Newcastle uncovered on walk through city's history

PUBLISHED: 19:50 12 September 2010 | UPDATED: 17:06 20 February 2013

Durham Tower on Bath Lane

Durham Tower on Bath Lane

Pons Aelius, Monkchester - it's had a number of names in its time, but it wasn't until the 11th century that Newcastle finally stuck

The name of a town or village is often a good indicator of the history of the place. Newcastle has had several names during the past two thousand years.


At the time of Roman occupation of Britain, the settlement was known as Pons Aelius. This is translated as the Bridge of Hadrian, referring to the crossing over the Tyne built roughly where the current Swing Bridge stands.


During the Anglo-Saxon period, Newcastle was known as Monkchester after a community of monks who found the area a convivial spot to settle.
The name that finally stuck came after the Norman invasion of 1066.

Robert Curthose, eldest son of William the Conqueror built his New Castle overlooking the Tyne at the end of the 11th century.


After that Newcastle prospered to a point in the 13th century when a defensive wall was built around the town to protect it from Scottish raiders.


This month were going to follow the course of this old town wall and uncover a few little-known facts about Newcastle along the way.

Start outside the Central Station and cross over Neville Street into Pink Lane. Follow Pink Lane to Westgate Road and cross over the road. Westgate Road, as the name suggests, was once the western gate through the town wall.


Today, there is not much of the town wall left, most of it was pulled down during the 18th and 19th centuries. The best preserved section is on Bath Lane, which we now come to.


Originally the wall would have stood twenty-five feet high with a depth of seven feet. Spaced at regular intervals would have been watch towers. The Durham Tower on Bath Lane is a fine example of the size and shape of these defensive structures.


Follow the wall around to the top of Stowell Street. At the head of Stowell Street there is a different gate to be found, this one welcoming you to Newcastles Chinatown district.


From the Chinatown gate walk down Gallowgate and from there into the grounds of St. Andrews Church. The church is considered to be the oldest in Newcastle, with parts of the building dating from the 12th century. The tower was fired upon during the 17th century siege of Newcastle and three cannonballs are now kept in the church as a reminder of the event.


Leave St. Andrews and cross over Newgate Street and onto Blackett Street. This area of Newcastle is dominated by the Eldon Square Shopping Centre. Opened in 1977, the complex is now an established part of the Newcastle experience. Therefore, few people realise that the large, public square on Blackett Street was the original Eldon Square and supplied the name for the shopping centre, not the other way round.


Whether you enjoy shopping or not, Newcastle was at least spared a brutalist retail centre built out of concrete and steel, common building materials in the 1970s. Fortunate too is the fact that handsome buildings such as the Emerson Chambers were spared during the redevelopment. The sight of this architectural delight can be enjoyed as you skirt the top of Grey Street and on to New Bridge Street.


At the end of New Bridge Street cross over John Dobson Street to the Laing Art Gallery. The gallery is a jewel in the cultural life of Newcastle. The permanent collection contains work by important artists such as Turner and Reynolds as well as a large collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings. The gallery also promotes more contemporary art through a rolling programme of temporary exhibitions which are staged throughout the year.


From the Laing walk down John Dobson Street and turn left onto Market Street. Cross over Market Street and walk along Croft Street.


We now come to Plummer Tower, another of the old wall watchtowers. Unlike Durham Tower, Plummer has been extensively remodelled and renovated and is now used as offices.


From the tower walk up Worsick Street and turn left onto Pilgrim Street. Use the underpass network to navigate around the 55 Degrees North island to the Holy Jesus Hospital on City Road. This 17th building with its distinctive arched colonnade fortunately survived the redevelopment of the area during the 1960s. The Hospital is now in the care of the National Trust and is used as the headquarters of the Trusts Inner City Project.


Follow City Road down to the Quayside, passing the River God sculpture by Andre Wallace as you do so. Both banks of the River Tyne have been extensively redeveloped in the past twenty years. The most striking architectural embellishments being the distinctive arch of the Millennium Bridge and, on the Gateshead side, the organic glass curves of the Sage.
Continue west along the Quayside. Notable sights from the Quayside include the distinctive Georgian tower of All Saints Church at the top of Dog Bank, and the Guildhall nestling in the shadow of the Tyne Bridge.


Follow the path under the Bridge and cross the road at Bessie Surtees house. From there follow the path to a steep set of steps opposite the Copthorne Hotel and climb up to Orchard street.


Opposite the new offices on Orchard street is another fine stretch of the old wall, now providing the backdrop to a car park. Walk to the end of Orchard Street and follow the underpass opposite to Neville Street and from there to the Central Station to complete the walk.


So how effective was the wall you may ask at this point? The answer, after the invention of the cannon, was not very. In 1640 and again in 1644 the wall was breached by Scottish armies. It was during these violent skirmishes that attacks on St Andrews resulted in damage to the bell tower.


However, it was urban progress that finally doomed the wall. Like a belt pulled too tight, the wall was a constriction to the expansion of Newcastle. Sections were pulled down when deemed necessary until all there was left were the fragments of stonework that survive today.

Fortunately for us the name Newcastle was fixed. Renaming the city to, say, Walls-end would have been too confusing for words.

Start Point: Central Station, Neville Street
Grid Reference: NZ 245 638
Ordnance Survey Map: OS Landranger 88
Length: 2 miles (3.2 km)
Difficulty: Easy (good paths with only one short climb)
Time: 1.5 hrs
Nearest Pub: Crown Posada
Nearest town: Newcastle upon Tyne
Other Notes: To find out more about the history of the town wall visit: http://tinyurl.com/ycsxdqb

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