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In 1154 Henry II became King of England, and set about taking control of the country after a period of civil war which had seen a lot of Northern England taken over by Scotland. In 1168, he had the timber castle on the Tyne rebuilt in stone. The Castle Keep which stands today dates to this period, and was completed in 1178 by Maurice the Engineer (who would go on to build Dover Castle) at a cost of just over £1,144. The Castle was a royal residence, and served as a base for the Sheriff of Northumberland, the King’s representative in the area.
In 1216, King John gave Newcastle its first royal charter, allowing the merchants to elect their own mayor and to control trade on the River Tyne. The Keep (or Great Tower) was the principal strongpoint of the Castle. Its construction was fortuitous when building work was interrupted first in 1173, and again in 1174, when the Castle was besieged by the Scots – the apparent explanation behind the building’s ‘unfinished stairs’. Notable additions during the reign of King John (1207 – 1216) included the former Great Hall, which stood roughly where the Vermont Hotel is today. On Boxing Day, 1292 it played host to John Balliol, King of Scots, who visited and reportedly paid homage to King Edward I, the ‘Hammer of the Scots’.
The castle was periodically added to up until 1250, when the building of the ‘barbican’ or gatehouse was finished – today this is the building known as the Black Gate. At the end of the 1200s, a long series of wars between England and Scotland began, and Newcastle became a border fortress and a place where the King of England would gather his armies before going out to fight.
The town was also growing – by the 1300s Newcastle was the fourth richest town in England, behind London, Bristol and York. Its main exports were wool and leather, but the coal trade was also starting to become important. The merchants asked the King for the right to build a town wall to help protect the town against Scottish raids.