You’ll be spoilt for choice on a shopping visit to Newcastle and Gateshead, with quirky designer boutiques, bustling indoor and outdoor markets, historic department stores, outlet centres, and two glitzy and modern malls offering the latest high street fashions, lifestyle and culinary must-haves, all guaranteed to have you reaching for the credit card.
A place in retail history
It’s fitting that the area that gave the world the first proper department store, should be a shoppers’ paradise. Bainbridge in Newcastle (now John Lewis) started life in 1838 when Emerson Muschamp Bainbridge formed a business partnership with William Alder Dunn and opened a drapers and fashion shop on Market Street in the heart of what is now the city’s historic Grainger Town. By 1849, Bainbridge boasted 23 different retail divisions, with weekly takings being recorded by section, forming the basis for its claim to be the first proper department store. In 1870 those 23 departments had swelled to more than 40 covering 11,705 square yards of retail space, and by 1900 the business had grown to such an extent it employed 600 staff.
Bainbridge was sold to John Lewis in 1952, and moved to its present site in the intu Eldon Square shopping centre in 1976, finally changing its name in 2002. But the retail venture is still one of the leading department stores in the UK and is a bedrock of the intu Eldon Square shopping complex which stands in the centre of Newcastle. This purpose built shopping Mecca is now home to more than 120 high street names and specialist shops alongside a dedicated food quarter. Here you will find the original Fenwick department store, first opened in 1882 as a temple to luxury in what was a former doctor’s house on Northumberland Street in Newcastle.
As the store grew in popularity, founder John Fenwick expanded his business further along the street. Still independently owned, today the flagship Fenwick store stands on the same site in Northumberland Street as it did 136 years ago, but now with an entrance into Eldon Square. Over five floors Fenwick sells everything from fashion to toys, beauty, household goods and furniture and boasts a world-class food hall, cafes and restaurants. Among the designer fashion names you will find Ted Baker, DKNY, Mulberry, Longchamp, Paul Smith, Ralph Lauren, Stella McCartney and Victoria Victoria Beckham, alongside beauty brands such as Jo Malone London, Tom Ford, Christian Dior, Charlotte Tilbury, NARS and Diptyque – many exclusive to Fenwick in the North East.
It’s fitting that the area that gave the world the first proper department store, should be a shoppers’ paradise
Fenwick, John Lewis, Eldon Square
The unveiling of the Fenwick Christmas window in early November on Northumberland Street has become a major festive landmark and a huge draw for visitors shopping in Newcastle and Gateshead. It takes a different theme every year and includes moving characters and a bespoke soundtrack, and for many marks the start of the Christmas season. Given the manner in which Newcastle’s upwardly mobile citizens embraced the pioneering department store concept in the 19th century, it was perhaps no surprise that when the BBC came to air its own fictional drama about the birth in the 1870s of England’s first luxury shopping emporium, it chose to both set and film it in the North East. The team behind The Paradise admitted that while the story had been inspired by Emile Zola’s novel Au Bonheur des Dames, their own take on it had in fact been loosely based upon the first department stores which opened in this part of the world. Filming of the series took place at the Lambton estate just a few miles from Newcastle, where a luxurious period-perfect Victorian department store was recreated along with other fictional shops of the time. The Paradise may only have run for two series from 2012, but it helped reinforce Tyneside’s reputation as a retail hub.
Alongside John Lewis and Fenwick, Eldon Square is home to 70 per cent of the city’s other prime shops, from fellow big brand names such as Debenhams to Apple, Next, Levi’s, Topshop, Hotter, Pandora, Sketchers, Kurt Geiger and Marks and Spencer. The recently opened Grey’s Quarter food area boasts more than 20 restaurants including Chaophraya, George’s Great British Kitchen, Ask Italian, and Giraffe World Kitchen – the perfect place to refuel and unwind after all that shopping. Northumberland Street is still Newcastle’s main outdoor shopping thoroughfare, and here you will find H&M, HMV, Foot Locker, WH Smith, and JD Sports among others. Monument Mall stands where Northumberland and Blackett Streets meet. Topped by an impressive glass dome the mall is home to discount fashion and homeware chain TK Maxx, as well as the White Company, Jack Wills, Reiss, and jeweller ROX. A must visit on any shopping trip to Newcastle is the Central Arcade – both for its luxury brands and striking architecture. Accessible from Grey, Grainger and Market Streets, it was rebuilt in 1906 following a fire. The arcade’s light and airy glass barrelled roof and tilework are stunning, and have thankfully survived any attempts at modernisation.
