From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present

Tynemouth Priory and Castle

Tyne and Wear
55° 1′ 3″ N 1° 25′ 8″ W

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  • History
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Tynemouth Priory and Castle is located on a rocky headland at the mouth of the River Tyne, overlooking Tynemouth Pier.

Little is known of the early history of the site. Some Roman stones have been found there, but there is no definite evidence that it was occupied by the Romans.

The Priory was founded early in the 7th century, perhaps by Edwin of Northumbria. In 651 Oswin, King of Deira was murdered by the soldiers of King Oswiu of Bernicia, his body was brought to Tynemouth for burial where he became St Oswin and his burial place became a shrine visited by pilgrims. He was the first of the three kings buried at Tynemouth. In 792 Osred II, who had been king of Northumbria from 789 to 790 and then deposed, was murdered. He also was buried at Tynemouth Priory. The third king to be buried at Tynemouth was Malcolm III, king of Scotland, who was killed at the Battle of Alnwick in 1093. The coat of arms of the town of Tynemouth has three crowns commemorating burial places for these three kings.

The priory was sacked by the Danes in 800, they again attacked in 832 but were repelled although in 865, the church and monastery were destroyed with the massacre the nuns of St Hilda, who had come there for safety. The priory was again plundered by the Danes in 870. The priory was destroyed by the Danes in 875

By 1095, there was a castle on the site consisting of earthen ramparts and a wooden stockade. In 1296, the prior of Tynemouth was granted royal permission to surround the monastery with walls of stone, which he did. In 1390 a gatehouse and barbican were added on the landward side of the castle. The promontory was originally completely enclosed by a curtain wall and towers, but the north and east walls fell into the sea, and most of the south wall was demolished.

In 1538, the monastery of Tynemouth was suppressed, Robert Blakeney was the last prior of Tynemouth. At that time, apart from the prior, there were fifteen monks and three novices in residence. The priory and its attached lands were taken over by King Henry VIII who granted them to Sir Thomas Hilton. The monastic buildings were dismantled leaving only the church and the Prior's house. The castle, however, remained in royal hands. New artillery fortifications were built and the medieval castle walls were updated with new gun ports.

For some time a navigation light, in the form of a coal-fired brazier, had been maintained on top of one of the turrets at the east end of the Priory church. In 1559, however, the stairs leading to the top of the turret collapsed, preventing the fire from being lit.

At the end of the 19th century the castle was used as a barracks with several new buildings being added. Many of these were removed after a fire in 1936. The castle played a role during World War II when it was used as a coastal defence installation covering the mouth of the river Tyne. The restored sections of the coastal defence emplacements are open to the public. These include a guardroom and the main armoury, where visitors can see how munitions were safely handled and protected.

More recently the site has hosted the modern buildings of Her Majesty's Coastguard; however the new coastguard station, built in 1980 and opened by Prince Charles, was closed in 2001.