St James' Park
30 Jun 2022
Newcastle Rangers (1880 - 1882), Newcastle West End (1886 - 1892), Newcastle East End (1892), Newcastle United (1892 -)
The first club to lease this site was Newcastle Rangers on 16 October 1880. The pitch was just a rough patch of grass with a notorious slope measuring 18 feet from north to south, where local butchers were still able to graze animals before being led to slaughter. The pitch was bumpy and often muddy. Newcastle Rangers left in 1882. West End FC leased the site from William Neasham of Leazes Terrace in May 1886. In 1892 West End FC fell into debt and the lease was taken over by East End FC. Their debut in September 1892 was a friendly against Celtic.
In December 1892 they adopted the name Newcastle United, like the golf club across the town moor. There were few facilities for fans and overcrowding caused near disasters. Crowds reached up to 30,000. In 1894 the team changed its strip from red and white to black and white, and the nickname Magpies was adopted. In 1898 local residents lobbied the council to evict Newcastle United from the grounds because of the 'intolerable nuisance' of match days. But in 1899, an extra four acres of land was leased from the grounds freeholders (the City Council and the Freemen of the City), the pitch was moved westwards to allow more standing room on the Leazes Terrace side and terracing cut into banks at the Leazes Park End and Leazes Terrace side.
A 1901 film clip from the Mitchell & Kenyon film archive and a postcard from around 1904 shows the first stand on the Barrack Road side. It was demolished in 1905. In 1905 there was a £16,000 rebuilding programme, by the Clyde Structural Iron Company, overseen by Alexander Blair, Glasgow engineer. Three sides of banking were expanded and terraced, and a new West Stand built. This had 4655 seats and a rooftop press box under an arched central gable. The capacity of St. James Park was now 60,000.
In 1905 Newcastle United won the first of three League titles. Between 1905 and 1911 they reached five FA Cup Finals. Between 1916-1919 several ladies football teams made up of workers from local munitions factories played at least 26 games at St. James Park. The Football Association banned them in 1921. In 1922 United tried and failed to buy the freehold. The Freemen agreed to sell, but Newcastle Corporation refused. Alterations and Improvements were carried out by Archibald Leitch, engineer between 1921 and 1929. These included the installation of Leitch patented barriers to replace the wire-rope variety and new tunnels to the players dressing rooms.
The Main Stand was modernised and in 1929 a basic roof was built over the Leazes Park end. There were only 5000 seats and 48,000 uncovered standing spaces. Planning permission was refused for covering the east terrace and building a double decker stand at the Gallowgate end. In 1953 floodlights on wooden poles were installed. Newcastle United were the only third division team to have floodlights. In 1958 the wooden poles were replaced by four pylons in each corner, said to be the tallest in Britain. The same year permission for a stand was refused again. United considered moving to Gosforth Park.
In November 1967 a model for a completely new St. James' Park was unveiled by Newcastle City Council and Ove Arup. Strawberry Place would become a motorway. There would be an administration block on Strawberry Place and the West Stand would house a sports centre shared with the University of Newcastle. The scheme would cost £2.6 million. The scheme never went ahead because the club did not want to invest in a site with a short lease.
In 1971 the City Council gave the club a 99 year lease. In 1973 the £420,000 East Stand by Faulkner Brown Hendy Watkinson Stonor opened. It seated 3400 people. It was a reinforced concrete and steel cantilevered stand. The Safety of Sports Ground Act was passed after 1971 and United had to spend £300,000 reinforcing the crush barriers (they were concrete). In 1978 the roof was taken off the north terrace and a new terrace and foundations for a new North Stand were built.
Ordnance Survey Town Plan, 1890s
Aerial shot of St James, 1975, Source: Tyne & Wear Archives
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St James' Park, 1975. Source: Newcastle Libraries
Historic Environment Records
Durham/Northumberland: Keys to the Past
Tyne and Wear: Sitelines
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