New App Takes Newcastle Back To 19th Century

Image courtesy of Newcastle University

University of Newcastle researchers have developed an innovative app for smart phones and tablets that can transport people back to 19th Century Newcastle at the flick of a finger.

The forgotten architecture of early Newcastle can now come to life after the Reconstructing Victorian Newcastle exhibition and app was launched yesterday at Newcastle Museum.

Using smart technology, visitors and history buffs can roam the city streets, point their mobile device at a building or site and be given a window into the Victorian era.

University of Newcastle School of Architecture researchers Dr Tessa MorrisonNicholas Foulcher and Dr Helen Giggins, are using smart phone applications – Layar and WhatWasThere – to implement the project that displays digital “layers” of text and images on an interactive map, bringing the architecture of a forgotten era to life.

“To see these extraordinary images, anyone can download a free application (Layar Reality App) to their smart phone or tablet device which allows them to roam the city’s streets, point at a site and get a window into the past, all at the flick of a screen,” Dr Morrison said.

The researchers painstakingly scanned the image database of the University’s Cultural Collections library and have been able to pinpoint with much accuracy each historical photo to its present-day location. Many of the photographs used in the exhibition were taken by Mr Ralph Snowball.

Images like that of a Hunter Street butcher displaying his wares in 1904 which gives an alarming insight into the hygiene of the late Victorian period. (Thomas Brothers Butchery used to sit somewhere near the present-day CBD Hotel, Newcastle West.)

“Their advertising board proclaims ‘the clean butchers’, yet the meat is hung outside and in front of a dirt road on the city’s main thoroughfare,” Dr Morrison said.

Where once stood large and imposing hotels with their wide balconies and ornate entrances now is home to modern brick and glass buildings housing the 20th Century office workers of Newcastle’s professional set.

The exhibition consists of 30 images of Newcastle past and present. By downloading the free Layar Reality application on a smart phone or tablet device, users simply scan the images and hit streets, viewing pictures and reading the history at 25 designated sites.

An explanatory video can be viewed on the University of Newcastle’s YouTube Channel, capturing researchers and developers Dr Tessa Morrison & Nicolas Foulcher taking the Layar app on its maiden test run.

The pilot project has been funded by the University’s Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment. The team is also investigating a wider application that could have immense historical and tourism benefits for the city.


Alex has recently completed a Bachelor of Communication at The University of Newcastle, majoring in media production. His likes include every aspect of film and music. His fears include repetition and monotony. With this being the first time he has written about himself in third person, he has successfully avoided those fears.

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