The past is all around us. We live our lives against a rich backdrop formed by historic buildings, landscapes and other physical survivals of our past. But the historic environment is more than just a matter of material remains. It is central to how we see ourselves and to our identity as individuals, communities and as a nation. It is a physical record of what our country is and how it came to be. Building materials and styles can define region’s localities and communities. Historic landscapes or iconic buildings can become a focus of community identity and pride. At a more local level a historic church or park can help define a neighbourhood and create a sense of local cohesion.
The importance that we attach to our ‘heritage’ is growing each year, and that is why events such as Heritage Open Days are so important in enabling people to access their local, regional and national heritage. We encourage you to take this unique opportunity to visit, tour and experience the buildings and streets on your doorstep and learn a little about the rich heritage of the region in the process.
Nowhere is the continuity of history and the interrelationship of man and the natural and man made landscape better illustrated than in the historical development of the North East of England in general and Newcastle upon Tyne in particular. The importance of Newcastle upon Tyne has been recognised for hundreds of years. The continuity of development through Roman, Medieval, Industrial and Modern eras has meant that the present does not merely overlie the past; it is rooted in it, drawing strength from a rich and varied history in a conscious and living tradition.
The natural landscape has shaped the history and development of Newcastle since prehistoric times. Glacial deposits carved the Tyne Gorge with the River Tyne at its centre. Over history the river became a line of defence, a channel for communication and an artery of trade.
Newcastle was a bridgehead of the Roman Empire. Pons Aelius was the earliest know crossing of the river and the origin of Newcastle as a settlement which provided a regional focus. The advent of Norman control in the 11th century saw the establishment of Newcastle’s contemporary urban landscape and the construction of the royal castle, founded in 1080 high above the river Tyne. Subsequently, the urban morphology of Newcastle was created including boundaries, defences and churches along with a medieval street pattern. The town grew in importance and by the 17th century Newcastle was considered a regional capital and the second town of the Kingdom. At this time the Industrial Revolution began on Tyneside with the use of the plentiful supply of local coal in the manufacture of products such as glass and salt and with the development of waggonways - the precursor of railways. During the following two centuries Newcastle continued to expand beyond its walls and new Georgian streets, developed by entrepreneur Richard Grainger, were added to the medieval backdrop transforming the city centre from a ‘coal hole of the north’ into a ‘city of palaces’ (William Howitt). The city and its river fuelled the industrial revolution in the region and led to the golden age of coal, iron and steam which included the birth and development of the railways. During the 19th century Newcastle continued to be a focus for innovation which heralded the enormous and rapid changes in technology, life and society in the 20th century. During the inter-war years the wholesale collapse of the area’s industrial base, which resulted from the over concentration of activity in the interrelated mining, shipbuilding, armaments and heavy engineering industries left a legacy with which the city and region was forced to struggle for decades. Out of this came a series of innovative initiatives and efforts to modernise both the social and economic structures of the area. The development in the centre of Newcastle during the late 20th century sought to transform the city but retained Richard Grainger’s legacy.
Newcastle illustrates a layering of its history, culture and heritage. Its identities - Roman frontier, Norman stronghold, Great Medieval town, home of the railways, industrial powerhouse and Georgian planned town - are varied, yet it is a story of continuity and longevity, of importance and innovation unmatched anywhere else in the country.
Page last updated: 16 August, 2011