Curious History

Curious History
Newcastle upon Tyne

A Short History Of Newcastle upon Tyne

Located on the banks of the River Tyne in northeast England, this city has seen many changes over the years since its origination as a Roman fort on Hadrian’s Wall in 122AD. Newcastle is famous for its industrial heritage, brown ale, very popular nightlife, and distinctive regional Geordie dialect. The city was originally called Pons Aelius or Aelian Bridge, named after Emperor Hadrian’s family name. Upon their departure from Britain, the city’s name was changed to Monkchester becoming one of the most influential places in the Kingdom of Northumbria.

Under Norman rule, there was a great deal of unrest in North England between William the Conqueror and his eldest son Robert Curthose in Northern France (1078-1080). During William’s absence, the Scottish King Malcolm III, plundered the country between the River Tweed and the River Tees, leaving the locals very dissatisfied with William’s failure to intervene. The combination of a rebellion and the murder of the Earl of Northumbria in May of 1080, the rebellion forced William to strike back with the help of his half-brother Odo of Bayeux. The rebels were dispersed and William’s son Robert was reunited to dispatch troops to deal with the Scots.

After defeating Malcolm in Lothian in the autumn of 1080, Robert returned home through Monkchester, where a wooden castle was erected to fortify the area and guarantee its position would remain as a crossing point of the River Tyne under Normal control. The area was named Novum Castellum, or “New Castle” and the castle has remained on this site ever since then. The stone Castle Keep, which also remains today, was built by Henry II between 1172 to 1177. The main gatehouse, known as the Black Gate was built by Henry III between 1247 and 1250.

Newcastle would remain a stronghold against invasions from the Scots during the Middle Ages due to a 25-foot defensive stone wall, which was erected in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries to encircle and protect the town. Even though it was mostly destroyed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there are still miles of remnants to the west of the city that remain intact.

During the Middle Ages, the town flourished as a wool trader as that’s the main commodity. In recognition of its strategic positions, the town was a favorite of the royals receiving its own Mayer in 1216, and in 1400 was complete with its own sheriff. Even during the decline of the wood trade in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there was little effect on the town since the royal act in 1530, which decreed that all coal exports in the North East were shipped from Newcastle quayside, even coal that was not mined in the town. This allowed Newcastle to grow as a regional center for trade and stopped the local neighbors like Sunderland, creating a rivalry that is still alive and well today.

During the English Civil War, Newcastle suffered in its support of King Charles I, who bestowed the town’s motto “Fortiter Defendit Triumphans”, or bold defense. It was very briefly conquered by the Earl of Leven’s Scottish army, but due to its prominent trade, it was eventually restored and was back up and running after the Reformation when Newcastle began to trade and export products including slate, glass, and iron. Carr’s Bank was one of the first banks to open in Newcastle in 1755.

Newcastle’s Cultural Legacy

Outside of the commercial industry, during the eighteenth century, the printing industry took off, becoming the fourth largest in the UK. The Newcastle Gazette and the Newcastle Currant were the first newspapers published and circulated in northern England in 1710 and 1711. The Literary and Philosophical Society was established in 1793 and affectionately referred to as the Lit Phil. It attracted intellectuals and academics with its wide variety of debates and literature in French, Spanish, German, and Latin. The building became the first to use electric light bulbs when the inventor, Joseph Swan, selected Lit and Phil to show his latest invention.

The Industrial Revolution (1750 to 1850)

During that time, the heavy industry took off in Newcastle, making the location perfect for building ships and steam trains. There were several inventions taking place including the steam turbine and the Davy lamp which added to the notoriety of the town. The expansion of the industry led to a huge growth in the population rising from 87,784 in 1851 to 266,671 in 1911. Affluent suburbs started popping up on the outskirts of the city center which in turn increased the advancement of railways and tramways.

In the 1830s, Newcastle architects Richard Grainger and John Dodson redesigned the city center with the assistance of other architects to add most of the neoclassical architecture which is still apparent today.

A very popular monument dedicated to Prime Minister Earl Gray and his Reform Act of 1832 is Grey’s Monument. It was built and designed by Edward Hodges Baily and Benjamin Green,

The Twentieth Century

Unlike the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Newcastle along with Tyne and Wear saw an increased decline in heavy industry during the early twentieth century and unemployment was on the rise after the economic depression of the 1930s. The last remaining coal mine closed in Newcastle in 1956. Eastern European and South East Asian markets had a similar impact on the area’s feeble shipyards between 1970 to 1990.

Over the past 50 years, the area has watched the rise of the public and retail sectors and mass regeneration. Newcastle has changed from a cultural landmark to a renowned business and social hub of the North East. Unlike the industrial age, the city is now recognized for its environmental awareness and has plans to become the first Carbon Neutral town in the UK.

Visiting Newcastle

It’s very easy by car due to the major roads running to the city center. The AI links Newcastle to London, South, Scotland, and other major routes across the country. You can also travel by train from London to Newcastle, operated by London North Eastern Railway.

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