Wallsend

WALLSEND AND THE WALL EAST OF NEWCASTLE

WALLSEND AND THE WALL EAST OF NEWCASTLE

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LOCATION: 
WALLSEND, WALKER, BYKER
PROJECT TITLE: 
FINDING THE WALL EAST OF NEWCASTLE
ACTIVITIES: 
Excavation, survey and desk-based research
TARGETS: 
To Find line of Hadrian’s Wall and the Roman civilian settlement outside the fort of Segedunum
ABOUT THE PROJECT: 

A search for the line of Hadrian’s Wall and the Roman civilian settlement outside the fort of Segedunum

Wallsend (Segedunum) Roman Fort is a visitor attraction and extensively excavated site and a scheduled ancient monument.

Very little is known about the civilian settlement that lay outside the fort in the Roman period. Antiquarian descriptions suggest that this extended for a considerable distance south and west of the fort, on the south side of Hadrian’s Wall, with buildings possibly lining the Military Way (the Roman road running along the south side of the Wall from Newcastle to the fort at Wallsend).

The line of the Wall running west from the fort was a conspicuous feature in the pre-industrial landscape but is now invisible and forgotten among modern housing developments.

Wallsend activities include:

  • Desktop research into historic maps, antiquarian accounts and older unpublished excavations to reconstruct the course of Hadrian’s Wall and extent of the Roman settlement
  • The investigation of the remains of the Roman Bath house associated with Wallsend fort
  • Investigation of an extant length of Hadrian's Wall prior to its redisplay
  • Production of maps, booklets, information panels, website, publications

Our ongoing activities have unearthed the following findings:

The reconstructed Roman baths at Segedunum Roman Fort, Wallsend, are not on the site of the original Roman baths.  These were last seen in 1814 when they were discovered during the building of a coal staith leading from a waggonway to the river, 120m south of the fort.  The discovery of the remains of what sounds like a bath house was described by the historian John Hodgson.  During the building of the coal staith the remains were badly damaged and covered over, and the site was rapidly forgotten.

After months of detective work on old maps and records, WallQuest volunteers at Wallsend pinpointed the site of the original Roman bath house directly under the former Ship in the Hole pub, now demolished.

Guided by this desk-based research, initial trenches dug by WallQuest volunteers in May 2014 found Roman pottery, waterproof bath cement, and building stones.  At the end of June actual Roman walls and a well-preserved cold-plunge bath began to appear. The diggers have scored a bullseye and struck the long lost baths at the first attempt.

The baths were built to a standard plan found at the Hadrian’s Wall forts of Benwell, Chesters, Carrawburgh and Bewcastle which shows that the baths are of Hadrianic date (AD 120s), though, they were used and modified for at least 150 years.

As the excavations proceeded it became apparent that the life of the baths had not been trouble free. The entire southern portion of the original Hadrianic building had begun to subside towards the River Tyne, and even though additional buttresses were added in attempt to slow the inevitable, over time it became apparent that more drastic measures needed to be taken. The southern part of the baths were demolished, and two apsed bays were added overlooking the river.

Post-excavation work and writing up of the results will continue through 2016.  Thanks to the work of local people the baths of the Roman fort at Wallsend have been rediscovered, exactly 200 years after they were first described by John Hodgson.  

WallQuest volunteers were also involved in helping with a Northern Powerhouse funded project to complete the excavation and redisplay of a length of Hadrian’s Wall adjacent to Wallsend Roman Fort.

This section of Wall was especially notable as it had suffered several collapses and rebuilds during its lifetime owing to the fact that it was built across unstable ground and a culverted water course (the same water course in fact which likely fed the nearby bath house). Our volunteers helped define the course of this water channel, as well as cutting a section through the Wall itself in order to investigate the different phases of rebuilding.