Robust, teetotal and an insomniac (only sleeping four or five hours a night) describe some of the personal characteristics of John Dobson, so it is hardly surprising that in a career spanning over 50 years he was involved in a great many projects. He worked mainly in the North but also nationwide building country houses and their grounds for the gentry (which he liked doing best) through to all types of work including domestic, ecclesiastical, industrial, public, railway and port structures. Jesmond Old Cemetery and its buildings were also designed by him. The original memorial to John Dobson lies in front of the 20th century headstone.
Born at the Pineapple Inn, Chirton, North Shields, Dobson was the son of a market gardener and publican and from an early age he demonstrated an artistic talent. His botanical drawings earned him money in his teens when he created designs for a local damask and linen weaver.
For about five years he was apprenticed to Newcastle’s and the North East’s leading architect, David Stephenson, after which he moved to London to study watercolour, occasionally exhibiting at the Royal Academy, and very nearly becoming a professional artist. However, he returned to Newcastle in 1810 to set up in business as an architect and win his first known commission – the design of the Royal Jubilee School in City Road (now demolished). His drawing ability was to give his career an added dimension as he could provide his prospective clients with accurate illustrations as well as architectural plans.
Perhaps his greatest success was the design for Newcastle Central Station, c.1848, which, if the money had been available, would have been the finest railway station outside London. Although the envisaged design never materialised he had the satisfaction of knowing that his innovative curved shed roof of cast iron columns supporting wrought iron ribs with timber and glass in between was the first of its type and became the model for later stations.
He built a house for himself on New Bridge Street which he was to occupy for over 40 years until his death (today it forms part of licensed premises near to the Posthouse Hotel) when he was reckoned to have left a modest estate of £16,000 but a huge legacy of lasting monuments, including Old Eldon Square.
Dobson's monument as we found it.
Dobson's monument following its makeover!!
An image of John Dobson's grave, circa 1910, kindly supplied by Mr. Mike Hurst, Dobson's Great, Great, Great Grandson.
John Dobson's House (on the left of The Oxford), New Bridge Street.
The 'Lying in Hospital', one of Dobson's many fine designs, also the former home of the BBC in Newcastle.