The first recorded settlement in what is now Newcastle was Pons Aelius ("Hadrian's bridge"), a Roman fort and bridge across the River Tyne. It was given the family name of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who founded it in the 2nd century AD. This rare honour suggests Hadrian may have visited the site and instituted the bridge on his tour of Britain. The population of Pons Aelius then is estimated at 2,000. Fragments of Hadrian's Wall are visible in parts of Newcastle, particularly along the West Road. The course of the "Roman Wall" can be traced eastwards to the Segedunum Roman fort in Wallsend—the "wall's end"—and to the supply fort Arbeia in South Shields.
The extent of Hadrian's Wall was 73 miles (117 km), spanning the width of Britain; the Wall incorporated the Vallum, a large rearward ditch with parallel mounds, and was built primarily for defence, to prevent unwanted immigration and the incursion of Pictish tribes from the north, not as a fighting line for a major invasion.
Keep is the oldest structure in the city, dating back to at least the 11th century.
Anglo-Saxon and Norman
After the Roman departure from Britain, completed in 410, Newcastle became part of the powerful Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, and was known throughout this period as Munucceaster (sometimes modernised as Monkchester).
Conflicts with the Danes in 876 left the settlements along the River Tyne in ruins. After the conflicts with the Danes, and following the 1088 rebellion against the Normans, Monkchester was all but destroyed by Odo of Bayeux.
Because of its strategic position, Robert Curthose, son of William the Conqueror, erected a wooden castle there in the year 1080. The town was henceforth known as Novum Castellum or New Castle. The wooden structure was replaced by a stone castle in 1087. The castle was rebuilt again in 1172 during the reign of Henry II. Much of the keep which can be seen in the city today dates from this period.
Throughout the Middle Ages, Newcastle was England's northern fortress. Incorporated first by Henry II, the city had a new charter granted by Elizabeth in 1589. A 25-foot (7.6 m) high stone wall was built around the town in the 13th century, to defend it from invaders during the Border war against Scotland. The Scots king William the Lion was imprisoned in Newcastle in 1174, and Edward I brought the Stone of Scone and William Wallace south through the town. Newcastle was successfully defended against the Scots three times during the 14th century, and was created a county corporate with its own sheriff by Henry IV in 1400.
16th to 19th centuries
From 1530, a royal act restricted all shipments of coal from Tyneside to Newcastle Quayside, giving a monopoly in the coal trade to a cartel of Newcastle burgesses known as the Hostmen. This monopoly, which lasted for a considerable time, helped Newcastle prosper and develop into a major town. The phrase taking coals to Newcastle was first recorded contextually in 1538. The phrase itself means a pointless pursuit.
In the 18th century, the American entrepreneur Timothy Dexter, regarded as an eccentric, defied this idiom. He was persuaded to sail a shipment of coal to Newcastle by merchants plotting to ruin him; however, his shipment arrived on the Tyne during a strike that had crippled local production, allowing him to turn a considerable profit.
, built 1842. In 1935 after a government document requested its cities build air-raid shelters, part of the tunnel was converted.
In the Sandgate area, to the east of the city, and beside the river, resided the close-knit community of keelmen and their families. They were so called because they worked on the keels, boats that were used to transfer coal from the river banks to the waiting colliers, for export to London and elsewhere. In the 1630s, about 7,000 out of 20,000 inhabitants of Newcastle died of plague, more than one-third of the population. Specifically within the year 1636, it is roughly estimated with evidence held by the Society of Antiquaries that 47% of the then population of Newcastle died from the epidemic; this may also have been the most devastating loss in any British city in this period.
Newcastle was once a major industrial centre particularly for coal and shipping
During the English Civil War, the North declared for the King. In a bid to gain Newcastle and the Tyne, Cromwell's allies, the Scots, captured the town of Newburn. In 1644, the Scots then captured the reinforced fortification on the Lawe in South Shields following a siege and the city was besieged for many months. It was eventually stormed ("with roaring drummes") and sacked by Cromwell's allies. The grateful King bestowed the motto "Fortiter Defendit Triumphans" ("Triumphing by a brave defence") upon the town. Charles I was imprisoned in Newcastle by the Scots in 1646–7.
In the 18th century, Newcastle was the country's fourth largest print centre after London, Oxford and Cambridge, and the Literary and Philosophical Society of 1793, with its erudite debates and large stock of books in several languages, predated the London Library by half a century. Newcastle also became a glass producer with a reputation for brilliant flint glass.
Newcastle city centre, 1917
A permanent military presence was established in the city with the completion of Fenham Barracks in 1806.
