Grey’s Monument struck by lightning – July 2020

Illustration of Grey Column, Newcastle, 19th Century
Illustration of Grey Column, Newcastle, 19th Century (ILL/11/218, Local Illustrations)

The recent Black Lives Matter protests in UK cities and across the world, have drawn attention to statues which ‘commemorate’ individuals who are thought to have profited from the slave trade. Newcastle’s major statue is Grey’s Monument. This is a Grade I listed monument to Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey who was prime minister during the passing of the Great Reform Act of 1832, which set in motion the abolition of the slave trade.

The monument was built in 1838 and consists of a statue of Grey on top of a 135-foot (41 meters) high Roman Doric column. It was designed by local architects John and Benjamin Green, and the statue of Grey was created by the sculptor Edward Hodges Baily (the creator of Nelson’s statue in Trafalgar Square). It was paid for by public subscription.

After over a century of marking the top of Grey Street, the monument was hit by a bolt of lightning on 25 July 1941, which dislodged the head of Earl Grey from his body.

The Newcastle Chronicle reported the dramatic incident:

“The stone head of Earl Grey, 133 feet above the ground at the junction of Grainger, Grey and Blackett Street, crashed to the tram lines without causing any personal injuries, and was badly damaged.

“It was impossible to state whether the original head could be restored.”

The bits of head were gathered up and were reputedly placed in a nearby shop window, with the slogan “Earl Grey’s losing his head over our prices”. The statue was headless until 1947, when local sculptor Roger Hedley (the son of painter Ralph Hedley) created a new head based on the preserved fragments of the original.

Illustration of Grainger Street,  depicting Grey's Monument and buildings
Illustration of Grainger Street, depicting Grey’s Monument and buildings (ILL/11/261, Local Illustrations)

Our Local Illustrations contains many representations of Grey’s Monument standing tall during the 19th Century.  

Aurelia Musso – The Exchange, Newcastle – December 2018

One of the very special images we have within our ‘Local Illustrations’ collection is this picture: Exchange by Aurelia Musso.  Unusually for the prints that remain of this artist, it is a picture of a civic building, the Exchange on Newcastle Quayside (now known as the Guild Hall).

‘Exchange’, by Aurelia Musso and dedicated to David Landell, c. 1783 1793 (Local Illustrations, ILL/11/165). The Exchange is located along the Newcastle Quayside, now known as Guild Hall.


Aurelia Musso was a prolific artist, and highly regarded within Newcastle society in the late 18th Century.  Born in Piedmont in Italy in 1758, she moved to Newcastle in 1783 with her husband, fellow artist Boniface Musso, and their two children.  The early history of the Musso family is fairly scant, but Aurelia (nee Grezzini) appears to have had family links in Newcastle, with various members of the Grezzini family involved in wood carving trades and the making of high quality toys in the City.

Axwell Park by Aurelia Musso, commissioned by the Clavering family of Gateshead. Original held at Newcastle City Library and kindly reproduced with their permission.

Jesmond Mill by Aurelai Musso, commissioned by the Brown family of Benton. Original held at Newcastle City Library and kindly reproduced with their permission.

Aurelia Musso specialised in prints and her work was highly valued among the wealthy and powerful in Newcastle.  She was commissioned by several prominent families, including the Clavering family of Axwell Park, (Gateshead), John Bigge of Carville Hall (Wallsend), William Lamb of Ryton Hall (County Durham) and Ralph Carr of Dunston Hall (Gateshead), and often Musso’s images remain the earliest prints of these family estates and houses.  She appears to have been very much a part of this elite circle and was certainly a very fashionable artist during this period.

The image of the Exchange was presumably created whilst Aurelia lived in Newcastle, and can therefore be dated to between 1783 – 1893.  Not very long afterwards, in 1809, the frontage of the building was radically altered to the designs of architects William Newton and David Stephenson.  Whilst the interior and rear of the building remained intact, the old steeple and staircase were entirely taken down, and the present front was erected, with the clock placed in the front, largely obliterating the original Italian architectural style seen in Musso’s print.  The print below, dating from 1829, shows the building with its new facade, which remains to this day.

‘Guild Hall or Exchange’ 1829, William Westall (artist) and Edward Finden (engraver), held by Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The Musso family, although nowadays far less well know than during their lifetimes, play an important part in Newcastle’s history.  Aurelia’s husband Boniface was the tutor for a short time of architect John Dobson (link to profile), as well as the artist John Martin (link to profile).  John Martin moved to Newcastle initially in 1803 at the age of 14 to take up the post of apprentice to a coach-builder to learn heraldic painting.  Meeting the Musso family in 1804 however he was taken on by them, receiving classical art instruction.  After Aurelia’s death, Boniface moved with the family to London taking John Martin with him – although Martin proved to be a somewhat wayward apprentice and the apprenticeship was later terminated!

Aurelia died in 1793, only 35 years old, cause of death unknown.  She was buried on 17th September 1793 in St Andrew’s Churchyard, Newcastle.

Many thanks to Pat Halcro for her research for this piece.

The Builder’s Magazine: Designs of coloured Ornaments for Pannels – February 2010

Two ornate designs shown side-by-side for coloured ornaments for gate panels
Designs of coloured ornaments for panels from The Builder’s Magazine: or Monthly Companion for Architects, Carpenters, Masons, Bricklayers, &c.… by A Society of Architects
(London: Printed for the Authors; and Sold by F. Newbery …, 1774) (18th Century Collection, 18th C. Coll. 720.942 BUI)

The Builder’s Magazine has been kindly donated to the University Library’s Special Collections by Dr Hendrik (Hentie) Louw of Newcastle University’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape.

In the preface, it is explained that “a set of Gentlemen have formed themselves into a Society to promote the improvement of Architecture” and to increase the intellectual output of the profession. Furthermore, they will take a different approach from that of other publications: “Architects, in general, have, in their publications, considered the magnificence of building, rather than its use; it shall be our task to unite both; for Architecture cannot be more grand than it is useful; nor is its dignity more to be considered than its convenience“.

It begins with an alphabetical glossary to building terms (in this volume from ABACUS to BRIDGES:

ABREUVOIR, OR ABREVOIR, in Masonry, signifies the joint or juncture of two stones, or the space or interstice to be filled up with mortar or cement.

ARAEOSTYLE, a term used by Vitruvius, to signify the greatest interval or distance which can be made between columns; which consists of eight modules, or four diameters.

Place BRICKS are made of the same earth, or worse; with a mixture of dirt from the streets; and these are often so very bad they will hardly hold together …

There then follows a series of plates, with explanations, including an elevation for a garden building of the Ionic order, designs for iron work for balconies, a plan for a town house, brick and stone arches, a section of a hospital and the coloured ornamented panels shown here.

John Carter (1748-1817) was educated in Battersea and Kennington. He started out working as an artist for his father but went on to be apprenticed under a surveyor and also to work as a draughtsman and illustrator. In the course of his career he was influenced by such important patrons as John Soane and Horace Walpole. He illustrated The Builder’s Magazine from 1774 until 1786. Commissioned by the Society of Antiquaries, he surveyed a number of ecclesiastical buildings, including Durham Cathedral, for a series of published drawings which attempted to be the first accurate, measured drawings of English religious buildings. He also contributed to the Gentleman’s Magazine which he used as a vehicle for expressing his controversial views on “inappropriate restoration” and the destruction of ancient monuments.

This particular copy of The Builder’s Magazine has the inscription of James Hedley, Meldon, Northumberland April 1st 1842 on the front pastedown and an ink drawing of a bird.