A history of Newcastle

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My very first post is going to be about the beautiful Newcastle, the amazing city on the Tyne.

I will talk about the history of Newcastle first, as it has an amazing past that is very interesting.


At the lowest crossing place on the river Tyne, Newcastle was founded and in 1080 a wooden fort was built to protect people crossing the Tyne, this was built as well as a wooden bridge by the Normans. The wooden fort was rebuilt in the 12th century and was built in stone and was the ‘new castle’. A small town grew alongside the new castle and was called Newcastle. In these times, the middle ages, many towns started outside castles in England, simply because there was a captive market in the castle of soldiers and all the supporting cast of people, thus the local businessmen cold sell to them, their local goods.

The wars between England and Scotland helped Newcastle greatly from a commercial perspective and due to its geography, Newcastle was perfectly positioned as stopping place for traffic and therefore soldiers, people, travellers stopped off and spent money.

During this time, wool was a exported a great deal and the port of Newcastle was a bustling centre of industry. Wool was the biggest export commodity in the whole country. At that time animal hide, lead and grindstones were the leading export commodities. Coal from the 13th century onwards was as the saying goes a big exported commodity too and this was mainly sent to London to literally fire the numerous industries in the city at that time. Wine, alum and spices were some of the imports and it is interesting to see even in those days they had luxury items, such as wine and spices.

In 1294 the first ship was built in Newcastle and this was recorded, so a shipbuilding industry had begun in the port town of Newcastle. And with the ship building industry came the very necessary rope industry, critical for sailing the ships that were built.

And saddlers, skinners and tanners grew in the new leather industry in Newcastle.

Wool was a big part of Newcastle’s past and was manufactured there, initially it was woven and next it was fulled by hitting it with clay and water to make it thinker and clean it. Basically it was hammered by the watermills with hammers made of wood and then dyed.

In Newcastle at that time they had various craftsmen; bakers, brewers, smiths, butchers, carpenters among others. These crafts people were prevalent in most larger town in England at this time.

Fairs in the Middle ages were large markets and people would come from all over the North East to Newcastle to buy goods, there were 2 fairs in Newcastle and they would be put on twice once a year.

As Newcastle grew more important, the town built fortification around itself for protection as it grew in stature. Walls were built and it had 7 large gates and towers that numbered 19. The walls were built in the 13th century.

The Middle Ages showed how strong the church was and how important to the local community and 4 of them existed in Newcastle. They also had friars in the 13th century and they travelled and preached. These friars were called grey friars due to what they wore and were actually Franciscan friars. There were also black friars (Domincan friars), white friars (Carmelite friars), Austin friars and Trinitarian friars.

And Newcastle had Nuns in Nun Street of course in their own nunnery, which was a Benedictine nunnery. The church also ran the hospitals that were there and monks looked after the people of Newcastle who were unwell.

There was a mayor in 1216, which was very early and by 1400 it became a county separate from the rest of England. The population was 4,000 or thereabouts and although 4,000 isn’t a large population now, back then it was a considerable town.

Services for Newcastle and the surrounding areas grew and have always been there from medieval times, services like carpet cleaning as an example, was not a service in those days I don’t think but was a service that started as soon as there was a market for cleaning carpets and people would pay to get their carpets cleaned.


Henry VIII got involved in Newcastle in 1539 and closed the friaries and the nunnery in 1539 and 1540 respectively. But he did found a grammar school there and that became incorporated by 1600.

Wool was the biggest export but by the 16th century coal exports grew so much it became the top exported commodity for Newcastle. Exports grew from 15,000 tons in 1500 to 400,000 tons in the middle of the 17th century.

And the population also grew as Newcastle prospered, it grew to 10,000 by 1600, Newcastle was an important town and quite big for those times. It was also being written about and a writer of the time said it was the third most important town behind Bristol and London in terms of wealth and buildings.

Newcastle supported the king in the civil war of 1642 and in doing so was attacked in 1644 by parliamentary forces and by October of the same year Newcastle gave in.

By 1658 there was a guildhall built and by 1681 an almshouse was built, this was also a Hospital.

The shipbuilding industry, coal exports and rope making grew and grew in the end of the 17th century in Newcastle. They made lime and salt, glass making grew in importance in Newcastle also.

Iron and steel grew also n the beginning of the 18th century along with clay pipe production.

Celia Fiennes wrote that Newcastle Upon Tyne was a noble town, she was a 17th century travel writer. She said it was very like London, more so than any other in England. The buildings were big and made of stone or brick and it had large streets.


The fine people of Newcastle had grown to 20,000 in numbers by the middle of the 18th century and it had grown so much that some of the good people of Newcastle moved out of the city walled centre to what was to become the suburbs.