The Great fire of Newcastle and Gateshead was a tragic and spectacular series of events starting on Friday 6 October 1854, in which a substantial amount of property in the two North East of England towns was destroyed in a series of fires and an explosion which killed 53 and injured hundreds.
The status of city was granted to Newcastle on 3 June 1882. In the 19th century, shipbuilding and heavy engineering were central to the city's prosperity; and the city was a powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution. This revolution resulted in the urbanisation of the city. In 1817 the Maling company, at one time the largest pottery company in the world, moved to the city. The Victorian industrial revolution brought industrial structures that included the 2 1⁄2-mile (4 km) Victoria Tunnel, built in 1842, which provided underground wagon ways to the staithes. On 3 February 1879, Mosley Street in the city, was the first public road in the world to be lit up by the incandescent lightbulb. Newcastle was one of the first cities in the world to be lit up by electric lighting. Innovations in Newcastle and surrounding areas included the development of safety lamps, Stephenson's Rocket, Lord Armstrong's artillery, Be-Ro flour, Joseph Swan's electric light bulbs, and Charles Parsons' invention of the steam turbine, which led to the revolution of marine propulsion and the production of cheap electricity. In 1882, Newcastle became the seat of an Anglican diocese, with St. Nicholas' Church becoming its cathedral.
20th and 21st centuries
Newcastle's public transport system was modernised in 1901 when Newcastle Corporation Tramways electric trams were introduced to the city's streets, though these were replaced gradually by trolley buses from 1935, with the tram service finally coming to an end in 1950.
The city acquired its first art gallery, the Laing Art Gallery in 1904, so named after its founder Alexander Laing, a Scottish wine and spirit merchant who wanted to give something back to the city in which he had made his fortune. Another art gallery, the Hatton Gallery (now part of Newcastle University), opened in 1925.
With the advent of the motor car, Newcastle's road network was improved in the early part of the 20th century, beginning with the opening of the Redheugh road bridge in 1901 and the Tyne Bridge in 1928.
Efforts to preserve the city's historic past were evident as long ago as 1934, when the Museum of Science and Industry opened, as did the John G Joicey Museum in the same year.
Council housing began to replace inner-city slums in the 1920s, and the process continued into the 1970s, along with substantial private house building and acquisitions.
Unemployment hit record heights in Newcastle during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The city's last coal pit closed in 1956, though a temporary open cast mine was opened in 2013. The temporary open cast mine shifted 40,000 tonnes of coal, using modern techniques to reduce noise, on a part of the City undergoing redevelopment. The slow demise of the shipyards on the banks of the River Tyne happened in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.
View northwards from the Castle Keep, towards Berwick-on-Tweed in 1954
Panorama from Newcastle castle keep across the River Tyne to Gateshead in 1954
During the Second World War, the city and surrounding area were a target for air raids as heavy industry was involved in the production of ships and armaments. The raids caused 141 deaths and 587 injuries. A former French consul in Newcastle called Jacques Serre assisted the German war effort by describing important targets in the region to Admiral Raeder who was the head of the German Navy.
The public sector in Newcastle began to expand in the 1960s. The federal structure of the University of Durham was dissolved. That university's colleges in Newcastle, which had been known as King's College, became the University of Newcastle upon Tyne (now known as Newcastle University), which was founded in 1963, followed by a Newcastle Polytechnic in 1969; the latter received university status in 1992 and became the Northumbria University.
Further efforts to preserve the city's historic past continued in the later 20th century, with the opening of Newcastle Military Vehicle Museum in 1983 and Stephenson Railway Museum in 1986. The Military Vehicle museum closed in 2006. New developments at the turn of the 21st century included the Life Science Centre in 2000 and Millennium Bridge in 2001.
Based at St James' Park since 1886, Newcastle United F.C. became members in 1893. They have won four top division titles (the first in 1905 and the most recent in 1927), six FA Cups (the first in 1910 and the most recent in 1955) and the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1969. They broke the world transfer record in 1996 by paying £15 million for Blackburn Rovers and England striker Alan Shearer, one of the most prolific goalscorers of that era.
In 2017 Newcastle was the venue for the 2017 Freedom City festival. The 2017 Freedom City festival commemorated the 50 years since Dr Martin Luther King's visit to Newcastle, where King received his honorary degree from Newcastle University. In 2018 Newcastle hosted the Great Exhibition of the North, the largest event in England in 2018. The exhibition began on 22 June with an opening ceremony on the River Tyne, and ended on 9 September with the Great North Run weekend. The exhibition describes the story of the north of England through its innovators, artists, designers and businesses.
In 2019, various travel sites named Newcastle to be the friendliest city in the UK.