Four miles east of Newcastle upon Tyne, Hadrian’s Wall comes to an end. It’s not quite at the sea — Tynemouth is still 4 miles further on, but here the River Tyne is broad enough to allow the Wall to come to an end. Here there is a fort known appropriately as Wallsend from which a short further stretch of wall runs down to the river.
In the 18th and 19th century the area became covered with one of the worlds great shipyards, the Swan Hunter shipyard, but now this has been closed down, and the buildings surrounding it have been demolished and the Roman fort has been once again uncovered to form one of the most impressive of the Hadrian’s Wall forts.
In a corner of the fort is a reconstructed Roman Bathhouse. This is not in the original position– the actual bathhouse probably lies some hundred yards further out. But it is a reconstruction of the bathhouse from the Chesters fort, the best-known bathhouse on the Roman Wall, but it was reconstructed here as an added attraction for the Wallsend Roman fort. Click here for the original bathouse at Chesters.
Here inside the bathhouse is the apodyterium, or undressing room. The reconstruction seems much larger than the original although it is in fact the same size, the only difference is that it has been flipped through 180° to fit the site. At the far end are the niches with semicircular arches, which are traditionally considered to be the places where one can place one’s clothes.
In addition to dressing and undressing, this may also have been used as an exercise hall. In the far right corner a door leads through to the actual baths.
The most remarkable discovery made in the fort itself is this set of barrack blocks. Wallsend was a cavalry fort and these are special barrack blocks for cavalrymen, where the soldiers slept in the left half, and the horses were stabled in they right had side two horses side-by-side with a shallow trench between them to collect the urine and horse manure. . This is the first time that such cavalry barracks have been identified in Britain, though similar barracks have been found in Germany.
The main feature in the new presentation of the fort is this prominent observation tower from which the panoramic photo at the top of the page has been taken. The building to the left was originally the recreation club of the Swan Hunter shipyard but then it was turned into the excavator’s headquarters, and now to the right a fine new museum has been added. This contains the finds from the excvation, but is laid out as a model of a Roman praetorium, that is a commanding officer’s house
The reconstruction has been built with a wall walk and a crenellated front. There is considerable discussion as to whether there was a walk along the top of the wall but this reconstruction presupposes that there was.
This reconstruction lies outside the fort enclosure on the other side of the road that runs through the northern part of the fort. Adjacent to it is some industrial archaeology, the remains of the top of one of the coal mines and of the steam engine that serviced it.
This is a sad view of the site of what was once one of the worlds great shipyards, the Swan Hunter shipyard now totally demolished and the great cranes sold off to India. It was here that the Mauritania was built, the legendary liner that held the Blue Ribband for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic for 22 years from 1907 to 1929.