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 will come to life when the Reconstructing Victorian Newcastle exhibition and app is launched today 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.

Developed by University of Newcastle School of Architecture researchers Dr Tessa Morrison, Nicholas Foulcher and Dr Helen Giggins, the exhibition uses an augmented reality application 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 a 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. A walking guide through the city, WhatWasThere,  is also available here.

We followed Tessa and Nicholas around the city on their maiden test run of the Layar App. See what we filmed (below) on the University’s You Tube channel and learn how easy (and fun!) this app is to use! Show your support for this great research project. LIKE  our video on Facebook and share away.

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.

See more shots in the below gallery: