Architecture and history
Built in A.D. 1247 this barbican is a 34 feet long by 11 feet 6" wide covered passage with guard rooms on either side and drawbridges at both ends. While the original height of the medieval building is unknown it still bares the telltale marks of a portcullis and of the great castle gate itself in its brickwork.
Between 1227 and 1258 the occupier is recorded as Tomes Herron, (also called William Heron), the Sheriff of Northumberland. It is known that he liked to decorate the walls of the Gate with the mutilated bodies of the many people he hung drew and quartered along with corpses hung on the gallows and displayed in iron cages and human heads on sticks.
By 1618 the castle was no longer as important and parts of it were leased to Alexander Stephenson, a courtier of King James I. Stephenson substantially altered the gatehouse, rebuilding the upper floors, and possibly added the brick house over the top of the original, fortified gate. He, in turn, let it as accommodation; one tenant was merchant Patrick Black who it is believed gave his name to The Black Gate.
Carved into a stone high up on the south side of the building is the date 1636 and the name John Pickell, it is known that he used the Black Gate as a tavern at this time. In 1883 the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne leased the property and spent over sixteen hundred pounds repairing and improving it, including adding the top floor and pitched roof, to use as a museum until 1959, meeting place and library right up until 2009.
In the 1930s soldiers were billeted within the Black Gate; the names and dates they scratched into a pair of wooden pillars in the first floor room are still visible. Up until the 1970s a caretaker lived in the top floor.
The evening began with a séance. During this time the heavy tread of footsteps could be felt vibrating through the wooden floor as though someone was pacing one at end of the room even though no one visible was moving. A few possible taps and knocks were heard but with it being All Hollow’s Eve there was a lot of competition from the bells of the close by Cathedral of St Nicholas.
After splitting up the teams spread out over the four floors. Talking boards were used to communicate across the veil with some success; one team reported that they received messages for one of their number in both the flat and the first floor ‘hub’ room. While the investigator was not making contact with the board the answers to his verification questions were proved to be correct. Short messages received for members of other teams throughout the night.
Activity on the lower floor ‘stone room’ was very slight, with only the possibility of a stone being thrown. Unfortunately the makeup of this room makes verification difficult.
‘Daniel’ did his best to communicate through a crystal in the small glass doored section of the library; another group reported the occasional unexplained tap. ‘Daniel’ again came through on a talking board in the hub room, he seemed to remember talking to me on my previous visit there and recalled the less than polite word he used to describe me!
‘Daniel’ has come through on many other occasions and it is known that a “Daniel Fenie”, was active in the area in the 1880s. He reportedly cut the throats of at least five women and three children. Is it possible that this Daniel and the one who tried to communicate with us are one and the same?
Pam’s group had great success with table tipping in the flat; the table walked and span around in the back room, before shuffling along and slamming into the wall. It made quite a racket; I was on the floor below! Later when my group tried we got a bit of activity but nothing like as much.
On the whole it was somewhat quieter than previous visits to Newcastle; in fact we were beginning to think that perhaps all the spirits had gone out to celebrate Hallowe’en, yet the people who received personal messages, and those accompanying them, appeared pleased with the results.