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Newcastle upon Tyne town defences: section of curtain wall containing Corner Tower

A Scheduled Monument in Ouseburn, Newcastle upon Tyne

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Latitude: 54.9713 / 54°58'16"N

Longitude: -1.606 / 1°36'21"W

OS Eastings: 425320.062192

OS Northings: 564149.149411

OS Grid: NZ253641

Mapcode National: GBR SQC.35

Mapcode Global: WHC3R.99HR

Entry Name: Newcastle upon Tyne town defences: section of curtain wall containing Corner Tower

Scheduled Date: 18 January 1930

Last Amended: 23 April 2003

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1019810

English Heritage Legacy ID: 32748

County: Newcastle upon Tyne

Electoral Ward/Division: Ouseburn

Built-Up Area: Newcastle upon Tyne

Traditional County: Northumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Tyne and Wear

Church of England Parish: Newcastle Christ Church

Church of England Diocese: Newcastle


The monument is situated on the south side of City Road, immediately to the
east of Croft Stairs above the steep slopes of the former Pandon Burn. It
includes the upstanding and buried remains of part of the town defences of
Newcastle upon Tyne. The section of town defences between City Road and Croft
Stairs represent part of the eastern side of the circuit and include an
`L'-shaped section of curtain wall, a tower comprising two conjoined turrets
and a single turret. Corner Tower and the curtain wall are also a Listed
Building Grade I. Further sections of the town defences are the subject of
separate schedulings.
Newcastle upon Tyne's defences were constructed from the mid-13th century to
the middle or late 14th century and enclosed an area of more than 60ha; the
riverside lengths of 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
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 tower, known as Corner Tower, sits at the angle of an `L'-shaped section
of the curtain wall. It comprises two conjoined wall turrets to form a right
angled structure with projecting corbels on its inner face. This unusually
shaped tower was constructed between 1299 and 1307 in order to facilitate a
change of angle in the town defences to include within their circuit the
suburb of Pandon, granted to the town in 1298. The tower stands to a maximum
height of about 10m and, `L'-shaped in plan, is constructed of large blocks of
coursed, square sandstone. A short fragment of walling 2.5m wide, attached to
the south wall of the tower is thought to be the remains of an internal
buttress which stood to an original height of 4m. Attached to the north and
the east sides of the tower there are lengths of curtain wall. The first,
at the northern end of the tower is 10m long and stands to a maximum
height of 4m; the inner face of this wall stands several metres above the
remainder of the wall and is thought to be a post-medieval addition. The
outer, eastern face of the curtain wall contains a single chamfer course above
two offset courses. On the outer, northern face of the wall near its junction
with the north end of the tower, there are the lower parts of a projecting
flight of stone steps which originally gave access to the wall walk. The
second length of curtain wall attached to the east side of the tower is 31m
long and on average 2.1m wide. It is constructed of coursed sandstone blocks
and has stepped foundations in order to facilitate its steep descent to the
former Pandon Burn. This section of curtain wall was constructed in three
different phases indicating that during its construction it underwent a change
of plan which included the addition of a turret. The easternmost 12.8m of this
length of curtain wall stands to the full height of the original parapet
walkway and also retains the lower parts of the medieval parapet; the upper
parts of the parapet are thought to have been added in the 19th century.
At the extreme eastern end of this section of curtain wall there are the
remains of a turret. On the inner face of the wall the turret is visible as a
row of seven closely spaced projecting corbels; a layer of flagstones
supported by the three most easterly corbels indicate that the turret was
carried over the wall walk. Part of an arrow loop is visible in the north face
of the turret. This turret is unique on the defensive circuit as it projects
forward from the face of the curtain wall some 0.5m.
Partial excavation immediately to the south of Corner Tower in 1978 found that
the tower did not replace an earlier defensive line and that the decision to
include Pandon within the defences therefore occurred before the wall in this
area had been constructed. The excavation also uncovered a short section of
cobbled roadway associated with 14th century pottery immediately to the south
of Corner Tower; this is interpreted as the remains of the inter-mural lane.
The plaques affixed to the wall of the tower are excluded from the scheduling,
although the structure to which they are attached is included. All areas of
paving or tarmac, the stone steps, all walls surmounted by railings and their
metal supports and the wooden bollard which fall within the protective margin
are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath all of 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 the 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 times of trouble. Their symbolic role in marking out the settlement was
also significant.
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 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 the 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 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, usually 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 level space between a defensive wall and
a ditch in order to defend it). The ditch, known as the King's Dykes, was
completed in 1316, sometime 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 standing remains of the medieval curtain wall between Croft Stairs and
City Road survive well. They are a rare survival being one of few remaining
locations, particularly on the east side of the circuit, where the curtain
wall and its associated structures remain upstanding and visible. In one place
the remains stand to the full height of the parapet. The tower is of
particular importance as unusually it comprises two conjoined turrets to form
a change of angle in the line of the defences. The turret is unusual in being
the only known example to project north of the curtain wall. As a monument
which is partially accessible to the public, this section of Newcastle's 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
Harbottle, B, 'Archaeologia Aeliana' in Excavation and Survey in Newcastle Upon Tyne 1972-3, , Vol. 5 ser 2, (1974), 83-5
Harbottle, B, 'Archaeologia Aeliana' in The Town Wall East of Corner Tower, , Vol. 5 ser 17, (1989), 72-74
Tullett, E, 'Archaeologia Aeliana ser 5' in An Excavation At The Corner Tower, Newcastle Upon Tyne, , Vol. 7, (1979), 179-189
Nolan, J, (2000)

Source: Historic England

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