Stylised female statue head
Art,  England,  Newcastle-upon-Tyne,  Photographing Public Art

The art on the Tyne

To paraphrase a popular song by local Newcastle band Lindisfarne,

The art on the Tyne is all mine, all mine

The art on the Tyne is all mine

In a previous post I took you on a walk along the River Tyne in Newcastle and introduced you to its famous bridges. But I neglected to mention all the public art to be found along the Quayside; so for this week’s Photographing Public Art challenge I want to rectify that omission.

River Tyne

This relief by Neil Talbot is carved on a sandstone wall near the Law Courts. It depicts thirty miles of the river’s course on a scale of a metre to a mile, so is therefore thirty metres long.

The Tyne is shown as a map with various views from along the river’s course realistically carved in a relief with a maximum depth of a centimetre. It’s fun to follow the river’s course on it and spot the well-known landmarks.

At Sandgate

Historically, Sandgate was the area of the Quayside to the east of the city centre where the ‘keelmen’ lived and operated. A keel is a traditional boat of this region; it was used to transfer coal from the river banks to the waiting colliers, for export to London and elsewhere. A famous song, The Keel Row, is set here:

‘As I came thro' Sandgate,
Thro' Sandgate, thro' Sandgate,
As I came thro' Sandgate,
I heard a lassie sing:
“O, weel may the keel row,
The keel row, the keel row,
O weel may the keel row
That my laddie's in.”’

Today the opening lines of the song are carved into the flight of steps that descends to the Quayside from Sandgate, as are images of the keels. The keelmen were highly skilled boatmen. They wore a uniform of a short blue jacket, slate-coloured trousers and yellow waistcoat, and a black silk, flat-brimmed hat. They were a strong, tight-knit community who formed a benefit society and founded the Keelmen’s Hospital which still stands on the City Road.

Group of small boats carved in relief
Carvings of keel boats at Sandgate

By the way, you will see some sources which suggest that The Keel Row is a Scottish song, but the references to the Tyne (‘He’s foremost ‘mang the mony Keel lads o’ coaly Tyne’) and to Sandgate indicate its Geordie origins.

River God and Siren

These are my favourite pieces. Both are the work of Andre Wallace. River God is a male figure with a torso and head, and holding a staff and chain, on top of a steel column.

River God and the Millennium Bridge

Its companion piece, Siren, stands at the top of the steps that descend to the Quayside from Sandgate.


The Swirle Pavilion

This is the work of sculptor Raf Fulcher. Below its gleaming metal globe the open-sided pavilion is encircled by the names of all the European ports that were once visited by shipping from the Tyne: Hamburg, Genoa, Aberdeen, Rotterdam, Copenhagen, Malmo, London, Antwerp and Hull.

Metal globe surrounded by steel curved bars
The Swirle Pavilion

The Blacksmiths’ Needle

This eye-catching modern sculpture on the Quayside is the collective work of the Members of the British Association of Blacksmith Artists. Made from forged steel, it takes the form of a 7.6 metre high cone which is consists of six sections, one above the other. Each of these is decorated with objects which relate to one of the senses, including what was described as ‘the mysterious sixth sense’.

These objects were made in public ‘forge-ins’ held all over the country and have a mainly maritime theme. The work was inaugurated in May 1997 by the percussionist Evelyn Glennie, who rang the bell which hangs inside the needle.

The Local Heroes Trail

In the spring of 2014 a ‘Walk of Fame’ was launched on the Newcastle and Gateshead Quaysides. A series of 20 bronze plaques is set into the pavement at intervals, each commemorating a ‘local hero’; someone from the region who has made a contribution to sport, the arts, science or in some other way has achieved success and put Newcastle on the map.

The list of those represented is like a ‘Who’s Who’ of famous Geordies and includes:

  • footballer Alan Shearer
  • footballer and football manager, Sir Bobby Robson
  • traditional musician Kathryn Tickell
  • athlete Brendan Foster
  • photographer Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen
  • children’s author David Almond
  • entertainers Ant & Dec
  • paralympian Stephen Miller
  • actor Robson Green
  • Cardinal Basil Hume
  • politician Mo Mowlam
  • TV writers Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais
  • 70s group Lindisfarne
  • rock star Sting

More are added each year, nominated by members of the public. The plaques can be found along the stretch of pavement from the Newcastle end of the Swing Bridge to the Millennium Bridge, and on the other side of the river in Gateshead they continue along the Quayside back to the Swing Bridge.

