A brief history of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne

Despite Newcastle-Upon-Tyne being strongly associated with the industrial revolution of the 19th century, the Romans were the first to build in the area. Being at the eastern end of Hadrians Wall, in 122 AD the Romans realised the importance of having a fort at the point where the River Tyne could be crossed and where the wall ended. The site of the fort, known as Pons Aelius, eventually became the same place on which the settlement that became Newcastle-Upon-Tyne was founded.

After the Romans left Britain, there is only scarce evidence of inhabitation of the area during Saxon times. However, following the Norman conquest of England in the 11th Century the strategic importance of the River Tynes crossing point and its potential as a port was again realised. So it was, in 1080, that William the Conquerors son, Robert, was dispatched north to build a new wooden fort on the old roman site. Hence a New Castle was built! During the next 200 years the castle, its fortifications and city walls developed allowing Newcastle to become a thriving provincial settlement. Merchants and traders in fish, cloth, sheep, coal and, of course, wool could all be found in Newcastle at that time. Trade was so good that in 1216 the town was granted a Royal charter enabling it to elect its own Mayor. In 1400, as Newcastle grew even more, it was allowed to have its own sheriff and became a county.

By the 16th century Newcastle had become the major town of the North East. It controlled the important shipping traffic on the River Tyne, from which it exported its greatest asset - coal. In the early 17th century England was in the middle of an economic slump as the price of wool plummeted. Newcastle, with its vast reserves of and expertise in mining coal, continued to thrive. The port at Newcastle on the River Tyne allowed it to expand its trade in coal by over 1000%. The first recorded reference of the saying "to take coals to Newcastle" - meaning to make a wasted journey - was in 1538.

With a population of about 10,000, the English civil war of the mid-seventeenth century briefly slowed down the economic growth of the town. Newcastle declared itself for the Royalist cause and was under siege for three months. It is said, but difficult to establish for certain, that during the civil war King Charles I gave Newcastle its motto; "Fortier Defendit Triumphans", which means "Triumphing by a bold defence". Unfortunately the truth is that Newcastle fell to the Parliamentarian forces, which were mainly Scottish mercenaries.

Newcastle quickly recovered and by 1665 had the fifth largest population, behind London, Bristol, Norwich and York. The wealth generated by the coal industry helped other trades to develop such as iron, glass and salt industries. At the beginning of the 18th century the town became a regional centre and was able to complete its development with an assay office and the first branch of Carrs Bank outside of London. With the population rising to 20,000 the writer Daniel Defoe commented that whilst Newcastle might seem a prosperous town there was " ..... a prodigious number of poor in Newcastle." By the end of the 18th century the richer inhabitants of Newcastle were leaving the squalor of being inside the city wall for what eventually grew into the suburbs of Newcastle.

In the 19th century the industrial revolution really took off. A benefit of this was that the money generated for the town led to the city centre being rebuilt in the 1830s. Industries long associated with Newcastle that began during this time include the Armstrong shipyard, Swan electrics and Parsons turbines. The famous Newcastle Swing Bridge was opened in 1876 to aid shipping up and down the river, to further increase the export of its goods. Between 1850 and 1910 the population of Newcastle rose from below 90,000 to over 260,000 and it was in 1882 that the town of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne became a city.

Between the two world wars, Newcastle suffered massively in the depression with coal, ship-building and heavy engineering all declining. In 1936 the Jarrow marchers set off for London from across the River Tyne. The end of the Second World War did not see the fortunes of Newcastle restored, as along with the rest of the UK, it lost more and more of its manufacturing capability. Whilst some of the traditional industries have survived, with its status as a regional centre, Newcastle has been able to develop a thriving retail and service industry base.

Today, as with many other cities, Newcastle is again re-inventing itself with improved transport links, Quayside developments, shopping malls, new housing and cultural opportunities. All in all this means that Newcastle retains its place as a major UK city. The term Geordie is often associated with people living in the North east of England and Newcastle especially. Geordie should only be applied to someone born in Newcastle or Gateshead and within site of the River Tyne. Geordie is simply a familial diminutive of George. Geordies will often refer to Newcastle simply as the Toon.

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