A little bit of Newcastle retail history uncovered
Walking through Newcastle’s Bigg Market last Sunday, I was interested to see that part of the William Hill bookmaker’s fascia appeared to have dropped off, exposing some much earlier signage underneath (above).
I was also curious to note how the height of the fascia had evidently been increased from what it was previously, with the top portion of the adjacent doorway concealed as a result.
The uncovered ‘Geor’ is, of course, a remnant of the George Rye shoe shop that opened on the site in 1879, and that lasted there for 128 years before finally closing at the end of 2007. Though the George Rye wholesale business continues to operate successfully from its base in Cramlington, the retail operation was seemingly the victim of the Bigg Market just not being a major retail destination any more.
In contrast, in George Rye’s early years the Bigg Market would have been a major retail thoroughfare. In 1885, the Bainbridge department store (the forerunner of today’s John Lewis Newcastle) acquired the Coach and Horses Inn in the Bigg Market; the inn was promptly demolished, with a new three-storey building for Bainbridge’s House Furniture Department constructed in its place. This opened up a direct route through the store from Market Street to the Bigg Market, creating a short cut that was affectionately known, for many years, as ‘Bainbridge Street’.
Interestingly, the exposed fascia is not the one that George Rye sported immediately prior to its closure (above); rather, it would seem to be an earlier version that George Rye had already covered up itself. That’s one of the fascinating things about new shopfronts – generally speaking, it’s easier simply to cover up what’s already there, rather than to rip it out. Most of the time, nobody on the street is any the wiser; it’s only when something is unexpectedly exposed that we get a tantalising reminder of what was there before.