The literature on nineteenth-century Newcastle city region is a narrative of industrial progress premised upon technological prowess. But there is another story to be told about the transformation of a relatively small northern town into a conurbation with the attributes of a modern city. This second process of 'rounding out' the city with social, cultural and political institutions to accompany the economic prowess is relatively under-reported. In this study, we follow 1,621 individuals and compare their record of being mentioned in the literature to their participation in 343 local institutions. The focus is directed towards those who are much more visible in the literature compared to institutional membership-'narrative heroes'-and those with the reverse pattern, much more to be found in institutions than in the literature-civic builders. The two sets of individuals are discussed and reasons for their contrasting positions are suggested.