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Gibbs’s Library at St Nicholas, Newcastle Upon Tyne

  • Terry Friedman


A gift of 1,600 books from the Reverend Dr. Robert Thomlinson prompted the building of a new Palladian block to house a library and a vestry at the eastern end of the south side of the medieval parish church (now the Cathedral) of St Nicholas (Fig. 1). Sometime later, Dr. Thomlinson (died 1748), who was rector of Whickham, a prebendary of St Paul’s Cathedral and one of the Lecturers at St Nicholas, explained to the Bishop of London:

I turn’d my thoughts upon geting a Library Erected for my Books in ye town of Newcastle. After some fruitless attempts my worthy and generous friend Mr. [later Sir] Walter Blackett undertook it, and at his own expence Built a Beautiful Fabrick against ye south wall of ye gt church [of] St. Nicolas where ye old vestry stood. The Front makes a Handsome appearance, it consists of three storys in height and above 17 yards in length.



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1 This replaced a smaller, two-storey, three-bay structure, probably of Jacobean date, on the same site and serving the same functions, recorded in a 1715 engraving by Horseley, W. (Honeyman, H. L., ‘The Cathedral Church of Saint Nicholas, Newcastle upon Tyne’, Archaeologia Aeliana, 4th series, Vol. IX (1932), pl. XII ) and an early painted view (Country Life, 12 August 1993, p. 67, fig. 4). Addleshaw, G. W. O. and Etchells, F., The Architectural Setting of Anglican Worship (London, 1948), p. 91 , a plan of the 1736 block attached to the church.

2 Sykes, J., Local Records; or Historical Register of Remarkable Events, 1 (Newcastle, 1865), pp. 154 , 187–88.

3 Quoted in Honeyman, op. cit., p. 132. A 20 November 1745 codicil to Thomlinson’s will repeated some of this information, the conditions for appointing a librarian and a further bequest of the remainder of his books and ‘as many of the twenty-four presses in my study at Whickham as can be placed in the upper and lower library’ (reprinted in Mackenzie, E., A Description and Historical Account of the Town and Country of Newcastle Upon Tyne including the Borough of Gateshead, 1 (Newcastle, 1827), pp. 491-93).

4 Mackenzie, op. cit., p. 491.

5 Mackenzie, op. cit., p. 249.

6 Clearly shown in the engraved view published in Brand, J., The History and Antiquities of the Town and County of Newcastle upon Tyne, 1 (Newcastle, 1789), opp. p. 236 .

7 Mackenzie, op. cit., p. 249.

8 Revd William Stukeley, visiting before 1725, recorded that ‘the walls of the town, the churches, the oldest houses, are raised from the plunder of the Roman wall’ and that in the land northward to Hadrian’s Wall were ‘prodigious quantities of [Roman] ruins … beyond that of any other part of Europe, scarce excepting imperial Rome’ (Itinerarum Curiosum, 11 (London, 2nd ed., 1776), p. 64).

9 Designed by William Etty, built 1723-27 ( Friedman, T., Church Architecture in Leeds 1700–1799, Publications of the Thoresby Society, Second Series, Vol. 7 (1997), p. 61 , fig. 18).

10 Friedman, T., ‘The Transformation of York Minster, 1726-42’, Architectural History, Vol. 38 (1995), pp. 7681 , figs 7-12, Eboracum subscribers from Newcastle included Adam Askew, MP, John Pawson, merchant, Thomas Thursby, surgeon, as well as Dr Sharp, Archdeacon of Northumberland.

11 ‘The plainness of this Building makes it less expensive, and renders it more suitable to the old … fine Gothick Steeple’ ( Gibbs, J., A Book of Architecture (London, 1728), p. viii , pls 26-27).

12 A comprehensive study of the city’s eighteenth-century buildings has yet to appear, but see Allsopp, B. (ed.), Historical Architecture of Newcastle Upon Tyne (Newcastle, 1967) and The Tyneside Classical Tradition: Classical Architecture in the North East, c. 1700-1850 (Newcasde, 1980).

13 Campbell, C., Vitruvius Britannicus (London, 1715), p. 5 , pls 49-50, inscribed ‘Inigo Jones Inv:’. It is now thought to be the work of Nicholas Stone ( Colvin, H., A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840 (New Haven and London, 1995), p. 931).

14 Colvin, op. cit., p. 393.

15 Colvin, op. cit. (1978 edition), p. 333.

16 British Library, King’s Maps (K.Top.XXXII-57-x). Compare to Friedman, T., James Gibbs (New Haven and London, 1984), pl. 249 . Colvin, op. cit., p. 402.

17 Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Gibbs Collection, Vol. III, f. 8, inscribed ‘Section Shewing the Chimney End’ and ‘Section of ye Oposite End to the Chimney’.

18 Friedman, op. cit., pp. 146, 299. Ellison’s brother-in-law, Cotesworth, Robert, subscribed to A Book of Architecture (London, 1728).

19 Mackenzie, op. cit., p. 491. See Hughes, E., North Country Life in the Eighteenth Century, The North-East, 1700-1750 (London, 1969), p. 338 .

20 Pls 33-34, 41-42, 49, 51.

21 Colen Campbell made many of the same adjustments in two unpublished drawings of ‘Lindsey House’ type residences ( Harris, J., Catalogue of the Drawings Collection of the Royal Institute of British Architects, Colen Campbell (Farnborough, 1973), p. 18 , cat. no. 56, figs 154-55).

22 Tyne and Wear Archives Service, Common Council Book 1718–43, f. 272, 7 October 1743.

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Gibbs’s Library at St Nicholas, Newcastle Upon Tyne

  • Terry Friedman


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