Newcastle upon Tyne

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Newcastle upon Tyne
Bridges opening up - - 178375.jpg
View across to Newcastle from the Baltic Art Centre
Grid reference: NZ249639
Location: 1°36’40"S, 54°58’12"E
Post town: Newcastle
Postcode: NE
Dialling code: 0191
Local Government
Council: Newcastle upon Tyne
Newcastle upon Tyne Central

Newcastle upon Tyne East
Newcastle upon Tyne North

Newcastle upon Tyne (often shortened to Newcastle) is a city in Northumberland standing on the north bank of the River Tyne. It is one of Britain's major cities and the centre of a conurbation streading across much of south-eastern Northumberland and the north-east of County Durham.

The city developed in the area that was the location of the Roman settlement called ‘’Pons Aelius’’,[1][2] though it owes its name to the castle built in 1080, by Robert II, Duke of Normandy, the eldest son of William the Conqueror. The city grew as an important centre for the wool trade and it later became a major coal mining area. The port developed in the 16th century and, along with the shipyards lower down the river, was amongst the world's largest shipbuilding and ship-repairing centres. These industries have since experienced severe decline and closure, and the city today is largely a business and cultural centre, with a particular reputation for nightlife.

Newcastle is a distinctive city, separated from the main conurbations to develop its own culture. Its main icons are perhaps more mundane; Newcastle Brown Ale, Newcastle United FC and the Tyne Bridge. It has hosted the world's most popular half marathon, the Great North Run, since it began in 1981.[3]

Like most cities, Newcastle has a diverse cross section, from areas of wealth to those of poverty. The conurbation of which Newcastle forms the core is the sixth most populous conurbation in the United Kingdom.[4]

The regional nickname for a man from Newcastle or the surrounding area is "Geordie", a name given also to the local dialect.



The first settlement in what is now Newcastle was Pons Aelius, a Roman fort and bridge across the River Tyne, given the family name of the Roman Emperor Hadrian who founded it in the 2nd century AD. The population of Pons Aelius at this period was estimated at 2,000. Hadrian's Wall is still visible in parts of Newcastle, particularly along the West Road. The course of Hadrian's Wall can also be traced eastwards to the Segedunum Roman fort in Wallsend (as its name suggests) and to the supply fort of Arbeia in South Shields. Hadrian's Wall stretched 73 miles, from the North Sea to the Solway Firth.

Anglo-Saxon and Norman

Newcastle Castle Keep, the city's oldest structure

Some generations after the Roman retreat from Britain, completed in 410, Newcastle became part of the powerful Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, and became known throughout this period as Monkchester.[5] The town suffered from the wars with the Danes and Norse.

The lands north of the Tyne were devastated by Odo of Bayeux after the 1080 rebellion against the Normans, and Monkchester was all but destroyed. Because of its strategic position, Robert Curthose, son of William the Conqueror, erected a wooden castle there in the year 1080 and the town was henceforth known as Novum Castellum or New Castle.

Middle Ages

Throughout the Middle Ages, Newcastle was England's northern fortress. Incorporated first by Henry II, a new charter was granted by Elizabeth in 1589.[6] A 25-foot high stone wall was built around the town in the 13th century, to defend it from invaders during the Border wars against Scotland. The Scots king William the Lion was imprisoned in Newcastle in 1174, and Edward I brought the Stone of Scone and William Wallace south through the town. Newcastle was successfully defended against the Scots three times during the 14th century, and was given its own sheriff by Henry IV in 1400.

16th to 19th century

From a royal monopoly was granted to the town, which forbade all shipments of coal along that part of the coast except from Newcastle; a valuable monopoly in the coal trade guarded by the Newcastle burgesses known as the Hostmen of Newcastle upon Tyne. This monopoly, which lasted for a considerable time, helped Newcastle prosper, but it had its impact on the growth of near-neighbours Sunderland, causing a rivalry with the towns by the Wear which still exists. In the Sandgate area, to the east of the city and beside the river, resided the close-knit community of keelmen and their families. They were so called because they worked on the keels, boats that were used to transfer coal from the river banks to the waiting colliers, for export to London and elsewhere. In 1636 about 7,000 out of 20,000 inhabitants of Newcastle died of plague.[7]

Newcastle shipping

During the English Civil War, Newcastle supported the king and in 1644 the city was besieged for many months, then stormed ('with roaring drummes') and sacked by Cromwell's Scottish allies, based in pro-Parliament Sunderland. The grateful King bestowed the motto "Fortiter Defendit Triumphans" ("Triumphing by a brave defence") upon the town. Ironically, Charles was imprisoned in Newcastle by the Scots in 1646-7.

