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Newcastle upon Tyne town defences: section of curtain wall including Durham Tower and section of town ditch

A Scheduled Monument in Westgate, Newcastle upon Tyne

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Latitude: 54.9711 / 54°58'15"N

Longitude: -1.6206 / 1°37'14"W

OS Eastings: 424381.899117

OS Northings: 564115.148329

OS Grid: NZ243641

Mapcode National: GBR SN7.RQ

Mapcode Global: WHC3R.29JY

Entry Name: Newcastle upon Tyne town defences: section of curtain wall including Durham Tower and section of town ditch

Scheduled Date: 18 January 1930

Last Amended: 23 April 2003

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1019279

English Heritage Legacy ID: 32754

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 between Stowell Street and Westgate Road and lies
parallel to Bath Lane. It includes the upstanding and buried remains of part
of the town defences of Newcastle upon Tyne. The section of town defences
between Stowell Street and Westgate Road represents part of the western side
of the circuit and includes a 90m upstanding section of curtain wall, a tower
and a turret. Outside the wall there is a length of berm and part of the
town ditch; the latter survives below ground level as an infilled and buried
feature. The curtain wall, tower and turret are 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 a ditch, except on the south
side where they were bounded by the River Tyne. Gateways were built at the
principal 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 curtain wall in this section is constructed of large, square sandstone
blocks bonded with mortar. It is on average 2m wide and stands to a maximum
height of 4m; in places the curtain wall retains part of the wall walk
including the parapet and steep coping stones. The double chamfered lower
courses are visible in this length of curtain wall; as the ground level within
this area of the medieval town falls steeply from north to south, the lower
levels of the wall are stepped down in a number of places.
The tower, known as Durham Tower, is situated towards the north eastern end of
the length of curtain wall and projects 4m from its outer face. The tower is
visible as a semi-circular shaped building with a rectangular ground floor
chamber constructed of coursed and squared ashlar sandstone blocks. The tower
retains its stone vaulted roof and narrow window loops on the west and south
sides. There is an entrance on the north side which retains a narrow stone
lintel. Externally, the tower has several projecting corbels which are
interpreted as supports for timber hoardings or galleries.
There is a single turret in this section at the junction of the curtain wall
with Stowell Street. It is visible as a row of seven closely spaced corbels
projecting from the inner face of the wall walk with four courses of
superstructure remaining.
In front of the curtain wall there are the remains of the berm and the
infilled and buried remains of part of the town ditch which survives below
ground level as a buried feature.
All amenity stone walls, planters, iron railings, kerbs, steps and the
surfaces of all paths 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 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 accomodate a change in gradient. The wall
also displays great variety in thickness and height; the height range of all
of the upstanding sections of the curtain wall is 4.4m to 6.6m from the top of
the footings to the wall walk. 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 which also 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 of all 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 standing remains of the medieval town wall between Stowell Street and
Westgate Road survive very well. The length of curtain wall containing a
single turret and tower is a rare survival being one of few remaining
locations where the curtain wall and its associated structures remain
upstanding and highly visible. The buried remains of the berm and ditch
represent one of few remaining locations within the city where these
features are thought to survive. As a monument which is accessible to the
public, this section of Newcastle town defences serves as an important
educational and recreational resource which will increase our
understanding of how Newcastle's defences developed.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Brewis, P, 'Archaeologia Aeliana ser 4' in The West Walls of Newcastle Upon Tyne, , Vol. Xi, (1934), 1-20
Holmes, S, 'Archaeologia Aeliana ser 2' in The Walls of Newcastle Upon Tyne, , Vol. Xviii, (1896), 1-25
Welford, R, 'Archaeologia Aeliana ser 2' in The Walls Of Newcastle In 1638, , Vol. Xii, (1887), 230-5

Source: Historic England

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