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Newcastle History

Industrial prowess saw its fortunes rise, only to tumble into rapid decline, but Newcastle has reinvented itself with gritty resilience.

The Roman emperor Hadrian founded Newcastle between AD120 and AD128, and a sizeable chunk of his famous wall is visible close to the city.

After the Romans left, Newcastle became part of an Anglo-Saxon kingdom called Northumbria. In 1080, Robert Curthose, son of William the Conqueror, built a wooden castle in the area, from which the name New Castle derives.

A 7m-high (25ft) stone wall was built in the 13th century to keep Scottish invaders at bay. In the following century, Newcastle successfully fended off Scottish attacks three times.

Its military strength stimulated trade and the town developed into a major port. From the 16th century, coal replaced wool as the mainstay of the economy.

In 1642, when civil war broke out, Newcastle sided with the king but two years later, a parliamentary army laid siege to the town. Newcastle surrendered in October 1644.

By the 17th and 18th centuries, other growing industries included rope making, shipbuilding, glass-making and eventually, iron and steel.

Shipbuilding and heavy engineering turned the city into a 19th-century industrial powerhouse, and the opening of Robert Stephenson's High Level Bridge in 1849 linked Edinburgh and London by rail to Newcastle.

But unemployment shot up during the 1930s and heavy industries declined in the 20th century. The city's last coalpit closed in 1956 and was followed by the demise of the shipyards. By the 1970s, the city’s fortunes had slumped.

Regeneration has turned the city around. The revitalisation of the Quayside together with the creation of an innovative tilting bridge and joint tourism initiatives with Gateshead in the promotion of the Foster-designed Sage music centre, BALTIC art museum and Angel of the North sculpture have all boosted tourism.

Did you know?
• Lucozade was originally a health drink created by a Newcastle chemist in 1927.
• The Tyneside Cinema was built in 1937 by Dixon Scott, great uncle of Ridley and Tony Scott.
• In 2011, the BALTIC was the first non-Tate venue outside London to host the Turner Prize.