In the 18th century, Newcastle was the country's largest print centre after London, Oxford and Cambridge and the Literary and Philosophical Society of 1793, with its erudite debates and large stock of books in several languages, predated the London Library by half a century. Newcastle also became a glass producer with a reputation for brilliant flint glass.[8]

Newcastle by William Miller in 1832

Newcastle's development as a major city, however, owed most to its central role in the export of coal. The phrase taking coals to Newcastle was first recorded in 1538. In the 19th century, shipbuilding and heavy engineering were central to the city's prosperity; and the city was a powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution. Innovation in Newcastle and surrounding areas included the development of safety lamps, Stephenson's Rocket, Lord Armstrong's artillery, Be-Ro flour, Joseph Swan's electric light bulbs, and Charles Parsons' invention of the steam turbine, which led to the revolution of marine propulsion and the production of affordable electricity.


The ground beneath Newcasle upon Tyne is formed from carboniferous strata of the Middle Pennine Coal Measures Group; a suite of sandstones, mudstones and coal seams which generally dip moderately eastwards. To the west of the city are the Upper Pennine Coal Measures and further west again the sandstones and mudstones of the Stainmore Formation, the local equivalent of the Millstone Grit.[9]

The town

Side, a street in Newcastle near the Tyne Bridge

In large parts, Newcastle still retains a mediaeval street layout. Narrow alleys or 'chares', most of which can only be traversed by foot, still exist in abundance, particularly around the riverside. Stairs from the riverside to higher parts of the city centre and the extant Castle Keep, originally recorded in the 14th century, remain in places. Close, Sandhill and Quayside contain modern buildings as well as structures dating from the 15th-18th centuries, including Bessie Surtees House, the Cooperage and Lloyds Quayside Bars, Derwentwater House and the currently unused Grade I-listed 16th century merchant's house at 28-30 Close.

The city has an extensive neoclassical centre referred to as Tyneside Classical largely developed in the 1830s by Richard Grainger and John Dobson, and recently extensively restored. Broadcaster and writer Stuart Maconie described Newcastle as England's best-looking city[10][11] and Sir Nikolaus Pevsner describes Grey Street as one of the finest streets in England. Grey Street, which curves down from Grey's Monument towards the valley of the River Tyne, was voted as England's finest street in 2005 in a survey of BBC Radio 4 listeners.[12][13] A portion of Grainger Town was demolished in the 1960s to make way for the Eldon Square Shopping Centre, including all but one side of the original Eldon Square itself.

The main shopping street in the city is Northumberland Street. In a 2004 report, it was ranked as the most expensive shopping street in the United Kingdom for rent, outside of London.[14] Other shopping destinations in Newcastle include Grainger Street and the area around Grey's Monument, the relatively modern Eldon Garden and Monument Mall complexes, the Newgate Centre, Central Arcade and the traditional Grainger Market. Outside the city centre, the largest suburban shopping areas are Gosforth and Byker. The largest Tesco store in the United Kingdom is located in Kingston Park on the edge of Newcastle.[15]

Immediately to the northwest of the city centre is Leazes Park, established in 1873 after a petition by 3,000 working men of the city for "ready access to some open ground for the purpose of health and recreation". Just outside one corner of this is St James' Park, the stadium home of Newcastle United FC which dominates the view of the city from all directions.

Another green space in Newcastle is the Town Moor, lying immediately north of the city centre. It is larger than London's Hyde Park and Hampstead Heath put together and the freemen of the city have the right to graze cattle on it. Unlike other cities where similar rights exist, they often take advantage of this. The right incidentally extends to the pitch of St James' Park, Newcastle United's home ground, though this is not exercised, although the Freemen do collect rent for the loss of privilege.

