Newcastle under Lyme takes its name from the medieval castle which once stood in this part of Staffordshire.
There has been a castle at this place since at least Norman times but potentially long before.
During the time of civil war this valley was on an important junction between east and west, north and south.
It was important for the crown to control this area for strategic defence reasons which is why the castle was built.
This position was also significant in the 13th Century when the King was having problems with the Welsh who were resisting occupation by English forces.
Newcastle is not mentioned in the 1086 Domesday Book, as it grew up around the castle, but it must have rapidly become a place of importance, because a charter was given to the town by Henry II in 1173.
The new castle was built to supersede an older fortress at Chesterton about 2 miles to the north, the ruins of which were visible up to the end of the 16th century.
In 1235 Henry III constituted it a free borough, granting a guild merchant and other privileges.
In 1265 Newcastle was granted by the Crown to Simon de Montfort, and subsequently to Edmund Crouchback, through whom it passed to Henry IV.
The castle was built on low-lying ground and from this location there were extensive views of the surrounding land.
The market centre of Newcastle-under-Lyme, probably established by the late 12th century, occupies the adjacent higher ground to the east.
The castle was probably founded in the early 12th century. In 1149 King Stephen granted the castle and the accompanying lands to Ranulf de Gernon, Earl of Chester.
After Ranulf’s death in 1153 the castle appears to have remained in royal control for many years and was staffed by officials appointed by the Crown.
Numerous documentary references indicate that in the late 12th and early 13th centuries a considerable amount of work was being undertaken to strengthen the castle’s defences, and to construct and repair the internal buildings.
A major element of the castle’s defence, mentioned at this time, was the large pool that surrounded the castle, which was created by damming the Lyme Brook and the adjacent streams.
This very same brook still trickles peacefully through the edge of the town today and through the site of the castle
During the early 13th century the timber buildings were rebuilt in stone from the earlier Norman wooden structures. The buildings would have included the living quarters of the garrison, a store house, stables, a chapel.
As well as these buildings there is a description of the building housing the dungeon, being ’20 paces square’ which rose to 70 feet’.
It continues ‘a low and not well lighted passage did admit to the hall very large and spacious with roof loft and painted with devices, gallery for the minstrels and the walls clothed with green and of warfare, helmets and coats of mail armour. A gloomy staircase did lead to the state rooms and the bed chamber.’
In John Leland’s time in the mid-16th century the castle had all but disappeared “save one great Toure (Tower)”.
As you pass through the town and the residential streets of this place there are enticing clues of the presence of a once formidable fortress. Names of streets such as John O’ Gaunt’s Road and Castle Keep Court surround the area that was once part of the castle.
The only remains now visible are the hugely overgrown motte of the castle (a large earthen embankment) and the foundations for one side of the original gatehouse entrance which sit on a non-descript junction next to a school field.
John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, son of Edward III and father of Henry IV became the owner of the castle in 1362. It is said that all accounts he had so many estates that he rarely visited Newcastle, spending most of his time locally at Tutbury. He would have certainly visited occasionally, however.
It is fascinating to think of these visits, who would have witnessed them and what occurred and what was discussed.
The road which was the original causeway over the pool to the entrance to the castle is still named after him some 658 years later, as well as a pub on the corner of Silverdale road.
I can imagine Edward III, Richard II or John of Gaunt walking down these very streets, now lined with modern semi- detached houses, toward their fortress taking in the surroundings and discussing the pressing matters of the realm.
For centuries this place was a fortress, a home, a workplace and also a prison to thousands of people down the years. It’s walls were the last thing many people saw.
The memories of what once happened at this place are lost to history save the remnants of this small embankment that still stands faithfully next to the trickling brook as well as these footprints of the gateway that once proudly defended the fortress.
As you ponder the events of this place it is easy to dream on what once happened within the walls of this once great fortress.