Old Newcastle Project
This exciting project focuses on Newcastle’s social, cultural and creative heritage using the ancient Black Gate as a new portal to the City’s rich history, culture and character.
Heritage Lottery Funding has been secured to create an accessible, heritage-led education and interpretation centre in the vacant and closed Black Gate, transforming its current lifeless and substantially ignored presence into a hub of heritage activity that will be open and available to the entire community and visitors from near and far. The Black Gate will combine with medieval neighbours, the Castle Keep and St. Nicholas Cathedral to provide an outstanding and dynamic heritage asset that will tell the story of the remarkable history of the City and the ingenuity of countless generations of its inhabitants.
The Black Gate was a defended gateway set into the castle walls in the mid-thirteenth century. It gave access to the Castle precinct where the Keep still stands. By the C19th the Gate had become a crowded and unpleasant tenement. Many neighbouring buildings were demolished to make way for the railway but the Black Gate was saved through force of public opinion. It was then leased to the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne who restored it in 1883 to become a small museum and home to its library. The Society has now moved to the new Great North Museum:Hancock leaving the Black Gate unoccupied. The Keep, which is open to the public, is one of the finest examples of its type in the country with a magnificent Norman chapel, prison, Great Hall, galleries and garderobes. The neighbouring Cathedral has many fine monuments which vividly mark the lives of many of the City’s heroes and legendary characters. These buildings are at the centre of the City’s medieval core which itself lies over the remains of the Roman fort, Pons Aelius, and Hadrian’s Wall.
The Black Gate, Keep and Cathedral are the medieval nucleus of modern Newcastle. They continue to mark the City’s foundation. Later developments swirl around and through this ancient core to bring other important buildings and structures into the rich heritage mix . They include the magnificent railway engineering achievements of Robert Stephenson’s Grade I High Level Bridge (1848/9) at the foot of the Keep and the Victorian viaducts that sweep along the edge of the Tyne valley. Newcastle’s pivotal role in the ‘Railway Revolution’ is shown by the nearby Railway Works, where the Stephensons built Locomotion and the Rocket and Dobson’s Central Station. The close outstanding Georgian repository of learning, the Lit and Phil, adds architectural and cultural gravitas to the heritage mix. This concentration of diverse, dramatic and hugely interesting built and cultural heritage around the Black Gate is of immense value. The re-ordered Black Gate and its educational resources will make an enormous contribution to bringing together, accessing and exploiting the potential of this wider heritage area where the story of the City begins and flows through the centuries to modern times.
The age, appearance and role of the Black Gate and its medieval neighbours, together with the rich array of nearby buildings, that demonstrate the creative genius of our forebears and touch the lives of nationally renowned artists, musicians, inventors and military heroes make this an area of outstanding heritage, cultural and social interest. Figures such as the artist Thomas Bewick, the eighteenth-century composer Charles Avison, engineers George and Robert Stephenson and Admiral Collingwood of the Battle of Trafalgar, were all born, lived or worked in the area around the Black Gate. The heritage covers a remarkable breadth of history and activity that is of national significance and passionately championed by the City’s inhabitants.
A major consultation exercise including meetings, focus groups, presentations, exhibitions, surveys and media campaigns has been undertaken to gauge public reaction to the scheme, help in its design, and heighten awareness of the heritage assets. The response to the consultation has been hugely reassuring and shows that the buildings and their contents can play a much more active part in the lives of the whole community. The Partnership is working with leading regeneration agencies and business organisations to jointly use and promote the ‘Old Newcastle’ project and its brand as an integral and creative part of the economic revival of the wider area.
Buildings directly benefiting from the HLF grant aided works include:
- The Black Gate - Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM) and Grade I
- The Castle Keep - SAM and Grade I
- The Barbican Walls - SAM
Other notable buildings in the wider project area include:
- The Heron Pit Prison SAM
- Castle Garth - SAM
- The Cathedral of St Nicholas - Grade I
- The Vermont Hotel - Grade II
- Moot Hall - Grade I
- Bridge Hotel - Grade II
- Railway Viaduct - Grade II
- High Level Bridge - Grade I
- Lit and Phil - Grade II*
The project will deliver a number of important heritage-led benefits. It will bring back to life the medieval Black Gate, a redundant, vacant, Grade 1 listed building and scheduled ancient monument, as an education, community and heritage visitor centre. The scheme will remove any risk to the future welfare of the building and give it a public and sustainable future. Virtually the whole building will be opened to public access for the first time in seven hundred years through the addition of an external lift to the upper floors of this hidden jewel. The new amenities will include much needed toilet facilities for visitors to the adjacent Keep.
The Black Gate will be developed and managed to provide access, both physical and intellectual, to the extraordinary and frequently unknown past times of the City. As an education resource and teaching centre with its own dedicated staff it will explore and tell the stories of the area’s incredible history, buildings and characters to enrich learning experiences and enhance thinking and learning skills.
Exciting and innovative high-tech interpretation will be developed in partnership with academics, researchers, practitioners and students based at Newcastle University’s ‘CultureLab/iLab’ alongside traditional and well-loved display methods.