Who is the River God Tyne?

river god tyneFollowing Newcastle’s tradition of quirky statues, I decided to look at the River God Tyne!

Here he is on the side of the Civic Centre.

The sculpture was commissioned by Newcastle City Council, and was completed by David Wynne in 1968. He’s cast from bronze (the River God, not Wynne), and while he was originally a darker colour, he’s been turned green and brown by running water. Originally a stream of water was supposed to trickle downwards from his raised right arm, but I can’t remember ever seeing it do that.

He’s not the first representation of the Tyne as a River God. When Somerset House in London was rebuilt in 1786, nine ‘masks’ were placed along the Strand front. They were designed by Sir William Chamber to represent the Sea, and eight English rivers.

One of these was the Tyne! You can see it if you click here. The original mask features mining motifs – hardly surprising considering the north east used to be an absolute powerhouse for coal mining. I’ll resist the urge to make any political comments about that *winks*

Close up of the River God Tyne at Newcastle upon Tyne's Civic CentreThe 1968 version oddly hides his face, covering it with the hair that falls forward around his head, but apparently his twisting pose was designed to contrast with the modern architecture of the Civic Centre. Maybe it was supposed to make him look more groovy. I had to take this photo at night to see his face better. refers to the Roman belief that all rivers were home to a deity that blessed the local community. Given the shipbuilding that used to go on along the Tyne, and it’s use for shipping goods, I’m sure the people of times long past probably agreed!

Such deities are known as genius loci, or protective spirit of a place. So in our case, Newcastle is under the protection of a primal water god! Ben Aaronovitch used a similar idea as a basis for his Rivers of London series, which sees the lost rivers of London like the Tyburn and the Fleet take form as the daughters of the formidable Mama Thames! I highly recommend the series.

Have you seen the River God Tyne yourself? Does your hometown have a genius loci?


If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy reading about the Vampire Rabbit of Newcastle!

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