Time for a little smackerel of something 🙂
Cocktails first 🙂
Lunch comes with a story! 🙂
Blackfriars is the only remaining medieval friary in Newcastle upon Tyne, now housing a restaurant and several craft shops. With its origins dating back to 1239 and a long and turbulent history that included a spell as a hostel to accommodate King Henry III, Blackfriars Restaurant confidently lays claim to being the oldest dining room in the UK.
The Dominican Friars, or Blackfriars, so-called because of their black cloaks, came to Newcastle in the early 13th century. Friars differed in a number of aspects to monks. Monks stayed in monasteries, often in the countryside, and spent their time praying and studying. They had little contact with the outside world and were self-sufficient.
Friars, however, focused on serving the local people through care, preaching and teaching. Friars were supposed to rely on the charity of people and usually had modest buildings, called friaries. The churches that they built were the first ones designed for preaching to large groups of people. Of all the different orders of friars (for example the Franciscans and Carmelites), Dominican Friars in general were the best educated and most fervent preachers.
In the medieval period there were three other orders of friars in Newcastle, including the Augustinian Friars who lived on the site of the Holy Jesus Hospital. Today few examples of friaries survive in the United Kingdom.
Tradition holds that the land for Blackfriars was donated by three sisters, but their names have sadly been forgotten. The original Friary was destroyed by fire in 1248 and rebuilt around 1250. The rebuilding was paid for by the first Mayor of Newcastle, Sir Peter Scott, and his son Nicholas. The scale and extravagance of the new building drew criticism from the General Chapter of the Dominican Order and the Prior (the head) of Blackfriars in Newcastle was forced to leave his post.
In the late 13th century the new Town Wall was built through the Friary’s land. The Friary was granted the right to make a gate through this wall in 1280 so they could access their gardens beyond. This gate can still be seen blocked up in the best preserved section of the Town Wall on Back Stowell Street.
The friars had an orchard and two gardens. The gardens would probably have had different uses, for example a kitchen garden for growing vegetables and a herb garden for growing plants and herbs for medicinal uses.
In 1534 Henry VIII broke England away from the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and the Papacy, the power of the Pope. Shortly afterwards he began a programme of religious changes, which included the closing of monasteries and other religious houses in England and Wales, and the transfer of their land and wealth to the Crown. The Prior of Newcastle’s Blackfriars, Richard Marshall, was forced to flee to Scotland in 1536 after speaking out against the King’s religious changes.
In 1539 Newcastle’s Blackfriars surrendered to the Crown. Each one of the friars was given a small payment to help him survive until he found a new occupation.
After an absence of over 300 years, the Dominicans returned to Newcastle in 1860 and opened St. Dominic’s Priory on New Bridge Street in 1873.
Following the closure of Blackfriars in 1539, Henry VIII granted the Friary to the Mayor and Burgesses of Newcastle for a sum of £53 7 shillings and 6 pence.
The church, sacristy and part of the chapterhouse were demolished and a lot of the salvaged materials, such as the stone, timber and lead, were used to build the first lighthouse at Tynemouth and the High and Low Lights at South Shields.
From 1552 the remaining buildings were leased to nine craft guilds, which used the buildings as meeting rooms. They included Blacksmiths, Fullers and Dyers, Bakers and Brewers, Taylors, Cordwainers, Saddlers, Skinners and Glovers, Butchers and Tanners. The guilds continued to use the upper floors of the building until the 19th century. The ground floor was used as almshouses for accommodating the poor and widows of members of the guilds.
Guilds were fraternities of workers involved in a specific trade or craft. They aimed to establish an association for mutual benefit and assistance for members and were similar in some ways to modern trade unions. They also regulated standards for their craft and ensured that every member had a fair chance of selling their wares. They would fine members whose work was not considered to be of good quality so that the high standards were maintained.
Craftsmen were not allowed to practice without having completed an apprenticeship. This took about seven years and was unpaid. The guilds charged admission fees and enforced strict rules in a contract between master and apprentice that was called an indenture.
The guilds carried out a lot of alterations to the buildings. For example, new windows were installed in most of the buildings while the old windows were blocked up over the years and floor levels were altered. Plaques dedicated to these works can be seen around the site. Although the buildings have changed a lot, thanks to the guilds the Friary survived. There are only fifteen medieval friaries left in the United Kingdom.
Guilds became less important as the Industrial Revolution gathered pace and in 1814 the indenture system was abolished. While the guilds still existed and used the buildings occasionally, they no longer had the power they once had and the buildings began to fall into a state of disrepair. Though in a very poor condition, people continued to live there until 1951.
In the 1960s Blackfriars was threatened with demolition. However, the building was saved, largely through the efforts of Alderman Peter Renwick, Mayor of Newcastle in 1963 and 1964 and Sheriff in 1967.
Various plans were considered for the restoration of the buildings, but serious plans were not put forward until a survey in 1973 revealed that unless restoration started in the near future, complete ruin would be unavoidable.
It was recommended that premises for small businesses and craft workshops be created. The work was financed by Tyne and Wear County Council, the Department for Education and the English Tourist Board, at a total cost of £600,000.
During the restoration, archaeological excavations were carried out. The ruins of the church, which can be seen at Blackfriars, were revealed.
