When walking from St Nicholas Cathedral to the Castle in Newcastle, one first comes across The Black Gate.
This bit was added to the castle’s defences last in the 13th century and lead to the Castle’s North Gate. It has been in use continuously from the 17th century until now, and thus it has been altered much throughout the centuries. Funnily enough, The Black Gate is not called ‘Black’ because of its appearance, nor does it have anything to do with Lord of the Rings (references anyone?), but because a guy called Patrick Black lived there, lol :’).
Now up to the Castle! The Castle is called Newcastle Castle, which is not surprising because it’s the castle in Newcastle, but I still think it’s funny (hence the oh-so clever title). The Castle is located at a strategic position, as it is surrounded by steep sides that go down to the River Tyne. The Romans already had a fort here called Pons Aelius. This links in perfectly with our Hadrian’s Wall trip, as Hadrian‘s family name was Aelius, and this fort was part of the Wall. Pons Aelius thus means Bridge of Hadrian, as the fort guarded the first bridge crossing the River Tyne. Nowadays, a bridge still crosses the river very near the spot where Pons Aelius used to stand! This was the only bridge outside Rome named after an emperor, so it must have been quite important.
The site has also been used extensively as a Saxon cemetery from the 7th century until the Castle was built in 1080 by Robert Curthose, the eldest son of William the Conqueror. Initially the Castle was built using earth and timber. In the 12th century it was rebuilt in stone by Maurice the Engineer (lovely nickname don’t you think :P). He made quite a significant contribution to the building of Dover Castle as well and seems to have been Henry II‘s architect. The Keep of Dover Castle and the Keep of Newcastle Castle show quite a lot of similarities, due to them being designed by the same person. King Henry II wanted to re-assert royal authority over Northumberland, which had been occupied by Scots for the previous decade. In the 13th century some alterations were made during the reign of King John. Most notably, the Great Hall was built.
In 1400, the Castle Keep became a prison for the County of Northumberland, and the Great Hall was used as a court. In 1619 the castle was leased to Alexander Stephenson, a courtier of King James I and houses were built inside the Castle walls. During the Civil War, starting in 1642, the Castle was briefly fortified again, and was the stronghold of the town’s Royalists. However, a Scottish army, allied to the Parliamentarians, conquered it in 1644. After the Civil War, more houses were built within the Castle walls. In 1847, the first railway viaduct was built right across the site, which is really quite an odd sight as you can see trains coming by through the windows of the Castle: a weird clash of historical eras!
During this trip along Hadrian’s wall I collected some pictures of ancient objects I found interesting, because of their ingenuity, or because of how little they have changed over the centuries. You can see some examples from Newcastle Castle below. A good example are dice: they have basically looked the same for the last 2000 years, which I find remarkable. It means that there is apparently no way to improve upon the design: that it is already perfect.
For me the highlight of this Castle was the Royal Chapel: which contains some prime examples of Norman stone carvings. And they were all so well intact!
Also, an amazing Norman gravestone is on display in the Castle. The decoration on it is a combination between the local Saxon style and the new Norman ‘Romanesque’ style, suggesting the site was still being used as a burial ground when the Norman castle was built in the 11th century.
The picture I posted two posts ago (here) was taken from the top of the Castle, from which you can get an amazing view of the city.
Finally, the Castle is supposedly haunted and was featured on an episode of ‘Most Haunted’, which you can see here if that’s your sort of thing or you’re in a weird mood or something:
That’s all for now, next time I’ll be writing about the beginning of our hiking trip past Hadrian’s Wall!