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Benton, Newcastle

Wills Tobacco Factory

Last Updated:

11 Sept 2023

Benton, Newcastle

This is a


54.996491, -1.562318

Founded in 


Current status is

Partly Preserved

Designer (if known):

Cecil Hockin


Listed Grade II

The Wills Tobacco Factory is a great example of pre-war art deco architecture, though was built just after 1945.

It helps give an understand of just how big the tobacco market was back then to build such a grand complex. Course, it went back much further too. They were the first British company to mass produce cigarettes in the 1900s, and built up brands such as Capstan, Woodbine and Embassy.

The factory was connected to the East Coast Main Line at the rear of the site. The previous alignment of the Coxlodge Waggonway was demolished in favour of a link which allowed access to sidings at Little Benton to reverse back south if need be.

The world caught on to the dangers of smoking by the 80s. The market began to decline in this decade, and the Wills factory on Tyneside was subsequently shut down. It lay dormant for a good few years before it was developed into apartments. Sadly though, the side and rear wings of the complex have been demolished though gratitude should be sought for the preservation of the front facade.

The building also aligns with others Wills had constructed in the decade before and after. The site at Alexandra Parade, Glasgow is built to exactly the same design as the Newcastle site. It was constructed in 1954, and at its peak employed around 3500 people.

Listing Description (if available)

Factory. Mid 1940s to an earlier design. Red brick and Portland stone; roof flat and hidden by parapets. Dignified Art Deco style. Main south front 3 storeys, 23 bays in all. Projecting 3-bay centre, 2-bay each end and 8-bay intermediate sections. Central balustraded perron from which a wide flight of steps rises to terrace in front of door. At either side quadrant retaining walls hold shrubberies. All these are ashlar with banded copings; panelled piers to perron. Central glazed (double) door in a fully-glazed section framed by stout round piers which support a banded flat hood with quadrant angles. Side lights outside the piers; the whole entrance in a porch, with fluted top band and quadrant corners, projecting from the tall central tower which has a fluted frieze and a top slipped back in 3 stages, the middle one fluted the lower one with WDE H O WILLS in sans-serif letters. Centre section of tower recessed, with tall, 4-light, horizontal paned window under egg-and-dart carved lintel with acanthus keystone. Above this a clock, stopped at noon. Ashlar tower and porch flanked by lower brick staircase towers with long two-light similar window and matching top treatment though with only one step back. Penultimate bays are lower, blank ashlar towers which hae shallow tall recessed panels with bands of fluting at heads. Intermediate sections have 3 tiers of 4-light metal-framed windows, held by ashlar piers set back in 2 places at sides, those on ground floor higher. Above, between and below the bands of windows are bands of uninterrupted brickwork with stone edging strips. Set-back outer bays are similar but with 2-light windows. 17-bay returns are exactly similar but without a central section; and the outer towers have doors under flat hoods and long stair windows above. Attached to the brickwork in places are names of products, which can be lit up at night: probably later in date. Half-glazed porch addition on left return is not of special interest.

The two maps above illustrate the site of the Wills factory after and before construction. The factory utilised vacant land east of brand new residential housing, which was ideal given its location on the relatively new Coast Road and the East Coast Main Line. You will be able to see the properties were actually still in constrcuted during the 1940s, so Wills will have been one of the final developments in the area.

The maps also help out understanding of the Coxlodge Waggonway. The factory effectively severed the disused line to allow a link from the ECML to the factory. Much of the walk is still doable (

The dramatic change in the area came in the 20s and 30s, when Benton Hall was knocked down and replaced by residential developments and the Coast Road just south. The Coxlodge Waggonway was still in use, but provides a dramatically different vista to the one we're used to. Nothing at all remains of the old hall except Red Hall Drive, which follows the route of the old lane into the grounds.


The west wing of the Wills factory in 2023


The Wills Building, 1950. Source: Tyne & Wear Archives


A perspective of the front entrance in its final years, still extremely well kept in 1986. Source: Isabella Jedrzejczyk,

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