The New Castle

The Castle Sat. 24th June, 2000

Newcastle has been a river crossing point for millennia. The Romans built a castle, probably at the site of today's Collingwood Street, but the city's name derives from the "new" castle built in 1080 by Robert Curthose, the eldest son of William the Conqueror. Nothing now remains of this Norman castle, the present building dates from 1172 when Henry II decreed the destruction of unlicensed castles and the raising of stout defences against the Scots.

There was a flurry of further building activity during the 13th Century, but by 1589 it was obsolete, and was described as old and ruinous.

The keep, pictured opposite, shows clearly some recent restoration work, and those turrets on the top were an addition dating from 1810 when the Corporation acquired the site.

In 1400 Newcastle became an independent county but the castle remained in Northumberland and the Great Hall in the bailey served as the assize court room, and the dungeons the county gaol. Felons from the city could gain refuge in the castle as the Newcastle authorities had no power of arrest there. Queen Elizabeth's 1589 charter put an end to this situation.

During 1809 the private dwellings, shops and the derelict bailey were demolished to make way for the present Moot Hall. "Moot" is an old English word meaning "meeting". This new building, served long as the Crown Court house and is still used as an overflow since the opening of the new Quayside Law Courts. Its architect was William Stokoe, and reflects the vogue for recreating a fanciful version of ancient Greek building styles.

Just to the north of the Moot Hall is County Hall, once the administrative centre for the nearby county of Northumberland. This centre was moved to Morpeth in the 1970s, although the county town is actually Alnwick, the home of the Percy family.

The County Hall dates from the latter part of the 19th century and is now a hotel. The upper two storeys are a later addition.

The entrance to the keep is up those steps, and the newer flat stone restoration, not quite in keeping with the original masonry is clear on the left.

With the coming of the railways and the building of the High Level Bridge in 1846-49, Victorian Big Business ruled all and the castle bailey was vandalised to make way for this railway viaduct. The east-west line runs from Heaton train sheds, the junctions to the north and coast lines, through the Central Station and beyond to Carlisle and the West Coast line. The East Coast main line came over the High Level, to the left and on the other side of the castle keep in this picture, and merged with this new viaduct line.

This slashed through the middle of the castle, and it seems that nothing, not even history and heritage, could oppose the mighty rail companies.

This is the Black Gate, dating from 1250, and used to house the gear for the drawbridge. The holes for the chains, now blocked up can be seen above and either side of the entrance arch. The railway viaduct is to the right of this shot.

During the periods leading up to the railway development, this building was a slum, given over to second hand clothing shops. The upper storeys were tenements, and the area of moat in front and to the right was Beall's stone yard. The then Newcastle Society of Antiquaries cleared the area and restored the buildings during the 1880s

The view below is the the Black Gate in 1875.

Whilst we are in the area, let's have a look at the Cathedral Church of Saint Nicholas. Although the church existed in 1122 when it is first mentioned in records, the present building dates from the 14th century, following a couple of disastrous fires. Work started late in the 1300s and the lantern tower was completed in 1448

This view shows the rear of the Black Gate, part of the Victorian Milburn office complex, and the catherdral tower from the rail viaduct arches.

Here are some views from the top of the keep.

This is north facing. Black Gate centre, Milburn offices faced in brick to the right, St. Nicholas' Cathedral towering skyward, and on the extreme left on the skyline is the modern Cathedral, the Almighty Unstoppable Newcastle United Football Company. The white spidery stadium is visible from the next two counties!

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