Guest Post By Michael Johnson
The North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers was founded in Newcastle in 1866. The renowned engineer Robert Stephenson bequeathed £2000 towards the building of a permanent home for the Institute. A site was purchased in 1867 and building commenced in 1869. Designed by Archibald Matthias Dunn (1832-1917), Neville Hall is an example of High Victorian Gothic architecture. The building presents two faces, each of three main bays, pivoted around a polygonal turret, with a Venetian balcony projecting from the north front and a wide gable thrusting out at the west. The three storeys are treated as separate compositional elements and the attic storey is arrayed with miniature Gothic dormers.
The design of Neville Hall is highly revealing. The choice of architect can largely be explained by nepotism. Dunn’s father, Matthias Dunn (c.1789-1869) was a prominent figure in the history of mining and one of the first government Inspectors of Mines. As a founding member of the Institute he was instrumental in securing the prestigious commission for his son.
The Venetian Gothic style used at Neville Hall had the loquacious support of the famous art critic John Ruskin, to whom the separate compositional layers were evocative of geological strata. Arguably, this made the style symbolically appropriate for a Mining Institute, a body concerned with delving into the earth. Dunn was among the legion of young architects whom Ruskin inspired to tour the continent, and he spent his time sketching examples of French and Italian architecture.
With its medieval associations, the Gothic style could give individuals or institutions a spurious pedigree by evoking historical lineage. By using this style, the proud, self-made men who dominated the region’s coal trade were deliberately cultivating a group persona as gentlemen and intellectuals. Neville Hall thus promotes an image of historical continuity that was intended to challenge the common perception of the industrial nouveaux riches.
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About the Author
Michael Johnson is a lecturer and academic tutor based in the North East of England. He has a PhD in architectural history, and teaches the history of architecture and design at two North East universities. Read more of Michael Johnson's articles on architecture