Blackfriars History

Once one of the largest friaries in the country, Blackfriars is the only remaining medieval friary in the city and one of Newcastle’s oldest surviving buildings. The Blackfriars occupied the site from the early 13th century until 1539.

The Dominican Order was founded by St Dominic in Italy in 1216 and arrived in England in 1221. Here its followers became known as the Blackfriars. This nickname referred to the black cloaks that Dominican Friars wore over their white tunics.

The Friars were part of a new monastic movement that focused on teaching and preaching in the cities. They were highly educated and excellent preachers. Dominican Friars relied on the charity of people and tended to have more modest monasteries, which were called friaries, than many older monastic orders, such as the Benedictine Monks who lived at Tynemouth Priory.

The original friary was built around 1239 on land that was said to have been donated by three pious sisters, though their names have sadly been forgotten. The building was destroyed by fire in 1248. Two years later the present building was built to replace it and was paid for by Sir Peter Scott, the first mayor of Newcastle and his son Nicholas. The scale and extravagance of the building drew criticism from the general chapter of the Dominican Order and as a consequence the Prior (the head) of Newcastle’s Blackfriars was removed from his post.

In the later 13th century the Town Wall was built through the Friary’s land on the other side of Stowell. In 1280 the Blackfriars were granted the right to make a gate through the wall so they could access the garden on the other side. The blocked up gate can still be seen (the best preserved section of) the Town Wall on Back Stowell Street, behind Chinatown.

Henry V111’s second act of suppression. The Suppression of Religious Houses Act 1539, caused the dissolution of the larger monasteries. At Blackfriars the church was demolished an the rest of the buildings were put into use as meeting rooms for nine craft guilds.

Many of the guilds continued to use the upper floors until the nineteenth century.

The ground floor was used as almshouses for the poor where people lived until 1961. By then the buildings were severely neglected and demolition was a possibility. A campaign to save the buildings resulted in the Newcastle Corporation (now Newcastle City Council) acquiring Blackfriars in the 1960s and subsequently restoring them between 1975 and 1981.

Life in a medieval town could be violent and the friars were not always isolated from this. For example, in 1341 they had to ask the King for the right to rebuild their gates because they had been broken down during a riot in the town. The riot was caused by a fight between the people of Newcastle and certain men of the county of Northumberland. However it seems that not all of the friars lived up to the high ideals of the Order and were not always on the receiving end of such violent behaviour. In 1345 for example, Edward 111 pardoned one of the friars, Adam de Alnwyk, for is part in the death of a local townsman, John de Denton, while in 1390 Richard 11 had to prevent the bestowing of a civic honour on some of the friars because of their misconduct and lack of religious dedication.

In towns, large and important friaries like Blacere quite popular among wealthy people as places to stay. Over the years Blackfriars received numerous royal and noble visits, for which they were usually compensated.

Clayton Street

Clayton Street Heritage Panel
Clayton Street Heritage Panel

The centre of Newcastle was largely rebuilt in a neoclassical style by the combined efforts of the builder, developer and entrepreneur Richard Grainger, the architect John Dobson and the Town Clerk John Clayton.  Clayton Street was completed in 1841 and was the final part of this grand scheme for town improvements.

John Clayton was Town Clerk of Newcastle for 45 years and held numerous influential positions. He will be remembered for his part in the magnificent planning and rebuilding of Newcastle city centre.

The efforts of Richard Grainger and John Dobson could not have been realised without the influence, business sense and wealth of Clayton. He was keen archaeologist and his dedication to Hadrian’s Wall proved invaluable to its later preservation. He died worth three-quarters of a million, at his Chesters estate on Hadrian’s Wall.

Victoria Tunnel Heritage Panel

Heritage Panel Civic Centre
Heritage Panel Civic Centre

Near here in St Thomas’ Churchyard, and close by at Ridley Place, were two of the entrances to the Victoria Tunnel World War 2 air-raid shelter. Originally built by Victorian Mine owners, this masterpiece of engineering was used to transport coal to Newcastle’s Quayside. The tunnel is 2.5 miles long and is a Grade 2 Listed structure. At its deepest point, it is 26 metres below the surface.

