Castle In Newcastle City Centre, Tyne And Wear
A 12th century keep in the heart of Newcastle upon Tyne.
Newcastle keep or Newcastle Castle is possibly a bit overlooked as a tourist spot, competing with the Quayside and numerous galleries and museums. However, it's an interesting place to visit and was recently revamped along with the nearby Black Gate in 2015.
The castle is built on the site of an old Roman fort and settlement known as Pons Aelius or Bridge of Hadrian. (The fella who built the famous wall). It was built around AD122 and few excavations have taken place here, due to the castle being built on top of it.
Before the stone castle was created, a wooden motte and bailey castle was built on the site in 1080 by the eldest son of William the Conqueror, Robert Curthose.
The stone castle or 'New Castle' as it was named, was built in 1172 by Maurice the Engineer under Henry II. The Black Gate was added in 1247 by Henry III, as the main gate to the keep. The castle was built partly to defend the area against the Scots, but it also kept the unruly locals in check (a bit like the bouncers in the Bigg Market). It's military importance stimulated trade and by the 1300s, Newcastle had developed into a major sea port.
The castle had a colourful history since it was built. As well as it's defensive purpose, the castle was also used as a prison in the 13th century. William Heron was the Sheriff of Northumberland and had a duty to raise money for the king and ensure justice prevailed. He built a terrifying windowless 'Oubliette' dungeon within the foundations of the castle and the remains can still be seen today within the castle grounds.
The castle was the last line of defence when the town was besieged during the mid 1600s. Graffiti from this time can be found scratched onto the keep walls (see pic above).
Perhaps one of the most unusual things to have happened at the castle was in Georgian times. Crowds of people would be entertained by live performances at the nearby Moot Hall or Castle Garth. Acrobats and performers were also popular at this time and in 1733 a Flying Man arrived in Newcastle. This was a popular form of entertainment - the man would fly down a rope attached to the ground, but health and safety was not an issue in those days and there were many grizzly deaths during this act. In Newcastle, however, the act was performed several times successfully from the castle keep so the performer decided to raise his game. A donkey was brought to the top of the keep up the hundreds of stairs and was sent down the rope from the roof of the castle. Unfortunately the crowds did not move quickly enough and the donkey unfortunately crushed a person to death.
After the city walls were built in the 13th century, the castle began to fall out of use. The castle was turned into individual houses during the 16th century, but when Newcastle Corporation bought the keep in 1809, the dwellings were demolished. Restoration work was done later on the keep, most notably by John Dobson who restored the chapel in 1848. The Victorians also built Central Station in 1850 and put a muckle great viaduct through the middle of the keep and the Black Gate.
You can buy tickets for Newcastle Castle from the Black Gate, which covers a visit to both buildings. There is a small museum at the top of the Black Gate which is worth a visit and the views from the top of the keep are fantastic. To find out more visit their website: Newcastle Castle
Huge thanks to our friend Neil Hall for some of the photos of the castle.
How To Find Newcastle Keep
Contributed by Sandra Clemens
I love the great outdoors and have been a National Trust & English Heritage member for years. I also love going off the beaten track and finding places like Sharp's Folly or Rothley Castle which are hidden gems in Northumberland. My favourite recent hike was climbing Red Screes in the Lake District on a whim, not fully grasping how high 776m was. It was still an achievement to conquer a Wainwright walk and I hope to do more one day.More Places from Sandra
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