A travel journal
to Newcastle upon Tyne by michaelhudson
Quote: Northern outpost of the Roman Empire and the borderland between England and Scotland, the area around Newcastle-upon-Tyne is home to some a number of museums and historical sites.
During the Dark Ages that followed the Romans Jarrow was one of the few lights of civilization left in Europe. The excellent Bede’s World covers the life of the first English historian, the Venerable Bede, through original artefacts and a reconstructed Anglo-Saxon village. Nearby, St Paul’s Church still has original Saxon features and the remains of the monastery where Bede lived and worked.
There are a large number of fortified castles, historic houses and abbeys in the nearby counties of Durham and Northumberland, such as Bamburgh, Alnwick, Lindisfarne, Chillingham and Raby. Most can be visited on day trips from Newcastle with a car.
Many of the museums and castles in the Newcastle area are open free of charge for a few days every September as part of the European Heritage Days. A number also have special offers on admission charges during the summer school holidays.
For current information on opening times and special offers, visit Northumbria Tourist Board or call in to the tourist information office at the top of Grainger Street in Newcastle city centre.
Two new sightseeing buses cover most of the places of interest in Newcastle and South Tyneside. Schedules are available at City Sightseeing
Corbridge Roman Site is a thirty minute walk from the town’s railway station. The Hadrian’s Wall Bus stops close to the site, while bus numbers 602 and 685 run a half hourly service from Newcastle to Hexham, stopping at the nearby Angel Inn en route.
By car, there is free parking available at Segedunum, Corbridge (follow signs from the A69), Arbeia and Bede’s World, which is a short drive from the southern end of the Tyne Tunnel. Full directions can be seen at Tyne & Wear Museums
Although Bede is best known as the author of the 'Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation', a chronicle of events from the Roman occupation to the time of the book's completion in 731AD which remains one of our main authorities on Anglo-Saxon life and the early Christian period, he also wrote poetry in Old English and Latin, made the first known attempt to translate the Bible into English, popularised the Anno Domini dating system, mastered Latin, Greek and Hebrew, wrote three Latin hymns and believed that the Earth was round "like a playground ball" rather than "like a shield." Centuries before the effects of gravity became widely known he understood that the moon influenced the cycle of tides, writing of a world influenced by weather patterns and climatic change. Each of the four alcoves in the room dedicated to his teachings cover a different aspect of his life, the narration layered by the sound of monastic chanting from the previous room and a video presentation somewhere beyond the far wall.
The ten acres of reclaimed land outside house reconstructed Anglo-Saxon buildings and farmland. A dirt track leads past a cone shaped goosehouse built to a 9th century design with limewashed oak posts interwoven with hazel below a thatched wheat straw roof facing out over the confluence of the wide Tyne and the narrow mud flats of the River Don estuary. Loop back across the grass for the limewashed, irregular Thirlings Hall, passing a pole lathe used for making tool handles and furniture on the way. The Hall, large and open plan, is based on a 6th century landowner's residence excavated in Northumberland. As with the other buildings visitors are free to inspect the interior, full of long tables, a huge fire and various implements with a window propped open at one side. The final structure is the Grubenhaus, a simple dwelling with oak walls and a triangular thatched heather roof that covers both sides of the building down to ground level.
Overlooking the entrance to the museum Jarrow Hall is a listed Georgian building completed in 1785 as a residence for a philanthropic local shipyard and coal mine owner. Today, aside from the restored Oval Room and some wall displays on the history and inhabitants of the building, the main point of interest for visitors is the ground floor café and the Herb Garden at the back.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 16, 2004
Jarrow, England NE32 3DY
+44 191 489 2106
Attraction | "Arbeia Roman Fort"
The site is dominated by the impressive full-size reconstruction of the old West Gate, with red-tiled roofs crowning sandstone towers on either side of a central pair of arches. From the top you can survey the surrounding countryside just as a centurion would have done over 1500 years ago – though the contemporary view includes a half-demolished playground and compact rows of 1940s terraced housing as well as defensive ditches, the Tyne and the North Sea. Go inside for interesting displays charting the early Iron and Bronze Age settlements on the site, a scale model of the original fort, photos of the reconstruction, Roman armour and weaponry, as well as a model of Civil War fortifications built to defend the Tyne for the King.
Back on the ground, excavations start at the foot of the gate and stretch out south and east in the direction of the recently restored barracks and Commanding Officer's House. Many of the remains appear to be nothing more than stone bordered holes in the ground to the untrained eye, but there are some special areas of interest including the only visible kiln in Roman Britain and the Via Praetoria, the main street inside the fort leading between the granaries and the barracks to the Princpia (headquarters).
In the south-eastern corner, just to the right of two small columns remaining from the entrance to the Princpia, the Commanding Officer's House and barracks stand adjacent to each other. The cramped conditions of the latter, which housed forty soldiers in five plain rooms, contrasts with the luxurious heated rooms of the Commanding Officer, whose living quarters boasted a central courtyard with a veranda, an aisled hall, an office, a suite, two centrally heated private apartments, a small set of baths and two dining rooms, one of which was heated for winter use.
