69. What is the Military Road?

During the Jacobite uprising of 1745, the government forces based in Newcastle, under Marshall George Wade, were unable to cross to Carlisle in time to intercept the rebels and in fact bad weather and poor roads halted them near Hexham. Subsequently, it was decided that a new road was needed and, in July to September 1749, a survey was undertaken by two military engineers, Dugal Campbell and his assistant Hugh Debbeig (who went on to serve with James Wolfe at Quebec). Although it is often called ‘General Wade’s Military Road’, Marshall Wade (to give him his correct rank) in fact died in his home in Bath in 1748 and there is no evidence he had anything to do with it. Following an Act of Parliament in 1751, construction was contracted out to civil companies, beginning that same year and finishing in 1757, with work on the new road starting at the west gate of Newcastle and in Stanwix, just north of the bridge over the Eden into Carlisle and meeting with a bridge over the Poltross Burn at the Cumberland/Northumberland county boundary. Since the first 30 miles of the route coincided with the line of Hadrian’s Wall, mostly on the curtain wall itself, it became very controversial. Protests were voiced by Stukeley that not enough effort had been made to find alternative routes, but the line of the Wall was preferred by landowners, because it already acted as a boundary and meant the minimum loss of land to the new road. The curtain wall was broken up and the stone used to build drystone walls on either side and crushed to make the surface. The principal modern routes that follow the Military Road are, from east to west, the B6318, A69, A689, and B6264.

Further reading: Lawson 1973