Museum Reveals A Bit Of Ancient Greece In The North East

By David Prudames | 24 August 2004
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Shows a photograph of the architectural detail on the exterior of a hotel. Football design lamps protrude from below classical style column capitals, which have a distinctive scroll design.

The city's modern obsession joins its classical decoration at The Raby Hotel, Shields Road, Newcastle upon Tyne. Courtesy North News.

With the Olympic Games in full swing the eyes of the world are on Athens right now, but a taste of Ancient Greece could be lurking closer to home.

A study conducted by experts at Newcastle University has revealed that although the Greeks never invaded these shores, their influence has been firmly exerted on the architecture of the north east.

From towering Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns and pediments, to decorative scrolls and acanthus leaves, Greek flourishes adorn everything from grand buildings to pubs, banks and post offices.

"I have been absolutely stunned by both the quality and quantity of the classically-inspired architecture as well as the amazing Greek details that decorate the most unlikely buildings when you really start to look for them," said Lindsay Allason-Jones, Director of Archaeological Museums at the university.

Shows a photograph of Lindsay Allason-Jones standing outside the Theatre Royal in Newcastle. The theatre is a vast classical building with a row of columns topped with a pediment.

Lindsay Allason-Jones outside the Theatre Royal, on Grey Street, Newcastle upon Tyne. Courtesy North News.

Alongside Education Officer Andrew Parkin and architecture student Giles Shorter, Lindsay has spent three years exploring 52 towns and cities in the north east for examples of classical Greek influence.

The study is a result of a request by the Joint Association of Classical Teachers, for help making the compulsory Greek Civilization element of the National Curriculum at Key Stage 2 more popular.

"The problem was not one of resources, but of teachers and children feeling that the Ancient Greeks weren't very relevant to today's society" explained Andrew Parkin.

"So we decided to put the Greek collections in the Shefton Museum into context by showing how Greek styles of architecture have influenced the appearance of the towns we live in."

Shows a photograph of Lindsay Allason-Jones standing in the entrance to Jimmy's pub in Newcastle. she is pointing up at one of two flat columns covered in glazed tiles that flank the doorway.

Half-fluted pilasters with Ionic capitals and acanthus leaf decoration made from encaustic tiling adorn Jimmy's pub, on Wallsend High Street. Courtesy North News.

The team photographed and recorded hundreds of buildings and their work will be made available as an online teaching resource, including illustrated walking tours of architectural highlights.

It was during the 18th century that the classical Greek influence became popular. Wealthy families would send their sons on the Grand Tour and enthused by classical culture, they brought their ideas home.

"The examples we found are in what's called neo-classical style," said Lindsay Allason-Jones. "It would first have appeared on stately homes and then been copied by the wealthy middle classes, who saw it as indicative of well-educated good taste. Later, town halls and civic buildings adopted the classical style, because it was seen as a symbol of civic pride."

Among Lindsay's favourite buildings is the Wallsend People's Centre, tucked away behind the High Street in Wallsend, on the outskirts of Newcastle city centre.

Shows a photograph of Wallsend People's Centre in Newcastle. It is a large classical style building with arched doorways, windows flanked by flat columns and a large set of windows topped with a pediment.

Wallsend People's Centre on the outskirts of Newcastle upon Tyne. Courtesy North News.

"I came upon this building quite by accident" she said, "but it is without doubt one of the most stunning examples in the north east."

"The proportions are perfect, and the building's facade is adorned with finely-detailed Ionic and Doric attached columns, fluted Ionic pilasters (flat-fronted columns) and superb split pediments. It really is a wonderful building."

And if Lindsay gets her way, such fascinating discoveries will be made all over the country as the project gets repeated in towns and cities throughout the UK.

"This is something everyone can get involved in" she said. "All you need to do is take a few minutes to look more closely at the buildings down your local high street."

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