The Hoppings funfair, said to be the largest travelling fair in Europe, is held here annually in June.

View of Newcastle City Centre from Gateshead

Exhibition Park in the south eastern corner contains the only remaining pavilion from the North East Coast Exhibition of 1929. Since the 1970s this has housed the Newcastle Military Vehicle Museum; this is closed until further notice because of structural problems with the building—originally a temporary structure.

The wooded gorge of the Ouseburn in the east of the city is known as Jesmond Dene and forms another popular recreation area, linked by Armstrong Park and Heaton Park to the Ouseburn Valley, where the river finally reaches the River Tyne.

Newcastle's thriving Chinatown lies in the north-west of Grainger Town, centred on Stowell Street. A new Chinese arch, or paifang, providing a landmark entrance, was handed over to the city with a ceremony in 2005.

The United Kingdom's first biotechnology village, the "Centre for Life" is located in the city centre close to the Central Station. The village is intended as the first step in the City Council's plans to transform Newcastle into a science city.[16]

360° panoramic shot taken from the top of the Keep

Quayside and bridges on the Tyne

Tyne Bridge and The Sage

The Tyne Gorge, between Newcastle on the north bank in Northumberland and Gateshead on the south bank in County Durham, is famous for a series of dramatic bridges, including the Tyne Bridge of 1928 which was built by Dorman Long of Middlesbrough, and Robert Stephenson's High Level Bridge of 1849, the first road/rail bridge in the world.

Large-scale redevelopment has replaced former shipping premises with imposing new office developments; an innovative tilting bridge, the Gateshead Millennium Bridge was commissioned by Gateshead Council and has integrated the older Newcastle Quayside more closely with major cultural developments in Gateshead, including the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and The Sage Gateshead music centre. The Newcastle and Gateshead Quaysides are now a thriving, cosmopolitan area with bars, restaurants and public spaces. As a tourist promotion, Newcastle and Gateshead have linked together under the banner "NewcastleGateshead", to spearhead the regeneration of the North-East. The River Tyne had the temporary Bambuco Bridge in 2008 for ten days; it was not made for walking, road or cycling, but was just a sculpture.

Newcastle Quayside: the Tyne Salmon Cubes

Grainger Town

Grey's Monument closeup
Georgian architecture around the Monument

The historic heart of Newcastle is the Grainger Town area. Established on classical streets built by Richard Grainger, a builder and developer, between 1835 and 1842, some of Newcastle upon Tyne's finest buildings and streets lie within this area of the city centre including Grainger Market, Theatre Royal, Grey Street, Grainger Street and Clayton Street. These buildings are predominately four storeys, with vertical dormers, domes, turrets and spikes. Richard Grainger's achievements echoed Augustus as he was said to 'have found Newcastle of bricks and timber and left it in stone'. Of Grainger Towns 450 buildings, 244 are listed, of which 29 are grade I and 49 are grade II*.

Grey's Monument which stands beside Monument Metro Station, was designed and built by Edward Hodges Baily and Benjamin Green. Hodges, who also built the Nelson's Column, designed and built the statue. The monument plinth was designed and built by Benjamin Green.

The development of the city in the 1960s and 1970s saw the demolition of part of Grainger Town as a prelude to the modernist rebuilding initiatives of T Dan Smith, the leader of Newcastle City Council. A corruption scandal was uncovered involving Smith and John Poulson, a property developer, and both were jailed. Echoes of the scandal were revisited in the late 1990s in the BBC TV mini-series, Our Friends in the North.[17]


St Nicholas' Cathedral from the Castle

The Diocese of Newcastle was created out of the Diocese of Durham in 1882 and the Church of St Thomas was designated as its cathedral church.

