2016 – 2017 was the 800th anniversary of the creation, by King John, of Newcastle’s Mayoralty, and of Newcastle’s Burgesses (Freemen). King John, by Charter, granted Newcastle to the Freemen at an annual payment of £100 which appeared until recently in the City's annual accounts. This Charter and its successors were repeatedly confirmed by successive Sovereigns. The Council and the Freemen work together to mark the landmark 800th anniversary.
Few cities in Europe will have had the same office handed down to known recipients over so many years in an unbroken sequence. This reflects the history of Newcastle which is one where, apart from a few incursions, Newcastle has enjoyed the benefit of stability, social cohesion, and systems of law, justice and administration along with a strong trading base, innovative businesses and strong communities which have enabled Newcastle throughout the ages to be the great city it is.
A Service of Thanksgiving marked the start of the 800th anniversary year in February 2016, at the Cathedral Church of St Nicholas with the then Lord mayor, Councillor Ian Graham.
Anniversary banners were displayed on lampposts in the City Centre depicting the 800 logo and the crests of all of the company guilds of the Freemen of Newcastle. Replica banners were also displayed in the City Library. Pop up information stands with a wealth of historical information were made available for a range of events; the stands provided details of Newcastle’s First Mayor, the outbreak of Civil War, Times of Change and the Origins of the Freemen.
Successful events over the summer months of the anniversary year included a Picnic in Exhibition Park where the Lord Mayor’s coach was on display, the Allotments Show in Leazes Park (schools were invited to submit recycled 800 artwork) and Heritage Open Day tours of the Guildhall, Civic Centre and Mansion House.
Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums delivered an education programme for school children pitched at key stage 2 over the year with workshops in the Discovery Museum.
From October 2016 until the end of February 2017 the City Library held an exhibition - 800 Years: an Unbroken Chain – featuring historic mayoralty regalia, silver normally on display in the Silver Gallery, and paintings and artefacts including the crest from old Town Hall. There was also a collection of documents and books highlighting the history of the city, including loans of rare material from the universities and the British Library. See The Story of the Exhibition here.
HRH The Princess Royal visited the exhibition in February 2017 and was very impressed with the display and the passion for local history.
Six Lord Mayor 800 Awards were presented to very worthy recipients during the year
A specially commissioned book by John Grundy was published and the North East’s favourite TV historian turned his attention to the history of Newcastle upon Tyne. In his inimitable style he tackled questions such as:
- Where did the Roman bridge at Newcastle actually lead to?
- What did St Wilfred choose as a holiday souvenir from his trip to Rome?
- Why did medieval Newcastle need town walls?
- How was Newcastle reviewed on the 17th century version of Trip Advisor?
- Where did Newcastle imprison the King?
Always knowledgeable, often funny and sometimes irreverent, this book is a treasure for anyone who is interested in our great regional capital
The book is available from the City Library, by calling David Hepworth on 0191 277 4174 and online at: www.tinyurl.com/toonbooks.
In early December 2016, as part of the commemorations of the 800th anniversary there was a ceremony to mark the naming of a Virgin East Coast train ‘The Lord Mayor of Newcastle’. The locomotive will promote Newcastle across Virgin’s east coast route and the City and as well as a commemorative plaque and the 800th logo, it also features the skyline depicting famous city landmarks
City Council members also witnessed five people intrinsically linked to the city have the Honourary Freedom of the City bestowed on them in the special anniversary year. The recipients of the highest honour the city can award were Brendan Foster CBE, Sir Terry Farrell CBE, Olivia Grant OBE, Sir Leonard Fenwick CBE and Professor Chris Brink.
A retrospective photograph exhibition of the year is on display in the City Library (Level 6) until the end of April 2017.
The penultimate event brought together 9 former Lord Mayor of the City with their Mayoresses and Consorts for the installation of a plaque at the Civic Centre. The plaque, unveiled by the Lord Mayor, Councillor Hazel Stephenson, on 28 February 2017, marks the current seat of local government in the City and compliments a plaque installed at the Guildhall last year, at the start of the 800th anniversary, which marks the site of the original seat of governance.
School children will bury a time capsule in Exhibition Park to commemorate the 800th anniversary year in May 2017.
Councillor Hazel Stephenson said it had been an honour and a privilege to serve as Lord Mayor during the 800th anniversary year, especially as the City’s first second generation Lord Mayor, following in the footsteps of her late father, former Councillor Terrence Cooney.