32. Where was the western terminus of Hadrian’s Wall?

4953895912_05f113e698Just as Wallsend fort was not the eastern terminus, so Bowness apparently saw an extension of the curtain wall to the west of the fort there. In 1707, Bishop Nicholson noted that the terminus of the Wall lay a quarter of a mile west of the village. When Maclauchlan surveyed the Wall in 1853, he found local people who remembered excavating building stone from the beach some 250yds west of the fort.

Bizarrely, the westernmost pieces of Hadrian’s Wall may now lie about 120 miles off Fastnet, since the stones from the eastern terminus were possibly still on RMS Carpathia when she was sunk by German torpedoes in 1918.

Further reading: Mothersole 1922; Breeze 2006

31. Where was the eastern terminus of Hadrian’s Wall?

7335114564_c8b719076a_nThe eastern terminus of Hadrian’s Wall was not the fort of Wallsend itself, since it has long been recognised that a spur, known as the Branch Wall, ran down towards the Tyne from the south-east corner of the fort. Word-of-mouth reports recorded that it reached at least to low tide level. A short length of it was excavated in 1903 during the construction of the new slipway for the RMS Mauretania, moved (although a few pieces were displayed on the RMS Carpathia, which was fitting at the Wallsend shipyard at the time), and has now been moved back to close to its original location. Thus the eastern terminus probably lies beneath the now-defunct Swan Hunter shipyard. Some scholars have speculated that there may have been a Milecastle 0 but no evidence to support this has ever been found.

Further reading: Mothersole 1922; Breeze 2006

29. What is the Narrow Wall?

15976690396_edd1aafb5a_nThere are actually several types of Narrow Wall, ranging between 1.8m and 2.3m in width. The significance of the variations is disputed, but the important point is that the curtain wall was significantly reduced in width from the broad gauge. It was used for those sections east of the Irthing that had not already been built to the broad gauge and to replace part of the Turf Wall (between the Irthing and Milecastle 54) before the Wall was abandoned to move up to the Antonine Wall.

Further reading: Breeze 2006; Symonds and Mason 2009

28. What is the Broad Wall?

317382002_e80b091a61The earliest version of the stone curtain wall of Hadrian’s Wall was built to what is known as the broad gauge, about 10 Roman feet (3m) wide. It was set on a foundation about 3.2m wide, with offset courses stepped in above it, either one course (known as standard A) or three or four (standard B). This was the form of the foundations from Newcastle to the River Irthing, but there is reason to doubt that much of the broad curtain wall was ever completed to its full height.

Further reading: Breeze 2006; Symonds and Mason 2009

27. Were turf walls common in the Roman empire?

5908533360_bf9caac46f_nTurf walls (and other forms of earthen ramparts) were often used for fortifications in the 1st century AD, particularly in Britain. They were employed for both auxiliary forts and legionary fortresses, and were standard for temporary camps used when on the march or on campaign. Vegetius describes how they were constructed. They were not commonly used for frontiers, however, Hadrian’s Wall being the first and the Antonine Wall the second, so far as we know.

Further reading: Milner 1995

26. Does any of the Hadrian’s Wall Turf Wall survive?

158967931_c71c4c5d11For most of its length, the Turf Wall was levelled and the replacement narrow gauge stone curtain wall built directly on top of it, retaining the same ditch. However, between Milecastles 49 and 51 the new Stone Wall was built further north, and that means that the Turf Wall and its ditch survive as earthworks here, immediately north of the Vallum. This section was first excavated in 1895 and periodically re-examined.

There is one additional area where the Stone Wall deviates from the course of the Turf Wall and that is where Turret 54A collapsed into the Turf Wall ditch and its replacement was built just behind it; here the stone curtain wall was realigned to join the newer turret.

Further reading: Breeze 2006; Symonds and Mason 2009