So Thats Why Its Called!

Origins of (the) New Castle upon Tyne

By Graham Dodds

In 122 AD Publius Aelius Hadrianus (the Emperor Hadrian) ordered the construction of a great defensive wall to "Separate the Barbarians from the Romans". Named in the Emperors honour, Hadrian's Wall stretched around 80 miles across the country, from the present day Wallsend in the east to Bowness-on-Solway near Carlisle in the west. The wall took 4 years to complete.

As part of the Roman road network a bridge was built across the Tyne on the site of the present day Swing Bridge. It was named Pons Aeilus in honour of the Emperor Hadrian (Pons being the Latin for bridge and Aeilus being the Emperors family name) and comprised seven stone piers joined by a timber roadway.

To the north of the bridge, on the steep bank overlooking the Tyne, the Romans built a fort to protect the bridge and, because of its close proximity to the bridge, this also became known as Pons Aeilus. It was still known by its Roman name long after the Roman legions had left.


During Anglo-Saxon times the area of Pons Aeilus was used as a Christian cemetery, probably part of a small monastic settlement on the site of the Roman fortress, which gave the area its name of Monkchester. However, this was wiped out by Danish invaders in 876. For the next 200 years there is no historical mention of any habitation in or around Monkchester.


In 1069 William the Conqueror carried out the "Harrying of the North" in response to Northern uprisings. This left much of the country between York and Newcastle desolate, with the inhabitants massacred and crops and buildings destroyed, including Monkchester which was once again levelled to prevent it being used as a base for Northern opposition.

The new castle

1080 saw Robert Curthose, the eldest son of William the Conqueror, establish a wooden castle with earthworks on the site of Pons Aeilus as a strategic outpost against the Scots and the rebellious locals. This was known as (the) New Castle upon Tyne. The wooden structure was rebuilt in stone by William's second son William Rufus in 1087.

The Anglo-Norman stone castle

[The castle keep at Newcastle]

The castle keep
Click to see a larger image

During the reign of Henry II, the castle was rebuilt again by Maurice "the engineer" Caementarius in 1172, at a cost of £1144. Much of the present day keep dates from that period, though it was repaired on many occasions during the 19th Century, and in the 1970s - 1980s a lot of the exterior stonework was replaced. The keep was built on the highest area of land, towards the west of the castle, to defend the weakest point on the walls from attack.

A barbican was a later addition, built in 1250 to protect the north gate, at a cost of over £500 by Henry III. This was later to be known as the Black Gate and, like the keep, still stands today, although the upvc double glazed windows are a modern addition!


In 1265 Newcastle was granted permission to construct town walls to protect the growing city from Scottish raids and, once complete, the walls stretched for over 2 miles and were around 25 feet high and 7 feet thick. The walls had 7 gates and 19 towers. The castle, which was enclosed by the city walls, fell into disrepair because it was no longer needed for defence.

The walls were used for defence against the Scots during the 14th century, in the 1640s during the Civil War, were strengthened during the Jacobite rising of 1745 and, during the Napoleonic wars, were once again repaired and garrisoned. However, once the threat of invasion was over, the walls quickly fell into disrepair and were demolished to make way for Newcastle's expansion. Today, like the Keep and the Black Gate some sections of the wall still exist.

Materials used

Clarke collection:
Collingwood, B.J. The three bridges, Roman, Mediaeval and modern (1872)
Clarke 1343

Charleton, R.J History of Newcastle upon Tyne: from its earliest records to its formation as a city (1875)
Clarke 283

Graham, F. Historic Newcastle (1970)
Clarke 288

Knowles, W.H. The Castle, Newcastle upon Tyne (1926)
Clarke 350

Northumberland and Newcastle Society, Walls of Newcastle upon Tyne (1951)
Clarke 349

Ordinary book stock, level 3:
Simpson, D. Millennium history of North East England (1999)
942.8 SIM

Local Illustrations Collection