The Arch stands the test of time

It is 10 years since the Imperial Chinese Arch was erected at the entrance to Newcastle’s Chinatown and it has become a major magnet and landmark. The Chinatown area was established in Stowell Street in 1974 with the Jade Garden and Ming Dynasty restaurants quickly followed by the Dragon House, King Neptune, Palace Garden and Mandarin. Many more restaurants and other Chinese businesses have followed as well as the establishment of the headquarters of the North East Chinese Association.

But from early days, there was an ambition to erect an Imperial Chinese Arch, which is the internationally acknowledged sign that a real Chinatown exists, the arch bringing good fortune and healthy business. Such arches had been erected in the Chinatowns in London, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham.

Several attempts to produce an arch in Newcastle had floundered. It was only in 2000 during the Graingertown project to develop the historic core of the City that the Chinese Arch project began to seem achievable.

As a Board member of the Graingertown Partnership I was pleased to champion the project and to have it accepted as one of Graingertown’s ambitions to recognise the important role and success of the Chinese community in Newcastle.

Initially the budget was set for the purchase of an Arch from China, using Graingertown Funds from SRB (Single Regeneration Budget), Local Authority and Northern Arts. It was necessary to raise some funding from the Chinese community and its friends. Together with Barry Yu, I established a fund for donations to the Arch and the opportunity for names to be displayed on the pillars of the Arch. We managed to raise over £10,000 (and you can see the names displayed in English and Chinese – including my own). Unfortunately we were not able to persuade the then owners of Newcastle United to contribute, even though the Arch can be seen from SJP.

To ensure the Arch was authentic and in accordance with Chinese tradition both in style and colour, we held many consultation meetings with all sections of the Chinese community and democratically selected the design of the arch and the decorations to signify aspects of North Eastern life and history.

The Arch was constructed by craftsmen from Changshu Classical Gardens Ltd in Jiangshu Province. The artists journeyed from Shanghai and stayed in Newcastle for the duration of the construction and embellishment.

The payment of the weekly cash wages was handled through my office. The workers were irritated that the work was slowed down for various reasons – progress being halted whenever it rained due to Health and Safety; work being curtailed at weekends when supervisors from Citiworks would not turn out; having to comply with what the Chinese regarded as mamby-pamby maximum working hours.

The artists added golden panels at the top of the arch featuring Stephenson’s Rocket, coal mining, shipbuilding, the Tyne Bridge and Grey’s Monument. The arch was decorated in traditional bright colours and mounted with symbolic ornamental tiles. Barry Yu and I made various inspections of the roof. We also took delivery of the two ornamental guardian lions which were generously donated by Aspers casino. The lions are an essential prerequisite of any self respecting Imperial Arch.

On completion the Arch was formally handed over to the Lord Mayor on behalf of the City in a colourful and noisy ceremony followed by a banquet at the Royal Circle.

The cost of buying the Arch with all decorations and including transport from Shanghai and the costs of the team from Shanghai stayed fixed at the initial price £150,000. The additional costs of excavation, archaeological surveys, architects, quantity surveyors, supervision, moving cables, pipes and wires, and changing paving added another £220,000 to the bill!

The Arch has become a major landmark in Newcastle and a constant reminder of Newcastle’s valuable Chinese community. Next time you pass by, it is worth taking time to enjoy the design. This was a project well worth the effort and perseverance needed to bring it to fruition.

Barry Speker
0191 226 7920


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