The history of Tynemouth Castle is closely connected with that of
the Priory, both of which stand on the same rocky headland. Setting
aside the idea of a Roman occupation there is the tradition that it
was used as a military base by the Danish invaders. We are on certain
ground in 1095 when William Rufus captured "Earl Robert’s castle
which is at the mouth of the river Tyne". Earl Robert de Mowbray’s
castle from which he defied the king was probably of earthen ramparts
surmounted by a wooden stockade.
In 1296 Edward granted the prior and convent of Tynemouth
permission to surround their monastery with a vail of stone. The
medieval walls and tower, with the exception of the gatehouse, which
survive, belong to that period.
In 1390 the gatehouse was erected on the landward side. it is a
powerful gatehouse keep with a barbican in front. In 1538 the convent
was disbanded and the lands attached to it were taken over by the king
who granted them to Sir Thomas Hilton of Hilton. The castle, however,
remained in royal hands and in 1545 a thousand workmen were
employed in fortifying the headland. When the work was completed
a garrison of Spanish mercenaries was stationed here (hence the name
of the Spanish Battery). During the Civil War the castle played an
important part but afterwards fell into decay. In 1681 it was in a ruinous
state and the defence, of the Tyne was taken over by the newly built
Clifford’s Fort at North Shield?.
At the turn of the century the castle was a barracks with many
buildings added to it. But in 1936 after being gutted by fire it was
taken over by the Ministry of Works who have removed many additions
and restored the original parts of the castle to a more dignified form.
As at Dunstanburgh, Bywell and Bothal the strength of Tynemouth
castle lay in its Gatehouse. It consists of an oblong tower with a
projecting barbican like Ainwick and Prudhoe. The entrance through
the barbican was by a vaulted passage protected by a portcullis and
gate flanked by towers whose basements were used as guard rooms.
The open court further on was originally a drawbridge pit separating
the barbican from the Gatehouse. A second vaulted passage with guard
rooms at the side passes under the Gatehouse,
On the first floor of the Gatehouse is the magnificent Great Hall,
with a wide fireplace, lighted on all sides by windows since modernised.
Adjoining is the kitchen with its wide fireplace and huge oven. Above
the Great Hall is the Great Chamber.
Formerly the entire promontory was enclosed by a curtain wall
and towers. The west wall is now nearly all Elizabethan but a frag-
ment of the medieval Whitley Tower still survives. To the south of
the Gatehouse were two towers which are now mere earthworks
revetted in stone for artillery. Most of the south wall was destroyed
in 1851 but a medieval tower still stands. The north and east walls
have fallen into the sea.