Newcastle City Guides are a group of enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteers, who are passionate for the history, heritage and culture of Newcastle and Gateshead. They were established in 1962 and have a programme of 50 different heritage walks which cover Newcastle City Centre out towards Gateshead, Jesmond, Gosforth and to the Coast.
There are a huge variety of walks on offer. There is a ‘City Highlights’ walk every day from June until the end of September, which is an ideal introduction for tourists and visitors to the city. The daily tour starts in Central Arcade and finishes on the Quayside. They also offer tours of Grey’s Monument, so if you fancy climbing the 164 steps to take in spectacular views of the Newcastle then get this booked up early as it always sells out. This is one I haven’t done yet (can’t believe it!) and one I definitely intend to do this year.
Last year I attended two of their walks.
The Heritage Walk
The Heritage Walk takes you around Northumberland Street and many of the streets surrounding the shopping area. It’s fascinating to be told about four important men in Newcastle’s history by pointing out their statues high up on one of the buildings in Northumberland Street. I had never even noticed them here before. The historical figures are Harry Hotspur, Roger Thornton, Sir John Marley and Thomas Bewick and they look down on the shoppers without so much as a second glance from most of us.
These great men of the North all contributed to Newcastle’s rich history. Harry Hotspur (1364 – 1403) was a late-medieval English nobleman and was a significant captain during the Anglo-Scottish wars. He later led successive rebellions against Henry IV of England.
Then there is Roger Thornton (died 1430), who came to be known as the Dick Whittington of Newcastle. Rising from humble roots he came to town to seek his fortune and went on to become the ‘richest merchant that ever was dwelling in Newcastle’. Plus he was mayor three times!
Next is Sir John Marley (1590 -1673) who was an English merchant, military commander and politician of the seventeenth century. He is best remembered for his heroic defence of Newcastle during the English Civil War, when he held the town for seven months against a besieging army on behalf of King Charles I. Cool dude huh?
Lastly, Thomas Bewick (1753 – 1828). Early in his career he took on all kinds of work such as engraving cutlery, making the wood blocks for advertisements, and illustrating children’s books. He gradually turned to illustrating, writing and publishing his own books, and now best known for his A History of British Birds, which is as admired today as it was then and became the forerunner of all modern field guides.
Since they’ve been pointed out I can’t understand why I never saw them before above the Samsung store as they seem really obvious now. We all need to look up more.
Walk on the Dark Side
The second walk I did was Walk on the Dark Side which had a distinct Halloween feel. Starting at Grey’s Monument and finishing at Broad Chare, we learned all about why ‘Gallow’ gate was named what it was (hangman’s gallows) and the witch trials of 1650 that saw 30 suspects tried in the Town Hall, with 15 later executed on the Town Moor.
All were women, except for one man who was found to be a wizard who could apparently turn himself into a black cat. We visited St Andrew’s Church in Newgate Street where it’s said the 15 executed witches were buried in unmarked graves in the churchyard.
For 2020 I will definitely attend the Dickensian Newcastle walk, to hear and see where the Charles Dickens theatre group performed, and where he carried out his celebrated readings. Charles Dickens fan or not, I think it will be fascinating.
All guided walks cost £5 for adults and are free for accompanied under 16’s. With most not needing to be booked in advance, they are a great idea for last minute ideas when the weather is good for being outside and enjoying our wonderful city and region.
Click here for details on all the other walks offered by the City Guides for 2020 and immerse yourself in the fascinating, and at times grisly, history of Newcastle.