History in Structure

Parsons' Polygon, Blackett Street, Newcastle upon Tyne

A Grade II Listed Building in Westgate, Newcastle upon Tyne

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Latitude: 54.9741 / 54°58'26"N

Longitude: -1.614 / 1°36'50"W

OS Eastings: 424806

OS Northings: 564451

OS Grid: NZ248644

Mapcode National: GBR SP6.M7

Mapcode Global: WHC3R.57PN

Plus Code: 9C6WX9FP+JC

Entry Name: Parsons' Polygon, Blackett Street, Newcastle upon Tyne

Listing Date: 2 August 2016

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1437311

ID on this website: 101437311

Location: Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear, NE1

County: Newcastle upon Tyne

Electoral Ward/Division: Westgate

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Newcastle upon Tyne

Traditional County: Northumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Tyne and Wear

Church of England Parish: Newcastle St Andrew

Church of England Diocese: Newcastle

Tagged with: Architectural structure

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Relief sculpture, 1982-85, designed by David Hamilton, commissioned by Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Executive to clad a concrete ventilation shaft for an underground Metro tunnel.


Relief sculpture, 1982-85, designed by David Hamilton, commissioned by Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Executive to clad a concrete ventilation shaft for an underground Metro tunnel.

DESCRIPTION: the sculpture is free-standing on the N pavement of Blackett Street. It stands approximately 3m (9.8ft) high and is hexagonal in plan. The surface is covered in orange-brown terracotta tiles of differing sizes and shapes with a slightly rough, hand-finished texture. At the base is a chamfered plinth covered in small tiles. Above the plinth the six vertical faces all have relief mouldings of abstracted machinery parts taken from Parsons’ engineering drawings. The deeper, lower panels depict two alternating images of an abstracted cog and machine part and the narrower, upper panels depict two similar machine parts which also alternate. The upper sections of the six faces have offset ventilation louvres partially formed from stacks of abstracted machine parts. The sculpture has a hexagonal pointed roof of small tiles with ridge tiles to the angles.

The below-ground functional elements of the ventilation shaft do not form part of the List entry.

MAPPING NOTE: the location of the sculpture is approximate.


When the Tyne and Wear Metro was built it was described as the first modern light rail system in the United Kingdom. Work on the Metro began in 1974 and it was opened to the public by the Queen in 1980. The system was then progressively opened in phases through to 1984, when the full 55km of the original network became operational. The Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Executive (TWPTE, now known as Nexus) commissioned public artwork to enliven the network through its ‘Art on the Metro’ scheme; there are now 38 pieces of permanent art associated with the public infrastructure in Tyne and Wear, with more continuing to be added, such as a new mural at Byker Metro station unveiled in 2016.

Parsons’ Polygon was commissioned from the artist David Hamilton in 1982 and was unveiled in 1985. The structure was designed to clad a concrete ventilation shaft for the underground Metro tunnel. It is the only Metro artwork sited outside a station and stands in a prominent public thoroughfare nearby to the Earl Grey Monument in the centre of Newcastle. Hamilton designed the hexagonal, terracotta-clad structure to celebrate the achievements of the engineer Sir Charles Parsons (1854-1931), who is best known for his development of terrestrial and marine steam turbine engines. The work was intended ‘not (as) a statue of the man, but a symbol of his stature amongst engineers and the world at large’. The designs pressed into the terracotta tiles are abstracted from Parsons’ engineering drawings. The Polygon’s architectural presence is heightened by its colour. Hamilton hoped that the deliberate use of orange clay (the same as that used for Eldon Square’s bricks) would ‘stir the curiosity of Newcastle citizens’.

Sir Charles Parsons is considered to be one of the most original engineers the United Kingdom had produced since James Watt. A nearby inscribed paving slab draws attention to his creation of the ‘Turbinia’, a small vessel designed to demonstrate the advantages of steam-turbine propulsion for ships to the Admiralty both in terms of speed (34 knots against the 27 knots then achieved by the fastest destroyers of the day) and fuel efficiency. Born in London to wealthy parents, Parsons had studied engineering at Cambridge before being apprenticed at Sir William Armstrong’s Elswick works on Tyneside in 1877. He then concentrated on increasing the power produced by steam turbine engines. In 1890 his turbo-alternators were used at the Forth Banks power station in Newcastle, the first power station in the world to use a turbo-generating plant. He then went on to develop steam-turbine propulsion for ships, using the Turbinia to impress a sceptical Admiralty into commissioning steam-driven warships from his company. Amongst his many inventions were improved astronomical telescopes and, less successfully, artificial diamonds.

The artist David Hamilton was born in Leeds and trained at the College of Art, Bradford and Goldsmiths College, London. He taught in the Fine Art Departments of Lancaster and Portsmouth Colleges of Art, and then the Royal College of Art, London, in the Department of Ceramics and Glass. His paintings have been exhibited widely, with pieces in a number of public collections. Amongst his commissions he has also produced tile designs for Paddington Underground Station (1984-87), and for Euston Underground Station (1985-88), together with Robert Cooper.

Reasons for Listing

Parsons’ Polygon of 1982-85, designed by David Hamilton, commissioned by Tyne and Wear Passenger Executive, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Aesthetic quality: an intriguing and eye-catching tall hexagonal structure of hand-crafted terracotta panels incorporating reliefs of cogs and machine parts taken from Parsons’ engineering drawings, which stands casually on the pavement like some newly-arrived steam punk fictional machine waiting to interact with the human population;

* Function: as an engaging sculpture which successfully obscures the necessity of proving a ventilation shaft for an underground Metro tunnel in the busy centre of Newcastle;

* Historic interest: as an artwork in praise of the achievements of the eminent engineer Sir Charles Parsons, who had close working connections with Newcastle, where he developed efficient steam turbines for the first power station in the world to use turbo-generating power to light Newcastle, and marine steam-turbine propulsion for shipping, notably Admiralty warships;

* Contribution to the public realm: as a good example of the commissioning of public artwork in the post-war era as a way of enlivening and introducing aesthetic pleasure to an otherwise functional structure in a public environment.

External Links

External links are from the relevant listing authority and, where applicable, Wikidata. Wikidata IDs may be related buildings as well as this specific building. If you want to add or update a link, you will need to do so by editing the Wikidata entry.

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