The History

Newcastle in 1600Newcastle as it looked in 1600

This area has played a pivotal role in the development of Newcastle from the earliest recorded times. From Pons Aelius, the Roman fort guarding the first possible river crossing over the River Tyne, the naturally defensible site then became a Saxon cemetery. Robert Curthose, the son of William the Conqueror built the stone Castle Keep not long after the Battle of Hastings over the top of this cemetery and the Keep exists as one of the finest visitor attractions in the North East.

The Parish Church of St. Nicholas was predominantly built in the 14th and 15th centuries and as Newcastle continued to grow, so did its need for a diocese separate from Durham. So in 1882 the Diocese of Newcastle was formed, with St. Nicholas as its cathedral. With this, Newcastle was designated a City.

Principal Places of Interest

Many notable people are associated with the area including

    Admiral Lord Collingwood
  • Admiral Lord Collingwood (1748 – 1810), who took over command at the Battle of Trafalgar (21st October 1805) after the death of Admiral Lord Nelson. He was baptised and married in St Nicholas, and each year, on the 21st October, a wreath is laid in his memory in front of the monument. (Image courtesy of The Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne.)
  • Ralph Hedley (1848-1913) was a painter, woodcarver and illustrator, best known for his paintings of everyday life in the North of England.
  • Ralph Beilby (1743-1817) was a founder member of Newcastle’s Literary and Philosophical Society. Proficient in many skills, Beilby took over the family business and in 1767 he took on Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) as an apprentice engraver.
  • Thomas Bewick was most famous for his ‘History of British Birds’, but he also illustrated Aesop’s Fables. He gave his name to the species Bewick’s (or Bewick Swan) Swan and Bewick’s Wren. The Bewick Memorial and a commemorative plaque mark where his workshop was at Amen Corner from about 1790.
  • William Wailles, who had one of England’s largest stained glass workshops in the 19th century designed five of the stained glass windows in the 12th century Grade I Listed Church of St. John the Baptist. He also designed windows in Gloucester Cathedral, Chichester Cathedral, and the Roman Catholic Cathedral Church of St. Mary, in Newcastle.
  • Robert Stephenson designed the High Level Bridge which was completed in 1849 and provdied a solution to a complex problem, that of spanning 400 metres of river valley, 156 metres of which is across water. Officially opened by Queen Victoria on 27th September 1849 it was the world’s first dual-decked rail and road. Along with the Royal Border Bridge at Berwick upon Tweed it completed the London - Edinburgh railway line now known as the east Coast Main Line.

And a few quick facts

  • The Close and Side are two of Newcastle’s remaining medieval streets.
  • Amen Corner is where clergy came to the end of prayer taken in procession around the outside of the cathedral. The workshops of Ralph Beilby and his apprentice and eventual business partner Thomas Bewick were at Amen Corner.
  • Dog Leap Stairs lead from the Castle Garth to Side. The name refers to ‘a narrow slip of ground between houses’. In 1772 Baron Eldon, later Lord Chancellor of England, eloped with Bessie Surtees making their escape, according to folkore, on horseback up Dog Leap Stairs. Dog Leap Stairs is also mentioned in the 1978 song ‘Down to the Waterline’ by Dire Straits.
  • A group of businessmen known as ‘Hostmen’ held a monopoly over the export of coal from the River Tyne. The local businessmen welcomed visiting merchants, brought them up from the Quayside through the streets and chares and provided them with accommodation as well as introducing them to local traders. ’Hostmen’ acted as middlemen between coal producers and shipping merchants.
  • Nearby Mosley Street was the first street in the world to be lit by the incandescent light bulb, invented by Sir Joseph Swan and first demonstrated at the Literary and Philosophical Society on Westgate Road, 1879. The street facilitated east-west communication between the Flesh Market and Pilgrim Street. The street was named after Mr Alderman Mosley who was instrumental in promoting the material improvement of Newcastle.
  • Collingwood Street, named after Admiral Lord Collingwood, was opened in 1810 in the year of his death and provided better through access between Pilgrim Street and Westgate.

Some of the Other Notable Places of Interest

  • The Literary and Philosophical Society on Westgate Road was founded in 1793 as a ‘conversation club’ The Literary & Philosophical Society houses over 150,000 books. Opened in 1825 the building is Grade II* Listed. Various groundbreaking demonstrations of new technology took place here, such as George Stephenson’s miners’ safety lamp in 1815 and the lecture theatre was the first public room to be lit by electric light, during a lecture by Sir Joseph Swan in 1880. Past members include Sir William Armstrong, Thomas Bewick, John Dobson, Richard Grainger, Charles 2nd Earl Grey, Robert Stephenson, Joseph Swan, Neil Tennant. The library is open to the public and well worth a visit. Visit their website for opening times and contact details.
  • The North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers on Wesgate Road. The Neville Hall houses the Nicholas Wood memorial library, formed by the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers in 1852 and reputed to be the largest mining related library in the world. The present Grade II* Listed building dates from 1872. Many of the North East’s finest have been associated with, worked or lectured here including Nicholas Wood, Sir William Armstrong and Robert Stephenson. Members of the public can also visit and consult the fabulous Nicholas Wood Memorial Library. Visit their website for opening times and contact details.