Newcastle History

The history of Newcastle Upon Tyne is truly iconic. A by-word for trade and industry, it’s famous for its unique character and culture as one of England’s most northerly cities. From its Roman origins to the early modern period, it was shaped by historical events in the area. As a frontier town on the lawless border between England and Scotland, it put its turbulent past behind it to become one of the world’s largest ports during its Victorian heyday. Its relative isolation and strong working class culture have made locals (or ‘Geordies’) fiercely proud of their city, and symbols of each stage of its history are obvious all over the streets – from the eponymous castle to the iconic iron bridges.

Some of the most enduring and significant things Newcastle has given the world are its people, who represent the rise from fort, to industrial powerhouse, to cultural hub. Well balanced across industry, the arts and the sciences, famous Geordies include Peter Higgs (theoretical Physicist who proposed the Higgs-Boson particle), Matthew Murray (inventor of the first commercial steam train), the musician Sting, and one of England’s greatest footballers Alan Shearer.

Founded originally as a Roman fortress along Hadrian’s famous wall, it became known as Monkchester as it grew to be one of the principal cities in the Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria. The castle that lends its name to the modern city was built by the Normans in 1080 to control the rebellious locals and to defend England against the Scots, who regularly raided as far south as the River Tyne. It continued to act as a fortress city throughout the early middle ages, successfully resisting at least three Scottish invasions before it began to flourish as a centre for the local wool trade in the 1400s.

Industry would remain a key theme for the city up until the present day, as the city established its reputation as a merchant’s paradise, controlling the lucrative wool, iron and coal stocks of the hills and moors surrounding the city. Its supremacy was confirmed in 1530 when the King decreed that all coal produced in the North East would be shipped from Newcastle regardless of where it was mined, giving the city an effective monopoly on the commodity that was to propel Britain to the head of a global Empire by the 1700s. Using its coal stocks the city added to its industrial base, producing glass, ships, iron and slate – as well as financial services – being home to one of the UK’s first banks outside London. Within the 18th century the advances in metallurgy brought advances in the docks of Newcastle as well as popularity to professions such as locksmiths.  Newcastle locksmiths grew along with the industry at that time.

A turbulent 17th century brought misfortune after misfortune on the city, with plague, fire and war ripping through its streets on multiple occasions as a key Royalist stronghold in the English Civil War. However, the city’s capture by Cromwell’s Scottish forces won it admiration in the eyes of the restored King Charles II, making it a target for investment that continued into the late 1800s. Trams, vast iron bridges, lavish Georgian streets, factories, public sewers and utilities, public housing and innovative steam mills saw it become the model Victorian city – with the railways shipping Britain’s products from the city to the world – making it one of the jewels of British industry way up until the 1950s.

Even today, it wears its industrial heart on its sleeve. Staunchly proud of their working class heritage, iconic symbols of Newcastle history, such as Newcastle Brown Ale, Newcastle United Football Club, the distinctive ‘Geordie’ accent and the famous iron Tyne Bridge, are as important to its identity as ever. While industrial decline may have robbed Newcastle of its shipyards and mills, its future remains in trade, as a huge centre of European car production and rail manufacturing. But its heart remains for all to see, from the ‘new’ castle still standing strong, and the grand Georgian arcades, to the looming mills converted into trendy bars and shopping boutiques.

Directions from Tyne Tees Locks TO Newcastle city centre

Walk north on Clavering Pl towards Forth St
Turn right onto Westgate Rd/A186
Continue onto Groat Market/B1307
Continue to follow B1307
Destination will be on the left

Interested in Newcastle Castle history? Read more of our factual articles.

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