Notes: The Castle Keep is located at the heart of Newcastle-upon-Tyne near the Tyne Bridge. Parking (pay and display) is available throughout the city with some in immediate proximity to the Keep itself.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
An impressive medieval Castle Keep which houses a small museum. Access to the parapets is possible giving spectacular views over the surrounding area. The impressive Black Gate, some bailey walls and the city defensive walls are also visible albeit the latter is mostly limited to the western side.
1. The Roman Fort was known as Pons Aelius - 'Bridge of Aelius' named after the then Emperor Hadrian whose family name was Aelius.
2. The garrison of Pons Aelius, at least in the latter days of Roman Britain, was the Cohors I Cornoviorum - a unit raised from near the Welsh border.
3. During the reign of Henry IV Newcastle became a county in its own right. However the Castle remained part of Northumberland and regularly hosted legal courts for that county.
Originally built by the Romans as the eastern terminus of Hadrian’s Wall, Newcastle Castle was known as Pons Aelius; a name taken from the first bridge over the River Tyne which it had been built to protect. The latter Norman Keep was constructed by Henry II and witnessed several Scottish attacks.
HISTORY OF NEWCASTLE CASTLE
Given its prominent position it is possible that an Iron Age fort existed and later a first century Roman Fort may have existed on or near the site of the current castle. However, the first confirmed fortification was an unusually small Roman fort built around AD 120 to protect and defend their bridge over the River Tyne. Known by them as Pons Aelius it was initially constructed to be the eastern terminus of Hadrian’s Wall although this changed within a few years of construction starting - instead the Wall was extended onto Wallsend. Nevertheless Pons Aelius formed part of the northern frontier between AD 122-138 and, after the adoption and abandonment of the Antonine Wall, between AD 160-410. It is not known for certain, but strongly suspected, that the Military Road running to the south of the Wall connected Pons Aelius to the rest of the frontier zone. The fort was significantly upgraded by Emperor Septimius Severus, who campaigned in Britain between AD 208-11, and made extensive modifications to the frontier zone at the time. The fort was abandoned after the departure of the Romans although it was seemingly being used as a cemetery by the eighth century.
The Normans founded a castle on the site in 1080 which gave the city it's name; the 'new' castle. Built by Robert Curthose, the eldest son of William the Conqueror, it was a motte-and-bailey structure built in a corner of the original Roman fort. Nothing remains above ground and it is not known if the tower on the motte was timber or stone. Passing into the hands of Robert de Mowbray, Earl of Northumbria the castle was taken by William II (William Rufus) following a rebellion by the Earl. Newcastle remained a Royal property thereafter and was significantly rebuilt by Henry II between 1168-78 albeit with interruptions in 1173 and 1174 when attacked by the Scots. Henry, who had come to the throne in 1154, inherited a Kingdom that was emerging from civil war (the Anarchy) between his mother, Queen Matilda, and uncle, King Stephen. Henry needed a network of fortresses to stamp his authority across England and Newcastle - along with others such as Dover, Orford, Nottingham and Scarborough - performed this function. The impressive outer gate - Black Gate - was built by his Henry III, his grandson, between 1247-50.
In the fourteenth century the Newcastle town walls were built which enclosed the castle within the perimeter. This reduced the need for the structure and it was ultimately allowed to drift into ruin. Nevertheless it was serviceable enough to act as a Royalist stronghold during the Civil War; repaired and upgraded by Sir John Marley, Mayor of Newcastle it was besieged by Scottish forces, acting in conjunction with the English Parliament, in 1644. After a three month siege the castle surrendered in October 1644. Thereafter the castle's military use ceased. It was used a prison until efforts at restoration started in the eighteenth century. In an act that possibly saved it from falling foul of the construction of the later railway, Newcastle Corporation bought the Keep in 1810.