Hadrian’s Wall Exploration 7 – Newcastle Castle

My Monday walk (see the last blog) continued as I walked beside the Tyne and then climbed up to All Saints Church. It was built between 1786-89 and the spire was added in 1796. The architect was David Stephenson of Newcastle (1757-1819). It is now on the Buildings at Risk register – website. Although the noticeboard talks about the Old Catholic Church, their website makes no mention of worship in this church. It was firmly locked. Good view across to the Sage.


I threaded my way under the railway viaduct and found Holy Jesus Hospital. It was built in 1681 to accommodate retired Freemen, their wives, sons or daughters. It was used until 1937, then was a museum for a while, and is now National Trust Offices. I don’t know if it’s ever opened to the public and the NT website doesn’t tell me, which is a shame.


I walked down to the Black Gate to go and have a look at the Castle – website. I have not been here for many years, if not decades. It has recently been refurbished, and is worth a visit. You enter at the Black Gate where there is a little museum – harking back to the days when the Society of Antiquaries had their museum here. The Gate was built between 1247 and 1250, it was a Barbican, attached to the earlier North Gate.


You then pass under the railway viaduct and enter the Keep itself –  there are a lot of steps. The castle is built on the site of the Roman fort – Pons Aelius – which would have guarded the bridge across the Tyne.

Pons_Aelius_BRIDGEThere must have been a vicus and a cemetery, but few remains have been found. The little museum has a couple of Roman items. A note says that the Dodecahedron is “Made from copper alloy [and] even Roman specialists don’t know what this mysterious object was used for. Almost 100 almost identical items have been found at various Roman sites around Europe. Is it a gaming piece? The head of a staff? A child’s toy? A candle-holder? Your guess is as good as ours.”


No one knows what happened to the site when the Romans left. Part may have been used as a burial ground, and there may have been a monastery here. The first castle, the New Castle upon Tyne, was founded in 1080 by Robert Curthose, eldest son of William the Conqueror. It was rebuilt in stone between 1168 and 1178 during the reign of Henry II. It costs £1,144 and the master mason was Maurice, probably Maurice the Engineer who designed the keep at Dover Castle. It was added to in the C13, and saw many Royal visitors over the years. Henry III was in Newcastle in 1234, 1236 and 1238, and Edward III came on at least three occasions. In 1236 Alexander II met with Henry III in the town (they signed a peace treaty in Ponteland eight years later), and in 1292 John Balliol paid homage to Edward I in the Hall. By the early 1300s the town had grown into an important trading centre, and the completion of the town walls in the 1350s meant the castle was militarily redundant. By 1589 it was described as “old and ruinous”, although it was probably re-fortified round about the time of the Battle of Newburn in 1640 when the Scots held Newcastle and Northumberland for a year or so, and in the Civil War. During the times when it was not being used as a Castle (in the military sense) the ditches were filled in with general refuse, and people lived in the buildings and built their own houses. By the end of the C18 the old Great Hall was used as a theatre, and there were lodging houses and pubs. The Castle Garth was free of the town’s control as it was officially Crown land, so it was a centre for those (including those of Scottish origin) who would not have been welcome in the town itself – slightly ironic. Restoration of the Keep began in 1811, after it was bought by the Corporation for £630, but the whole lot was almost demolished when the railway was driven through the site in 1847-9.

My memory from my childhood is coming to this Castle and being annoyed how many stairs there were. I was sulking somewhere at a low level when dad insisted I climbed to the top to see the view. This is a view from 12 June 1954 – website – “View westward from the Castle Keep over the celebrated, complex crossing of the main lines to the north with those to the east and south over the High Level Bridge, controlled by Newcastle No. 1 Box. This is a major junction, further complicated by including third-rail electrified lines, on the ex-North Eastern section of the East Coast Main Line to Edinburgh. The ‘North Briton’ (09.30 York – Edinburgh) is leaving with a fresh A1 Pacific (No. 60150 ‘Willbrook’) from Platform 10, indicating that it had arrived over the High Level Bridge and reversed here. The lines passing to the left of the signalbox and station are the Up and Down Goods lines. The six lines to the right became four through Manors, where the electrified lines to Tynemouth via Gosforth turned off; the lines to the left to Gateshead, Sunderland etc. became three over the High Level Bridge. The road underneath is St Nicholas Street.” It was taken by Ben Brooksbank.

1954 castle keep

This photo, which has no details, is a 1971 photo – so is more like what I saw on my childhood visit.

1971 castle keep

Let us be honest – the view is not as stunning in 2016. But the Network Rail New Measuring Train came past, as did a huge train of coal. I was happy – enjoy the photos.


The Great Hall is quite a room, and at the bottom level is a Garrison Room and a Chapel. The Chapel lies below the main external stairway. It has an unusual north-south nave set a right angles to the chancel – presumably because of the limited space at the bottom of the Keep. In the Middle Ages it could only be entered from outside through a small door. It has lovely stone work, with beautiful Norman arches. It is known as the Royal Chapel – when royalty wasn’t in attendance a chaplain would still be present to pray for them. It was restored in 1813.


The Norman gravestone dates c 1080-1095. It was found during excavations north of the Keep in 1990. The decoration mixes the local Saxon style with the new Norman “Romanesque” style, showing that the Saxon cemetery was still in use after the building of the first Norman castle in 1080. Eventually the cemetery was built over with the new stone Castle in the 1100s.


I had a wander along to the High Level Bridge and the station. While walking Ray had mentioned the Wetherspoon’s opposite the station which was the Union Club – purpose-built in 1877 to the designs of M.P. Manning. It was an exclusive gentleman’s club, and Lord Armstrong was one of the members. Rather nice, so I sat with coffee and scone until the girls phoned for a lift home. I had walked 9 miles.



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One Response to Hadrian’s Wall Exploration 7 – Newcastle Castle

  1. Ray Ion says:

    I am pleased that you got the chance and were able to visit the Union Club – even if it was only for a coffee!
    You mention that Lord Armstrong was a member and would have visited this building on many (hundred?) occasions but LA also paid a visit to the building in the first picture in this posting as just plain William George Armstrong. All Saints Church opened its doors on 2nd January 1811 for the single Baptism of William George Armstrong and little would anyone present have known what, over the next 90, years was in store not just for William himself but for the industry of Tyneside and the landscape of Elswick and Scotswood. Listed either side of William George Armstrong in the Register are Barbara Lisle (Baptised 1st January) and George Fenwick (Baptised 3rd January) – I wonder what became of them?

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