JOHN GRUNDY’S HISTORY OF NEWCASTLE. Published by Newcastle Libraries ( £10. Hardback.

IN his inimitable, funny and sometimes irreverent style, John Grundy traces a history that stretches from the Roman occupation through the centuries up to the modern day. It is a fascinating story brought vividly to life thanks to the author’s extensive knowledge and research and answers many questions to which readers may not know the full answer.
Why did the Romans build a fort in the 3rd century on a site where the castle built by the Normans still stands today? Did you know that the pre-Norman name of the Saxon settlement positioned here was Monkchester? Or that Newcastle was ruled by the Scots for 18 years in the 12th century?
Reaching the Middle Ages, we learn that by 1334 Newcastle had become the fourth wealthiest town in the kingdom, and by Tudor times coal fortunes were already being made by wealthy Tyneside families.
Following the dissolution of the monasteries, all the coal mines which had belonged to the church were effectively nationalised by Elizabeth I and leading local families were able to buy leases to work these mines and export their output.
Troubles in the 17th century began with a devastating outbreak of plague in 1636 which claimed the lives of almost half Newcastle’s citizens, then four years later the town once again bore the brunt of marauding Scots. They occupied the town for one year, then returned in 1644 and stayed for a further three years.
Delving into historic accounts of visitors to Newcastle in the 17th century, we hear that one hard-to-please army lieutenant from Norwich commented: “We found the people and the streets much alike, neither rich nor clean”.
But a far more favourable verdict came a year later from Sir William Brereton of Cheshire, who described Newcastle as “beyond compare the fairest and the richest town in England, inferior for wealth and building to no city save London and Bristol”.
Entering the 18th century, visitors are beginning to record their bafflement on hearing spoken Geordie. When traveller William Stukely passed through in 1724, he wrote: “They speak very broad, so that as one walks the streets, one can scarce understand the common people but is apt to fancy oneself in a foreign country.”
The timing of his visit fortunately did not coincide with riots by Tyne keelmen protesting about the exploitation of coal shippers and food shortages: these took place in 1707, 1709, 1710, 1740 and 1750.
Nor did these periodic outbreaks of violent protest deter mid-18th century visitors from descending on Newcastle’s specialist shops which were still a rarity in most parts of the country. Sought-after luxury goods ranged from high-quality glass, the work of expert goldsmiths, milliners, upholsterers, silverware, wine shops, tea dealers and bookshops.