William Hutton Walks the Wall: Day Two

The Wall passes near the West gate, and proceeds on our right towards the turnpike. Not many yards before we reach the gate, it crosses the road, and passes through an inclosure, twenty yards on our left; and not through the Quarry-house which is close to the turnpike road on our right.

The West Gate (Newcastle Libraries)

The West Gate (Newcastle Libraries)

The works of Agricola and Hadrian, forty yards more to the left, make their appearance for the first time; but in a faint degree. These works run twenty yards South of Elswick windmill, a little short of the first mile-stone; and Severus’s Wall is the very turnpike road on which we tread; it is the great beautiful and the famous Roman military way, first formed, I believe, by Agricola, improved by Severus, and brought into its present state by George the Second; and though it does not attend the whole line of the Wall, it communicates between Newcastle and Carlisle. I shall continue to walk for many miles upon the Wall as part of the turnpike road, with small variations, and Severus’s Ditch at the right elbow.

We leave, on the right, Fenham Lodge, the seat of William Orde, Esq.; and on the left, that of Robinson Bowes, Esq.

All our Historians have failed in two points: they have not given us the dimensions of the mile-castles, which always joined the Wall, and were from twenty-two to twenty-four yards square; nor distinguished the works of Agricola from those of Hadrian; but have confused both, under the name of the latter.

There were four different works in this grand barrier, performed by three personages, and at different periods. I will measure them from South to North, describe them distinctly, and appropriate each part to its proprietor; for, although every part is dreadfully mutilated, yet, by selecting the best of each, we easily form a whole; from what is we can nearly tell what was. We must take our dimensions from the original surface of the ground.

Let us suppose a ditch, like that at the foot of a quickset hedge, three or four feet deep, and as wide. A bank rising from it, ten feet high and thirty wide in the base. This, with the ditch, will give us a rise of thirteen feet at least. The other side of this bank sinks into a ditch ten feet deep, and fifteen wide, which gives the North side of this bank a declivity of twenty feet. A small part of the soil thrown out on the North side of this fifteen feet ditch, forms a bank three feet high, and six wide, which gives an elevation from the bottom of the ditch, of thirteen feet. Thus our two ditches, and two mounds, sufficient to keep out every rogue, but he, who was determined not to be kept out, were the work, of Agricola.

The works of Hadrian invariably join those of Agricola. They always correspond together, as beautiful parallel lines. Close to the North side of the little bank I last described, Hadrian sunk a ditch twenty-four feet wide, and twelve below the surface of the ground; which, added to Agricola’s three feet bank, forms a declivity of fifteen feet on the South, and on the North, twelve. Then follows a plain of level ground, twenty-four yards over, and a bank exactly the same as Agricola’s, ten feet high, and thirty in the base; and then he finishes, as his predecessor began, with a small ditch of three or four feet.

Thus the two works exactly coincide; and must, when complete, have been most grand and beautiful. Agricola’s works cover about fifty-two feet, and Hadrian’s about eighty-one; but this will admit of some variation.

Plate 2

Plate 2

The annexed Plate shews,

1. Agricola’s Work, with the number of feet.
2. Agricola’s and Severus’s united.
3. Severus’s Wall and Ditch, in profile.

Severus’s works run nearly parallel; the other two lie on the North, never far distant; but may be said always to keep them in view, running a course that best suited the judgment of the maker. The nearest distance is about twenty yards, and greatest near a mile, the medium forty or fifty yards.

They consist of a stone wall eight feet thick, twelve high, and four, the battlements; with a ditch to the North, as near as convenient, thirty-six feet wide and fifteen deep. To the Wall were added, at unequal distances, a number of Stations, or Cities, said to be eighteen, which is not perfectly true; eighty-one castles, and three hundred and thirty castelets, or turrets, which I believe is true; all joining the Wall.

Exclusive of this Wall and ditch, these Stations, castles, and turrets, Severus constituted a variety of roads yet called Roman Roads, twenty-four feet wide, and eighteen inches high in the centre, which led from turret to turret, from one castle to another, and still larger, and more distant roads from the Wall, which led from one Station to another; besides the grand military way before mentioned, which covered all the works, and no doubt was first formed by Agricola, improved by Hadrian, and, after lying dormant fifteen hundred years, was made complete in 1752.

I saw many of these smaller roads, all overgrown with turf; and, when on the side of a hill, they are supported on the lower side with edging stones.

Thus Agricola formed a small ditch, then a bank and ditch, both large, and then finished with a small bank.

Hadrian joined to this small bank a large ditch, then a plain, a large mound, and then finished with a small ditch.

Severus followed nearly in the same line, with a wall, a variety of stations, castles, turrets, a large ditch, and many roads. By much the most laborious task. This forms the whole works of our three renowned Chiefs.


Condercum; now Benwell Hill.

I have now travelled five miles and a half from the Wall’s end; two from Newcastle; and arrived by the military way upon a very considerable eminence, suitable for a Roman Station. Severus’s ditch is close on my right, and I upon the foundation of the Wall, as part of the turnpike road; its bare stones under my feet are frequently distinguishable from those used for mending the road.

