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History & Heritage of NewcastleGateshead

Neighbouring Newcastle and Gateshead have a fascinating, intertwining history which dates back to Roman times. Long before becoming established as a centre for arts and culture, ideal city break destinations or famed for their nightlife, Newcastle and Gateshead were two humble settlements separated by the River Tyne.

From the boom of the Industrial Revolution to our modern legacy for innovation, Newcastle and Gateshead have both transformed over the centuries into vibrant, dynamic and cosmopolitan North East destinations which attract visitors from across the globe. Here are a few moments in the history and heritage of Newcastle and Gateshead that have shaped the region we know today.

Who founded Newcastle and Gateshead? - The Roman History of the North East

The bridge and surrounding settlement on which Newcastle was first constructed by Roman invaders in the mid second century AD. It was named Pons Aelius in honour of the Roman Emperor Hadrian's family name and is estimated to have been home to around 2,000 settlers.

During this time, the Romans also built Hadrian's Wall as a defense against the Picts, which housed forts, milecastles and turrets. It is the largest Roman artefact in the world, with ruins still visible today; one of the most famous is Segedunum in Wallsend, where the wall ends at the Tyne.

UNESCO World Heritage Site Hadrian's Wall

Where do the names 'Newcastle' and 'Gateshead' come from?

Until 1080, Newcastle had been named Monkchester by the Anglo-Saxons, who had built a number of monasteries in the locations known as Jarrow, Monkwearmouth and Hexham. At the time, the region was split into the two kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira. These two kingdoms collectively became known as Northanhymbria (Northumbria),

Following the Norman invasion, William the Conqueror - also known as William I - began building a 'New Castle' on the site of the old Roman settlement in order to defend against the Scots. The town was from then on known as Novum Castellum (Newcastle). Meanwhile, Gateshead is said to derive from 'Goat's Head' which is how Saint Bede referred to the town during the Saxon era.

Newcastle Castle Keep and the Scottish Border Wars

Due to their strategic locations, Newcastle and Gateshead have always had a somewhat tense relationship with Scotland. In 1095, while Newcastle was still part of the county of Northumberland, The Earl of Northumbria, Robert De Mowbray rebelled against the Crown and William II was forced to send an army to recapture the castle. 

Following this, between 1172 - 1177, William II later replaced the original motte and bailey castle with a stone keep, known today as Newcastle Castle Keep. This Keep remains as one of Newcastle's few Grade I listed buildings.

Throughout the Middle Ages, Newcastle was England's northernmost fortress against the Scots, with the Scottish king William The Lion was even imprisoned in the city in 1174. Newcastle continued to be a key location in the battles between the English and Scots for centuries to come, though it was only in the hands of the Scots for an estimated period of 18 years between 1139 to 1157.

Newcastle Castle

What exports are Newcastle and Gateshead best known for?

Long before Fenwick's or intu Metrocentre provided luxury shopping experiences in Newcastle and Gateshead, local trade culture was a vastly different, albeit simpler, landscape. By the 13th century, Newcastle had begun exporting wool, timber, millstone, coal, dairy, fish, salt and animal hides, primarily trading with Germany and the Baltic countries. In a bid to further its economy there were many, mostly unsuccessful, attempts over the years by Newcastle to annex Gateshead for its coal mines. Newcastle later became known for its industrial culture of ship-building, glass-making and ceramics.

When was Newcastle's Literary and Philosophical Society established?

Following the creation of the printing press, Newcastle also became the country's largest printing centre following London, Oxford and Cambridge. This was established as the Literary and Philosophical Society in 1793. The building can still be visited today as a free reference library.

The Lit and Phil, Newcastle


Victorian Architecture of Newcastle and Gateshead

Many of the buildings which can be seen in Newcastle and Gateshead today were built during the Victorian era after builder Richard Grainger won a competition to produce a new city plan for central Newcastle. This was aided by John Dobson, John Wardle, Thomas Oliver and John and Benjamin Green. The stylised and stunning architecture can primarily be found on Leazes Terrace, Grey Street, Grainger Street and Clayton Street while Theatre Royal and Great North Museum are also fine examples of the style. The stunning mix of Victorian and Georgian architecture even earned Grey Street the award for Best Street in the UK in 2010.

In Gateshead, Victorian architecture is also notable among residential areas and parts of the Quayside. Saltwell Towers for example, a romantic Victorian mansion located in the heart of Saltwell Park, was designed by renowned stained glass maker William Wailes.

Earl's Monument at the heart of Newcastle city centre

When were the bridges between Newcastle and Gateshead built?

The Quayside High Level Bridge, designed by Robert Stephenson, was built across the Tyne in 1849, joining Newcastle and Gateshead to carry road and rail traffic. This was followed in 1876 by the Swing Bridge which was built and designed by William Armstrong to allow larger ships to pass either side. Both of these bridges pre-date the iconic Tyne Bridge but allowed Newcastle's trade and ship-building industries to flourish in the latter part of the 18th century.

Iconic bridges spanning the River Tyne

What year was the Tyne Bridge built?