A final building houses a small museum crowded with jewellery, pottery fragments, burnt tombstones, cracked slabs, inscribed altar fragments and decapitated statues. The most striking exhibits are the post-Roman skeletons of two men who were killed by blows to the back of the head and left in the open for animals to gnaw on.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on August 16, 2004
Arbeia Roman Fort and Museum
South Shields, England NE33 2BB
+44 191 456 1369
Excavations of the monastery site in the 1960s and 1970s unearthed finely carved stonework, imported pottery, Anglo-Saxon coins and large quantities of coloured glass, much of which can be seen nearby at Bede’s World. The extant standing ruins date mainly from eleventh century repair work, a few carved doorways and bricks survive amidst gaping holes and wreckage that slopes down to the riverbank. The recent addition of information boards help to set the context of the original domestic buildings. The church, in contrast, is still in use today. Both are open to visitors.
A tree lined path leads to the Church entrance. Look in the main aisle near the main door for the exposed foundations of the much larger seventh century church. On the foot of the nearby Anglo-Saxon cross the Latin inscription "In this unique sign, life is restored to the world" remains clearly visible. The re-sited original dedication stone is located above the Chancel Arch. Dating from 685AD it’s the earliest definitely dated artefact from Anglo-Saxon Northumbria. Three Saxon windows dominate the Chancel itself; the middle one still contains original glass made in the Monastery’s workshop, making it one of the oldest stained glass windows in the world. An ancient chair, reputed to have belonged to Bede, stands at the head of an aisle lined with wonderful fifteenth century wooden choir stalls.
The remainder of the building is given over to a gift shop and a collection of Anglo-Saxon inspired sculpture, three pieces in wood representing Bede, St Michael and the Devil, and The Risen Ascended Christ. As there is no admission charge for entrance to the Church, the books, stationery and postcards on sale in the gift shop account for the bulk of its revenue; visitors are asked for a £1 donation towards running costs.
St Paul's Church and Monastery
Newcastle upon Tyne, England
Attraction | "Segedunum Roman Fort, Baths & Museum"
The museum is split into three sections. By far the largest with over 700 artefacts, the Roman Exhibition was obviously designed with younger visitors in mind. Interactive and colourful, the touch screen games, puzzles, video footage and hands-on exhibits allow visitors to try on Roman clothing, feel the weight of ring mail armour, build an arch and experience life on a simulated archaeological dig. The central area, built to resemble the original fort, has a number of interesting exhibits including a collection of rounded stones once used as defensive missiles and the only stone toilet seat from Roman Britain.
A set of stairs to the right of the room leads up to the Industry and Exhibition Galleries. A nine-minute film entitled 'From Segedunum to Wallsend' details the history of the area, cleverly cutting between historical re-enactments and real-life footage. The shots of Hadrian's Wall are stunning, while an emotive section details the history of the nearby colliery including the 19th century disaster in which 103 miners were killed by an underground explosion. Next door, the Exhibition Gallery showcases archaeological finds from the area including an altar, inscribed stone fragments, text and photos of the Wall between Newcastle and Wallsend. At the very top of the building, the thirty-five metre high Tower Panorama – a centurion’s helmet stuck on an air traffic control tower - offers an enlightening view of the excavations below.
The ruins outside represent one of the most completely excavated forts in the Roman Empire, comprising the Commanding Officer's House, the headquarters building, granaries, workshops, cavalry and infantry barracks, water tanks, and what is though to have been a hospital. The highlight of a visit to Segedunum, however, is undoubtedly the reconstructed bathhouse. Based on original remains found elsewhere on the Wall and the only one of its kind in the country, the whitewashed, red-tiled building opens for approximately twenty minutes on the stroke of every hour. There are four baths of varying temperatures on either side of the central changing room; interesting text displays fill in the background to each of the baths, which may soon be opened fully to visitors for an authentic Roman bathing experience.
Newcastle upon Tyne, England NE28 6HR
+44 191 236 9347
The small section of the thirty acre settlement so far excavated stands directly outside, hemmed in by small wire fences on three sides and a tall hedge on the other. Stanegate, the original main street, cuts through the centre of the football-pitch-sized site, replaced as the main route between Corbridge and Carlisle by the main road hidden behind the hedge and the trains cutting through the fields in the valley below, the undulating green of Northumberland spotted with white sheep and yellow crops. At the far end of the road, framed between tall trees and low lying cloud, the pointed rooftops of Corbridge are visible; the tall, slender spire of St Andrew's an arrow amongst the neatly ordered rows of ivy-clad cottages, craft shops and cosy antique pubs.
The only surviving Roman stone fence in Britain - a single rectangular block of stone slotted vertically into a gap 20 centimetres wide and 40 centimetres high – is squeezed between one of the granaries and the Fountain House, once the terminus for an aqueduct leading from the nearby river, water spouting from an ornamental fountain head into a front trough between two large statues. Only the base and side sections of the trough remain today, rough statue bases either side, a diagonal drainage channel in front and the floor of the wide aqueduct channel cutting through the grass behind.
At the end of Stanegate, in the corner where the Corbridge Hoard of fire damaged armaments was discovered, a wooden viewing terrace overlooks the site, timber fort and granaries to the right, military garrison on the left, and Stanegate stretching back across to the museum building. The uneven outlines of residential buildings now barely rising above grass level trace a route through Side Street, twenty-metres wide and linked to Stanegate before the construction of a wall to enclose the compounds in the wake of the northern uprising of 180AD. Left, across the ruins of the Temple of Mithras, step through the low remains of long barrack buildings for the West Military Compound, made up of workshops, a headquarters building and an upright stone slab - the sole remaining section of a huge water tank that was connected to the Fountain House building.
Corbridge Roman Site
Newcastle upon Tyne, England
Jarrow, Tyne & Wear, United Kingdom