Tyne and Wear
Atop a rocky headland, known as Pen Bal Crag, stands the ruined priory and castle overlooking
the mouth of the River Tyne.
Whether or not a Roman pharos stood here it is impossible to tell but the earliest positive evidence of occupancy was when a priory was founded in the 7th century.
Sometime during the reign of Edward the Confessor, the priory had been abandoned
and Earl Tostig made it his fortress.
About a decade after Tostig’s death, at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, In 1090, Robert de Mowbray, Earl of Northumberland, built a motte and bailey castle within the old priory precincts and re-found the priory which became the centre of a dispute over the rights of Durham. However, a deal was worked out between Mowbray and the Prior of Durham in 1093. In the same year, King Malcolm III of Scotland was killed by Robert de Mowbray, while attacking Alnwick castle. Malcolm’s body was then carried
to Tynemouth and buried at the priory.
Sometime in 1094, Robert led a rebellion against King William II (Rufus) because of his supposed, tyranny and excessive taxation and it is thought he wanted the King dead and replaced with Stephen de Aumale.
The rebellion finally collapsed when Robert became aware of his supporters drifting away from him. He was forced to flee, first from Newcastle to Bamburgh castle, which also came under siege. Finally he was seen escaping to take refuge in Tynemouth castle. The King’s forces followed and after a six day siege, Robert was wounded in a skirmish and captured.
Some say he was first dragged away from Tynemouth but in any event, he was taken back to Bamburgh castle where he was paraded before his wife. She surrendered the castle on receiving a message that his eyes would be burnt out if she continued to resist. Robert was sentenced to prison for life but two of his main supporters fared worse. William de Eu was castrated and imprisoned
while William de Aldrie was condemned to death.
In 1296 the Prior of Tynemouth was granted royal permission to crenelate; he went ahead and built a stone curtain wall surrounding the priory.
King Edward II took refuge here with his friend, Piers Gaveston in 1312, before fleeing by sea to Scarborough castle. These events were dramatised by Christopher Marlowe in his play Edward II.
By 1390 a stone fortified gatehouse and barbican were added to the curtain wall on the landward side. The architect in this case would probably have been John Lewyn, principle mason
to Durham Cathedral and the Palatinate.
The priory/monastery was disbanded in 1538, its last prior being Robert Blakeney. Its lands were taken over by King Henry VIII who granted them to Sir Thomas Hilton. The monastic buildings were dismantled, save the church and the prior’s house. The church continued to be used until 1668 when
a new church was built nearby.
The castle was in royal hands when, in 1545, Italian military engineers, Gian Tommaso Scala and Antonio da Bergamo were employed to modernise its defences. Over the following years the castle began to serve no real military purpose and fell into disrepair, until the Second World War, when it was used as a coastal battery covering the mouth of the River Tyne.
It is now in the care of English Heritage and is open to the public
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