Newcastle was a cradle for the coal-powered industrial revolution and by mid-19th century demand for coal was high.

Porter and Latimer, the owners of the Spital Tongues Colliery, needed to find a way to efficiently transport coal from their colliery to the Tyne where it could be loaded onto collier ships and distributed to their customers, far and wide.

They originally applied to build an overland wagon way that ran across the Town Moor, but the plan was strongly contested by the Freemen due to its potential impact. As an alternative the engineer in charge proposed an underground tunnel running from the Town Moor under the town to the Tyne. This was approved and building work began in 1839 with work completed in 1842. Once opened, loaded coal wagons went down the incline of the tunnel under their own weight and were drawn back to the colliery by a wire rope pulled by a 40 horse-power stationary steam engine sited near the pit head. The tunnel culminated at staiths near the mouth of the Ouseburn.

The tunnel was used as a means of coal transport for just eighteen years before it was closed in 1860.

From 1860 the tunnel remained disused until World War 2 when it was adapted for use as air-raid shelters. In 1939, Britain prepared for war. People were instructed to practise “Air Raid Precautions” to protect themselves from Nazi bombing raids. Initially it had been intended that there would be eighteen entrances to ease the crowds of people that would scamper for safety every time the sirens sounded warning or ariel attack. However, because of time constraints and engineering difficulties, only seven were completed. These entrances were situated at Claremont Road, Great North Museum, St Thomas’ Churchyard, Ridley Place, Shieldfield Green, Crawhall Road and Ouse Street.

To make the tunnel more habitable during air-raids adaptations were undertaken.
* A new concreted floor was laid with a drainage channel
* Electric lighting fittings were added
* The tunnel was stocked with hurricane lamps at various points in case the electricity failed
* Benches to seat up to 9,000 people
* Bunk-beds for at least 500 occupants
* Chemical toilets were installed in cubicles constructed form a wooden frame and covered by hessian.
* Parts of the tunnel were cleaned and whitewashed so that light could reflect.

Since World War 2 a section of the tunnel, running from Ellison Place to Queen Victoria Road, was converted into a sewer, whilst the section from the Great North Museum up to Spital Tongues was blocked off and remains unused. However one section, from an opening in Ouse Street through to New Bridge Street, has been preserved and is now open to visit through regular weekly tours or by pre-arranged special tours for groups of six or more.

Blackfriars

Once one of the largest friaries in the country, Blackfriars is the only remaining medieval friary in the city and one of Newcastle’s oldest surviving buildings. The Blackfriars occupied the site from the early 13th century until 1539.

The Dominican Order was founded by St Dominic in Italy in 1216 and arrived in England in 1221. Here its followers became known as the Blackfriars. This nickname referred to the black cloaks that Dominican Friars wore over their white tunics.

The Friars were part of a new monastic movement that focused on teaching and preaching in the cities. They were highly educated and excellent preachers. Dominican Friars relied on the charity of people and tended to have more modest monasteries, which were called friaries, than many older monastic orders, such as the Benedictine Monks who lived at Tynemouth Priory.

The original friary was built around 1239 on land that was said to have been donated by three pious sisters, though their names have sadly been forgotten. The building was destroyed by fire in 1248. Two years later the present building was built to replace it and was paid for by Sir Peter Scott, the first mayor of Newcastle and his son Nicholas. The scale and extravagance of the building drew criticism from the general chapter of the Dominican Order and as a consequence the Prior (the head) of Newcastle’s Blackfriars was removed from his post.

In the later 13th century the Town Wall was built through the Friary’s land on the other side of Stowell. In 1280 the Blackfriars were granted the right to make a gate through the wall so they could access the garden on the other side. The blocked up gate can still be seen (the best preserved section of) the Town Wall on Back Stowell Street, behind Chinatown.

Henry V111’s second act of suppression. The Suppression of Religious Houses Act 1539, caused the dissolution of the larger monasteries. At Blackfriars the church was demolished an the rest of the buildings were put into use as meeting rooms for nine craft guilds.