The Cathedral Church of St Nicholas, Newcastle Cathedral, was built towards the end of the twelfth century, replacing an earlier parish church of the same dedication. When Robert of Normandy, William the Conqueror’s eldest son, had built the castle in 1080, the first parish church was built, to be replaced within a century by the current church, built on the same site. Over the next centuries it was expanded and the walls raised. An elegant lantern tower was added in 1474. By the time it was created a cathedral in 1882, St Nicholas was one of the largest parish churches in the land.

Newcastle now has three cathedrals of different denominations: The Cathedral Church of St Nicholas (Church of England), the Roman Catholic St Mary's Cathedral, designed by Augustus Welby Pugin and the Coptic Cathedral in Fenham.[18]

Another prominent church in the city centre is the Church of St Thomas the Martyr, close by the cathedral. One of the largest evangelical Anglican churches in the United Kingdom is Jesmond Parish Church, situated a little to the north of the city centre.

Newcastle was a prominent centre of the Plymouth Brethren movement up to the 1950s and some small congregations still function. Among these are at the Hall, Denmark Street and Gospel Hall, St Lawrence.



The dialect of Newcastle is known as "Geordie", and contains a large amount of vocabulary and distinctive word pronunciations not used in other parts of the United Kingdom. The Geordie dialect has much of its origins in the original Anglo-Saxon dialects of Northumbria, separated by force or distance from their brethren further south. While the dialects of other English regions have been heavily altered by the influences of other foreign languages, in particular Norman French, the Geordie dialect retains many older elements. Furthermore, its pronunciation has not undergone the “Great Vowel Shift” of the Middle Ages, so in Newcastle as in the Scots language vowels are pronounced much as they would have been in the early Middle Ages. Consequently, while in “Standard English” the spoken language is markedly divergent from the spelling of the written language, Geordie pronunciation is closer to the way English is spelled.

An example of this is the pronunciation of certain words: "dead", "cow", "house" and "strong" are pronounced as would be written in thwe south "dede", "coo", "hoos" and "strang", which is how they were pronounced in Old English. Other Geordie words with Anglo-Saxon origins include: "larn" (from the Anglo-Saxon "laeran", meaning "teach"), "burn" ("stream") and "gan" ("go").[19] "Bairn" meaning "child" is like the Old English ‘’bearn’’ and "hyem" meaning "home" is klike the Norwegian "hjem".

Some words used in the Geordie dialect are used elsewhere in North Britain: "bonny" (meaning "pretty"), "howay" ("come on"), "stot" ("bounce") and "hadaway" ("go away" or "you're kidding"), all appear to be used in Scottish dialect; "aye" ("yes") and "nowt" are used elsewhere in northern England.

Many words, however, appear to be used exclusively in Newcastle and the surrounding area, such as "Canny" (a versatile word meaning "good", "nice" or "very"), "bait" ("food"), "hacky" ("dirty"), "netty" ("toilet"), "hoy" ("throw"), "hockle" ("spit").[20]


Grey Street with Theatre Royal

The city has a proud history of theatre. Stephen Kemble of the famous Kemble family successfully managed the original Theatre Royal, Newcastle for fifteen years (1791–1806). He brought members of his famous acting family such as Sarah Siddons and John Kemble out of London to Newcastle. Stephen Kemble guided the Theatre through many celebrated seasons. The original Theatre Royal was opened on 21 January 1788 and was located on Mosley Street, next to Drury Lane.

The city still contains many theatres. The largest, the Theatre Royal on Grey Street, first opened in 1837, designed by John and Benjamin Green. It has hosted a season of performances from the Royal Shakespeare Company for over 25 years, as well as touring productions of West End musicals.[21] The Journal Tyne Theatre hosts smaller touring productions, whilst other venues feature local talent. Northern Stage, formally known as the Newcastle Playhouse and Gulbenkian Studio, hosts various local, national and international productions in addition to those produced by the Northern Stage company.[22] Other theatres in the city include the Live Theatre, the People's Theatre, the Round and the Jubilee Theatre. NewcastleGateshead was voted in 2006 as the arts capital of the United Kingdom in a survey conducted by the Artsworld TV channel.[23]


Newcastle has a strong reputation as a poetry centre. The Morden Tower, run by poet Tom Pickard is a major venue for poetry readings in the North East, being the place where Basil Bunting gave the first reading of Briggflatts in 1965.[24]

