School of History, Classics and Archaeology


Tyne & Wear Historic Landscape Characterisation (HLC)

The city landscape of Newcastle was explored.

The project forms part of a national programme of characterisation sponsored by English Heritage. Throughout history people have had a huge impact on shaping the character of the landscape that we see today. Historic Landscape Characterisation (HLC) maps those changes through interactive GIS-based descriptions of the landscape.

It is a largely desk-based study making use of existing documents, maps, aerial photographs and historic environment data. Rather than focusing on individual buildings or monuments it provides a useful tool for broadening our understanding of the whole landscape.

As part of its national HLC programme, English Heritage has been commissioning ‘metropolitan’ type HLC projects since 2004. The Tyne & Wear project is undertaken in accordance with the methodology set out in the 2002 national review ‘Taking Stock of the Method’, but also takes account of best practice developed through other metropolitan based HLCs such as the Black Country and South Yorkshire.

The project will form part of a process of informing planning policy in Tyne &Wear. As with many metropolitan areas the Tyne & Wear landscape is under increasing pressure from development. HLC can assist in making appropriate decisions in light of proposed change.

The project will also raise public awareness of the historic time-depth of the Tyne & Wear landscape, providing a sense of place for local residents, in line with English Heritage aims. It will further provide a platform from which future research into this dynamic landscape can be launched.

The Tyne and Wear project covers the five unitary authorities of the former county of Tyne & Wear (Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Sunderland). These in turn were historically within the counties of Durham and Northumberland which now bound the study area to the north, south and west, with the east bounded by the North Sea.

The rivers Tyne and Wear historically provided excellent bases for settlement and trade routes to the North Sea. Coal became an important commodity from at least the 12th century in some parts of Tyne & Wear and by the 16th century coal was the area’s single largest export. T

he growth of industry in Tyne & Wear is closely linked to that of its mining history. Along with shipbuilding, glass, salt, pottery, metal and chemical works dominated the landscapes along the two rivers. Mining infrastructure also significantly affected the landscape with a network of colliery waggonways and railways that developed from the early 17th century.

The large cities of Newcastle, Gateshead and Sunderland expanded out of the rise in industrial development and the rapidly growing urban population of the 19th century gave rise to localised housing solutions such as Tyneside Terraces and Sunderland Cottages. The 20th century has seen the reduction and in some cases full collapse of these industries and the regeneration of the large cities to centres of business and tourism. Housing continued to develop rapidly from the 1920s to the present.

The project is a collaboration between Newcastle University and the Historic Environment team at Newcastle City Council. This partnership will integrate research expertise with professional experience. The project started in 2012 and is due to be completed in 2014.

June 2013 update

The HLC project has now reached Stage 3 with characterisation continuing at a steady pace. South Tyneside and Gateshead districts are both complete, and Sunderland is 22% complete. Sarah Collins and Oscar Aldred have now started Newcastle and North Tyneside districts respectively.

Please check back in the coming months for further updates, or for further information about the project please contact Sarah Collins:

Phone: 0191 208 7846

Further information on Historic Landscape Character can be found on the English Heritage Website.