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Newcastle upon Tyne town defences: section of curtain wall and town ditch between Forth Street and Hanover Street

A Scheduled Monument in Westgate, Newcastle upon Tyne

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Latitude: 54.9676 / 54°58'3"N

Longitude: -1.6138 / 1°36'49"W

OS Eastings: 424822.319326

OS Northings: 563734.770415

OS Grid: NZ248637

Mapcode National: GBR SP7.D2

Mapcode Global: WHC3R.5DSL

Entry Name: Newcastle upon Tyne town defences: section of curtain wall and town ditch between Forth Street and Hanover Street

Scheduled Date: 18 January 1930

Last Amended: 23 April 2003

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1019813

English Heritage Legacy ID: 32752

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: St Nicholas Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Church of England Diocese: Newcastle


The monument is situated on gently sloping ground between Forth Street and
Hanover Street and lies parallel to Orchard Street. It includes the upstanding
and buried remains of part of the town defences of Newcastle upon Tyne. The
section of town defences between Forth Street and Hanover Street represents
part of the western re-entrant of the circuit originally constructed between
1311 and 1333 and includes a 122m stretch of curtain wall, a length of berm
and infilled and buried ditch. The above ground parts of the curtain wall are
a Listed Building Grade I. Further sections of the town defences 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 and enclosed 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 largely constructed of coursed, square or
rectangular sandstone bonded with mortar with a core of rubble and lime
mortar. Where the face of the fabric is best preserved, the medieval masonry
is dressed with fine diagonal tooling and some blocks retain mason marks in
the form of a simple `V'-shape. Partial excavation in 1987 showed that the
wall has rubble foundations laid within a shallow trench. Above the
foundations, the wall has a number of internal offsets and a double chamfer
course on its external face. The wall stands to a maximum height of 9.2m
including the parapet walkway and parapet; the parapet stands some 1.53m above
the level of the walkway and some of the original coping stones are visible.
This length of curtain wall was constructed through the precinct of the
adjacent Carmelite Friary, in existence until its Dissolution in 1539;
excavation revealed that at the time of the wall's construction, this part of
the Friary precinct was used as pasture land. Although unconfirmed by analysis
of the present wall fabric, the earliest illustrations of this section of the
curtain wall show it to contain a tower or two turrets. The excavations
identified a thickening and slight offset of the wall footings in two places
which it is thought may represent the sites of former wall turrets.
Part of a cobbled surface parallel to the inner face of the wall, associated
with 14th to late 15th century pottery was uncovered by excavation and
interpreted as the remains of the inter-mural lane. A considerable depth of
deposits, in some places up to 2m thick, had accumulated against the inner
face of the curtain wall. These deposits, largely of ash, animal bone and
large pieces of pottery were dated to the early 17th century and interpreted
as night soil and domestic refuse dumped in this area from nearby houses. The
use of the inter-mural lane for this purpose ceased with the siege of
Newcastle in 1644.
During the siege on the night of 19th October 1664, this length of curtain
wall received two major breaches prior to the storming of the town later the
same day. The first, situated at its northern end, was caused by artillery
fire and was visible as a rebuilt section of walling some 55m long until the
19th century when a 25m section of this 17th century rebuilding was levelled
to provide an access point, although the foundations and lower courses of the
wall survive below ground as buried features. The second breach, caused by a
mine, is situated at the south end of the wall immediately north of the site
of the former White Friar Tower; this breach was repaired and is visible in
the wall fabric as a 13m long section of rebuilt masonry.
Immediately to the west of the curtain wall, the remains of the berm and town
ditch lie below ground as buried features. Partial excavation at the northern
end of the berm recovered some finds and features interpreted as evidence of
workmen engaged in repairs to the external face of the wall.
Beyond the berm to the west lies the infilled and buried town ditch thought to
be 11.5m wide. The ditch is thought to have become infilled at a relatively
early date in this area as it is not depicted on a plan of 1683 and other
documents show that it was being leased from at least 1677. A plan of 1723
shows the area of the town ditch as open ground possibly in use as an orchard,
and the area remained undeveloped until the early 19th century. By 1830 the
area immediately west of the curtain wall was leased as a series of plots
containing a variety of lean to structures; numerous joist holes in the outer
face of the town wall show that these structures were placed against the west
face of the wall.
The metal plaque affixed to the northern end of the curtain wall is excluded
from the scheduling although the structure to which it is attached is
included. All wooden, metal and brick boundaries, street and car park
furniture, the new bin store and the surfaces of all pavements and car parks
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 normally 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
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; 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 curtain wall between Forth Street and Hanover
Street survive well to the height of the parapet walkway. This length of
curtain wall is a rare survival, being one of few remaining locations where
the curtain wall remains upstanding and highly visible. Taken together with
the buried remains of the curtain wall it represents one of the most complete
lengths of the circuit. The buried remains of the berm and ditch represent one
of few remaining locations where they are thought to survive. The evidence
retained by the fabric of the curtain wall for the siege of Newcastle enhances
the importance of this section. 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
Harbottle, B, 'Archaeologia Aeliana' in The Town Wall of Newcastle Upon Tyne: Consolidation And Excavation, , Vol. ser 4 47, (1969), 70-87
Nolan, J, 'Archaeologia Aeliana ser 5' in The Town Wall, Newcastle Upon Tyne: Orchard and Croft Street, , Vol. ser 5 21, (1993), 93-149

Source: Historic England

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