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Newcastle, medieval port


Little is known of the scale of river trade before the construction of the quay that served the first Castle in the late 11th century. Grey mentions ships beaching at Sandhill at the confluence of the Lort Burn. A better natural location would have been the inlet of the Pandon. Excavations at the Crown Court and Stockbridge have shown no material evidence of significant riverside facilities before the reclamations of the late 12th century. Newcastle was designated a Customs Port and Staple Port (wool and hide dominated) in 1275. It was one of the ports where royal taxes were levied between 1275 and 1547. In 1275 a 'cockettum' or custom house is mentioned. The Enrolled Accounts give summaries of excises on wool, cloth, wine, waxm tin and pewter. The Particular Accounts were collected by the king's controllers. For Newcastle, they are published for 1294-7, 1300-99 and 1454-1500. The Chamberlains' Accounts of 1508-11 is the earliest Newcastle manuscript survival. It details the town's revenue, expenditure and the port's external relations. The first references to coastal shipping refer to supplying the garrison in 1204 with corn from Lynn. Quayside facilities were well developed by the early 13th century. Newcastle had become a regionally important market centre and port. It was inferior only to London, Southampton, Boston, Lincoln, Hull and York. By 1334 Newcastle was fourth in the country behind London, Bristol and York. Newcastle specialised in inferior-quality wool, particularly lamb fells. They were traded mostly to Bruges, Middleburg and Antwerp. Hide export dwindled. Most hides were sold to local manufacturers. Newcastle's main export was coal. The first shipments came from pits close to the riverbank at Whickham. Once surface coal close to the river was exhausted, pits were opened further inland. Growth is known in the 1520s and 30s at Benwell, Elswick, Ravensworth, Stella, Chopwell, Denton and Heworth. Coal exported from Newcastle may have supported the medieval industries in Bruges and Holland. It was put to domestic and industrial use in France, London and the south coast. Coal was used for drying dye madder (textile industry) in Zeeland. It was used for smoking and drying fish and for breweries in Holland. Significant exports of coal were being shipped from Newcastle from the second quarter of the 14th century to Flanders, Holland and some to the Baltic. Industry on Tyneside was largely organised and financed by local Newcastle merchants. Coal exports provided a ballast substitute for sea-borne trade. By the 16th century keels were used to link the mines upstream to the colliers at the quayside. Newcastle coal was cheaper than land-bourne coal elsewhere in the country.


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