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Newcastle Town Walls
Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear, UK
associated engineer
Not known
date  circa 1265 - circa 1333
era  Medieval  |  category  Walls/Abutments/Cuttings  |  reference  NZ242642
Newcastle upon Tyne, in north east England, is less than 100km from the Scottish border. Its medieval stone walls were constructed to protect the town — it did not become a city until 1882 — against invasion or attack, principally from the north. Some parts of the walls and defensive towers survive as Scheduled Monuments and Grade I listed buildings.
The settlement of Newcastle probably grew from the Roman fort of Pons Aelius in the 2nd century. Its fortifications, bridge over the River Tyne, secure harbour and proximity to the coast made it an ideal location. During subsequent centuries, it was occupied by the Saxons, Danes and Normans. In 1080, a 'new castle' was built on the site of the fort (the 'old castle') and the name stuck.
As the medieval town increased in size, it required defences to repel marauders and, in1265, the town burgesses were permitted to raise murage (wall tax) to pay for an encircling fortified wall. Newcastle's walls were mentioned initially in the charter for 1216, though it is thought that construction actually began north of the town around 1265 and progressed eastwards and westwards simultaneously. The 3.4km of walls were completed about 1333, and protected the west, north and east sides of town with the River Tyne forming the southern boundary.
The wall profile varied considerably along its length. The surviving sections are a maximum of 9.2m tall to the top of the parapet, which stands 1.5-1.7m high beside a wall-top walkway, and vary in thickness from 2m to 3.3m.
Inner and outer wall surfaces are of square or rectangular coursed and dressed sandstone blocks bonded with mortar, covering a core of mixed blocks, rubble, lime mortar and soil. The walls are built on shallow trench rubble foundations or on sandstone block rafts. A double chamfered plinth adorns the external face, above the foundations, and is stepped to accommodate gradient changes.
The completed barricade was punctuated by 18 towers. Each stepped out beyond the walls, with a rectangular structure inside the wall and a semicircular bow frontage. The walls also had some 40 corbelled turrets, flush with the outer line but overhanging the inner face of the walls, six fortified gates, one smaller gate and two posterns. The towers, turrets and gates were windowless, except for loops (arrow slits). Further external defence was provided by a berm and a ditch, or fosse, known as the King’s Dyke (built 1316-7), 20m wide and 4.5m deep.
Corner Tower (NZ253641), on the east side of the circuit, was constructed between 1299 and 1307 where the walls make a 90 degree change of direction from north-south to east-west to encompass the suburb of Pandon, which was granted to Newcastle in 1298. The tower had two turrets set at right angles and a buttress to the south. Wallknoll Gate (later called Sallyport Tower, NZ254641) was built in 1299 as a fortified gate tower, though smaller than the six main gates, and was used by members of the Trinitarian Friary among others. It was refurbished in medieval times, and reinforced and repaired more than once during the post-medieval period.
Clockwise from the River Tyne, the walls began at the Riverside/Water Tower (approximately NZ248635), proceeded northwards past Close Gate and Whitefriar Tower to Whitefriars Postern and Denton/Neville Tower, westwards to West Spital Tower. It turned north west past Stank Tower, Gunner Tower, Pink Tower, West Gate, Durham Tower to Heber/Herber Tower and Blackfriars Postern on Friars Street.
The route then changed direction, going north east past Morden Tower and Ever Tower to Andrew Tower, north of St Andrew’s church. The wall ran generally eastwards past New Gate, Bertram Momboucher Tower, Fickett Tower and Pilgrim Street Gate to its most northerly point at Carliol Tower (NZ250645).
The route then turned southwards past Plummer Tower and Austin Tower to Corner/Pandon Tower where the wall headed east past Pandon Gate to Wallknoll Gate. The final leg curved south to Sandgate and south westwards to its end at Sandhill (approximately NZ251637).
Keeping the walls secure and in good repair was important from the start. Customs duties on goods sold at Newcastle during 1327-34 were used for repairs. In 1387, the mayor and bailiffs took on workmen for further repairs. In 1403, the mayor was granted all fines and forfeitures for reparation of the walls and bridge. In 1527, King Henry VIII sanctioned an annuity of £20 for the support of the walls and bridge.
Until 1695, the gates were closed at night. In 1402, it was reported that 100 people were employed to keep nightly watches from the walls, at the expense of the inhabitants.
