A New Chandelier for Topaz
83 Jesmond Road has a fascinating story. Originally it was owned from 1877 – 1888 by George Robert Stephenson a railway engineer and relative of the famous Stephenson family. He lived there with his wife Isabella, their son and three servants. He was followed by the incumbent of Jesmond Parish Church and the Vicar of the parish church on City Road. In 1895 the Governor of HMP Newcastle – upon –Tyne, Captain Roderick Hamilton Burgoyne, became the master of the house for four years.
By 1932 number 83 had become a boarding house. The first land lady was Mrs Mary Elizabeth Violet Brittain. You could book one of Mrs Brittain’s rooms by telephoning Jesmond 1477. The house continued as a boarding house until 1959 when it was bought by the Newcastle Band of Hope Union who occupied it together with the North of England Temperance Union and The Abstaining Motorists Association. The Temperance Society had a beautiful wooden piano in what is now The Guild Hall. They held their meetings in there. They also offered respite accommodation for people who were struggling to manage their lives and themselves.
In 1998 when we acquired 83 Jesmond Road to become the home of the Northern Guild, it was owned by the Temperance Society who rented out the rooms in the main building as company offices. The rooms were sad, soulless and shabby. Endless computer cables were the only decor. And all the walls were off- white with dull grey paintwork. But even so, the beauty of the building shone through the shoddy corporate gloom. The beautiful stained-glass window was a riot of colour in the afternoon light. The rear annex of the building was rented out to a taxi company whose offices were open twenty-four hours a day. Everybody in that office was a chain smoker and the stench of nicotine was awful. When, eventually, we were able to reclaim the annex (now our offices) we were forced to knock down the walls and completely rebuild them because it was impossible to eliminate the smell of the tobacco.
One of the first things we did with Jesmond Road when we took ownership was to ask a Feng Shui consultant, Philip, to help us bring light and positive energy into the building. He worked with us sensitively and thoughtfully but, that said, he took no hostages. I had to re-think the design I had come up with for Opal because he insisted that it was a room for wood and I was choosing things that were metal. One of the therapists had devised a magnificent purple and black colour scheme for Topaz (then known as Anubis after the Egyptian god) Philp demanded yellow. There were some strong opinions exchanged, but Philip got his way.
Philip said the only thing we could do about the negative energy coming from the taxi office was to divert it back into their part of the building. But we were required to first cleanse the whole building by going round every room with incense from burning sage leaves and we had to make loud noises with anything that took our fancy from a pan lid and spoon to a proper percussion instrument so as to drive out any negative energy. A long line of giggling therapists processed from one room to the next banging loudly and making sure the sage smoke went into every corner. The tricky part came when we reached the door of the taxi office. But one of our number, Janet, was a doughty Scots woman with a silvern tongue and she persuaded the taxi people to let us in. They were very obliging but clearly thought they were humouring a group of new age nit wits who were several sandwiches short of a picnic. They did, however, allow Janet to nail a mirror to the adjoining door between their annexe and our main building, thus allowing us to achieve the most important part of Philip’s instruction – a mirror shining into their office that directed their energy back on themselves. We went back to our own part of the building high on success and sage smoke and had a shared feast to celebrate taking ownership of number 83 Jesmond Road.
There were still a few hurdles in that initial refurb. The decorator, I’ll call him ‘Harry’, seemed unusually slow. Then, as now, Jennie was our Five Star General in all things to do with the building. Kind, understanding and permissive in her dealings with workmen even she grew frustrated by Harry’s slowness (it took ten days to paint the cupboard under the stairs). Then one afternoon she found him asleep on a pile of decorating sheets. There was a strong smell of hops in the air. It turned out that Harry favoured a visit to the local hostelry at lunch time. We parted company with our colourful Geordie decorator who we were all very fond of despite the shortcomings of his time-keeping. Our new decorator was much more reliable but he lacked Harry’s charm and cheekiness.
One of the things that marked out those early days of redecorating and furnishing our new building was the communal nature of it. Everyone pitched in. Everyone’s opinion mattered and every therapist named and helped design the room from which they would be working. Of course, we were a much smaller organisation in those days. One of our amazing therapists was Ellen who seemed to be able to spirit up fantastic furniture that people didn’t want anymore and that was ours for the asking. We furnished most of the consulting rooms in this way originally. They were heady days, when establishing a second centre for Humanistic & Integrative Psychotherapy, and later Child Therapy, in the North East was a vision that was all-engrossing for Jennie and for me. We did it against a back drop of me being diagnosed with a carcinoma and going through the full suit of treatments over an eighteen month period. Only our families knew about this and they were keen to persuade us to rein-in our vision. But we both felt that our vision gave us strength, courage and purpose. This, and some wonderful medical treatment, saw us through and brought us great satisfaction.
The 2020 refurbishment of 83 Jesmond Road has been delayed by two years due to Covid-19. And, of course, Covid itself has already altered how we think about our building. To accommodate the totally unexpected emergence of on-line working, we have had to have the whole building re-wired so that there is reliable Wi-Fi in every room. This has necessitated finding a home for two very ugly data cabinets, one in the office and one in Opal. They look like something out of a sci fi movie. They need as much camouflage as possible to make them disappear into the background. Then there are the now, de rigeur, wall-mounted hand sanitiser dispensers
Like so many cafes, Covid brought the closure of Café Freudz. We have been having a long, hard think about where we go next with Freudz. We have decided to try out having a receptionist in Freudz itself so that there is a friendly face and a warm welcome straightaway when you come in to the building, as well as the offer of a warm drink. Our inspiration comes from our beginnings in Jesmond Road but re-imagined with twenty first century care. We will also move our Dissertation Library into Freudz and make a small private study area for reading.
Then there is the frightening speed and impact of climate change which has led us to decide to have new electric heating in each room rather than to replace our gas boilers. We are very mindful that we have to be pro-active in helping to push back against climate warming and the havoc it is wreaking across the world.
The beauty of the new rooms is beginning to emerge. Topaz has transformed into an exquisite space with a soft, warm gold feature wallpaper giving it an opulent, lustrous feeling. It has an exquisite new golden chandelier that brings a mellow brightness. The room reaches out and asks you to come in, sit down and take some time out. Moonlight has new coral sofas with a matching rug. Northern Light has new leather and tweed chairs which combine luxurious comfort with solidity and reassurance.
Amber’s sofas are in vibrant Teal. Lorna, our designer has chosen a botanical feature wall paper to sit behind the larger sofa. It will bring a feeling of space and light. The Cherry Red sofas in Heavenly Window have been transformed and the room totally re-arranged. Sunlight has a contemporary grey and orange look with its new sofa and toning chair. Lorna has worked with Jennie on colour schemes for the whole building and in the coming weeks Marcus, our lovely, and very talented, hip decorator will be completing the transformation of our building.
It takes imagination, creativity and flair balanced with equal amounts of practical intelligence and skill to take a building the size of Jesmond Road and transform it. Jennie has masterminded the whole project with enthusiasm, hard work, talent and love. A new epoch dawns for 83 Jesmond Road.
03/04/2022 Christine Lister-Ford