History of Tyne and Wear


The county of Tyne and Wear is rich in history - both in ancient times and in modern days. The location of this area on the north-east coast of the UK made it a perfect place for settlements from early ages. It is thought, for example, that Stone Age tribes settled in the Sunderland area. And, the town of Jarrow may be best remembered in recent centuries for its industrial bent but this was actually the home of the Venerable Bede in the 6-700s. It was also the place chosen by the Vikings in later decades as one of the first points of entry for a UK invasion. The area held out against the Vikings for many years.

The later influences of the Romans in Tyne and Wear also spread across the county. Not only is this the site of the world famous Hadrian's Wall but there is also evidence of other significant Roman sites and settlements across the county including forts at Benwell, South Shields and Newcastle. The town of Gateshead was also important to the Romans and they used it as a base for a road that connected the fort at Newcastle with the one in Chester le Street. South Shields was used as a supply centre and as the sea port for Hadrian's army in the area.

After the Romans left the area there were various changes to it. For example, the fort at Newcastle became known as Monkchester after the monks who took it over and Newcastle kept this name until the time of the Normans who built a 'new castle' on the site of the original fort. Over time a medieval town was built up around the castle and this area was used for military purposes to defend England from Scotland. This prime location, together with the coastal access of the town helped turn Newcastle, and Tyne and Wear in general, into an extremely important area for centuries to come.

Gateshead in Norman times was, however, much different to Newcastle on the other side of the river. It was, for example, ruled by the Bishops of Durham and there were many disputes over the years between Gateshead and Newcastle. By the 1550s, however, Gateshead was made part of Newcastle for a while before being given back to Durham.

Tyne and Wear developed many industries over the years including mining, ship building, fishing and various other related trades. For a period the coal mines in the area were responsible for supplying most of the coal to the country's capital London. The granting of the contract to supply coal to London to Newcastle rather than to Sunderland by King Charles I led to later problems. During the Civil War, for example, Newcastle fought for the Royalists and Sunderland for the Roundheads.

Over the years many bridges have been built linking the two main areas around the river Tyne - Newcastle and Gateshead - and there are currently six bridges spanning the river here. As time passed the area's industrial influence and major industries declined and the cities and towns of Tyne and Wear were forced to find new commercial areas to work in.

Tyne and Wear came into being as a metropolitan county bringing together Newcastle, Sunderland, Gateshead and South and North Tyneside in 1974.