From Hovis Bread to Art, the history of Gateshead’s Baltic Flour Mill and Art Centre

Type : Photograph Medium : Print-black-and-white Description : Photograph of the Baltic Flour Mill taken in 1950 showing the Mill surrounding buildings and boats on the Tyne.Industries Collection : Local Studies Source of Information : Photo courtesy of J. Rank - building at this time used by Rank Ltd Printed Copy : If you would like a printed copy of this image please contact Newcastle Libraries quoting Accession Number : 012298

It’s a distinctive building perched on the south side of the River Tyne. The text on the side reading Baltic Flour Mills is unmissable, heralding back to a long gone Industrial era whereby the River Tyne was a prominent commercial passage. Indeed one might mistakenly assume this structure is part of Newcastle, forgetting it is in fact part of Gateshead, County Durham.

This distinctive building was once associated with what would become the best known Bread Company in Britain, Hovis. As a mill designed to store grain, the Baltic Flour Mill undergone construction in the 1930s overseen by Joseph Rank, of Rank Hovis (1854-1943). However, work on the building was paused due to the Second World War which not only vacuumed away the male labour force but led to sporadic bombing of the River Tyne industries, making it untenable.

After the war came to an end, work on the building resumed and was completed in the year 1950, growing into a critical source of local employment for over 300 people. Its distinctive concrete silos could store up to 22,000 tons of grain. Unfortunately, a fire closed the building down in 1974, but it partially remained open for another decade to store grain owned by what became the European Union (with Britain having entered the previous year).

However, as with most of the old Quayside, the Baltic building ultimately closed and became obsolete, becoming a shadow of a previous industrial era and the region’s decline. It remained a prominent landmark nonetheless. Thankfully, the temptation to demolish it was resisted and in 1991 the Northern Arts Council released a vision to transform the former facility into an Art Gallery and Centre, backed by £33 million in Lottery Funding. This heralded a long and complex transformation of the building which involved removing its former silos.

The renovated centre was eventually reopened in 2002, following the adjacent renovation of the Quayside and the Gateshead Millennium Bridge previously. Since that time it has established itself as one of the most prominent art galleries and centres in the North East, which has offered immense opportunity to local artists and creators.