Summerhill has 2 development axes: Westgate Road, (itself on the line of Hadrian’s Wall) and Rye Hill (although the street’s name obviously came much later) which is perpendicular to the river front and guided by earlier field enclosures. At the time of Speed’s (1610) and Corbridge’s (1723) maps, land here was fields with ribbon development along Westgate Road. Summer Hill House, the area’s first major building, was built on the hill near (then) Elswick Lane for Mr Barber, an Irish book-seller who named it after a place near Dublin where he grew up. Nurseries on the slope below were the first building blocks of the area’s development pattern – the ‘square’ around which housing would be built. Hadwin Bragg, a Quaker, rebuilt Summer Hill in the late 1700s as a double-bow fronted house with large grounds. By 1819, he had acquired the land to the south and east forming a small estate which would become the Summerhill area.
As Newcastle grew radically from the 1760s, the Westgate Township was one of the first areas to absorb expansion outside the town walls. The wealthy moved from the swarming riverside to new high-class areas up-wind of the furnaces and factories (eg. Charlotte Square). Summerhill soon became a sought-after place. Foster “Some notes on house building in Newcastle upon Tyne” (1981) gives a full account of the development sequence of the core area, broadly as follows:
- Those along Westgate Hill were built in the 1810s by local builder Riddell Robson.
- John Dobson is believed to have had a hand in the design of Greenfield Place, ostensibly built by R Maving by 1823.
- Bragg’s son-in-law, Jonathan Priestman, continued to build, but covenants prevented this any closer than 100yds from the houses on the north side to maintain their value – Summerhill Grove, 1820, is therefore exactly 100yds across the nursery.
- Ignatius Bonomi built his Tudor-style Priory next door in 1822.
- The nursery became a collection of gardens, summerhouses, walks and arbours on a grid-pattern for the housing around.
- That part of Summerhill Terrace facing the square was built from the late 1830s to very full design specifications set out by Priestman to ensure the height, form, layout, materials, detailing and use related well to what had already been built.
- Priestman laid out West Garden Street, now the bottom end of Summerhill Terrace overlooking Summerhill Grove’s gardens.
It was, therefore, a quirk of history which created the space around which the housing grew and, although called the Square, it was never actually a planned Georgian square as in London, Edinburgh or Dublin. Despite piecemeal development by speculative builders, continuity and uniformity were achieved.
- Westgate Hill Cemetery opened in 1829.
- Westgate Hill Terrace was built around 1840
- York Street, etc. to the east, mostly built 1851-55.
- John Dobson built Barber Surgeons’ Hall by 1850.
- Winchester Terrace (originally Garden Terrace), 1850-1858, and 1-6 Summerhill Terrace, 1860-65, are the newest housing.
- St Matthew’s was built in 1877, the tower in 1895. It is characteristic that little new development has taken place since this time, with later change being largely due to demolition in Sub-Area 2 and clearance on Westmorland Road, Summerhill Terrace and Westgate Hill Terrace.
20th century development includes:
- Summerhill Bowling Club greens and clubhouse.
- The synagogue (now offices) was built in 1925 on the site of three houses in Ravensworth Terrace.
- The park laid out in 1935 for George V’s Silver Jubilee.
- Our Lady & St Anne’s school was built on Summerhill Grove’s gardens and cleared land on Westmorland Road.
- The 1980s social housing scheme by Nomad in a broadly sympathetic pastiche style was built on Summerhill Terrace.
The area was threatened during the 1960s and 1970s, including various plans for dual-carriageways through the central space, the Cemetery and Westgate Hill. However, the development pattern and evidence of historical growth remain substantially intact.