New report looks at impact of Hadrian’s Wall

The impact of the Romans and Hadrian’s Wall on North Tyneside has been highlighted in a new report.

By David Sedgwick
Friday, 08 March, 2019, 11:22
A Wallsend culvert taking aqueduct channel through the Wall in 2000.

The archaeological report, hailed as the definitive full account of the excavations of Hadrian’s Wall at its eastern end, has just been published.

Hadrian’s Wall at Wallsend, written by Paul Bidwell OBE, former head of archaeology at Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM), encapsulates the knowledge gleaned from 28 years of intermittent excavations around Segedunum Roman Fort in Wallsend.

Taking place between 1988 and 2015, the digs culminated in the Treasury-funded project that saw the rediscovery of the fort’s baths, as well as the public display of the full stretch of Wall remains.

Paul, president of The Arbeia Society, said: “It has been a privilege to draw together the results of so many years’ work by so many people.

“The results are a great advance in our understanding of how Hadrian’s Wall was built and of its later history. They also show that the remains of the Wall in urban Tyneside are just as important as the better-preserved lengths in rural Northumberland.”

The report has been published by TWAM with The Arbeia Society, a registered charity established in 1992 to support research into and promotion of Roman archaeology in north east England.

Mayor Norma Redfearn CBE said: “We welcome the publication of this report. It’s a significant achievement by Paul and one that will help to enrich our knowledge and understanding of one of our most precious heritage sites.”

Iain Watson, director of TWAM, said: “This is a very significant contribution to the body of knowledge of Hadrian’s Wallsend, a huge undertaking, bringing together and translating into contemporary context 28 years of archaeological findings.

“We congratulate Paul and look forward to the report’s reception.”

Segedunum Roman Fort and Museum is now a visitor attraction incorporating a museum and an extensively excavated Roman ‘archaeological park’ fort site, overlooked by a 35m viewing tower and attracting around 50,000 visits a year.

Some 1,900 years ago it was the edge of the Roman Empire, the very cusp of the eastern end of the empire’s northern frontier.

Segedunum – meaning ‘strong place’ – sat on a plateau overlooking the north bank of the River Tyne, the spot chosen strategically to command views east down the river to the coast at South Shields and two miles up the river toward Newcastle.

The 73-mile wall, now a World Heritage Site, was constructed on the orders of Emperor Hadrian in AD122 and originally ended at the River Tyne’s lowest bridgeable point – Newcastle upon Tyne – until two or three years later when it was extended to Wallsend.

Only seven per cent of the original wall is visible today and only about 0.5 per cent of its entire length has been excavated using modern archaeological techniques.

The 80m stretch at Wallsend that has been scrutinised by archaeologists over the years lies 50m west of the Segedunum fort.

The Wall at Wallsend, 2.26m wide, was built without mortar, but with carefully-laid courses of stonework.

Separate groups of legionaries built lengths of 30 Roman feet (about 9m). They were also tasked with building an aqueduct which ran through the Wall and supplied the baths outside the fort.

Markers for building plots running up to the back of the Wall were also found.

In the early third century the Wall at Segedunum was destroyed by a catastrophic flood, which also washed away part of the baths and undermined the fort wall.

The aqueduct was replaced and the Wall rebuilt, probably on the instructions of Septimius Severus in about AD 208; this emperor, rather than Hadrian, was credited by late-Roman writers as the original builder of the Wall.

Shorter lengths of the Wall collapsed and were rebuilt on three subsequent occasions. One of these later rebuildings reused masonry from various buildings, including one of the fort gates, a temple possibly dedicated to Diana, and a bath house.

The volume also includes an account of the building of the replica section of Hadrian’s Wall at Segedunum, constructed in 1996.