Wall Mile 3 [HB 142–50]
The line of the Wall is continued along Westgate Road, across the triangular traffic island, where it ran under the statue of Stephenson, then across Neville Street (which runs in front of the railway station), to be found again on the same line outside the Mining Institute building, where its course is marked in rather faded pink concrete, accompanied by a plaque giving details.
Now it is time for a couple of detours before we continue following the line of the curtain wall as best we can. Before we depart the line, however, we must bid farewell to the Vallum, of which there is nothing to see here, but which once very clearly terminated at Newcastle. First we will head up to the Great North Museum – Hancock (it is worth it, trust me) and then come back and have a brief look at the remains of Newcastle fort.
Great North Museum – Hancock
For many years, some of the best finds from the Wall were held in the Museum of Antiquities in Newcastle University (to which you will still find references in guide books), but the building has now gone and the contents have been transferred to the new Great North Museum just over the road. The easiest way to get to the GNM is to take the Metro (entrances both inside and outwith the railway station) up to the Haymarket station (second stop when proceeding northwards from Central Station) and then following pedestrian signs for the Great North Museum. The enthusiastic walker, or those who dislike underground travel, may choose to walk, but allow 20 minutes from Central Station to get there (via Grainger Street, Newgate Street, and Percy Street).
Entrance to the museum is free, photography is allowed, and the Hadrian’s Wall gallery is straight through the main entrance, on through a brief natural history interlude, before passing a couple of trees with loitering stuffed wolves (no, I don’t know what they’re doing there either). We are confronted by a huge video presentation that allows you to insert your initials on a stone block and a rather disinterested Roman soldier maunders around through a variety of weathers. Great for the kids but perhaps overkill for the rest of us. All around you will find artefacts, inscriptions, and models to explain the story of the Wall. Dive in, press some buttons, and enjoy.
When you are finished, retrace your steps (with or without the Metro) to the Central Station. Go on past the Mining Institute down towards the High Level Bridge, and you will see the Black Gate (part of the castle) opposite a pedestrian crossing at a set of traffic lights. Cross over and head towards the viaduct arches and, on the other side, the pavement outside the west side of the keep (you can’t miss it; it looks like… a castle keep!).
Newcastle fort (PONS AELII)
Newcastle was the original eastern terminus of the Wall and yet no fort was built here until the Antonine period, which was probably when the bridge across the Tyne was constructed. The fort is mostly situated underneath the castle but it was originally 0.64ha (1.53 acres) in area. The garrison included the cohors I Ulpia Traiana Cugernorum in the 3rd century and cohors I Cornoviorum in the 4th. A stone recording the cohors I Thracum may refer to another garrison from Newcastle, or possibly from an as-yet-undiscovered fort in Gateshead. The fort does not seem to have been attached to the curtain wall (there seem to have been buildings to the north of it) and it was, rather unusually, polygonal in form.
Marked out on that piece of pavement are parts of the headquarters building (principia) and the commanding officer’s house (praetorium). The orientation of these fragments begins to allow an understanding of how the fort sat above the river. There is more to see, however. Head round to the north side of the keep, next to the railway arches, and you’ll see parts of two granaries marked out, one of them partly under the viaduct itself.
The eponymous bridge at Pons Aelii has yet to be located (dendro-chronological dating of timbers supposed to have come from it proved to be medieval) but it must have been situated close to where the Swing Bridge is now located. Recent work in Gateshead has suggested that there may have been a military base there, too (elsewhere in the empire, many bridges over major rivers had military bases at either end).
When we return to tracing the course of the wall, we enter into a realm of uncertainty and speculation between the Mining Institute and Melbourne Street, where it has recently been recorded by excavation. We must now head up to the cathedral to get our bearings. Some antiquaries claimed the curtain wall passed through the cathedral, whilst others others advocated that its course took it nearby, but we shall turn right into the churchyard, through Amen Corner, just to its south, and down the steps at the eastern end of it, which bring us down to Dean Street. This street lies on the line of the now subterranean Lort Burn, originally crossed by Nether Dean Bridge, leading from the churchyard to Pilgrim Street, and it is generally held that the Wall must have bridged the burn in this vicinity. We cross the road and up the steps (now called Low Bridge), through the pedestrian precinct, and end up confronting the monstrous Swan House roundabout. The Roman road up from the Pons Aelii must have passed through the Wall near here, so another gateway like those at Stanwix and Portgate is to be anticipated.
Use the subway to get across the roundabout, aiming for the 17th century Holy Jesus Hospital. Arriving on Melbourne Street, with the Hospital to our left, we are close to the line of the wall, which runs slightly to the south of us. Further along Melbourne Street, near the point where it is crossed by Gibson Street, excavation identified the curtain wall with the by-now-familiar pits on the berm. Carry on to Howard Street (the Wall is now to our north) and turn left at the junction with Crawhall Road and head north. At the junction with Coquet Street, we have a choice: follow the approximate course of the Wall across the Ouseburn, or get an aerial perspective from Byker Bridge.
If you decide to follow the Wall, turn right down Coquet Street, which almost coincides with the line of the Wall, and head east. Follow the road round (we cross the likely line of the Wall again on the way) until it meets Stepney Bank and turn right down the hill. When we reach Ouseburn Farm (again on the posited line of the Wall) we can take the footpath to the right of it to get down to Foundry Lane. At its junction with Leighton Street, we take the steps to our left and head up the east bank of the burn. This takes us up to Back Stephen Street and ultimately up to the main road next to the buildings located close to the position of Milecastle 3.
If on the other hand you want to get the aerial perspective, carry on up Crawhall Road and then turn right at the junction with the main road (A193, New Bridge Street) to walk along the southern pavement of Byker Bridge. From here you can look down and see how the Wall had to cross this small valley, probably passing under Ouseburn Farm, to reach the location of Milecastle 3 at its eastern end.
Milecastle 3 (Ouseburn) [HB 142; haiku]
Some confusion arises over the precise position of Milecastle 3 (Ouseburn), but it is very clearly shown on the near (east) side of the valley on an etching published by Stukeley, so quibbles of this nature need not detain us for too long. Although the physical remains of the milecastle have never been seen, an altar set up by a priest (sacerdos) called Iulius Maximus almost certainly comes from it (we have several times noted the association of altars with milecastles, so this may well be the nearest thing to a smoking gun we are going to get).