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The first restoration came in 1810 after the Corporation of Newcastle stepped in and bought the Keep for £630. The improvements made were substantial. For over a century the Keep had been roofless so new plaster ceilings were added, as were battlements and – controversially – corner turrets, which were deemed incongruous at the time.
Several rooms were given ‘romanticised’ names to appeal to visitors – including the Great Hall, the Garrison Room and the King’s and Queen’s chambers (despite there being, in most cases, no record of them having served such function). It was too late, sadly, to save the original Great Hall of the Castle (also known as the Old Moot Hall), which had come to be used for the keeping of assize, sessions, and gaol-delivery for the County of Northumberland and in 1808 it was decided that it was to be demolished to make way for the current Moot Hall.
By 1847 the Keep was in danger from the development of the railways but the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne successfully campaigned against proposals. In the following year the Society was given a long lease from the Corporation on the building for a nominal rent and members celebrated the new acquisition with a Grand Antiquarian Banquet in the Great Hall.
Famed architect John Dobson was commissioned to oversee further restoration work. Under his direction, the Keep’s Norman chapel, with its chevrons and vaulted ceiling, was embellished and protected for future generations. Conservation and maintenance continues today.
In 1856, the Black Gate was also threatened with demolition and John Dobson, among other architects, put forward proposals to transform it into an elaborate multi-storey museum with gothic trappings. Although none of these designs were acted upon, renewed interest ensured that the Black Gate was safe for another twenty-five years – albiet remaining in the much dilapidated state it had fallen into. Eventually, the Society was able to lease it from the Cooperation in 1883 and put it into public use, notably refurbishing the upper-floor to transform it into a flat for the warden of the Castle and giving the building a new tiled roof.
The Society of Antiquaries continued to occupy the Black Gate (which became the North of England Bagpipe Museum in the 1970s and 80s) and Castle Keep until 2009, when their collection moved to the Great North Museum: Hancock. They are still joint custodians, along with Newcastle City Council, operating as the Heart of the City Partnership. Both buildings were extensively renovated between 2012 and 2015.