Newcastle upon Tyne is a metropolis rich with history and culture and is located on the north bank of the river Tyne. Since its beginnings as a Roman outpost to its current state as one of the best cities to live in England, the area had undergone a drastic metamorphosis. The name Newcastle owes to the Robert II, Duke of Normandy’s castle which he built in 1080. Many generations of royals, and even ancients, have seen the strategic importance of developing the area especially in terms of military planning. The Romans defended saw the area as a point of critical defence against the Pictish tribes of the north. Anglo-Saxons and Normans fought over the territory over the same reasons and throughout the Middle Ages, the city was known to be the fortress of the North, with Henry II and Elizabeth making necessary policies to improve its defences. It proved its mettle against the Scots in the border war and was granted its own sheriff by Henry IV in 1400 (Hepple, 1976:24). Aside from its military importance, Newcastle is also valued for it ideal location for trade and commerce. The fact that it is situated on the river of Tyne already provides the city the capacity to transport products to other places with relative ease.
Trade and commerce was first realized in Newcastle in the beginning of the 16th century, with the city basically having the monopoly of the coal trade in the area. From 1530, a royal act restricted all shipments of coal from Tyneside to Newcastle Quayside in effect providing the monopoly in the coal trade. In the 18th century, Newcastle also emerged as a printing powerhouse being the fourth largest print centre in the nation after London, Oxford and Cambridge. The Literary and Philosophical Society of 1793, was the model in which the London Library based its operations. The city also became the purveyor of the finest flint glass, which at the time and that raked in income for the city as well (Hepple, 1976:39). It can be seen in this dynamic that coal played a central role in the development of the economy of the city, as well as placing a unique identity to the “Keelmen” that have transported coal to other places via the river, using boats.
But probably, the biggest economic boom Newcastle experienced happened simultaneously with the industrial revolution of the 19th century that swept through Europe like a storm. As it is a port city, the major asset the city had was the river itself; and with many centuries of transporting goods, the city had no problem in fully utilizing the area for industrialization. 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. The development of safety lamps, Stephenson’s, Lord Armstrong’s artillery, Be-Ro flour, Joseph Swan’s electric light bulbs, and Charles’ invention of the steam turbine (which became the precedent to advancements in marine propulsion and the production of cheap electricity) that have all occurred within Newcastle and its neighbouring areas, which pushed the city to make provisions for the transportation of the goods (Moffat and Rosie, 2005:59). Ship making has hence become the primary industry of the city which saw the establishment of massive factories and assembly plants. The great demand for new technologies (such as ships) at that time sustained the industry and excellent ships were made the trademark of the area. It continued to provide heavy machineries needed to establish new plants and coal that was needed to power these. Culturally, people within the city are either workers in the mines, or workers in the factories or keelmen that transported the goods, and the people who were then considered elite were the people who managed to gain holdings of such operations. The city was like a city-wide mega factory with its citizens being mostly composed of workers who have specialized knowledge in new technologies (Hepple, 1976:48).
Heavy industry and ship building declined in the entry of the 20th century; however, as many other areas in England and abroad have taken exponential steps in the development of such industries that Newcastle’s input had very little impact. This has resulted into the decline of heavy industry as the staple source of income for the city, and the era of post-Industrialization has dawned. The economic staples are now based on retail and tourism; and this has resulted into shifts in social dynamics (Moffat and Rosie, 2005:68). In the industrialization era, citizens were expected to have different degrees of knowledge about the mass manufacturing process, and the culture of workers was what was dominant at the time. This had been replaced by a hospitality-based culture, where the history and the current leaps made by the city is what is highlighted and given the basis of commerce. Newcastle has invested on education and cultural events and it has taken the reputation of being the party-central of the United Kingdom. This has also resulted into the city being a modern day melting pot of ideas and culture that different seats of government have its base of operations there (Pendlebury, J., Townshend, T. and Gilroy, R., 2005:3-6).
Basically, the industrial revolution pushed the city to go towards industrialization after long centuries of being a fortress town. The river had much to contribute to this path as it provided resources to its people as well as the means to transport goods. After this era of labour-intensive cultures and a decline in demand for industries, the trend has shifted towards a hospitality-based culture in which specializations in tourism and having a “good time” are now given premium. This owes to the rich history of Newcastle and its ability to adapt to the times. Such is the genius of the placement of the city on the river Tyne that has done what is has so far.
Hepple, L. (1976) History of Northumberland and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, London: Phillimore & Co Ltd
Moffat, A. and Rosie, G. (2005) Tyneside: A History of Newcastle and Gateshead from Earliest Times, London: Mainstream Publishing
Pendlebury, J., Townshend, T. and Gilroy, R. (2005) Social Housing as Cultural Landscape: A Case Study of Byker, Newcastle upon Tyne, Newcastle: Newcastle University