Newcastle philanthropist honoured with plaque

A Victorian lord mayor, who built Newcastle’s first libraries, is remembered at Throckley Hall.
Lord Mayor of Newcastle Cllr Rob Higgins and Dr Kristian Blackhall, alongside a plaque commemorating William Haswell Stephenson, outside Throckley Hall

A Victorian Lord Mayor of Newcastle who built the city’s first libraries has been honoured with a plaque in his memory.

William Haswell Stephenson was born in Throckley Hall in 1836 and lived there until his death in 1918. 

He was wealthy from the family coal business, Throckley Coal Company, and was Mayor of Newcastle three times and Lord Mayor four times. He was knighted in 1900 at Windsor Castle.

An enduring legacy

He was well known for modernising local government in his day and became known as “the father of the council.” However, his enduring legacy to the people was a series of public libraries and monuments which still stand in Newcastle today.

He funded Newcastle’s first branch library, the Stephenson Library in Elswick, which opened in 1896 at a cost of £4,000. It was followed by Lady Stephenson Library, named after his late wife, in 1908 which later became known as Walker Library and closed in 2013 before being converted to business premises.

He also funded a bronze statue of Queen Victoria by Alfred Gilbert to commemorate 500 years of the office of Sheriff. It was unveiled in 1903 and still stands today in St Nicholas Square near Newcastle Cathedral.

Sir William, a Methodist and generous philanthropist was nominated for the plaque by a group of residents in Throckley, west Newcastle, where his manor house still stands today in protected woodland and meadows.

'A very worthy recipient'

Unveiling the plaque, Newcastle’s current Lord Mayor, Cllr Rob Higgins, said: “Sir William Haswell Stephenson was a leading figure in his day as an employer, an industrialist and generous benefactor who built libraries for the advancement of education.

“He was a man who used his wealth to help those less fortunate than himself rising to Mayor and Lord Mayor of Newcastle on no less than seven occasions.

“He lived in Throckley until the day he died but his legacy can still be seen today in some of the buildings and monuments he built making him a very worthy recipient of this commemorative plaque.”

Dr Kristian Blackhall, who lives in Throckley Hall today with his wife Ms Thanh Tran, nominated Sir William for the accolade after doing research with fellow villagers in Throckley.

Dr Blackhall said: “When my family took over Throckley Hall I became fascinated with Sir William Haswell Stephenson. 

“With the help of a small group of villagers, we pieced together a lot of information about him and discovered he was a historical figure of some merit having been an industrialist and owner of most of Throckley, the old pits and brickworks. 

“He then became Lord Mayor of Newcastle on several occasions during which he played a leading role in modernising local government. However, it was as a philanthropist he showed a strong sense of social justice bestowing libraries in some of the poorest parts of the city for people who did not have access to the kind of education he had.

“It seemed fitting therefore that a plaque commemorating him, and his legacy should be placed at the entrance to the estate where he was born and lived all his life.”

Sir William lived with his wife Eliza Mary Bond and their two daughters Charlotte and Kate. 

The Stephenson family continued to live in the Hall for generations before it was sold. It boasts many original features and was on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow in 1987.

The plaque was unveiled on the outer gates to the estate on Coach Lane, a busy public thoroughfare.

Commemorative plaque nominations

For more information on how to nominate a person or building for a commemorative plaque see:

All nominations that meet the criteria are then presented to the council’s Historic Environment Advisory Panel for final consideration.