Newcastle has been its name since the Norman conquest of England. I suppose it is my city, since I was born there, though I lived in Durham city from leaving Princes Mary’s until I was seven years old.
In or about AD 120, the Romans built the first bridge to cross the River Tyne. Aelius was the family name of Emperor Hadrian who built a wall across northern England along the Tyne–Solway gap. His wall runs through present-day Newcastle; stretches of wall and turrets exist along the West Road, and various other bits can still be found: a temple in Benwell, a milecastle on Westgate Road, midway between Clayton Street and Grainger Street. The course of the wall corresponded to present day Westgate Road. It runs eastwards to the Segedunum Roman fort at Wallsend, with the fort Arbeia further down river, on the south bank in what is now South Shields.
The Tyne was then a wider, shallower river and the bridge was probably about 700 feet (210m) long, made of wood and supported on stone piers. Probably sited near the current Swing Bridge since Roman artefacts were found there during its building.
A shrine was set up on the completed bridge in AD123 by the VIth Legion, with two altars to Neptune and Oceanus respectively. The two altars were subsequently found in the river and are on display in a local museum.
A stone-walled fort stood on a rocky outcrop overlooking the new bridge, (where the present Castle Keep stands) to protect the river crossing at the foot of the Tyne Gorge.
It is believed that there was a Roman cemetery Near Clavering Place, behind the Central station, for a number of Roman coffins have been unearthed there. A small vicus, or village, would likely have grown around the fort but nothing beyond a few pieces of flagging have been found.
The Angles arrived in the North-East of England in about AD 500 perhaps landing on the Tyne though there is no evidence of an Anglo-Saxon settlement on or near the site of Pons Aelius.
At that time the region was dominated by Bernicia, north of the Tees and ruled from Bamburgh, and Deira, south of the Tees and ruled from York. Bernicia and Deira combined to form the kingdom of Northanhymbra (Northumbria) early in the 7th century.
Oswald of Bernicia (633–641)
and Oswy of Northumbria (641–658).
The 7th century became known as the 'Golden Age of Northumbria', when the area was a beacon of culture and learning in Europe. The greatness of this period was based on its generally Christian culture and gave birth to the Lindisfarne Gospels. The Tyne valley was dotted with monasteries, with those at Monkwearmouth, Hexham and Jarrow being the most famous. Bede, based at Jarrow, wrote of a royal estate, known as Ad Murum, 'at the Wall', 12 miles (19km) from the sea. This estate may have been in what is now Newcastle.
At some unknown time, Newcastle came to be known as Monkchester though nothing is known of specific monasteries at the site, and Bede made no reference to it. In 875 Halfdan Ragnarsson, the Danish Viking conqueror of York, led an army that attacked and pillaged various monasteries in the area, and it is thought that Monkchester was pillaged at this time. Little more was heard of it until the coming of the Normans.