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Newcastle upon Tyne town defences: section of curtain wall including Closegate and Water Tower

A Scheduled Monument in Westgate, Newcastle upon Tyne

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Latitude: 54.9665 / 54°57'59"N

Longitude: -1.6128 / 1°36'46"W

OS Eastings: 424887.648723

OS Northings: 563612.883505

OS Grid: NZ248636

Mapcode National: GBR SPC.KR

Mapcode Global: WHC3R.6F8F

Entry Name: Newcastle upon Tyne town defences: section of curtain wall including Closegate and Water Tower

Scheduled Date: 18 January 1930

Last Amended: 23 April 2003

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1019814

English Heritage Legacy ID: 32763

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 between Hanover Street and the north bank of the
River Tyne. It includes the upstanding and buried remains of part of the town
defences of Newcastle upon Tyne. The section of town defences between Hanover
Street and the River Tyne represents the junction between the western side of
the circuit and the later riverside length of curtain wall. It includes a 26m
upstanding length and a 45m and a 6.25m wide buried length of curtain wall, a
gateway and a tower. The upstanding length of curtain wall is also a Listed
Building Grade I. Further sections of the town defences to the north and 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 repaired during the
medieval period and were reinforced and repaired several times during the
post-medieval period.
In this section, immediately north of The Close, on the sloping ground south
of Hanover Street, there is an upstanding length of curtain wall 26m long
which stands to a maximum height of 4.25m, known as Breakneck Stairs. The wall
is constructed of coursed squared ashlar sandstone with a rubble core and is
up to 3m wide. It has been built in a series of steps in order to account for
the steep gradient.
At the southern end of this length of wall, on the flat land at the bottom of
the slope beneath The Close, there are the levelled and buried remains of
Closegate, one of the principal points of entry to the town. The upper courses
of the gateway were dismantled in 1797 but a retrospective 19th century
engraving depicts it as a three storey rectangular building containing a
central archway.
Between Closegate and the River Tyne, there is a 45m length of curtain
wall which survives below ground level as a buried feature. This length of
curtain wall was uncovered by excavation in 1988 and was shown to have
been constructed in the mid-14th century. The footings of the wall which
are large, irregularly shaped blocks, are founded in a shallow trench
0.10m to 0.15m deep, cut into the river bank, and, where they extended
into the river, lain directly onto the natural sand of the river bed. The
wall varies between 2.05m and 2.8m wide and a stepped chamfered plinth
survives on its outer western face. Excavation also revealed that this
length of wall had been constructed in a series of steps in order to take
account of the sloping river bed. The southern end of the curtain wall was
subsequently remodelled in order to incorporate a staircase which gave
access to a tower, known as Water Tower, which was added to the town
defences in the early 15th century. It is situated in the angle formed by
the junction of the western side of the defences and the later riverside
section of curtain wall forming the south side of the circuit. An
engraving of the tower made in 1745 shows it as a square, crenellated
structure, and it is recorded as still partially standing in 1789. An
engraving of the tower in 1846 depicts it as having three storeys with its
upper parts rebuilt in brick. From the late 17th century and through the
18th century the tower was the meeting house for the Company of
Housecarpenters and subsequently the Company of Sailmakers.
The plan of Water Tower was uncovered by excavation in 1988. The tower, square
in shape, measures 6.5m north to south by 6m east to west and has walls
ranging from 1.02m to 1.10m wide. The foundations of the south and west walls
are between 2.1m to 2.3m wide while those of the north and east are 1.20m
wide. There is an entrance way into the tower through the east end of the
north wall which retains both the sill and one of the door jambs. In the north
west angle of the tower's ground floor there was a fireplace indicated by
areas of reddening on the adjacent stonework. The excavation also revealed
that the ground floor of the tower was occupied in the years following the
English Civil War until the mid-18th century as occupation deposits and the
remains of light timber screens or room partitions were discovered.
Attached to the eastern side of Water Tower there is a short length of
riverside curtain wall, which was uncovered by excavation and survives below
ground level as a buried feature. This wall runs parallel to the River Tyne
and was constructed in the early 15th century. The curtain wall is on average
1.74m wide, 6.25m long and stands to a maximum height of 4.4m; its south,
external face contains two chamfers at its base.
The Copthorne Hotel, all retaining walls, railings, street furniture, and the
display panel, in addition to all tarmac and stone surfaces 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.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

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 they 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, 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 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
Despite some parts of this section surviving below the level of the ground as
buried features, the remains of the medieval curtain wall between Hanover
Street and the River Tyne survive reasonably well. The preservation of the
remains of the tower and curtain wall will provide a valuable insight into the
construction techniques employed during the medieval period. The section of
15th century riverside curtain wall and its relationship to the tower is of
particular importance as it will contribute to our knowledge of how the
defensive circuit evolved during the medieval period. The tower is of unusual
form and is a valuable addition to our knowledge. 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
Fraser, et al, 'Archaeologia Aeliana' in Excavation Adjacent To Close Gate, Newcastle 1988-9, , Vol. 5 ser 22, (1994), 85-151
Harbottle, B, 'Archaeologia Aeliana' in The Town Wall of Newcastle Upon Tyne, , Vol. 4 ser 47, (1968), 87-9
Nolan, J, 'Archaeologia Aeliana' in The Medieval Town Defences Of Newcastle Upon Tyne, , Vol. 5 ser 17, (1989), 32-50

Source: Historic England

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