Tynemouth Priory is the most local historic site to where I live, no more than a 15-minute walk from my home. I’ve lived in the area since I was 7 years old and the Priory has been a constant fixture. I remember going there many times when I was growing up – to see fireworks displays, jousting contests, and other displays.
I didn’t realise until recently that there was actually a Tudor connection and that the Priory was one of those dissolved during the Reformation. The Priory was also the birthplace of Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland, in 1564.
Some Roman stones have been found at the Priory, but there is no evidence of any settlement there. The Danes persistently plundered the priory, and Earl Tostig made Tynemouth his fortress during the reign of Edward the Confessor. In 1095 Robert de Mowbray took refuge in Tynemouth Castle after rebelling against William II. In 1110 a new church was founded on the site.
In 1296 the prior of Tynemouth was given royal permission to surround the site with stone walls and in 1390 a gatehouse and barbican were added on the landward side of the castle. It was originally completely enclosed by walls, but the north and east walls fell into the sea and most of the south wall was demolished. In 1312 Edward II and Piers Gaveston took refuge at Tynemouth Castle before fleeing to Scarborough.
In 1336 a new presbytery chapel was built at the north end of the presbytery. In the 1400s the Percy Chantry was added to the east end of the presbytery. This is the only complete part of the church that remains.
The Tudor Connection
In the early 1500s Tynemouth gained independence from St Alban’s Abbey, but the wealth of the priory was huge so it became a target for Henry VIII’s commissioners who in 1536 brought trumped-up charges of misconduct against the prior and 7 of the 15 monks.
In 1538 the priory at Tynemouth was suppressed as part of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. The priory and its lands were granted to Sir Thomas Hilton. Most of the monastic buildings were destroyed, leaving only the church and prior’s house. Within a year work was underway to improve the defences around the priory to protect from invasion from the river. New artillery fortifications were built from 1545 with the threat of invasion from the French.
The castle was also the birthplace of Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland, in 1564, when his father, the 8th Earl, was custodian of the castle.
The headland at Tynemouth remained defended throughout the 1700s. A new barracks was built for 1000 men in 1758. By the end of the 18th century military preparedness was in decline, but this ratcheted up again with the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century.
After 1882 Germany was considered a large threat, and so new military gun emplacements were built. During the First World War there was a selection of long-range artillery based at Tynemouth intended to attack ships out at sea. There were also quick-firing guns to attack smaller boats in the River Tyne. Searchlights and ammunition storage were also in place.
During World War Two Tynemouth also had a defensive role, to defend against aircraft as well as enemy shipping. Tynemouth then remained a military base until the UK’s coastal defences were disbanded in 1956. In 1960 many of the military buildings were pulled down to give more prominence to the Medieval ruins.
Tynemouth is a mishmash of Medieval remains and 20th century military fortifications. It is a beautiful place to visit, and an inspiring place to sit and think. Well worth a visit if you haven’t already.