Wall Mile 3

Wall Mile 3 [HB 142–50]

Now, situated as we are at the east end of Byker Bridge, we can either choose to follow the approximate course of the Wall across the Ouseburn, or get an aerial perspective from the bridge. Wall Mile 3 is almost unique in having virtually no influence on later structures or layout in the city, which helps explain the upcoming uncertainties over its course.

Wall Mile 3

If you decide to follow the Wall, go to the left of the building at the end of the bridge and down Back Stephen Street.Then take the steps ahead and proceed down the east bank of the burn to arrive at Leighton Street. Turn right then immediately left onto Foundry Lane, then fork right onto the footpath gradually inclined up towards the viaduct, passing Ouseburn Farm on the right (which is on the posited line of the Wall). Keep on up Stepney Bank, keeping the Ship Inn and viaduct to your right. Turn right onto Coquet Street, which bends right, then left, then right again, repeatedly crossing the line of the curtain wall. We are finally reunited at the crossroads on Crawhall Road, where you will turn left.

We, on the other hand, are going to seek an aerial perspective, crossing the bridge (keeping to the southern walkway) before turning left onto Crawhall Road and being reunited with you at that crossroads.

An aerial perspective on the Ouseburn valley

An aerial perspective on the Ouseburn valley

We shall proceed down to another crossroads and turn right onto Howard Street (the Wall is now to our north). At a crossroads with Gibson Street Howards Street turns into Buxton Street and then again into Melnourne Street. Near here, excavation has identified the curtain wall with the by-now-familiar pits on the berm. Attempting to trace the course of the Wall between Melbourne Street and the Mining Institute is (and has long been) fraught with difficulties and peppered with speculation. We shall boldly continue along Melbourne Street (we are close to the line of the wall, which now runs slightly to the south of us) until we pass the 17th century Holy Jesus Hospital on our right. We now need to use the subway ahead to get across the gargantuan Swan House roundabout (passing the blue Metroradio building as we do so). On the far (west) side of the roundabout, having crossed the road to get to the south-western corner of Mosley Street, we head southwards, making for the tall building with the NHS Business Services Authority sign (‘Why?’ you ask; be patient and you will see).

The road north from the Pons Aelii, which gave Newcastle its Roman name, must have passed through the Wall near here, so some form of gateway with flanking towers is to be anticipated (we shall see an example later at Knag Burn). We turn right into a pedestrian precinct and down some steps and here we are encountering Newcastle’s ancient topography. We are descending onto Dean Street which lies on the (now subterranean) course of the Lort Burn. Crossing the street carefully we head up another set of stairs into the churchyard east of the cathedral.

Some antiquaries claimed the curtain wall passed through the cathedral, whilst others advocated that its course took it nearby, but we shall head westwards, through Amen Corner, and then turn left and make for the castle.

Newcastle fort (PONS AELII) [HB 144–8]

Newcastle fort plan

Newcastle fort plan

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 (medieval castles frequently used the site of Roman forts) but we known 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 was evidence of buildings to the north of it) and it was, rather unusually, polygonal in form.

Newcastle HQ building marked out on the pavement

Newcastle HQ building marked out on the pavement

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.

Newcastle granary marked out on the pavement

Newcastle granary marked out on the pavement

The eponymous bridge at Pons Aelii has yet to be located (dendrochronological 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 situated. 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).

Finishing with the fort site, we must walk to the Black Gate and cross the road using the pedestrian traffic island onto Westgate Road, and proceed, keeping the railway arches to our left, until we arrive at the Mining Institute building, where the curtain wall is marked in rather faded pink concrete, accompanied by a plaque giving details..

Course of the wall outside the Mining Institute

Course of the wall outside the Mining Institute

Now it is time for a detour, before we continue following the line of the curtain wall as best we can, so head towards the railway station and look for the entrance to the Metro. We shall be making our way up to the Great North Museum – Hancock (it is worth it, trust me).

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 (bizarrely, photographs of its flattened site are apparently discouraged!) 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).

Inscriptions in the Great North Museum

Inscriptions in the Great North Museum

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 finished, we should retrace our steps (with or without the Metro) to the Central Station. The course of the Wall continued from the Mining Institute across Neville Street (which runs in front of the railway station), under the statue of Stephenson on the triangular traffic island, and then up Westgate Road, where the shop frontages follow its line, with the road itself running on the ditch (remember Fossway and Shields Road?). We now need only walk as far as the Newcastle Arts Centre.

This is also an appropriate moment to greet the Vallum, of which there is nothing to see here, but which once very clearly began near the later fort at Newcastle, lying c.150m to the south of, and parallel with, the curtain wall. We shall have more to say about it at Benwell, when we can see something tangible.

Milecastle 4 (Westgate Road) [HB 150; haiku]

The site of Milecastle 4

The site of Milecastle 4

Scholarly calculations had long been baffled by the location of this (as it turns out) long-axis milecastle, not least because of the uncertainties we have just encountered over the course of Wall Mile 3. In 1985, its discovery in the backyard of the Newcastle Arts Centre during the digging of a drain led to Milecastles 5 and 6 being shuffled along a bit from their old hypothetical locations to new hypothetical locations, and all was better. Its position is marked in the Black Swan Yard behind the Arts Centre.

CGHad