Festivals and fairs

The arch to Chinatown, opposite St. James' Park
  • In February, Newcastle's Chinatown is at the centre of a carnival of colour and noise as the city celebrates the Chinese New Year.
  • In early March there is the NewcastleGateshead Comedy Festival, this event makes a return to the region since the last event in 2006, it is hoped it will now continue as an annual event.[25]
  • The Newcastle Science Festival, now called Newcastle ScienceFest returns annually in early March.[26]
  • The Newcastle Beer Festival, organised by CAMRA, takes place in April.[27]
  • In May, Newcastle and Gateshead host the Evolution Festival, a music festival held on the Newcastle and Gateshead Quaysides over the Spring bank holiday, with performances by acts from the world of Rock, Indie and Dance music.[28]
  • The biennial AV Festival of international electronic art, featuring exhibitions, concerts, conferences and film screenings, is held in March. The North East Art Expo, a festival of art and design from the regions professional artists, is held in late May.[29]
  • EAT! NewcastleGateshead, a festival of food and drink, runs for 2 weeks each year in mid June.[30]
  • The Hoppings, reputedly the largest travelling fair in Europe, takes place on Newcastle Town Moor every June. The event has its origins in the Temperance Movement during the early 1880s and coincides with the annual race week at High Gosforth Park.[31]
  • Maker Faire UK, a festival of home-made gadgets, has been held in Newcastle in March
  • Newcastle Community Green Festival, which claims to be the United Kingdom's biggest free community environmental festival, also takes place every June, in Leazes Park.[32] The Northern Rock Cyclone, a cycling festival, takes place within, or starting from, Newcastle in June.[33]
  • The Ouseburn Festival, a family oriented weekend festival near the city centre, incorporating a "Family Fun Day" and "Carnival Day", is held in late July.[34]

Newcastle Mela, held on the late August bank holiday weekend, is an annual two-day Multiculturalism|multicultural event, blending drama, music and food from Punjabi, Pakistani, Bengali and Hindu cultures.[35]

  • Newcastle and Gateshead also hold an annual International Arts Fair.
  • The SAMA Festival, an East Asian cultural festival is also held in early October.[36]

Museums and galleries

There are several museums and galleries in Newcastle, including the Centre for Life, Discovery Museum, the Hancock Museum|Great North Museum, Gallagher & Turner Gallery, the Laing Art Gallery, The Biscuit Factory (a commercial gallery) and the Newburn Hall Motor Museum.

In film

The 1971 film Get Carter was shot on location in and around Newcastle and offers an opportunity to see what Newcastle looked like in the 1960s and early 1970s.[37] The city was also backdrop to another gangster film, the 1988 film noir thriller Stormy Monday, directed by Mike Figgis and starring Tommy Lee Jones, Melanie Griffith, Sting and Sean Bean.[38]

More recently the city has been the setting for films based around football; films such as Purely Belter,[39] The One and Only[40] and Goal![41] have all been focused around Tyneside. The comedy School for Seduction starring Kelly Brook was also filmed in Newcastle.[42]

The Bollywood film Hum Tum Aur Ghost was shot on location in Newcastle's city centre and features key scenes in and around Grainger Town.[43]



