Built by Henry III in 1248
The Black Gate, tbe principal entrance to the Castle of Newcastle-on-Tyne, was built by King Henry III in 1248, about seventy years after the completion of the keep and other parts of the fortress by Henry II
A Mishmash of Styles
It still stands, at least the lower part of it, a splendid specimen of the beautiful architecture of the age which produced it. The upper portion, the work of later times, is scarcely less interesting, telling, as it does, the story of the varied fortunes of the gateway after the close of its military career.
The Noble Main Gateway
In its original condition it must have formed a noble spectacle, as pleasing to the eyes of its friends as it was formidable to those of its foes. Around the platform of the castle, an area of three acres, the enclosing curtain wall was drawn, with gates and posterns at various points, and here, at the northern angle, towered up the massive form of the main gateway, known in later days as the Black Gate
The Defence Strategy
Outside the wall on this side was a fosse or moat, and access to the gate was by a drawbridge, defended by a barbican. Impregnable we may well consider this entrance to have been. Say that an enemy had forced the barbican, driving back its defenders, and had crossed with them the drawbridge before it could be hoisted, there were the two portcullises of the main gate to bar his further way, while the defenders hurled down upon him, through the openings for the purpose in the vaulted arch above, the heavy missiles or molten lead held in reserve for such emergency. Even could he have passed the portcullises, and penetrated the curved way, with high massive walls on either side, be would have come upon another gateway to be carried before he found himself within the castle yard.
The Prisons: Great Pit and Heron Pit
This second gateway stood at the further end of the present narrow curved street within the Black Gate the street is commonly called the Castle Garth but no trace of the gateway now exists. On either side of it stood one of the castle prisons. That on the north-east side was called the "Great Pit"; that on the opposite side the "Heron Pit".
Costs of Repair - Baltic Timber, Lime and Wrought Iron
There is some interesting information concerning the prices of material and the wages of working men of the period in the accounts of repairs to these prisons in the reign of Edward III. Candles, we learn, were I1/2d per pound; "trees of great timber" for joists, were 2s; and great trees of 44ft, for sills, were 3s 4d each. "Estlandbord" (Baltic timber), for flooring, was 3d per piece. The blacksmith received 6d per stone for working Spanish iron, bought of Adam Kirkharle, into bolts, bands, crooks, staples, manacles, and fittings for the stocks. Carpenters' and masons' wages were 2s 6d per week in November, reduced to 2s 1d in March; labourers received 1s 9d per week in the former, reduced to 1s 6d in the latter month. The timber was bought of John Wodseller, and was landed at Gaolegrip (now the Javel Group) in the Close. Sand was brought from the Sandgate, and lime from the "lyme-kilnes" and both were led by "Adam the lym-leder"
The Sons of Balliol in Prison
After the completion of this work, there is very little mention in history of the Black Gate until the reign of James I. By this time, the whole castle had fallen into a miserable state of dilapidation. The only houses in the castle yard were a herald's house, the gaoler's house, and two houses near the Black Gate. The keep was used as a prison, "wherein", as a grant of King James puts it, "is kept the sons of Belial".
Alexander Stevenson Leases The Castle
One Master Alexander Stevenson, a page of the king's bedchamber and "a Scottish man", we are told, "begged the castle of the king", and obtained a lease of it, with the exception of the keep and Moot Hall, for fifty years at forty shillings rent. He began to build, upon the ruins of the Black Gate, the upper portion with the square mullioned windows still to be seen, and the building was completed by one Pickle, who kept a tavern in the Gate House.
The Area Develops as a Trade Centre
Jordan, a Scotchman, and a sword-slipper to trade, built a house on the south side of the gate, and Thomas Reed, a Scotch pedlar, took a shop on the north side. Soon the vicinity of the Castle Garth became a thriving business place, principally inhabited by tailors and shoemakers, as it continued down to quite recent days.
The Black Gate Gets its Name
On Stevenson's death, his uncompleted lease came into the possession of one Patrick Black, and it is from him that the gateway probably derives its name.
The Corporation Allows The Black Gate to Decay
In 1732, the Black Gate had again fallen into a state of great decay, caused by the neglect of the Newcastle Corporation, which had, after many attempts, obtained a lease of the Castle Garth. This lease came to an end in the year named, and another was granted to Colonel George Liddell, afterwards Lord; Ravensworth.
Repairs, Tenements and The Black Gate Becomes a Museum
In 1739, part of Stevenson's work, on the eastern side of the gate, fell with a great crash, and was re-built in a mean way with brickwork. From this time the building seems to have been let off in tenements, and to have gradually fallen into the wretched state in which it remained until 1884, when the Newcastle Society of Antiquaries restored it and adapted it for use as a museum. Our illustrations show it as it appeared before and after this restoration.
A Description for Visitors
A visit to the Black Gate is a rare treat to those who delight in relics of past times. The outside aspect of the ancient tower is full of interest. There before us we still see the work of Edward III; then above that the portions added by Masters Stevenson and Pickle; the whole surmounted by the red-tiled roof so judiciously added by the Antiquaries.
Under the archway we see the beautiful trefoil arcades, and the vaulted chamber on either side. Then, inside, there is glorious store of antique wealth. Relics of all periods, from the Stone Age to the age of tinder boxes and sulphur matches, are here gathered together. Roman altars and inscribed stones, with which, by means of drawings, scholars in all parts of the world are familiar, and which they would sacrifice much to look upon in their reality, stand here, close by the very doors of the people of Newcastle.
Verily the Black Gate is "rich,with the spoils of time"
R. J. C.
January 12 1739 - Black Gate Collapse
Part of the ancient gate leading to the Castle Garth, in Newcastle, known by the name of The Black Gate fell down with a tremendous crash, although several shops adjoined the same, none of the occupiers were injured
April 1888 - Jackdaws in Newcastle
Four buildings in the city are still favoured by the birds the Old Castle, the Black Gate, the tower of St. Nicholas, and the Wood Memorial Hall. Last year (1887) three pairs of daws built their nests and reared their progeny in the crevices of the Castle, every care being taken by the keeper, Mr. Gibson, that their operations should not be disturbed. Last year, too, a pair of starlings selected one of the guns on the roof of the Keep for a nesting place. Unfortunately, the nest was disturbed by some thoughtless visitor, and the birds deserted it. Daws last year commenced building operations on the stairs leading to the belfry of St. Nicholas; but the place being overlooked by the bellringers as they passed to and fro, the suspicious jacks sought more secluded quarters elsewhere. During last season, one or two pairs of the same birds nested in the Black Gate, and brought forth their young in safety. The Wood Memorial Hall has frequently found favour in the eyes of the daws, a pair of which have again this spring (March, 1888) been seen prospecting there