In 1980, as part of the celebrations of the 900th anniversary of the founding of Newcastle, H.M. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother visited Blackfriars and unveiled a commemorative plaque. The restoration was completed in 1981.
In the medieval period most towns had defensive walls. Newcastle was an important town in the defence of the north of England against the Scots. In 1265 Henry III gave permission for the town to charge more taxes to fund new defences. The Town Wall was built in the late 13th and 14th centuries and was strengthened during the reign of Edward III (1327-77). The Town Wall was started along Blackett Street and stretched down to the river.
The Blackfriars area has the largest surviving sections of the Town Wall and the remains of four of its defensive towers. The most complete section of the Town Wall can be seen at Stowell Street, along with three towers. The outer ditch has also been excavated and left visible.
Morden Tower, situated behind Stowell Street, is now used as a small music and arts venue. The New Gate was at the junction of Newgate Street and Gallowgate and was one of the main gateways into the medieval town and its numerous markets. Here you would have been able to explore the bustling markets including the Bigg Market, Poultry Market, Groat Market, Wool Market, Iron Market and the Flesh Market. Today it leads down to the new Eldon Square shopping centre entrance and the entertainment complex, The Gate.
Their “strength and magnificence…far passith all the waulls of the cities of England”, Leland (1540)
After the Town Wall was no longer needed for defensive purposes a number of the towers were rebuilt and used by local crafts and guilds. Sections of the wall and towers can also be seen near the train station and near the quayside.
Just outside the Town Wall on Bath Lane is the House of Recovery which was a hospital built by public subscription and was in use until 1888. It was built outside the Town Wall to avoid the spread of disease and treated sufferers of typhus, cholera and smallpox from amongst the poor of the city. The building is not normally open to the public.
In stark contrast to the new shopping buildings stands St Andrew’s, the city’s oldest church. This church has a long and fascinating history dating back to the 12th century. A section of the town wall can be seen in the churchyard.
The Parish Church of St. Andrew is believed to have been founded by King David I of Scotland (reigned 1124-1153) around 1140. The earliest remaining part of the church is the 12th century chancel arch between the altar and the rest of the church.
Over the centuries the building has been altered, enlarged, embellished, damaged and restored although most of its fabric is medieval. The last addition, apart from the vestries, was the main porch near the tower in 1726. Major restorations took place in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The tower dates from 1207 with the belfry added later in the 13th century. During the Civil War (1642-1651) the tower was used as a gun platform and the church suffered a lot of damage from the 1644 siege of Newcastle. Three cannon balls in the church testify to this.
In 1726 a new set of heavier bells were installed in the belfry, which were cast from the old bells and a statue of King James II (r.1685-1688) that was recovered from the River Tyne. However, the weight of the bells and stresses caused by ringing them weakened the construction of the tower so much that regular bell-ringing was stopped after 100 years until the bells were replaced in 1966.
The church contains, amongst others things, one of the finest carved font covers in England, a bell-ringer’s board and two medieval stone basins.
In the churchyard a number of notable people are buried, including composer Charles Avison (1709-1770) and engraver Ralph Beilby (1743-1817). Local architect William Newton (1730-1798) is buried in the church, though his tombstone is now covered by the organ. Newton designed the nearby Charlotte Square, which was built in 1770. This was Newcastle’s first square in the London-style with fashionable Georgian houses around a central garden and was meant for the migrating middle classes. It was named after Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III. Newton himself lived there for 28 years.
Street names can provide us with clues about the history of an area. Around Blackfriars there are some interesting examples.
William Scott, later Baron Stowell, was a prominent judge in the early 19th century. He is most famous for his judgements on maritime law which are still used as precedent cases today. He was also brother-in-law to Bessie Surtees, who eloped with his brother in 1772 to get married. This street was named in his honour in the mid-1820s.
From the late 18th century until the creation of the National Health Service in 1948 the poor relied on town dispensaries for free medical help. In 1790 Newcastle’s dispensary moved to a site off Low Friar Street, giving Dispensary Lane its name. The dispensary building was knocked down during slum clearances in 1935.
This street near the former eastern boundary of Blackfriars dates back to at least the 13th century. Before the 19th century it was called Shod-Friar Chare, referring to the Dominican Friars who wore shoes.
The name Darn Crook probably means dark, crooked or twisted lane. It was down this street in 1644 that the Scots breached the Town Wall, under the command of Lieutenant-General Baillie, and invaded the Town. Darn Crook was renamed St. Andrew’s Street in the early 1980s.
The name of this street is a corruption of Gallows Gate, which referred to the road (geat) that was used to bring convicted criminals from Newcastle’s New Gate Jail to the gallows. Since 1480 gallows stood on Newcastle Town Moor, outside of the city gates near Fenham Barracks. Northumbrians, however, had separate gallows outside the West Gate. The last person to be publicly hanged on the Town Moor was Mark Sherwood, who was executed in 1844 for murdering his wife.
Before plumbing was a common household feature many towns had public medical baths. Newcastle’s baths were built in 1781 near Westgate Road and contained hot, tepid, cold and steam baths. Their main purpose was not for swimming but for getting clean and staying healthy!