Many of the guilds continued to use the upper floors until the nineteenth century.

The ground floor was used as almshouses for the poor where people lived until 1961. By then the buildings were severely neglected and demolition was a possibility. A campaign to save the buildings resulted in the Newcastle Corporation (now Newcastle City Council) acquiring Blackfriars in the 1960s and subsequently restoring them between 1975 and 1981.

Life in a medieval town could be violent and the friars were not always isolated from this. For example, in 1341 they had to ask the King for the right to rebuild their gates because they had been broken down during a riot in the town. The riot was caused by a fight between the people of Newcastle and certain men of the county of Northumberland. However it seems that not all of the friars lived up to the high ideals of the Order and were not always on the receiving end of such violent behaviour. In 1345 for example, Edward 111 pardoned one of the friars, Adam de Alnwyk, for is part in the death of a local townsman, John de Denton, while in 1390 Richard 11 had to prevent the bestowing of a civic honour on some of the friars because of their misconduct and lack of religious dedication.

In towns, large and important friaries like Blacere quite popular among wealthy people as places to stay. Over the years Blackfriars received numerous royal and noble visits, for which they were usually compensated.

Akenside Hill and All Saints Church

All Saints Church and Akenside Hill
All Saints Church and Akenside Hill

All Saints Church was built in the years from 1786 to 1796 by the architect David Stephenson. Sir John Betjeman, the former Poet Laureate, described it as one of the finest Georgian churches in the country. It has a magnificent elliptical auditorium and splendid classical pillars. A church has stood on this site since the twelfth century, the medieval All Hallows’ Church giving way to the present church. The building was used as a place of worship until 1959.

Akenside Hill was once the principle link between Pilgrim Street and Sandhill and the Quayside. It was previously known as Butcher Bank. There had once been 33 butchers shops in the Quayside area and Butcher’s Bank was the centre of the trade. In the early nineteenth century, one historian reported that the Lort Burn (which was later filled in to form Dean Street), had become a vast nauseous hollow as a result of the butchers disposing of offal in the stream.

On Butcher Bank was the birthplace of Mark Akenside, the son of one of the butchers on the steep street. Born in 1721 he later attended the Royal Free Grammar School and became a leading poet and physician. Different historians’ views on his merits, however, vary considerably.

R J Charlton said of him that “His character is not a pleasant one to dwell upon… his appearance is described as unpromising, if not grotesque… he had no sense of humour, was peevish and sententious and took a joke very ill. He is said to have been ashamed of his native place, so that “he would sneak through Newcastle when occasion called him thither”. Despite his reported faults his name lives on in the name of Akenside Hill and Akenside House, built in 1912 to the design of Marshall and Tweedy. Whilst Akenside’s birthplace survived the Great Fire of 1854, it was swept away in the great changes which took place around the Quayside following the construction of the Swing Bridge in the 1870s.

Armstrong Blue Plaque – High Bridge

William George Armstrong’s water-powered rotary engine was built here at Henry Watson’s works, 1838. Inventor, engineer, scientist and businessman, Armstrong employed 25,000 people at his Elswick works.
 

Armstrong Plaque - High Bridge
Armstrong Plaque – High Bridge

Cathedral Church of St Nicholas

The Cathedral Church of St Nicholas is a Grade 1 Listed Building and one of the most beautiful and historic buildings in Newcastle. The spire has dominated Newcastle’s skyline and served as a prominent landmark and navigation point for ships in the River Tyne for over 500 years.

St. Nicholas was a historical figure, born between AD260 and AD280 in the village of Patara.  At the time the area was Greek but it is now on the southern coast of Turkey.

His parents were wealthy and raised him as a devout Christian. After the untimely death of his parents, Nicholas used his whole inheritance to help the needy, and his Christian generosity became his hallmark.

He devoted himself to the service of God and was made Bishop of Myra when only a relatively young man. He suffered imprisonment for his faith before attending the historic Council of Nicaea in AD 325. He died on 6 December AD 343 in Myra and was buried in the cathedral there.

