If you drive (or walk!) west out of Newcastle along Sandyford Road, you will pass John Dobson’s Jesmond Cemetery on the left. Look over the road and you will see a stone wall with a grand entrance featuring two large stone columns on either side. A modern sign informs you that this is the entrance to Sandyford Park. Entering the grounds, a narrow winding road passes sheltered accommodation and mature trees before arriving at the main entrance to the Newcastle High School for Girls. This appears to be a large old house, which, in the late 19th century, was the home of Dr Charles Gibb. Dr Gibb was a respected Newcastle surgeon immortalised in the Geordie anthem, ‘The Blaydon Races’:
Sum went to the Dispensary an’ uthers to Doctor Gibb’s,
An’ sum sought out the Infirmary to mend their broken ribs.
The Gibb (Charles) Archive contains papers relating to Dr Gibb’s career as a local GP. It also features some interesting photographs of his home at Sandyford Park. We’ve been along to Newcastle High School for Girls and they very kindly let us walk around the grounds so we could attempt a then-and-now comparison of locations.
Here’s the entrance to Villa Real/Sandyford Park in the 1880s and a current (March 2023) view (seen below). The two original inner columns have disappeared (from this location) but the lamps appear to have survived or are reproductions of the originals.
The house was built by Newcastle architect John Dobson for Captain John Dutton in 1817 and was originally called Villa Real. It was one of Dobson’s earliest designs, set in 21 acres of land featuring a fishpond, fishing house, and spring. There was a lodge on Sandyford Road, and wide curved lawns edged with woodland, with glasshouses to the north-west and two pineries and vinery sheds with a chimney in the woodland behind. East of the house was a vast walled garden with a cistern at its centre. Further east there was a melon ground.
The impressive entrance porch was supported by Tuscan columns. The house was designed with large bow windows which gave views onto an expansive lawn and across the field to a fishpond.
Dr Gibb had taken up residence in Villa Real after living and practicing in the centre of Newcastle. His home/surgery is now memorialised with a blue plaque as Gibb Chambers at 52-54 Westgate Road, where the injured Blaydon Races revellers went to seek treatment. Villa Real became Sandyford Hall in 1883 and then Sandyford Park. When Gibb died in 1916 the property was taken over by the Poor Sisters of Nazareth for nearly 80 years, and was renamed Nazareth House. In 1996 the Sisters transferred to London and for a while the house was managed by Catholic Care North East. It is now known as Chapman House, the main reception for the Newcastle High School for Girls. It was given an English Heritage Grade II listing in 1987.
The Gibb (Charles) Archive also contains internal shots of the house, showing the high Victorian penchant for rooms with an (over-)abundance of paintings, ornaments, and furniture.