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Newcastle upon Tyne town defences: Gunner Tower

A Scheduled Monument in Westgate, Newcastle upon Tyne

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Latitude: 54.9694 / 54°58'9"N

Longitude: -1.6182 / 1°37'5"W

OS Eastings: 424540.764662

OS Northings: 563931.567287

OS Grid: NZ245639

Mapcode National: GBR SNL.X2

Mapcode Global: WHC3R.3CQ7

Entry Name: Newcastle upon Tyne town defences: Gunner Tower

Scheduled Date: 18 January 1930

Last Amended: 23 April 2003

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1019278

English Heritage Legacy ID: 32751

County: Newcastle upon Tyne

Electoral Ward/Division: Westgate

Built-Up Area: Newcastle upon Tyne

Traditional County: Northumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Tyne and Wear

Church of England Parish: Newcastle St John the Baptist

Church of England Diocese: Newcastle


The monument is situated on the south side of Pink Lane within a recess
formed by the adjacent buildings and includes the upstanding remains of a
tower, part of the town defences of Newcastle upon Tyne. The tower, known
as Gunner Tower, is situated on the north western side of the circuit and
was constructed towards the end of the 13th or beginning of the 14th
century. The tower is also a Listed Building Grade I. Further sections of
the town defences to the north west and south east are the subject of
separate schedulings. Newcastle upon Tyne town defences were constructed
from the mid-13th century to the middle or late 14th century enclosing an
area of more than 60ha; the riverside lengths of curtain wall were added
during the 15th century. The masonry defences were strengthened by a berm
and ditch, except on the south side where they were bounded by the River
Tyne. Gateways were built at the principle points of entry to the town.
Internally, a cobbled inter-mural lane followed the line of the defences.
The defences were refurbished during the medieval period and were
reinforced and repaired several times during the post-medieval period.
The semicircular stone structure visible at the site today is not an
original feature; upon excavation in 1964 it was revealed to be a 19th
century reconstruction built on the line of the outer face of the tower's
west wall encasing the remains of Gunner Tower within.
The western half of Gunner Tower was partially excavated in 1964 when its
foundations were uncovered standing two courses high. The bottom course was
composed of large stones set on their sides with a second course of stones,
laid flat and bonded with mortar. A single block of dressed ashlar was
found at the north west corner of the tower. The rear wall of the tower,
formed by the curtain wall, was a maximum of 2m thick and the side walls of
the tower were about 0.8m thick; it was considered that the narrow side walls
represented only the inner face of the tower and that the reconstructed 19th
century wall was built over the site of the original outer face of the tower.
The partial excavation in 1964 also revealed the existence of Roman activity
prior to the construction of the medieval tower; this included areas of
burning, a pottery vessel containing a cremation and several pieces of Roman
pottery. Overlying these remains were medieval deposits containing several
pieces of late 13th or early 14th century pottery. The tower was leased to the
Company of Slaters and Tylers in 1821 when it was converted into a meeting
hall. The tower stood to its full height until 1885 when its upper courses
including the parapet were dismantled.
The stone wall and railings on the north side of the monument are excluded
from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Between the Roman and post-medieval periods a large number of English towns
were provided with defences. These defences also served to mark the limits of
the town or its intended size and could be used to defend the town in time of
trouble. Their symbolic role in marking out the settlement was also
Newcastle was first granted permission to build a town wall in 1265. It
enclosed the Roman and medieval core of the town and served to form its
protection throughout the medieval and post-medieval periods. Building of
the wall began on the north side of the town and continued around the
eastern and western sides simultaneously. During its construction, the
planned line of the walls was changed: on the west side, where it had been
heading east towards the castle, the walls turn abruptly south towards the
river, and on the east side, they make an eastwards extension in order to
enclose the suburb of Pandon, granted to Newcastle upon Tyne in 1298.
The curtain wall is of squared and coursed sandstone blocks, although the
ashlar varies considerably in character and quality. Where excavation has
taken place the wall is seen to have been constructed in a narrow foundation
slot, straight onto the ground surface or on a broad raft of sandstone blocks.
Above the foundation base there is a double chamfered plinth which in some
places is stepped down in order to accommodate a change in gradient. The wall
also displays great variety in thickness and height; the height range from the
top of the footings to the wall walk of all of the upstanding sections of the
curtain wall is from 4.4m to 6.6m. The thickness of the wall immediately above
the double chamfered plinth ranges from 1.98m to 3.3m. The curtain wall was
surmounted by a parapet walkway, and where it survives it varies in height
from 1.53m to 1.68m above the top of the wall walk. The wall contained 17
interval towers which projected forwards from the line of the wall and about
40 intermediate turrets, normally flush with the outer face of the curtain
wall but overhanging the internal face on a series of corbels. Gateways were
built at Newgate, Westgate, Closegate, Sandgate, Pandongate and Pilgrimgate,
each defended by a pair of gatehouses. A lesser gateway at Sallyport and two
posterns, Blackfriars and Whitefriars were also built.
The wall was strengthened by an external ditch up to 20m wide and 4.5m deep
separated from the wall by a berm (a flat space of ground between a defensive
wall and a ditch in order to defend it). The ditch, known as the King's Dykes
was completed in 1316, some time before completion of the wall.
The defences continued to function as the town's main form of defence through
to the 19th century. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the towers and some
of the gates became the meeting places of a variety of town companies who
generally added an upper storey to form a meeting hall. The defences were
reinforced during the English Civil War in 1638 when England was threatened by
invasion from Scotland. The town was stormed in 1644 by the Scots acting in
support of Parliament, and the defences were subsequently repaired. In 1745 at
the time of the Jacobite uprising the defences were repaired against the
rebels which included walling up all of the gateways.
The defences were last repaired at the time of the Napoleonic Wars in the
early 19th century. Subsequently, when the threat had passed and with the
continuing development of Newcastle upon Tyne, their function as a defensive
town boundary ceased. The walls were allowed to fall into decay and several
sections were levelled in the years following 1823.
Newcastle upon Tyne's town defences survive in various states of preservation.
Some parts of the curtain wall still stand to full height, and the towers and
turrets are also clearly visible. The ditch is also clearly visible for part
of the western side as a pronounced earthwork. Other parts of the defences are
no longer visible above the present surface of the ground, but in these areas,
sections of the walls and the ditch survive below ground level as buried
features, and sufficient evidence exists for their positions to be accurately
Given the role played by the town defences in one of England's major
commercial towns and their contribution towards an understanding of medieval
and later urban development all sections of Newcastle's town defences that
exhibit significant archaeological remains are considered to be nationally
The buried remains of Gunner Tower on the south side of Pink Lane are known
from partial excavation to survive reasonably well. The preservation of the
remains of the tower will provide a valuable insight into the construction
techniques employed in the medieval period. Gunner Tower is a rare survival,
one of a small number remaining from an original 17 towers; taken together
with the surviving sections of the defences it will add greatly to our
understanding of how the defences of Newcastle upon Tyne developed.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Harbottle, B, 'Archaeologia Aeliana ser 4' in An Excavation At The Gunner Tower, Newcastle Upon Tyne 1964, , Vol. XLV, (1967), 123-37

Source: Historic England

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