The Castle, Newcastle is a medieval fortification in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, built on the site of the fortress which gave the City of Newcastle its name. The most prominent remaining structures on the site are theCastle Keep, the castle’s main fortified stone tower, and the Black Gate, its fortified gatehouse.
Use of the site for defensive purposes dates from Roman times, when it housed a fort and settlement called Pons Aelius, guarding a bridge over the River Tyne. In 1080, a wooden motte and bailey style castle was built on the site of the Roman fort, which was the ‘New Castle upon Tyne’. It was built by Robert Curthose, eldest son of William the Conqueror, having returned south from a campaign against Malcolm III of Scotland. The stone Castle Keep was built between 1172 and 1177 by Henry II on the site of Curthose’s castle. The Black Gate was added between 1247 and 1250 by Henry III.
The site is in the centre of Newcastle, and lies to the east of Newcastle Central Station. The 75-foot (23 m) gap between the Keep and the Gatehouse is almost entirely filled by a railway viaduct, carrying the East Coast Main Line from Newcastle to Scotland. The Castle Keep and Black Gate pre-dated the construction of the Newcastle town wall, construction of which started sometime around 1265, and did not form part of it. Nothing remains of the Roman fort or the original motte and bailey castle. The Keep is a Grade I listed building, and a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
Photograph above by Colin Nunn.
Photographer: Hans Peter Schaefer
In the mid-2nd century, the Romans built the first bridge to cross the River Tyne at the place where Newcastle now stands. The bridge was called Pons Aelius or ‘Bridge of Aelius’, Aelius being the family name of Emperor Hadrian, who was responsible for the Roman wall built along Tyne-Solway Gap. The Romans built a fort to protect the river crossing which was at the foot of the Tyne Gorge. The fort was situated on rocky outcrop overlooking the new bridge.
At some unknown time in the Anglo-Saxon age, the site of Newcastle came to be known as Monkchester. In the late 7th century, a cemetery was established on the site of the Roman castle.
In 1080, the Norman king, William I, sent his eldest son, Robert Curthose, north to defend the kingdom against the Scots. After his campaign, he moved to Monkchester and began the building of a ‘New Castle’. This was of the “motte-and-bailey” type of construction, a wooden tower on top of an earthen mound (motte), surrounded by a moat and wooden stockade (bailey).
In 1095, the Earl of Northumbria, Robert de Mowbray, rose up against William Rufus and Rufus sent an army north to crush the revolt and to capture the castle. From then on the castle became crown property and was an important base from which the king could control the northern barons.
Not a trace of the tower or mound of the motte and bailey castle remains now. Henry II replaced it with a rectangular stone keep, which was built between 1172 and 1177 at a cost of £1,444. A stone bailey, in the form of a triangle, replaced the previous wooden one. The master mason or architect, Maurice, also built Dover Castle. In 1174, William the Lion was held as a prisoner here. The great outer gateway to the castle, called ‘the Black Gate’, was built later, between 1247 and 1250, in the reign of Henry III. During the civil wars at the end of King John’s reign, it was under the control of Philip of Oldcoates. In 1298 the right leg of William Wallace was displayed on one of the bridges in Newcastle, and “unmentioned” parts of his body were put on display inside the Keep.
Additional protection to the castle was provided late in the 13th century when stone walls were constructed, with towers, to enclose the town. Ironically, the safety provided by the town walls led to the neglect of the fabric of the castle. In 1589, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth the castle was described as being ruinous. From the early 17th century onward, this situation was made worse by the construction of shops and houses on much of the site.
In 1643, during the English Civil War, the Royalist Mayor of Newcastle, Sir John Marley, repaired the keep and probably also refortified the castle. In 1644 the Scottish army crossed the border in support of the Parliamentarians and the Scottish troops besieged Newcastle for three months until the garrison surrendered. The town walls were extensively damaged and the final forces to surrender on 19 October 1644 did so from the Castle keep.
During the 16th to the 18th century, the keep was used as a prison. By 1800, there were a large number of houses within the boundaries of the castle.
In 1809, Newcastle Corporation bought the keep and provided it with a roof and battlements. In addition the private dwellings within the castle boundaries were demolished. The keep was restored in 1810, 1812 and 1848. In the mid 19th century the arrival of the railway in Newcastle led to a viaduct to be constructed to the north of the keep and crossing the site of the castle. As a result, only the keep and the Black Gate now remain.
Above: The Castle Keep in 1814.
The keep as viewed from the Central Station island platform. Brand new steam locomotive 60163 Tornado stands to the left.