Centurion to stand tall at Roman fort

Left to right: Kelly Scott, WD Close; artist John ORourke; Mayor Norma Redfearn; Rob Storey, from AIS; and Sarah Young, from Capita.
Left to right: Kelly Scott, WD Close; artist John ORourke; Mayor Norma Redfearn; Rob Storey, from AIS; and Sarah Young, from Capita.
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Work has begun on an iconic piece of public artwork to feature on Hadrian’s Wall in Wallsend.

The Centurion is an eight-and-a-half foot high sculpture of a Roman soldier constructed from weathering steel that will take pride of place at Segedunum Roman Fort when it is unveiled early next year.

The Centurion being built.

The Centurion being built.

Artist John O’Rourke was commissioned by North Tyneside Council to create the piece, which will be made by North Tyneside engineering firm WD Close and trainees from AIS Connect.

The 2.8metre high contemporary sculpture links both the site’s Roman heritage and its more recent industrial past.

To help with its construction, John made a complex half-scale sculpture in wood, which can be completely disassembled.

The sculpture, which has been given the name Sentius Tectonicus, will take several months to build and will contain 575 components and more than three tonnes of Corten steel – the same material used to construct the Angel of the North.

Artist John ORourke with both his model and the actual Centurion sculpture.

Artist John ORourke with both his model and the actual Centurion sculpture.

Mayor Norma Redfearn said: “With the global importance of this World Heritage site, we thought it would be brilliant to mark the end of Hadrian’s Wall with a very striking piece of art.

“Every year thousands of visitors come to see where the Wall ends, with many having walked or cycled the entire length of Hadrian’s Wall to get here.

“We wanted to create something celebratory to mark the spot and also act as a tourist attraction in its own right and the Centurion is a perfect fitting symbol.”

WD Close volunteered to fund and build The Centurion after finding out about the proposed project and the engineering challenges of creating it.

Kelly Scott, from WD Close, said: “This project embodies the ethos of WD Close. It’s all about putting something back into the local community, teaching valuable skills to young people and celebrating our rich heritage on the world stage.

“The Centurion will be handcrafted using traditional engineering and welding skills honed over centuries for which the North East is famous, along with the very latest advances in engineering technology. Every weld has to be invisible so it is a painstaking process and the techniques mean the finished structure will no doubt last as long as the Wall itself.”

“We have a long-standing partnership with industrial training provider, AIS and have several high-quality apprentices in place thanks to them.

“These apprentices and other trainees from the AIS Connect Academy will help us to build The Centurion.

“This means we can pass on our expertise to an up-and-coming talented future workforce and, in turn, these young people can experience working on an iconic and worthwhile project while gaining invaluable skills.”

The Centurion has been given the name Sentius Tectonicus. Archaeologists know from an inscription recovered close to Segedunum, that a centurion named Sentius was supervising the building of a section of Hadrian’s Wall in the vicinity. Tectonicus refers to the sculpture’s design as an architectural man, with the centurion’s torso emerging from a Roman four storey building.

Geoff Woodward, museum manager at Segedunum Roman Fort, said: “The Centurion is a really engaging contemporary sculpture which captures the power and might of Rome.

“When he stands at Segedunum facing west along the line of Hadrian’s Wall, echoing those that built and lived on Rome’s great frontier, he will be a stunning addition to the World Heritage Site.

“I’m sure that the Centurion will become a huge attraction at Segedunum.”

Ian Roberts, project director from Capita, added: “We are delighted to be involved in this prestigious project and proud to be investing in a landmark sculpture which will benefit the region and the local community.”