This month has so far been one of new discoveries, December has seen me tour the BBC studios in Newcastle, take a trip down an air raid shelter in the Grainger Market and explore Washington Old Hall, learning more about it’s American connection! As I have said before, my birthplace the North East of England has so much to offer people and even locals alike who may not know about certain attractions. This blog will give more information on what is out there to ‘see’ in this great part of the United Kingdom.
After hearing about tours of the BBC Studios in Newcastle from some family members, I decided I needed to look into this and book a tour for myself. It is simple enough to book as you go online (as pre booking is necessary) and pick a day. You are then sent your E tickets by email and please remember to take a form of identity with you on the day to gain access, such as a passport or drivers licence. The days the tour runs are Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday morning and afternoon at 10.30 am and 1.30 pm. They last around 2 hours and are priced at £10 for an adult, £9.25 concession, children are £ 7.50, students £8 and school tours are available too. It is popular so good to book well in advance! There is also a Children’s Interactive Tour available for 6-12 year olds.
BBC Newcastle is based at Broadcasting House on Barrack Road near the city centre, when I arrived for my tour I was met by friendly staff who offered me a seat as I was early as they were setting up for the tour, they offered myself and others a fun quiz to fill in to see how good our knowledge was of BBC shows. I thought this was a great idea as it was an ice breaker between us all and this lead to general chit chat. Once we all had had our identities checked and put our belongings in lockers offered in reception, the tour began. You can take pictures in most of the tour, with a couple of exceptions but you are told when.
The tour began with our two guides giving us a brief history of the BBC Newcastle, known as The Pink Palace, from it’s origins on December 23rd 1922, the first ever broadcast! That was actually from a stable yard, due to technical problems. To now, nearly 100 years later where the North East are producing some amazing shows. We then visited the film storage room, this houses all footage and coverage from the 70’s to present day on show reels to memory cards due to the change in technology over the years! So interesting to see and hear about. After this we went into a small studio to see how a presenter would film their slot or show, where they would stand was marked out on the carpet in front and how different backgrounds would be added to final clip. We then seen different sets from shows as we made our way to the main studio area, where Look North, Sunday Politics and Inside Out is filmed. Once in the studio, I couldn’t get over how hot it was with all the cameras and lights on. You get a great opportunity to sit in the newscasters chair for a photo opportunity or take a seat on the red sofa. Whilst we explored the studio both guides answered any questions asked. We headed into production room, this is where no photos can be taken, we were told what buttons operated what and which seat was the producers and their duties whilst the programmes were on air. Onto the main office where the presenters work from and over to the Radio Newcastle studios, where you are taken into a working radio studio and talked through the process of a live show! After the main tour you all go into a room and partake in your own radio play and news bulletin, this is great fun and you then watch it all back together. Both guides were superb and very informative, I can see how they have just won the top award at the North East Tourism Awards recently. I urge you all to take a visit to the BBC Studios in Newcastle it was brilliant!
Newcastle’s Grainger Market has an Air Raid Shelter underneath the market, I was lucky enough to take a trip down the shelter the other week. I was invited to the Christmas Night Market as a North East Blogger and whilst I was there I saw the information and stall to take a tour, as I didn’t even know there was a shelter there. I asked if it was possible to go down tonight but it was fully booked, however the lady came over to me awhile later and said there had been a cancellation. Win win I got to take a tour! It costs £5 per person and it lasts about 45 minutes with a guide, the lovely Michael. The tours are running every Sunday in December hourly from 11 am till 3 pm so if you wish to go on one, seize this opportunity!
The tour began at 6 pm and there was a group of around 16 or 17 people plus Michael Scott, he gave us a brief introduction about the shelter and beckoned us down. This shelter was provided for the local people in the late 1930’s to seek safety at the start of World War 2, under the vegetable market and is still very accessible today, it is surprising how well keep it is inside and the benches are still there! However I wouldn’t chance sitting on them. As you explore you see the chemical toilet, a bucket, with a curtain made of hessian to ‘protect one’s modesty’!! Alongside some toilet roll, in the form of cut up newspaper. There is a poster for recruitment of more air raid wardens on the wall and a drawing on the other, that the guide said was “outstanding” to have lasted and still be so clear for all to see. It at first looks like the queen but later you realise it is of a nurse helping people in need. The shelter is made of concrete however you can see bricks peeking through in certain parts of it, so it must have been lined, it’s quite narrow but long and it leads around to another room off the shelter itself. Michael shared tales of his family during the second world war and others on the tour shared their stories too, which was great to hear and learn how people coped during these awful times. Michael said that the shelter which is partly blocked off is thought to lead through to the Central Station, there are actually two air raid shelters below the Grainger Market but this is the only one accessible to the public. They say the reason the tunnels were built in the first place was to transport coal underneath the city in the 1930’s. I definitely learnt a lot and it was brilliant to take a trip into the shelter itself and imagine what it must have been like during WW2 in Newcastle City Centre. Need I say anymore, go see for yourself!!
Yesterday I went to explore Washington Old Hall, situated in Washington Village and part of The National Trust. It is an old manor house, with lovely gardens and grounds. It was once the home of George Washington’s (America’s first president) direct ancestors and believe it or not this is how the family got their name ‘Washington‘. You can still see parts of the original medieval home they lived in, in this building. There is a lot to see downstairs, make sure you explore all the rooms and upstairs there is a room all done out, in the style of a tenement flat with audio from the family about their life then.
Christmas is a very special time at Washington Old Hall, they have The Green Man returning. Children can go and meet him, learn about the character in the woodland grotto and receive a gift. As years ago you visited The Green Man instead of Father Christmas or Santa and when you went to see him he would find out if you were a good or bad child! It is a Pagan tradition and as they say you learn something new everyday.
With origins dating back to the 12th Century Washington Old Hall has a lot of history and tales to offer all. William de Hertburne was the ancestor of George Washington who bought the tenancy of the hall named Wessyngtonlands at the time from the Bishop of Durham for £4 a year, he changed his name to William de Wessyngton and then to Washington. After the Washington’s moved on the man went back to the bishop. The hall was then lived in until the 19th Century, when it became tenement flats for many families, one of which the little boy who grew up there became a volunteer at the hall until his death this year and he proudly spoke of his life here. In the mid 1930’s the building was about to be demolished as it wasn’t fit to live in, it was however rescued by a local teacher called Fred Hill and he formed a preservation committee called the ‘Friends of the Old Hall”, work was completed by 1955 and the National Trust were given the building in 1957. The staff at Washington Old Hall are amazingly helpful and friendly, giving me so much information and stories to come away with. This attraction needs much more exposure and if you are planning a trip too the North East of England add it to your list and to all local people who may not have known it was here, come see and spread the word!
Next to the hall in the village itself are two trees that stand with great significance. They were planted in 1977 by Jimmy Carter the President of the USA at the time and James Callaghan our Prime Minister after a visit to Washington Old Hall, to commemorate it. Due to the American links, Washington DC and the City of Sunderland have a ‘friendship agreement’ which “hopes to create cultural and economic ties with one another”.
The cost of entry to Washington Old Hall and grounds is £6 for an adult and £3 for a child, with a family ticket costing £14. Opening times are daily 10am-4pm at present until Christmas Eve and then it closes until February half term.
With all this fabulous North East history and culture on my doorstep, I feel it only right that I share it all with you. I am now on the lookout for many more local attractions, stay tuned!