Newcastle has been a significant centre of population since Roman times. The Romans, realising the military value of the site and its command on the Tyne crossing, built a bridge guarded at its northern end by a fort – “Pons Aelius” – in about 122AD. This formed a vital part of the frontier defence which we know as Hadrian’s Wall.
After the departure of the Romans in the early fifth century there is little record of the history of the town, though recent archaeological work in the area of the Castle Keep has provided evidence of continuing occupation of the site. After the Norman Conquest, the strategic importance of the town – then known as Monkchester – was again realised. Fortification was imperative and in 1080 a wooden motte and bailey castle was built by Robert, son of William I. This was the “New Castle”. The existing stone Keep dates from 1172-77 and the Black Gate from 1247. The town walls were added in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and were described in the sixteenth century as surpassing “all the waulls of the cities of England and most of the cities of Europe” in their “strength and magnificence”. The walls were last put into a state of defence in 1745 at the time of the Jacobite Rebellion.
As the perceived danger from the north of the border diminished, the walls and fortified gates fell victim to progress; those along the Quayside were demolished as an obstacle to trade in the 1760s. Those to the north and east of the centre disappeared with the formation of the new streets of the expanding town.