Destination Newcastle > History > NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE IN THE 16th AND 17th CENTURIES

In 1539 Henry VIII closed the friaries. In 1540 he closed the nunnery. However Henry also founded a grammar school in Newcastle which was incorporated in 1600.

In the 16th century exports of coal boomed and it overtook wool as the town’s main export. It is estimated that in 1500 about 15,000 tons of coal were exported from Newcastle each year. By the mid 17th century that had soared to around 400,000 tons a year.

By 1600 the population of Newcastle Upon Tyne had risen to about 10,000. By the standards of the time it was a large and important town. In 1635 a writer called Newcastle ‘the fairest and richest town in England inferior for wealth and building to no city save London and Bristol’.

In 1642 came civil war between king and parliament. Newcastle sided with the king but in 1644 a parliamentary army laid siege to the town. Newcastle surrendered in October 1644.

In 1658 a new Guildhall was built and in 1681 the Hospital of the Holy Jesus (an almshouse).

In the late 17th century coal exports continued to boom so did the shipbuilding industry in Newcastle. Rope making also flourished. Lime was made in kilns for fertiliser. Salt was made from seawater. The water was heated in pans to evaporate it and leave behind a residue of salt. From the late 17th century there was a glass making industry in Newcastle. By the early 18th century there was also an iron and steel industry. Another industry was clay pipe making.

At the end of the 17th century the travel writer Celia Fiennes described Newcastle Upon Tyne as a noble town. She said it resembled London more than any other town in England. The streets were broad and the buildings were tall and made of brick or stone.