But the Station totally disappears, except a roughness on the ground, which shews what has been; while Agricola and Hadrian’s work lie on my left, between me and the village, which contains two hundred and one houses, and nine hundred and fifty-one people.

The Station was very large. The corners, rather canted off, had four entrances answering to the four Cardinal Points. The country and prospects are delightful, and the land good.

I now pass, on my left, another house of Mr. Orde’s.

At Denton Dean, situated at the bottom of Benwell Hill, the great road veers a few yards to the right, that is, into Severus’s ditch, and gives us for the first time a sight of that most venerable piece of antiquity, The Wall, which is six yards South of the road, and twenty short of the brook I am going to pass. The fragment is thirty-six feet long, has three course of facing stones on one side, and four on the other, and is exactly nine feet thick. An apple-tree grows upon the top, as shewn in the Plate annexed.

Plate 3

Plate 3

The eye can easily trace the line over the water, and unite it to the opposite bank.

Before we leave this village of twenty houses, the Wall again becomes the road, and the ditch is at my right elbow.

At the three-mile stone from Newcastle, I leave on my right the seat of Matthew Montague, Esq.

Hadrian’s work is now fifty yards on my left.

At the fourth-mile stone, I arrive at Chapel-house, then to Castle Steads, where there has no doubt been a mile castle; the situation, as well as the name, corroborates the remark. Fifty yards on my left, down a green pasture, run, in bold figures, the united works of Agricola and Hadrian, dressed in about half their antient grandeur; and, having this due, we can trace them over the inclosures for many miles.

A little short of the fifth mile stone is Wallbottle.

At the stone, Hadrian is thirty yards on my left, I upon the Wall.

Newburn Dean is nearly at the sixth-mile stone. Here, climbing a bank, to gain a better view of my valuable companions, I stumbled, and, to save myself, caught at a hawthorn hedge, when, like a Knight of Ulster, I bore the bloody hand,

Pass Throcklow. My two friends Agricola and Hadrian are forty yards on my left.

At the seventh-mile stone is Hadden-on-the-Wall. The road here, as is usual at a village, takes a small turn to the right; it goes up the bank, and leaves Severus’s ditch close to my left, and his Wall a yard-high; but in a confused heap. There must have been here a mile castle. One hundred yards passed; and I again tread the Wall, with the ditch on my right.

Near the eighth-mile stone is the seat of Calverley Bewick, Esq. Here Hadrian assumes a little more consequence; and now we finish our third Station.


Vindobala; now Rutchester.

Severus’s Wall seems to pass through this Station. What remains is a close, joining the road, of five acres, now in grass, and eminently situated; carries the strong marks of former buildings, and still stronger of its ramparts. The platform of this grand Station is complete.

I have all along inquired for turrets; but might as well have inquired among the stars. I was given to understand, that part of one was remaining here. The master told me, “I might find it at the back of his buildings.”

Upon examining something like a cow-house, I perceived a small part was Roman work, which might have been part of the hutment of the castle, but could not be a turret, for they always stood in front.

I saw old Sir at dinner sit,
Who ne’er said, “Stranger, take a bit,”
Yet might, although a Poet said it,
Have sav’d his beef, and raised his credit.

This old City and suburbs were extensive, and lie in the junction of four roads.

Down in the valley, at the ninth-mile stone, I come to a cottage worth twenty shillings a year. — “Pray what is the name of your place?” “High Seats.” “What, because of its low situation? You have found a place in history, only from a dignified name.”

Here the General, and the Emperor, wear so strong a feature, that all their works may be traced sixty yards on my left.

I am arrived at Harlow Hill, ten miles and a half from Newcastle, remarkably high. I again bear to the right, and tread, through the town-street on Severus’s ditch, the Wall passing through the houses on my left.

On the highest part stood a mile castle, now a garden, surrounded by its own rampart, very plain, I was shewn a large ash tree, which grew upon the very Wall, recently blown up by the root, and now rears up like a round pancake, eight feet high, and has drawn after it a ton of stones from the Wall, still clinging and interwoven with the root. A brother tree stands near it, waiting for another blast.

The road is charming. The traveller views it two miles each way. It appears like a white ribbon upon a green ground.

Soliciting a bed, I was ushered into a parlour, where sat three gentlemen. I did not conceive I had a right to intrude, so took my place at the greatest distance. A suspicious silence immediately surrounded their little table. As I never made a secret of myself, or the plan I was pursuing, I endeavoured to introduce a communication, for truth makes a wonderful impression upon the mind; when, after an hour or two’s chat, one of them remarked, “You are the most agreeable companion I have met with; but, I do assure you, when you first entered, I took you for a spy employed by Government.”

They cordially gave me an invitation to their houses; but time would not allow.

It does not appear that dishonesty is totally expunged from the Wall; for though my gloves were deposited where they ought to have been safe, yet I found that some person had made free with them.

The inhabitants remarked, “that their elevated station exposed them to violent storms of wind and rain; and that if any snow was left upon the earth, it might be found there.”

Source: William Hutton (1801), A History of the Roman Wall, #–#