the 'Liverpool and Manchester Railway' the route of the 'Flying Scotsman' between London and Edinburgh was nearing completion. Within one year 1849-50, Robert Stephenson brought three world class projects to a conclusion, all of which continue to out perform their specification one hundred and fifty years later.

High Level from Gateshead19th Century Newcastle

a 19th Century view of Newcastle and the High Level Bridge from Gateshead.

The First is the High Level Bridge which spans the Tyne at Newcastle and was opened on September 28th 1849, the second was his collaboration with John Dobson in the construction of Newcastle Central Station and finally the magnificent Royal Border Bridge at Berwick upon Tweed. The next 60 years would see Tyneside reach its high water mark as a world leader in technology - ship building, locomotives, armaments, photography,steam turbines and electric power generation. But as this invention and industry became international, the essential commercial headquarters began to migrate from Newcastle years before the launch of the river's most famous Atlantic liner, the Mauritania.

The High Level Bridge was opened 150 years ago for the York, Newcastle and Berwick Railway, it originally carried 3 tracks on the upper deck with a roadway on a lower level. The bridge has six spans of cast iron arches tied with wrought iron strings supporting the railway 120ft above the river Tyne.

Tyne Bridges at  dusk

Modern trains and road traffic weigh many times more than when the bridge was opened yet this construction is almost entirely in its original condition. The only change is that the tracks have been reduced to two. The bridge was built close to the line of the Roman bridge and within sight of the Central Station and Stephenson's Locomotive Works. The Bridge is Listed Grade One and there is some irony in the fact that the building of the railway demolished much of the ancient Castle of Newcastle an obliterated a 12th Century Castle at Berwick Station. Before the opening of the Royal Border Bridge by Queen Victoria, Robert Stephenson was offered and refused a knighthood; this may have been because of his respect for his father, George Stephenson.

Robert Stephenson;s High Level

Click here to view John Storey's illustration of Victorian Newcastle 

A grand banquet was held under the great roof of the Central Station on the 30th of July, 1850, to honour Robert Stephenson and to celebrate the completion of the line of iron between London and Edinburgh. Newcastle was then at its most confident and ambitious period of development, aware that it was at the beginning of a new age.

( Central Station - May 2000, part of the 1850 structure, during restoration )

West End of the Central Station

( Central Station - May 2000, the west end of the 1893 extension, after restoration )


High Level Bridge restoration gets a European Award

Newcastle's oldest Tyne crossing built to the design of Robert Stephenson and T.E. Harrison has been awarded a Europa Nostra Award this June for the quality of its restoration.

New for September 2009 is a new exhibition

Art of Engineering

Illustrating the pioneering work of Robert Stephenson


9-5 MON - SAT admission free

11th September to 17th October 2009

Replica of the 'Rocket' at NRM York.

Cast iron bridge built Newcastle 1848

An exhibition illustrating the engineering achievements of Robert Stephenson 1803 – 1859 focusing on the London and Birmingham railway .This show is made up of original drawings from the Stephenson office, Reprints of J C Bourne's illustrations, photographs, historical information and a working model railway.

The exhibition of original working drawings of structures on the London Birmingham Railway is courtesy of the design engineering firm Arup.

Also featured in this show are new art prints made at Newcastle Arts Centre from the lithographs of John Cooke Bourne .

This incorporates Heritage Open Days events organised by the Robert Stephenson Trust with guided walks at 12pm on 10th, 11th, 12th & 13th September to view Robert Stephenson’s railway structures, contact Helen Burns to book on 0191 261 5618.
More information about this exhibition and walks

In 2000 we presented an exhibition of photography to coincide with this 150th anniversary.

Stephensons Legacy 1850 - 2000

this show has at its core the exhibition

'North East Focus' ( on loan from the National Railway Museum York ) features images produced three decades ago, when Steam Locomotives became redundant as the old industrial era of the North East slipped into decline.

We have added pictures taken in Newcastle to this exhibition to celebrate the Anniversary and the restoration of the station.


Photo by Malcolm Dunnett from the Exhibition North East Focus

The exhibition by Malcolm Dunnett, Trevor Ermel, Ken Groundwater, Kevin Hudspith, John Hunt and Ian Krause, is open to the public from Saturday the 8th of July to Saturday the 5th of August.

Opening times are 9 til 5, Monday to Saturday.

Currently Tyneside is changing again, and we are acutely aware of of rapid economic and cultural changes that may result in more care for our heritage and environment than we have had in the past.


Mike Tilley

Click here for more about 'Stephensons Legacy '

Click here to view Newcastle Locomotives of the 1850's

Click here to view pictures new to this Exhibition

Stephensons Legacy - 150 years of the iron road from Newcastle

Exhibition - including 'North East Focus' from the National Railway Museum, York. was on show :-

Friday the 7th of July until - Saturday the 5th of August 2000

The Riverscape was on show at Newcastle Arts Centre June 2nd - July14th 2001

with more information on the early history of Tyne railways.

9am -5pm , Closed Sundays

at Newcastle Arts Centre, 67 Westgate Road, NE1 1SG






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