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A Geordie Fortification
The Castle Keep (Newcastle)
Member Name: ks.h
The Castle Keep (Newcastle)
Date: 18/08/02, updated on 19/08/02 (954 review reads)
Advantages: Never overcrowded, Great views, Peaceful
Disadvantages: Not suitable for disabled visitors
Well I have a very keen interest in all things historical, I enjoy visiting or re-visiting places of interest or local beauty spots in the area, as those of you who are regular readers of my opinions will have gathered and I adore my home city Newcastle so what better topic to write about than the Castle Keep and City Walls, there historical, local and in Newcastle.
Newcastle has always been a river crossing and the Romans originally built a castle, Pons Aelius, on the banks of the Tyne, this Roman fortification is thought to have been the original starting point of Hadrian’s Wall, however the city’s name derives from the “new” castle, which overlies Pons Aelius and was built in 1080 by Robert Curthouse, eldest son of William the Conqueror.
Nothing now remains of this Norman Castle and the Castle Keep we see today dates from 1172 when Henry II ordered the destruction of Robert Curthouse’s castle and the building of another castle with a gate house and city wall to strengthen defences against the Scots.
Newcastle had always been a part of Northumberland however in 1400 it became an independent county but the castle remained a part of Northumberland and the Great Hall of the castle served as the assize courtroom with the castle dungeons used as the county gaol. Felons from Newcastle were able to gain refuge in the castle because Newcastle authorities had no power of arrest there due to its status as part of Northumberland.
During the thirteenth century further building work took place to enlarge and strengthen the castle and city walls and add further gate houses, two of which were Black Gate and Gallows’ Gate, and the Great Hall were added but by 1589 the Cast
le was described as being obsolete and in ruins and to ensure no more law breakers from Newcastle were able to escape being brought to justice Queen Elizabeth I issued a charter to put an end to this situation.
In 1810 Newcastle Corporation acquired the site and 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” and this new building served as the Crown Court house and is still used today as an overflow for court cases when the Quayside Law Courts are very busy. The architect of the Moot Hall was William Stokoe and the style reflects the vogue for recreating a fanciful version of ancient Greek building style.
Newcastle Corporation used the Black Gate as a “poor house” and planning permission was submitted to the Corporation to demolish the remaining ruins of the castle and build a city abattoir on the site. The Society of Antiquaries objected strongly to these plans and Newcastle Corporation, not having the foresight or funds to restore the remains gave the Castle to the Society.
The Society of Antiquaries restored the Castle Keep and added the turrets to the top, what we see today is in the main Victorian restoration work and not a great deal of original thirteenth century architecture but it is still a majestic site largely hidden within a modern city.
Enough of the history, time to get down to what’s at the Castle Keep now and how to get there. Well the best way of visiting the Castle Keep is to arrive in Newcastle by train or metro and get off at the Central Station. Turn right as you leave Central Station and follow the street, the street curves to the right, after walking for about five minutes you’ll reach the site of the Castle Keep.
Visitors to the Castle Keep are able to see displays about the history of the castle and exhibits of artefacts discovered during restora
tion work on the site. The castle is rich in history and when you wander around you get the feel of what has happened over the centuries on the site ranging from the arrival of the Romans, Anglo Saxon burials, Civil War fortifications to the neglect of our city forefathers.
You can climb the steep steps of the Castle Keep and admire the Victorian Turrets as well as gaining a good vantage point for the views of the quayside. The original Great Hall of the castle is now buried beneath the Moot Hall and you are able to gain entry to the Moot Hall at certain times of the day.
The Castle Keep is open from 9.30am-5.30pm (4.30 in winter), Tuesday to Sunday. Across from the entrance to the Keep, and just to the left of the Bridge Pub, are a set of stairs which wind down through some of the remains of the castle to the Quayside.
During the Victorian era the High Level Bridge was built, this was the world's first road and rail bridge and was designed by Robert Stephenson son of George Stephenson, the railway pioneer, a great feat of engineering but unfortunately it was positioned right through the centre of the Castle fortification and walls. The bridge was opened by Queen Victoria in 1849 and today rail passengers entering Newcastle from the south have a magnificent view of the Castle Keep as trains and metros cross the Tyne
For a view of the West Wall, the best remaining section of Newcastle’s medieval defensive fortification (built in 1265) walk from the Castle Keep towards St. James’ Park football ground, passing Old Eldon Square and the Cenotaph on your right, cross Percy Street, follow the road to the left of Barclays Bank and take a left immediately in front of Gallowgate Coach Station you'll see a pub called Rosie's standing at the entrance to Stowell Street, which is the city's Chinatown area, you will have walked under the arch of Gallows’ Gate between the Coach Station and Rosie’s pub, the
West Wall runs parallel to Stowell Street.
At the bottom of Stowell Street and opposite Friar Street junction you can see one of the remaining Wall Towers. Friar Street itself is distinguished by Blackfriars, a former monastery dating from the 13th century. The complex has been renovated and now features several craft shops, restaurants and a small tourist information centre. Probably the most peaceful spot in the city centre, Blackfriars is well worth at least an hour or so of your time. It's open daily (except Sunday and Monday in Winter) admission is free and you can quiet easily feel as if you have been transported back in time as you walk along the cobbles.
The Castle Keep is a listed building and therefore any work or modernization is carefully vetted and because of this it is not yet suitable for people with mobility problems however plans are in the pipeline to open the ground floor of the building and install ramps, video and computer equipment to allow limited access for those with disabilities.
Admission to The Castle Keep is £1.50 for adults and 50p for children and concessions.
Further information about the Castle Keep can be obtained from:
The Society of Antiquaries,
Newcastle upon Tyne,
Telephone (0191) 232 7938
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