The Best Bits of Hadrian’s Wall: the Forts (Wallsend)

Wallsend fort (SEGEDVNVM)

plan of WallsendIt was once thought that Wallsend fort was an afterthought, constructed when the course of the Wall was extended in the Hadrianic period, although this has recently been questioned. Occupying 1.6ha (4.1 acres), it was only some 6.4km (4 miles) from Newcastle. The garrison was cohors II Nerviorum in the 2nd century and cohors I Lingonum in the 3rd and 4th centuries and both of these were part-mounted.

Wallsend from the airBefore the campaign of excavations in the 1970s, the fort was covered by housing and just its outline was marked out in the streets. Now a large portion of the fort has been cleared for display, with fine views of it and the surrounding shipyards from the viewing tower that is part of the recent site museum.

We may examine the remains of the commanding officer’s house, headquarters building (with its forehall, a feature found in many continental forts and possibly used for training under cover), granaries, and hospital (another of those extra courtyard buildings).

Wallsend CO's house, HQ, and forehallOne of the most interesting aspects of Wallsend is its cavalry barracks, split between men and animals. The pits set into the ground, designed to catch the less pleasant by-products of a reliance upon horses, have been identified at an increasing number of Roman military sites. These are invariably accompanied by very high phosphate readings when tested.

Wallsend cavalry barracksIn the south-western part of the site, there is a splendid (albeit mirror image) reconstruction (capable of working) of the Chesters bath-house (not, please note, on the site of the Wallsend bath-house). This will bring home just how inadequate ruins can sometimes be at giving a true impression of the magnificence of a building. The baths are periodically opened for inspection and nearby is a small herb garden, showing the range of culinary and medicinal plants that might be found in Roman times.

Wallsend reconstructed bathsNow it is time to return to the museum, but before we do, note the fragment of the Branch Wall running down towards the Tyne from the south-east corner of the fort. This was found when the slipway for the RMS Mauretania was being constructed at Swan Hunter’s, moved to a nearby park and re-erected, then moved back here once the Segedunum project was under way. Part of the Branch Wall, however, was put aboard the RMS Carpathia, which was fitting out at the time, and appears to have been present when that ship went to the aid of the Titanic, and may even have been the only piece of Hadrian’s Wall to have been sunk by a U-boat in 1918! There is a model of the Carpathia in the industrial section of the museum. On our way past, we can have a look at the monument recording the names of every single Roman whose name has survived from the Wall (with space so new discoveries can be added).

the builders of Hadrian's WallOnce in the museum, there is much to do and see, including a rather dramatic representation of stratigraphy, the accumulation of archaeological layers over time. Once you have seen everything, pressed all the buttons, and been lectured by the Geordie centurion, find your way to the observation tower (there are both lifts and stairs to get you to the top). Once up there, a video demonstration dramatically illustrates how the site has changed over time.

Leaving the museum, if you want a closer look at the Branch Wall, turn right onto the main road, then immediately right again, and head up onto the bridge that takes the cycle path round the back of the fort.