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‘Castle Garth’ is the name for the area once enclosed within the Castle walls – Garth being an archaic term for the modern word ‘yard’. To the rear of the Black Gate stood the Castle’s two prisons: the Great Pit and the Heron Pit, which took its name from an infamous 13th century sheriff and can still be seen today.
In 1400 Newcastle became a county in its own right; however, the Garth, being within the Castle walls, remained part of the County of Northumberland. The Great Hall, a seperate building to the Castle Keep which became known as the ‘Old Moot Hall’ in later years, was used by the assizes courts (courts which sat at regular intervals in each county of England and Wales). The Keep, meanwhile, became a prison for the County and was used as such until the beginning of the 19th century.
Unlicensed tradesmen took advantage of the fact that town authorities had no jurisdiction on the Garth. From the time of Charles II (1630 - 1685), the area became famous for its tailors and shoemakers, which grew in particular abundance on the footpath known as Castle Stairs. This route has at its head a Postern Gate – which has miraculously survived from the original stone fortress.
In 1619 the Castle (with the exception of the Keep and Old Moot Hall) was leased by James I to courtier Alexander Stephenson, who allowed houses to be built within the Castle walls, and also sub-let parts of the Castle for workshops. After the Civil War, new houses were added until, by the end of the 18th century the Castle Garth had become a distinct and densely populated community, with a theatre, public houses and lodging houses.
Clearance of these began in the early 1800s for construction of the new Moot Hall (to replace the medieval Moot Hall/ former Great Hall as the County Court). From 1847-1849 further clearance made way for the railway viaduct, thus cutting off direct access from the Castle Keep to the Black Gate.