I visit Newcastle often; these photos were taken over a period of several years


  • maristravels

    It’s taken me a long time to catch up with this post, Sarah, but it’s been worth the wait. I love the sculpture (isn’t Siren amazing)? but the sandstone carvings are equally worth spending time with.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Wow, yes, this is an old one – glad you found it, and liked it 🙂 It’s lovely comments like this that convince me I’m doing the right thing not to disable commenting after a certain period!

  • Debbie

    It’s good to see these types of artworks and the recognition given to special people – like Ant & Dec. I remember watching them when we lived in England many years ago!

  • Marsha

    These are amazing pieces of art, Sarah. I got caught up in the first one, looked up the words and was sent to Wikipedia which also has the tune but not the meaning of the words. “Versions of the song appear in both England and Scotland, with Scottish versions referring to the Canongate rather than Sandgate. The earliest printing was in the 1770s in Edinburgh in A Collection of Favourite Scots Tunes, edited by Charles Maclean.”

    Then I kept scrolling, and got lost in the Blacksmith’s Needle looking for the bell and the sixth sense. I loved every piece of art, though. My question: Do you take new pictures every time you walk or do you take them once and are satisfied that you have captured the pieces in all their beauty?

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Marsha, both for the lovely comment and that bit of research. Tyneside is adamant that this is their song but it seems from what you say that that could be wrong – oh dear! I assume the Scottish one must change other words too however, and a keel is definitely a north east England boat. I must do more research myself it seems!

      I tend to take photos down here most times we visit, unless the weather is really poor, but not always of the art works. There are the bridges, the river itself, sometimes passing boats, kittiwakes and more – always something interesting to see here!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you, but I have to say these couldn’t be easier to find as I do this walk several times a year, whenever we visit Newcastle 😀 And Siren is my favourite too, I think!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Yes really – they’re a very popular Newcastle ‘export’ 😀 We met them once on a flight to somewhere in Europe for a Newcastle match (they’re big fans) and I have to say they seemed genuinely nice guys!

  • maristravels

    I really must get to Newcastle next year (if only this Covid would let up for just a few months and give us a breathing space). It’s years since I’ve been there and the place has changed so much since my visit. We were booked for Liverpool this week but have just cancelled as my friend got worried about the virus. So pleased you quoted Lindisfarne, one of my favourite bands.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      A shame you had to cancel Liverpool Mari. I understand your friend’s concerns but despite the recent unwelcome turn of events my attitude is that we have to accept a certain amount of risk, once we’ve had our boosters that is. We need some pleasure in our lives! So I hope you get to Newcastle, as it’s really worth seeing again if you haven’t been for ages. If you wanted to you’d be welcome to join the big international Virtual Tourist meet I’m hoping to host there in May (should have been 2020, then 2021, so fingers are crossed!) No need to bring a friend to that, everyone is welcomed as a friend even if they’ve never been before!

  • Rose

    I liked the subtleties of the Sandstone carvings, and the ‘feeling of interconnectedness’ I get from the Swirle Pavilion. And of course, I find learning about local heroes in any location exciting.

  • Yvonne+Dumsday

    I know I had to miss that first day’s tour of Newcastle Sarah but your blog helps to show me some of what I missed. Many thanks. Yvonne

  • Manja Maksimovič

    Ha! You gave birth to Sting but now we own him (that is, Tuscany). 😉 Just teasing, but he does have a farm in the north of Tuscany, far from me, and apparently welcomes people to work on his farm and once in a while he comes to sing for them. 😀

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Oh yes, I’ve heard about his farm. He actually went to the same school as my husband but several years above. He was in the school choir! And we have a school photo somewhere with my husband in the front row as a little first year pupil and Sting (then just Gordon Sumner of course) near the back as a sixth former 😀

  • ThingsHelenLoves

    I do like River God and Siren, I think I’m drawn to things in that vein though as for years as a child I was equally fascinated and terrified by the River God Tyne statue at Newcastle Civic Centre. I’ll be checking out the Local Heroes trail next time I’m home, couldn’t read that list without hearing the Local Hero tune in my head! Great to see Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen on that list too!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I know what you mean about the Civic Centre statue Helen. I really like it but I never saw it as a child! And yes, great to see Konttinen on that list. I really admire her work in Byker. Have you been to the Side Gallery where she has exhibited in the past as well as several other excellent local photographers such as Jimmy Forsyth? If not, highly recommended – but if you know her work I’m guessing you’ve probably been there! I love the Local Hero theme, both because it’s a wonderful haunting tune and also because the team used to always run out to it and still do on occasion. For many years I had it as my ringtone but since changing from iPhone to Android I’ve not got around to changing it.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks Cee 🙂 We visit Newcastle several times a year to see family and friends, and just because we like it (my husband was born here) and we do this walk almost every time, so these are pieces I know very well!

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