Keith Jewitt is a retired accountant, an environment enthusiast dedicated to the “Keep Jesmond Clean” campaign and a community activist. He is also the author of In a Magpie’s Eye: The Jesmond Year in Haiku. Keith lives in Jesmond.
Literary and Philosophical Jesmond - walk 3
We start at the W end of Armstrong Bridge. Walk N along Jesmond Dene Road and you’ll soon see on your L the opening of Collingwood Terrace. Until a few years ago this was home to two world-famous writers – Eva Ibbotson, author of numerous children’s books including Which Witch?, The Great Ghost Rescue and Journey to the River Sea, and philosopher Mary Midgley. Both had remarkable lives and both, like Paul Torday and Catherine Cookson, rose to fame in middle age when many aspiring writers are thinking of giving up.
Keep going N along Jesmond Dene Road. On your R is a piece of flattish land just above the dene – this was the site of Stotes Hall, which had two claims to fame before being demolished in the 1950s. First, it housed a school run by Charles Hutton, mathematician and one of the leading lights of the early Lit & Phil: and second, it was home to Maria Shield, mother of Gertrude Bell, who wrote numerous travel books and translations of Persian poetry.
Keep going until you see Jesmond Dene Terrace on your R, and turn L into the pathway which takes you to St Mary’s Well. You are now very close to the site of Jesmond Grove, another stately home demolished in modern times, which was the home of James Losh. Losh was a key figure in the early Lit & Phil, a friend of Wordsworth and Coleridge, and it was here in his Jesmond garden that he made his weather observations, which are still kept at the Lit & Phil.
Keep going along the path, then turn L onto Queen’s Terrace. You’ll soon see number 6, the house from which publisher Frank Graham ran his spectacularly successful imprint. His local history books preserved and popularised the history of the North East and gave opportunities to other local writers.
At the end of Queen’s Terrace, turn L and then immediately R onto Gowan Terrace. Join Osborne Avenue and then take the footpath past the cricket ground, which leads to Clayton Road. The second house on your R, Fernwood House, has an astonishingly rich history. It was owned from the 1890s until 1937 by Sir Walter Runciman, a shipping magnate, Liberal politician and author of numerous books, including the autobiography Before the Mast and After.
Fernwood House was visited by Lloyd George and Asquith – also by Sir Walter’s grandson Steven Runciman, historian of the Crusades, and by Rosamond Lehmann who lived in Jesmond while married to Sir Walter’s other grandson Leslie. After Sir Walter’s death, the house became a hospital and it was here that the first Mrs Orwell died under anaesthetic.
Go back along the footpath to Osborne Avenue and past Dene’s Deli, where you might see DCI Kate Daniels, hero of Mari Hannah’s brilliantly readable and realistic crime novels.
Turn R by Holy Trinity Church and we finish our exploration, fittingly, at 11 Kimberley Gardens, where a plaque commemorates Sid Chaplin. Here he wrote his novels The Watchers and the Watched and The Day of the Sardine. It was also here that he collaborated with Alan Plater and Alex Glasgow to create Close the Coalhouse Door, a magnificently funny and moving celebration of North East history, which was performed just a few yards down Benton Bank at the Playhouse. Sid wrote so honestly and passionately about the North East’s people and places that it’s hard not to think of him when I try to do the same.
You may download a pdf of this walk and map by clicking HERE.
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