Wallsend and South Shields (Arbeia)


Although the best-known part of the wall is the central part and the wall is often considered to run from Newcastle to Carlisle, in fact the wall projected for some 10 miles to either side of these great modern cities. To the east the wall begins, or rather ends, appropriately at Wallsend

Wallsend fort, Hadrians Wall
View across Wallsend fort with the museum and viewing tower opposite, and the River Tyne, the great shipyards now vanished, to the right.


In the 19thcentury Wallsend was the site of the Swan Hunter shipyard where the Mauritania, the liner that held the Blue Ribbon for so long, was built.  But in the 1970s ship building declined and the rows of workers’ cottages which covered the Roman fort at Wallsend were demolished and the archaeologists moved in. The whole of the Roman fort was discovered – it was a cavalry fort where the men slept with their horses and it is now laid out with a fine museum and viewing tower.


Wallsend bathhouse
The newly discovered bath-house at Wallsend

The latest discovery was that of the bath house. This was outside the fort, down by the river It had been vaguely recognised in the 19th century when it was covered by a new staithe for shipbuilding, but it was then covered by a pub, but when the pub was demolished, the WallQuest community project moved in and managed to find the baths, at the bottom of a very deep hole. The Bath house was somewhat precariously perched on the side of the river and as a result it collapsed and had to be rebuilt.   However it has now been laid out for visitors.











The watercourse that fed the baths has also been uncovered. This again is outside the fort.

Some 20 years ago, a reconstructed length of the wall was built outside the fort alongside the course of the original wall. However, in excavating the original wall, they found a culvert under the wall, through which a stream had flown. At the time it was not possible to conserve this, so it was back filled, but now it has been re-excavated and properly conserved so it is possible to observe receive this remarkable example of how the Romans built a culvert under the wall.


The Wallsend collieries of John Buddle
Pit B of the Wallsend colliery opened in 1780 by John Buddle and in use till 1847. The round brickwork housed Haystack boilers, which produced the steam that powered the engines

Adjacent to this site – just behind where the photo was taken –  they found the entrance to a coal mine built by John Buddle in 1780, a remarkable relic of the industrial rise of Wallsend as a great shipbuilding centre














This plan of Wallsend  demonstrates the position of the  fort and the new bathouse and the hypothetical position of the aqueduct.

Wallsend fort shows Hadrian’s Wall coming in from the left and then a short stubby wall running down to the River Tyne. The new Bath house is centre bottom, the reconstructed part of the wall is centre left and the hypothetical course of the aqueduct is marked in blue.






South Shields (Arbeia)


The other more spectacular fort is on the other (south side) of the river at South Shields.  This began as a normal fort but later was converted into a supply depot, where the barracks were replaced by rows and rows of granaries . This was discovered and first excavated in the mid 19th century and it has become one of the best excavated Roman forts.  However it is now best known for the magnificent reconstructed buildings: first the gateway reconstructed to great controversy, but now a great success.


More recently the commandant’s house in the corner of the fort, has been rebuilt. This was something of an anomaly, for in the 4th century, a new commandant demolished the buildings in a corner of the Fort and built himself a magnificent house. 





This was in a lavish style based on the houses that were being built in the houses that were being built in the Mediterranean.











The major showpiece is the summer dining room, which has been reconstructed to show what a triclinium might have looked like – the position of the couches where the diners reclined was discovered in the course of the excavation.










Adjacent to it a barrack has been rebuilt with the centurions’ quarters at one end and the cramped living rooms for the ordinary soldiers occupying the rest of the row.










On to Benwell