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Brief History of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK’s Friendliest City


A condensed version of the history of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, often dubbed “the United Kingdom’s friendliest city.” This post on Newcastle’s history and historical timeline dates from the early days during the Roman Empire’s rule through to the last century.

Updated: 2018-05-06.
Newcastle has often been termed the ‘friendliest’ city in the United Kingdom, but it is not just the hospitable nature of the native Geordies that Newcastle can boast to its name, but also its rich and cultural history. From the Roman Empire’s influences to old castle keeps and Georgian architecture, there is much to be discovered.

Newcastle’s story begins with the Romans, who saw the area by the river Tyne as useful for their military purposes in 122 AD, and thus built a bridge and fort called ‘Pons Aelius’. This was an extension of the infamous ‘Hadrian’s Wall’ – a wall built from one side of the UK to the other by the Romans in order to act as a defense. It is still possible to visit sections of Hadrian’s Wall nearby to Newcastle, and also to visit the Segedunum Roman Fort museum in Wallsend which has some intriguing ruins.

Quayside of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, UK
Quayside of Newcastle. Taken by Flickr user Wilka Hudson.

Little else is known until the Romans left in the early 5th century, followed by the occupation of the area by Saxons and later, the Norman Conquest (during which time the city was given its name ‘Newcastle’). Evidence of this period in the city’s history still remains in the form of the existing castle keep (1172-77), the Black Gate (1247) and the town walls (1200’s/1300’s). All of these are still nestled amongst the rest of the city’s hustle and bustle making for an interesting contrast to the modern buildings surrounding them.

During the 1800’s much of Newcastle’s stunning architecture was created by the workmanship of Richard Grainger, John Dobson, John Clayton, Thomas Oliver and many other architects. The current Theatre Royal, Grey Street and many other beautiful buildings, date from this period. Grey Street itself was recently voted the ‘best street in the UK’ – even over London’s Regent Street! Not only this, but ‘Grey’s Column’ that proudly oversees Grey Street was a preceding project by the same man (John Dobson) that later was behind the famous Nelson’s Column in London’s Trafalgar Square.

During this century the industrial revolution also served the city well. Newcastle was home to the birth of locomotives as we know them – thanks to the Stephenson’s. Keen transport enthusiasts may want to go to the Stephenson Railway Museum in North Shields. Locomotives aside, Newcastle was also renowned for its place in the shipbuilding industry and many other industrial enterprises, for example in steam turbines and electricity supplies. Due to such a boom in industry, Newcastle’s population grew by almost triple between 1851 and 1911 from 87,784 people to 266,671. It was in 1882 that Newcastle was given its city status.

Throughout the 1900’s Newcastle-upon-Tyne became a shopping centre in the local region with the opening of several malls and high-end shops. During the latter part of the 20th Century, Newcastle has done much to upkeep its cultural and historical standards and there have been many regeneration schemes to improve it further. As is, Newcastle is full of culture from museums, theatres and parks through to hosting inner city fashion weeks and quayside music festivals. Also, much of contemporary Newcastle stems from earlier moments in its history such as the old Baltic flour mill being converted into a multi-purpose art gallery.

Newcastle is rich in history which can be seen in all corners of this memorable and captivating Northern city that welcomes all and any visitors to its enchanting streets. 

Bethan Newman is an English girl trundling through life and jaunting to places the world over.

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