The gates of Newcastle were pulled down at the end of the 18th century as they stopped the flow of traffic, it was all about foot traffic and commerce.

Georgian Newcastle had poverty, not unlike other cities of England but there were other successes. There was its first newspaper in 1711 and assembly rooms were created in 1736 which held card games and balls.

There was an infirmary in Newcastle in 1751, 1755 brought us the first bank and a medicine dispensary started in 1777 for the poor.

In 1751 an infirmary was built in Newcastle. In 1777 a dispensary was opened where the poor could obtain free medicines. In 1755 Newcastle gained its first bank.

The streets of Newcastle were lit by oil lamps in 1763 and were managed by watchmen, although it is believed, they were not that wonderful.

In 1766 there was a customs house built, the lovely Theatre Royal opened its doors in 1788. The medieval bridge across the Tyne came down after a storm and was rebuilt by 1781.

Private companies started to supply water in pipes in the 18th century but was enjoyed only by the rich. Newcastle was becoming an affluent city. The pottery industry grew as did the salt industry slowed.


There were 28,000 people in Newcastle for the first ever census in 1801 by 1831 it had grown to 53,000. The city included the following areas in 1835 ; Bykerm Westgate, Heaton, Elswick & Jesmond. By 1851 the population had grown to over 87,000 and by 1901, it had gone over 215,000.

Newcastle was basically built again between 1825 and 1840, the following people who now have streets named in their honour were responsible; John Clayton (clerk of the town), Richard Grainger (builder) and an architect called John Dobson. Eldon Square was built by Richard Grainger by 1831 and designed by Dobson. Richard Grainger also built Leazes Terrace by 1834 and built Grey Street. This was named after the prime minister of the day Earl Grey. Grainger was clearly a prolific builder as he built the market that was named after Earl Grey too,

In 1837 Leazes Park and a brand new Theatre Royal were constructed, St Mary’s the Catholic church in 1844 was built.

Cholera took the lives of 306 in 1832, Newcastle was not alone in being a dirty city and in 1848 it killed another 412 and in 1853 over 1,500 people died due to Cholera.

After 1818 there were some improvements, gas kept the street lights glowing, the police force were in full swing by 1836, the Corn Exchange was there in 1858 and a Town Hall.

The Newcastle railway to Carlisle was opened in 1838 and then one to Darlington followed in 1844 and then one to Berwick in 1847. And the High Level Bridge was constructed in 1849 across the River Tyne to forge a connection to London. And Queen Victoria was there to open the railway station in the centre of Newcastle. This was designed in 1850 by no other than our friend Mr John Dobson.

Stephenson had a memorial constructed in his name in 1862, in 1876 the swing bridge was put up and the famous Hancock Museum was there for all to see in 1884 and in 1878 and 1879 there was the public library and trams pulled by horses began in Newcastle.

Leazes Park was available in 1873, Brandling Park was available for public use in 1880 and Town Moor was mainly parkland.

In 1882, St Nicholas’s church became a cathedral, Newcastle was then a city in 1882 also and famously the first shop in the world with electric lighting was in Newcastle, it was a drapers.

The Alkali industry grew in the 19th century but ended by the beginning of the 20th century, glass and pottery also died away at this time. But the iron, mechanical engineering and ship building industry remained strong for Newcastle.


Trams run on electric lines were running in 1901 but as ever change occurred here too and buses replaced them.

Newcastle had cinemas in 1909, the Laing Art Gallery and Shipley Gallery were available between 1901 and 1917.

The Redneugh bridge was opened in 1900, the King Edward VII bridge for the railway was opened in 1906. The Hatton Gallery and the Tyne suspension bridge were open by 1928.


The John Joicey Museum and Discovery Museum were unveiled by 1934. Council houses were constructed during this period too and they continued to build them after the second world war.

In 1956 and 1960 the Shefton and Museum of Antiquities opened their doors, in 1968 the Civic centre was opened, this was a new one and was awarded by 1969. The Shopping centre named after Eldon opened in 1976 and 2 famous sculptures were created by David Wynne in Newcastle.

In 1968 and 1988 there was a central library and an arts centre opened as did the Monument Mall Shopping Centre later in 1992.

Coal exports dropped off the map and the final mine closed down in 1956 and the ship builders also dropped off. In the 1930’s Newcastle had enormous unemployment.

From 1945 onwards the manufacturing industry expanded, lots more people were involved admin, education and retail. The university started in 1943 and the poly in 1969, which became a uni within 23 years.

2 more museums popped up in 1983 and 1986.


newcastle today


We are nearly at the end of Newcastle’s history to date, the Millennium Bridge and Life Sciences centre were available by 2001 and the number of the good people of Newcastle numbered 284,000 in 2011.

Gateshead, Whitley Bay & Jarrow all have become important places in the local area.


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