Although he is best known as the patron saint of children and mariners, some very unlikely groups are in his patronage. The long list includes barrel makers, parish clerks, spice-dealers, candle makers, florists and pawnbrokers Most of us know him as Santa Claus.

Most of the Cathedral’s features date from the 14th and 15th centuries, although the earliest surviving fragment is Norman, dating to around 1175. Later additions such as the 18th century Palladian library designed by James Gibbs and built on the south elevation have extended the church.

It is believed that in the siege of Newcastle during the Civil War in 1644, when the Scottish army threatened to blow up the Church using a canon, the Mayor Sir John Marley put his Scottish prisoners in the lantern tower saving it from destruction.

In 1736 Charles Avison (1709-1770), one of the most influential English concerto composers of the 18th century, was appointed organist at St Nicholas Church giving him not only regular income, but also musical status. Although substantially repaired, extended and modified since it was originally supplied in 1676 by Renatus Harris, the Cathedral’s organ, used by Avison and his son and grandson, is still used today.

Inside the Cathedral a finely carved marble monument commemorates Admiral Lord Collingwood (1748 to 1810), who took over command at the Battle of Trafalgar (21 October 1805) after the death of Lord Nelson. He was baptised and married in St Nicholas, and each year, on the 21st October, a wreath is laid in his memory in front of the monument.

In the mid 19th century Newcastle experienced a huge increase in its population, leading to the construction of over 20 new churches in the suburbs. As Newcastle continued to grow, so did its need for a diocese seperate from Durham, and so in 1882 the Diocese of Newcastle was formed, with St Nicholas and its cathedral. With this Newcastle was designated a City in the same year.

The Cathedral is filled with beautiful stained glass. A beautiful roundel depicting the Madonna feeding the Christ Child is the only surviving medieval stained glass. More modern stained glass works such as in St George’s Chapel were erected in honour of two of Tyneside’s late 19th / early 20th century industrial pioneers who both died in 1931 within weeks of each other. Other references to industry can be found in the Cathedral’s stained glass including in the Charles Parsons’ window which features Turbinia the first turbine driven steam yacht with which Parsons astonished the Queen’s Navy at the Spithead naval review in 1897.

The Cathedral hosts one of the finest Flemish brasses in the United Kingdom. Originally covering the tomb of Roger Thornton, three times mayor of Newcastle, several times Member of Parliament, successful merchant and great benefactor to the Cathedral, the Thornton Brass (pre 1429) is believed to be the largest brass in the United Kingdom. This commemoration to Roger Thornton, his wife, seven sons and seven daughters an be seen behind the High Altar.

The Chancel furnishings were designed by Ralph Hedley (1848-1913), a woodcarver, painter and illustrator, best known for his paintings of everyday life in the North of England.

 

Cathedral Church of St Nicholas
Cathedral Church of St Nicholas

The White Cross

A medieval market cross, first mentioned around 1410, once stood here.

Sited on Newgate Street near the junction with Low Friar Street (opposite) for almost 400 years, it marked the main entrance into a host of markets including the Bigg Market, Poultry Market, Groat Market, Wool Market, Iron Market and the Flesh Market. Many of these market names are still in use today as street names within the city centre.

The ‘White Cross’ has taken on at least five different appearances. Originally a simple market cross, it also appeared as a pillar & dial, a cistern for the ’New Water’ and a stone pillar.

In 1783 it was demolished and rebuilt to the design shown here by David Stephenson, a local architect, who also designed the Theatre Royal in Mosley Street. It had a pretty little spire, with a good clock, and was ornamented on the four sides with the arms of the Mayor, Magistrate and Sheriff.

In 1808 it was dismantled and rebuilt at the North End of the Flesh Market on the current site of Grey Street.

On 22nd August 1701, a famous incident between Ferdinando Forster MP for Northumberland and John Fenwick of Rock, coal owner, took place at the White Cross.

Whilst attending a ‘Grand Jury’ at the Black Horse Inn, near the crossroads of Clayton Street and Newgate Street, the two men argued about family matters. Fenwick challenged Forster and as they went out stabbed Forster from behind.

