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History

The Black Gate

Built between 1247 and 1250 during the reign of King Henry III, the Black Gate was the last addition to the medieval Castle defences, but today is used for quite a different purpose – to welcome visitors in.

The gatehouse, consisting of an arched passage with what are thought to be guard chambers on either side, was part of the barbican: a walled, defensive entrance for the Castle’s North Gate. Mounted in vertical grooves in the walls (still visible today), its portcullis could be raised or lowered quickly by means of chains or ropes attached to an internal winch. At the front of the gatehouse, which could be defended by overlooking soldiers, was a drawbridge with a turning bridge at the rear – both of which could be closed quickly using counterweights.

The second and third floors were added in the 17th century by Alexander Stephenson, who leased the building from King James I and turned it into a house. The present name derives from subsequent proprietor Patrick Black who, despite holding the lease, is now believed to have never actually lived there. Further remodelling can be attributed to John Pickell whose name and the date 1636 appear on a stone high up on the south side of the building, and who used part of the Black Gate as a tavern.

By the early 19th century, the building was a rabbit warren of slum dwellings and in 1856 there was a proposal to demolish it on the grounds that it was considered ‘a great nuisance’. The Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne leased the Black Gate in 1883 and converted it into a museum, which it served as until 1959. The Society continued to occupy it until 2009, using the gatehouse as a meeting place and library.