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Newcastle’s Castle: The Norman chapel

The normal chapel at Newcastle’s Castle is a beautiful example of Normal architecture with Norman arches in the roof and above the doorways.

These are incredible restorations undertaken by John Dobson in 1847. They still give you an idea of the chapel would have looked like during the medieval period.

The Norman invasion

When the Normans invaded Britain in 1066 they were a deeply religious people. They wanted to bring religious orthodoxy into the British Isles. They believed that the British were lax in their Christianity – not practising or worshipping fervently enough. So the Norman brought with them a great many monks and established monasteries throughout the British Isles.

The chapel at the Castle would have been a royal chapel because Newcastle’s Castle was a royal castle, unlike other castles which were owned by Barons and Lords and used to control parts of the country on behalf of the King.

But Newcastle’s Castle was owned by the King – it was the seat of royal power in the region. Whenever the royal family came to stay for a state visit or to defend the region against the Scots, they’d also need somewhere to worship – hence the chapel.

Architectural changes

The chapel has changed architecturally over the years. One of the doorways in the chapel never existed in its original state. The door that exists there now would have been quarried through during a restoration to allow access from another part of the castle.

This particular chapel was only for the use of the royal family. Other Garrison members who lived and worked at the castle would have worshipped at another chapel in the grounds of the castle.

A declining reputation

As the castle’s role changed and the city’s walls were built, the castle wasn’t needed as a miliary defence and it fell into disrepair and was abandoned. Thieves would hide in the castle and use it as a base to rob other areas in the city.

In an attempt to rid the castle of this unfortunate use, part of the chapel was later turned into a store house or cellar for a nearby pub – the Three Boars Head. Beer for the pub was stored in the chapel, to be drawn upon by Newcastle revellers. The pub has since been demolished but it developed a reputation as a rough establishment, the landlord of which declared himself the best ever player of a certain board game in the whole of the British Isles. When challenged and beaten at the game, he started an impromptu ‘boxing match’ which was reported in the local newspaper – the modern day equivalent of which would be a bar fight!

After 1847 the chapel was redeveloped as a heritage site in the heart of the city to tell the story of the Norman Chapel and all its royal, criminal and slightly shady inhabitants.

You can watch an episode on this particular topic on my youtube channel Alex Iles UK here

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