Fenwick escaped but was caught within a week, tried and executed by hanging from the white thorn tree that grew closet to the White Cross on 25th September 1701.

White Cross at 'The Gate'
White Cross at ‘The Gate’

Grainger Market

Named after local builder, developer and entrepreneur Richard Grainger and opened in October 1835

The Grainger Market was built to replace an open air butchers market, which lay between Mosley Street and High Bridge and is one of the few remaining covered buildings still trading as a market in the UK.

Inspired and built by Richard Grainger, John Clayton and architect John Dobson, the Grainger Market revolutionised shopping in its day, standing as the biggest indoor market in Europe.

At the time of its opening the Grainger Market was described by the Evening Chronicle as being ‘the most beautiful in the world’.

The market still holds many of its original features, including the Weigh House, which was a legal requirement for all markets at the time to check the weight of purchases.  More recently it has been used to accurately weigh customers instead.  The worlds oldest and smallest Marks and Spencer store, which opened in 1896, still trades.

Although the market is generally in its original condition and is Grade 1 listed, the Grainger Arcade lost its timber roof in a fire.

The present steel girded roof, reminiscent of a railway station, dates from 1901.

An extraordinary piece of architecture, the Grainger Market has survived fires and continues to contribute to the commercial life of the city.

Grainger Market
Grainger Market

Grainger Market Entrance
Grainger Market Entrance

Hanover Street

Hanover Street has Newcastle’s most fascinating street surface, a “Stone Tramway” of large baulks of stone laid in the roadway to provide a smooth surface for horse-drawn carts. This arrangement was once common in cobbled streets or on steep hills.

The granite blocks provided a smoother surface for the wheels of the carts, whilst the traditional setts between the “”line”” allowed a better grip for the horses hooves. This system was only provided for the traffic travelling up the steep slope of the street. The idea is thought to have been first used in northern Italy and introduced into this country in the early nineteenth century.

Hanover Street itself was laid out when the massive bonded warehouses were built in the years from 1841 to 1844 for Amor Spoor. The south elevation of the long 43 bay building faces on to The Close, where two tall rusticated sandstone arched entrances give access to stairs leading up to the higher levels of Hanover Street.

The street led from the junction of The Close and the Skinnerburn to Hanover Place from which the street took its name, passing from outside to inside the Town Wall.

Hanover Street
Hanover Street

Bath Lane

This area outside the West walls of the old town was known as the Wardens Close.  According to the 17th Century Newcastle historian, Gray, the  Warden’s Close formerly contained the house and gardens of the Warden of Tynemouth Priory.

Near here in 1767, the town’s first local public asylum for pauper lunatics was built.  It was an institution of unremitting barbarity until it was taken over by the Corporation in 1824.  In 1804 a fever hospital was built between the Asylum and the Town Wall.  this was built for the ‘infected poor’  struck by typhus, a disease prevalent in the area in the first half of the 19th century.  Even in the period 1855 to 1873 there were still 273 cases of the disease being admitted to hospital each year.  The “House of Recovery”, as it was known, closed when the City Hospital for Infectious Diseases in Walkergate opened in 1888.

For many years the House of Recovery stood in the grounds of what became Rutherford College.  This educational establishment began life as Bath Lane School and was founded by Dr Rutherford in 1870.  It was demolished in 1987.

Bath Lane takes its name from the former Public Medical Baths which stood near the Fever Hospital .  The Baths were founded as a private venture in 1781, and are said to have consisted of “medicated vapour baths, ot, tepid or of Buxton temperature, together with enclosed baths for ladies and gentlemen, also a large open or swimming bath where young gentlemen acquire this necessary and useful art”.

On the west side of the modern day Bath Lane stands the former Co-operative Wholesale Society Printing Works.  easily identifiable by its tower and domed roof, it was constructed in 1890 to the flamboyant design of Frank West Rich, who was also responsible for Turnbull’s Warehouse standing above the Close and even more ostentatious, Ouseburn School in Byker.