  1. Roman Britain Pons Aelius - 'The Aelian Bridge'
  2. GoogleBooks George Patrick Welch, Britannia, the Roman Conquest and Occupation of Britain, Wesleyan University Press, 1963
  3. "Great North Run". BBC Sport. 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-10-01. 
  4. Pointer, Graham, The United Kingdom's Major Urban Areas at, Retrieved on 2007-04-08
  5. British History Historical Account of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Eneas Mackenzie, 1827. Date accessed: 24 November 2008
  6. Newbottle - Newcastle-upon-Tyne British History Online - retrieved 18 August 2009
  7. Plague. 11th Edition Encyclopædia Britannica.
  8. "Glass (N) - Encylopedia Of Antiques". 1994-12-02. Retrieved 2010-08-04. 
  9. Bedrock Geology UK North, 1:625,000 scale geological map published by British Geological Survey
  10. Stuart Maconie (2008-02-08). "Stuart Maconie reveals..why it's great up North..". Daily Mirror (Trinity Mirror). Retrieved 2008-07-04. "Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle remain, bolder brighter and more beautiful than ever. You can't move in Manchester for boutique hotels, Leeds has got a Harvey Nichols and Newcastle is now the best-looking city in England." 
  11. Maconie, Stuart (February 2007). Pies and Prejudice. Ebury Press. ISBN 9780091910228. 
  12. "Around Tyne. Grey Street". BBC. 2007-12-13. Retrieved 2008-07-09. "Grey Street in Newcastle was voted the best street in Britain by Radio 4 listeners." 
  13. "Good Case Study - Grey Street, Newcastle upon Tyne". BBC radio 4. Retrieved 2008-07-09. "Said by many to be amongst the greatest streets in 'England if not Europe', this gently curving and rising street has been 'sensitively restored and improved in the last decade'." 
  14. "Fifth Avenue tops shops rich list". BBC News ( 2004-10-26. Retrieved 2006-12-19. 
  15. "The continued rise of Tesco non-food". BBC News ( 2007-01-16. Retrieved 2008-01-19. 
  16. "Newcastle Science City". Newcastle Science Retrieved 2007-04-08. 
  17. Flannery, Peter. Retrospective - An interview with the creators of the series. Included as a bonus feature on the Our Friends in the North DVD release. (BMG DVD 74321 941149).
  18. "Coptic Orthodox Faith Contacts - North East Religious Learning Resources Centre". Retrieved 2010-08-04. 
  19. "North East dialect origins and the meaning of 'Geordie'". Retrieved 2008-02-05. 
  20. "Newcastle English ("Geordie") – Vocabulary". Retrieved 2008-02-05. 
  21. "History". Theatre Royal. Retrieved 2007-09-21. 
  22. "Curtain rises at new city theatre". BBC News. 25 August 2006. Retrieved 2007-08-12. 
  23. "North East voted 'arts capital'". BBC News. 29 December 2006. Retrieved 2007-08-18. 
  24. "Morden Tower Home Page". Retrieved 2010-08-04. 
  25. "About The Festival". Retrieved 2008-01-20. 
  26. "Newcastle Science Festival - Home". Retrieved 2010-08-04. 
  27. "Beer Festival". Retrieved 2008-01-20. 
  28. "Evolution Festival 2009". Retrieved 2008-01-20. 
  29. "". Retrieved 2010-08-04. 
  30. "Food Festival". Retrieved 2008-01-20. 
  31. "Town Moor Hoppings" (PDF). September 2004. Retrieved 2008-01-20. 
  32. "History Of The Festival". Retrieved 2008-01-20. 
  33. "What is it?". Retrieved 2008-01-20. 
  34. "Ouseburn Festival home page". Retrieved 2008-01-25. 
  35. "What is the Mela ?". Retrieved 2008-01-25. 
  36. "NewcastleGateshead 6–12 October 2008". SAMA Festival. 2008-07-24. Retrieved 2010-08-04. 
  37. "Tinseltoon: Get Carter". Newcastle: BBC. Retrieved 2010-07-04. 
  38. "Stormy Monday - Sting". Sting. Retrieved 2010-07-04. 
  39. "Tinseltoon: Purely Belter". Retrieved 2010-07-04. 
  40. "The one and only". The Journal. Retrieved 2010-07-04. 
  41. "Hollywood on Tyne". BBC. 2004. Retrieved 2010-07-04. 
  42. "School For Seduction". BBC. 2004. Retrieved 2010-07-04. 
  43. Mahmood, Shabnam (2010-03-25). "Newcastle makes Bollywood impact". BBC. Retrieved 2010-07-04. 


  • Tyneside: A History of Newcastle and Gateshead from Earliest Times, Alistair Moffat and George Rosie, Mainstream Publishing (10 Nov 2005), ISBN 1-84596-013-0
  • History of Northumberland and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Leslie W. Hepple, Phillimore & Co Ltd (1976), ISBN 0-85033-245-1

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