As the most iconic landmark of the region, it wouldn't be a history lesson on Newcastle and Gateshead without mentioning the birth of the Tyne Bridge. Built over three years between 1925 and 1928, it was opened by King George V and remains as a symbol of the Tyneside region, officially uniting Newcastle and Gateshead by road. The Tyne Bridge has become a key part of the North East skyline ever since.

During the Great North Run, crowds gather on the Tyne Bridge to watch runners cross to the Gateshead side of the river, the Red Arrows fly overheard.

Great North Run participants cross the iconic Tyne Bridge every year

What does the phrase 'Taking Coals To Newcastle' mean?

The phrase 'taking coals to Newcastle' is a well known phrase and is often used to refer to the act of bringing something to a place that has more than enough of it already!

Coal had always been one of the region's most prominent exports but it wasn't until the Industrial Revolution that Newcastle began developing as a major city, owing most of its development to the production and export of coal. In 1913, Newcastle was producing a whopping 25% of Britain's coal supply.

Opened in 1835, The Victoria Tunnel was a major and innovative route of coal transportation down to the Quayside. Built as a network of wagonways running underneath the Town Moor and city centre, this provided a more convenient way to ferry coal between Leazes Colliery and the riverside. The tunnels were later converted to air raid shelters during the Second World War and today visitors can take guided tours of the remaining tunnels.

While the region's last deep mine closed in 2005, pit villages and traces of collieries can also still be found across the North East, including at the famous Beamish Museum.

The Victoria Tunnel

How important was the Industrialisation of Newcastle and Gateshead?

The 19th century allowed Newcastle to fully bloom into the city we know it as today and the innovation which defined this period was largely cultivated by residents of the region. A few notable examples are;

  • George Stephenson's development of the miner's safety lamp i.e. The Geordie Lamp
  • The birth of the early railway system and design of locomotives by George and Robert Stephenson including The Rocket
  • Joseph Swan's demonstration of the working electric bulb
  • William Armstrong's invention of the hydraulic crane
  • Glassmaking, pottery, armaments, ship building and locomotive manufacturing becoming the regions key industries

Visitors can learn more about NewcastleGatshead's pioneers at a number of our historic sites and museums such as CragsideStephenson Railway Museum in North Shields and the Discovery Museum in Newcastle.

Where does the term 'Geordie' come from?

'Geordie' is a word which is often used to describe people from Newcastle or Gateshead. There are a few explanations about the origins of the word 'Geordie' and how it came into use.

The word itself is said to derive from the name George. One theory is based on Newcastle's declaration of loyalty to George I in 1715 following the Jacobite rebellion, which apparently resulted in the phrase 'German Geordie' being used to refer to locals by the Jacobite supporting residents of rural Northumberland.

Another theory is that Geordie is a homage to another famous George. Newcastle-born George Stephenson invented the miner's safety lamp during the Victorian era and this was later nicknamed 'The Geordie Lamp'. The name George was also very common among pitmen (coal miners). As Newcastle had a booming coal industry, it seems likely that this connection allowed the name to become used to refer to residents of the area.

The term has stuck and is now also applied to the regional dialect spoken in North Tyneside and Gateshead.

St James' Park aerial view

When were St James' Park and Newcastle United Football Club established?

Many people will know Newcastle for its football club Newcastle United F.C. and where else would be a more treasured landmark than the clubs' physical and spiritual home, St. James' Park? Opened in 1892 and expanded in the late 1990s, footy fans from across the UK flock in their droves each season to St. James' Park to watch Newcastle play, often resulting in an electric atmosphere that simply can't be matched.

With tours of St. James' Park on offer, visitors can see the grounds where many of Newcastle's most famous sportsmen have played. From Bobby Robson to Kevin Keegan, Gazza to Alan Shearer, Newcastle's football history is one that's well documented by its fiercely loyal fans.

How old is Newcastle University?

In 1963, the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne became Newcastle's first university. The city had been home to the School Of Medicine and Surgery since 1834, and the University quickly became established as a traditional 'Red Brick', with a reputation for excellence. It is now known as one of the best and most coveted Universities in the country, welcoming thousands of UK and international students each year.

Newcastle University

When did the Tyne and Wear Metro open?

In 1978, the rapid transport system, known as the Metro was built to connect Newcastle city centre to Gateshead and the surrounding areas of North Tyneside and the Coast. The system opened in 1980 and has since been updated to reach Newcastle Airport and Sunderland City Centre, making travelling around the North East easier than ever. You can explore the Metro on our Metro Map page to find out the full route and stops.

Re-Developing the NewcastleGateshead Quayside

The Quayside is one of Newcastle and Gateshead's most notable and most visited areas in the region with hotels, bars, restaurants, businesses and cultural landmarks, making it a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. Before work began to renovate the banks of the Tyne, it was home to Newcastle's industrial and ship-building estates.

The Quayside underwent serious renovation in the early 1990s and is now home to a number of thriving businesses and landmarks including BALTIC Centre For Contemporary Art, Sage Gateshead and the ever-popular Quayside Market as well as the world's first and only tilting bridge, Gateshead Millenium Bridge - not to mention a selection of pubs, bars and restaurants on the Quayside itself.

NewcastleGateshead Quayside

Is there anything you ever wanted to know about the history of Newcastle and Gateshead? Have you some historic facts or images to share with us? Tweet us at @altweet_pet

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