Blackfriars Restaurant opens renovated 780-year-old Cloister garden

Newcastle’s Blackfriars Restaurant has completed a major renovation of its medieval Cloister Garden to create a vibrant, all-weather outdoor space for al fresco dining, performances, markets and community events.

Blackfriars has invested a six-figure sum into the 7,000sqft space after years of planning and working with local organisations including Newcastle City Council, Historic England, Newcastle NE1, Newcastle Gateshead Initiative, and Newcastle and Durham universities.

Visitors and local businesses can now enjoy Friday night barbeques, Sunday hog roasts and outdoor dining in the medieval landscaped garden with added warmth from fire pits and heated lamps. The garden will also be a perfect backdrop for wedding parties.

The Blackfriars site has gone through many changes in its near-800-year history. After three centuries as a Dominican friary, the Reformation set it on a new course as the claustral outhouses were occupied as guild meeting houses by nine of the ancient trades of the town. However, as their influence waned, the buildings began to deteriorate and by the 1950s were severely run down and threatened with demolition. Blackfriars was eventually saved thanks in part to the efforts of alderman Peter Renwick, mayor of Newcastle in the mid-1960s, with the buildings restored in the following decade.

Andy and Sam Hook took charge of Blackfriars Restaurant in 2001 and have steadily expanded the operation to include a Banquet Hall, Kings Suite, Parlour Bar, Tasting Room, Dormitory Meeting Room and Cookery School before turning their attention to the somewhat neglected exterior garth.

Three years were spent gaining the required permissions before contractors were allowed on site accompanied by a team of archaeologists. Careful consideration was also given to the use of materials, drainage, lighting, seating and the remaining walnut tree – thought to be the best specimen in the city – to ensure the new space harmonises with the surrounding medieval buildings. New beds have been planted with ancient varieties of shrubs and herbs for use in the restaurant kitchen as well as for encouraging bees. In the future, the business hopes to secure funding to renovate the interpretation panels and create a digital record of Blackfriars’ history in the form of an app using augmented reality content.

The scheme has been delivered by landscape architects Southern Green, together with groundworks specialists Hastings Civil Engineers. Liam Haggarty, director of Southern Green, said: ‘‘We began this journey in 2020 by providing concept design proposals for the courtyard in line with the client brief, to create a fully accessible space that responds the unique sensitivities of this historically significant public realm space within the city centre. Our client, Andy Hook, had a clear vision from the outset of how he wanted to reimagine the space to maximise its potential, as not only an external dining venue for Blackfriars Restaurant, but also as a flexible open space for the wider community to utilise for events.

“As landscape architects, we aim to support and guide our clients through the complex and detailed design and planning stages, however at Southern Green we also specialise in utilising our expertise during the building and delivery stages, where we firmly believe we can add significant value to ensure our creative visions are delivered to the highest possible standards. Being part of this highly significant scheme has been a pleasure from inception through to completion, and we are extremely proud to add this impressive and significant project to our portfolio.

“The space that Andy has created utilises the highest quality natural and sustainable materials, ensuring this new public space will provide benefits for the city and community for generations to come.”

James Hastings, director from Hastings Civil Engineers added: “It’s been a pleasure to work on such a prestigious scheme. We can just imagine punters enjoying a drink in this stunning space that’s sure to be a hit this summer.”

Andy Hook, owner of Blackfriars, added: “Blackfriars is a scheduled ancient monument so it was vital we assembled a team of specialist surveyors, archaeologists, and traditional craftsmen to deliver a scheme we hope will last for decades to come. We can already see the potential for city workers to kick-back and relax in the afternoon sunshine with a glass of chilled Whispering Angel Rose. We’ve curated a series of carefully planned events this summer with our Friday BBQs already selling well, as are our Sunday afternoon hog roasts. We have been passionately promoting Blackfriars’ unique heritage for over two decades now. Our intention has always been to renovate the somewhat neglected cloister garth into a vibrant space to be enjoyed by the whole community. The outcome is better than I could have possibly imagined.”

Sam and Andy now plan to install interpretation panels explaining Blackfriars’ history around the garden. They also plan to open a micro-brewery on the site of the friary’s chapter house, which was used from the 16th Century as the Brewers Guild’s Meeting House, later this year. Blackfriars will also have a new-look website this month, making it easier for customers to book onto the many events at the complex.

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