The oldest part of Newcastle is the Quayside, which was until the nineteenth century, the commercial hub of all Tyneside. Most historical of the buildings in this area of the town are the keep of the Norman castle and the adjacent fourteenth century church of St Nicholas with its famous lantern tower. Until the onset of Victorian developments these two buildings were the two most prominent buildings in the townscape of Newcastle upon Tyne.
In 1882 when the diocese of Newcastle was created from the northern portion of the diocese of Durham, St Nicholas church became a cathedral-church and Newcastle subsequently gained the title of a city. However for most of its history Newcastle has been a town and despite its Victorian rise in status, Newcastle is still commonly known to its residents as `The Toon’.
Staying on the Quayside not far from the cathedral is a road called the Sandhill where some of the oldest remaining houses of the Newcastle Quayside can still be seen. They date from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries and were once occupied by wealthy Newcastle merchants.
In one of these houses there once lived a certain Bessie Surtees who in 1772 defied the wishes of her wealthy merchant father and secretly climbed from an upstairs window to elope with a humble young man called John Scott. Scott went on to become a wealthy peer, acquiring the barony of Eldon near Bishop Auckland and later in 1801 he became the Lord Chancellor of England.
Lord Eldon of course gives his name to Eldon Square, the modern commercial centre of Newcastle upon Tyne. Bessie Surtees’ house in Sandhill is marked by a plaque which commemorates the famous elopement.