Location: Bath Lane NE4 5RS

Recovery Hospital
Recovery Hospital

Newcastle’s Castle

Castle Keep Newcastle
Castle Keep Newcastle

Location: Castle Keep, Castle Garth, NE1 1RQ

What better way to start a walk of Newcastle than to begin at the spot which gave Newcastle its name in 1080, Robert Curthose, son of William the Conqueror, was ordered to build it.  If you don’t want to go inside, there are plenty of information panels to read outside.

Newcastle on the high ground overlooking a crossing point on the River Tyne.  This new castle was a royal castle and was often home to the early Norman kings – somewhere they could hold court, sit in judgement and entertain.  The Keep was the principle stronghold of what would have been a much larger castle complex than survives today.  If you climb to the top of the battlements you will be rewarded by a bird’s eye view of the city.  Turning left from the bottom of the stairs you will see the Moot Hall (1812).

The area surrounding you is a naturally defensible site with steep sides overlooking and running down to the River Tyne and has been occupied for nearly 2000 years.

From the mid second century the Roman fort of Pons Aelius stood here guarding the river crossing below until the beginning of the fifth century when Roman rule collapsed.  The name Pons Aelius refers to the Roman name for bridge (pons) and the Emperor Hadrian whose family name was Aelius.  Parts of Hadrian’s Wall are still visible today from Wallsend in the east to Carlisle on the west coast.

From the late seventh century  until the construction of the  Castle in 1080, the site was used as an extensive Saxon Cemetery.  Even after the Castle had been built, burials continued within the area enclosed by its defences.

The ‘New Castle’, which gave the town its name, is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade 1 Listed Building. It was founded in 1080 by the eldest son of William the Conqueror, Robert Curthose, and built using earth and timber.  There is evidence to  argue that the Castle could have been of either motte and bailey or ringwork design.  A motte and bailey castle consists of a mound on which a timber keep would stand, commonly known as the motte, and the land around and in front of it is known as the bailey, which was defended by a protective fence.  A ringwork castle had no mound, but had an enclosing bank, with a ditch outside it.

Between 1168 and 1178 the castle was rebuilt in stone by Maurice the Engineer at a cost of just over £1,144, equivalent now to well over £600,000  Building work was interrupted by in 1173 when the castle was besieged by the Scots and again in 1174. This rebuilding produced the Keep that we can see today.

The Castle’s keep had two main functions – it was the principal strongpoints of the Castle and the living space for the commander of the garrison.  It displays many important features, including the late Norman chapel, and the well, which is nearly 100 feet deep, allowing fresh water to be provided to the Castle, even during a siege.

Notable additions to the castle were made in the 13th century during the reign of King John (1207-1216) including the Great Hall which was built within the garth, the area enclosed by the castle walls. The last improvement to the defences was the addition of a barbican, now known as the Black Gate, between 1247 and 1250.

By the early 14th century the town and Castle were enclosed by the completion of the Town Wall, a fortified wall with six main gates, two postern gates, 19 towers and later medieval turrets, therefore reducing the Castle’s role to little more than a Royal supply base.

In 1400 Newcastle became a county in its own right, but the Castle Garth remained part of the County of Northumberland.  The Keep became a prison for the county.  The 13th century Great Hall, known as the Moot Hall (on the current site of the Vermont Hotel), was used by the assizes courts (courts which sat at regular intervals in each county of England and Wales).

In 1619 the Castle, with the exception of The Keep, Moot Hall and gaolers house, was leased by James 1 to Alexander Stephenson, one of the Kings courtiers.  Stephenson allowed houses to be built, which doubled as workplaces, within the Castle  walls.

When civil war broke out in 1642, the Castle was briefly refortified and became the last stronghold of the town’s Royalist defenders before it fell to a lowland Scottish Covenanter army, that was allied to the Parliamentarians, on 19th October 1644.

After the Civil War, houses were rebuilt and new ones were added until, by the end of the 18th century, the medieval Castle was almost completely concealed by dwellings.  Clearance began in 1810, with construction f the new Moot Hall (to replace the medieval Moot Hall as the County Court) and was complete in 1847 when the first railway viaduct was built across the Castle Garth  making it difficult to see the Keep and Black Gate as part of a single defensive structure.