Newcastle Improved Industrial Dwellings

I wonder how many of those who now live in the Garth Heads student accommodation know the history of this listed building.

Garth Heads today (© Andrew Curtis under Creative Commons Licence)

During the 19th century concern grew about the poor conditions that many working class families lived under in Britain’s large cities, whose population had expanded hugely during the industrial revolution. There was no social housing and poorer people rented whatever rooms were available, often lacking in basic amenities such as water and sanitation. In Newcastle in 1867, a report showed, 10,000 families were living in single rooms. In response to this situation, a number of Model Dwellings schemes were established, usually by philanthropists but still intended to earn a profit. Among the most famous are the Peabody Trust Estates in London, many of which still exist.

Newcastle Improved Industrial Dwellings Ltd was formed by James Hall, philanthropist and businessman, of Hall Bros Steamship Co. A prospectus was issued in 1869 for a block of 40 tenements in New Road opposite the Ragged Schools, and the buildings were opened in September 1870. They were extended in 1872 and 1878. The original building was four stories in height and the extensions six. Shops were included and eventually 108 separate flats, and there was also a social recreation room, including a library.

The Industrial Dwellings in the 1900s (DT.NID/12/p156)

The architect of the buildings was John Johnstone, a Scot who had worked with Sir George Gilbert Scott, and who also designed Gateshead Town Hall and Leazes Park synagogue in Newcastle.

The flats didn’t have internal sanitation but there were two WCs on each landing and communal washhouses for laundry in the courtyards. Tenants of the Dwellings were offered electric light as early as 1904, but opted to stick with gas. Electricity was installed in 1930. The lack of luxury of the flats illustrates how poor conditions must have been elsewhere.

Advert for a flat (DT.NID/12/p82)

The interior of a flat in 1909 (DT.NID/12/p175)








A soup kitchen was operated from the Dwellings in 1892, 1908 and 1909 in response to hardship in the town.

Children wait for soup in 1909 (DT.NID/12/p177)

The buildings were sold to Newcastle Corporation in 1968 and the company wound up. They are now Grade II listed and in use as student accommodation. The company archives are available at Tyne & Wear Archives. You can find details at

7 Responses to Newcastle Improved Industrial Dwellings

  1. Nowadays, the building is occupied by students and families have been priced-out of the centre of Newcastle upon Tyne. Poorer families were pushed to the east and west of the city to places like Elswick, Benwell, Heaton and Byker.

    The plight of the poor in the 19th century was tremendously worse than that of today; yet, unlike back then, we are seeing the morality of state benefits come under question: where people ask whether they should exist at all.

    Will we return to a situation of slum dwelling, as the government presses ahead with cuts to housing benefit, a bedroom tax and higher unemployment?

  2. George holroyd says:

    Hey there! I stayed in Garth Heads as a visitor ten years ago (2007). I woke in the middle of the night to find a lady dressed all in black and wearing a veil sat on the bed, whom I swear to this day was a ghost. Can you help me understand if there might be any truth in that? Has anyone else reported anything?

  3. Lyn says:

    My dad and grandparents lived in a one bedroom flat in Garth Heads (dad slept in the living room) until he moved out when he got married. My grandma continued to live there after my grandfather died and I used to go and visit her in the mid 1950s and early 60s. The tenants still shared the toilet at the end of the landing where there was also a deep laundry sink. Grandma would carry water and heat it on the fire to wash dishes (there was no kitchen). She still had gas lighting and an old black leaded fireplace with the oven on the side.

  4. Sandra yates says:

    Hi my gran grandad lived in the corner flat opposite end to the shop the flat had one bedroom a scullery living room gas light and a big black range my gran kept it spotless my grandad was Drayman working for the brewery before the moved to the flat they lived over the road just round the corner in what they called the stable house which was still standing last time I went with my sister we went about twelve years ago the last time before that was fifty eight years ago wish they were still there best years of my life

  5. Michael Kelly says:

    I lived in Garth Heads in the mid-1960s with my parents and sister. Conditions were so terrible that a move to Ayton Street in Byker – living in the old Victorian flats – was considered an improvement. Incredibly, in Byker we had no bathroom, no real kitchen (only a scullery) and an outside toilet. We had to boil our own hot water and I remember bathing in a tin bath in front of the coal fire. My dad and I used to have a proper bath on a weekend (I think at the YMCA – not too sure; it was too long ago). In any case, this was considered a luxury compared to the situation at Garth Heads, where we shared a toilet on the landing with other families and the conditions were despicable. We migrated to Australia in 1971 and all these years later, I still wonder whether it was all just a dream, it seems so unreal.

  6. Dorothy Rutherford says:

    I visited Garth Heads during the early 50’s up to the late 60’s to visit my aunt and uncle. They were my Mother’s unmarried brother and sister and they lived in the flat where all 3 of them were born.My uncle died in 1968 and my aunt continued to live there until all the residents were rehoused approximately in 1970. I remember the shiny black leaded fireplace with oven being in the living room and the gas lighting. I think it was the early 60’s when electricity was installed. The toilet and sink were on the landing together with a rubbish shute. I can remember the corner shop and it being a big event when a one armed bandit machine was installed there.

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