Today the arcade benevolently watched over by Earl Grey standing atop his 40m column, houses among its luxury brands Cath Kidston and Space NK, specialist independent music shop JG Windows, cafes and restaurants, and the Newcastle Tourist Information Centre, where you can pick up details about the city alongside unusual and quirky locally make souvenirs. The Grainger Market covers two acres and was the largest space of its kind when it opened in 1835. Today the restored market, which aptly stands on Grainger Street, is as busy as ever with 110 shops, stalls and food outlets. It is home to the smallest M&S, otherwise known as the Original Penny Bazaar, as well as some of Newcastle’s most innovative independent shops and stalls selling everything from meat and fresh fruit and vegetables to clothes (including vintage), gifts, books, shoes, sweets, records and pet supplies. Look out for Scorpio Shoes which showcases a huge range of idiosyncratic footwear at competitive prices from among others Irregular Choice, Dr Martens, BlowFish, Fly London, Lunar Wellies, Gumbies and Ruby Shoo. The Grainger Market also hosts regular Saturday vintage and arts and craft sales.
Alongside John Lewis and Fenwick, Eldon Square is home to 70 per cent of the city’s other prime shops
Boutique stores and the Quayside Market
Grainger Town – the historic heart of Newcastle which contains the magnificent classical streets built by Richard Grainger between 1824 and 1841 – is full of boutique stores and exclusive standalone high street brand names. Here can be found Dr Martens and men’s clothing store End, selling upscale sportswear, casual clothing and global fashion brands over two floors. Newcastle has open air markets too. Every Sunday hundreds of traders and street food vendors gather on the Quayside. This historic market played out against the picturesque backdrop of the River Tyne and its landmark buildings, has been a feature in the city for nearly 300 years.
The original Quayside Market stretched from the old Tyne Bridge (near the site of the Swing Bridge) and along Sandgate and included a mix of hawkers’ selling all manner of goods and entertaining sideshows. Today’s market is still one of the largest of its kind, attracting around 100,000 people every week drawn by the stalls selling everything from fruit and vegetables to local produce, street food, vintage clothes, arts and crafts, handcrafted jewellery, books and bric-a-brac. The stalls change regularly, so there is always something new to see and try.
The first Friday of every month sees the Newcastle Farmers’ Market take up residence around Grey’s monument in the centre of the city. The market champions the plethora of local food and drink producers who call the North East home. Here you will find seasonal fruit and vegetables, award-winning cheeses, delicious baked goods, fish, meat, mouthwatering street food, preserves and craft ales all made, raised or grown within a 50-mile radius of Newcastle. It’s the perfect place to pick-up a picnic lunch or delicious hot street food while you are out and about exploring Newcastle.
The Grey’s Monument area also plays host to a number of continental and international food and craft markets throughout the year, bringing with them a taste of the exotic as everything from Indian to Moroccan, Chinese, French, Spanish and Greek food is served up. Cross the River Tyne to Gateshead and you will find yet more top-class retail therapy. intu Metrocentre is Europe’s largest covered shopping and leisure complex, with more than 300 retail outlets, restaurants, a 12-screen Odeon IMAX cinema and entertainment hub with arcade games, 10-pin bowling, and children’s soft play.
The original Quayside Market stretched from the old Tyne Bridge (near the site of the Swing Bridge) and along Sandgate and included a mix of hawkers’ selling all manner of goods and entertaining sideshows