Relations between England and Scotland had been uneasy since 1638, when a Presbyterian Scottish government was reinstated. In 1638-9, Sir Jacob Astley (1579-1652), Sergeant-Major-General of England's infantry, reviewed Newcastle's defences and recommended construction of new artillery positions because the medieval town walls would not withstand siege warfare. His fears were borne out in August 1640, when the Scottish army occupied Newcastle for almost a year.
Archaeological excavations show that stone bastions were built at the castle and at Plummer Tower, and artillery forts were constructed at Shieldfield and near Sallyport Tower. The fosse was probably infilled in the 17th century.
During the Civil War (1642-51), Newcastle supported King Charles I while Sunderland to the south east upheld the parliamentary cause, as did many Scots. In mid August 1644, after a series of skirmishes since February, the Scottish army led by the Earl of Leven, Alexander Leslie (1582-1661), laid siege to the town. On 19th October 1644, it was captured by the Scots — large sections of the walls had been destroyed by mines and artillery bombardment.
The occupation lasted until 1647, after which the town was governed by a parliamentarian corporation. In 1647, breaches in the walls (constructed 1311-33) of 51m between Hanover Street and Forth Street and 13m north of Whitefriar Tower were rebuilt by the corporation under a grant of £2,564 for wall repairs. In 1667, after the restoration of the monarchy (1660), extensive repairs to the walls, gates and drawbridges were ordered.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the towers and some of the gates were extended and upper storeys were constructed to form meeting houses for assorted town companies and societies. In 1620, the Felt-Makers, Curriers and Armourers paid for repairs to Heber Tower (NZ243641), followed in 1770-1 by its restoration. A postern on the north side of the tower gave Dominican monks access to friary lands outside the walls.
Possibly as early as 1638, Sallyport Tower was leased to the Company of Shipwrights. In 1716, the shipwrights extended the structure forming a substantial two-storey rectangular tower topped by four round turrets with conical slated roofs. The tower also has a pyramidal hipped tiled roof between the turrets. In 2007, work was undertaken to repair the roof and repoint some of the stonework.
Morden Tower (NZ244642), damaged in the 1644 siege, was restored in 1700 by the Glaziers, Plumbers, Pewterers and Painters. To the south, there is a surviving length of wall walk with parapet and a corbelled interval turret. In 1707, Ever Tower (NZ244643) was rebuilt by the Paviors, Colliers and Carriagemen and, in 1771, repaired by them. It was largely demolished in 1908-10, though the lower courses remain.
Plummer Tower (NZ252644), enlarged into an artillery bastion during the Civil War, was the meeting hall of the Company of Cutlers. In 1742, it was ceded to the Company of Masons who subsequently added an upper storey with a hipped slate roof and a Palladian style western façade. In the late 18th or early 19th century, an extension was added on the north side of the tower. The building now houses a museum and offices.
In 1745, during the second Jacobite uprising, the walls were strengthened and the gateways walled up as part of the reinforcement of the defences. By the start of the 19th century, four of the main gates had been demolished — Pandon (1795), Close (1797), Sand (1798) and Pilgrim Street (1802).
The last wall repairs took place in the early 19th century, during the Napoleonic Wars, after which the town had no further need for a defensive barricade and they were not maintained. The remaining two main gates were demolished — West (1812) and New (1823). As the town expanded to become a city, the constrictions of the ancient walls were removed to make room for infrastructure. Eight of the semicircular towers were taken down between 1824 and 1885. Half of the 51m length of 17th century rebuilding near between Hanover Street and Forth Street was demolished to ground level, providing pedestrian access to Orchard Street, though the wall’s foundations and lower courses remain in situ as buried features.
The largest remaining section of Newcastle’s medieval fortification is along West Walls and behind Stowell Street up to St Andrew’s Street, which includes Durham, Heber, Morden and Ever Towers (see map). The next longest stretch is the wall to the east of Orchard Street (NZ248637). Parts of the original construction survive at Corner Tower, while Plummer Tower and Sallyport Tower are still in use.
Sallyport Tower repairs (2007): St Astier
Research: ECPK
"Exploring Hadrian’s Way: Around the Town Walls", leaflet designed by Ad Infinitum, Rothbury, published by Newcastle City Council, 2002
"Descriptive and Historical Account of the Town and County of Newcastle-upon-Tyne", author and publisher Eneas Mackenzie, 1827, available at www.british-history.ac.uk

Newcastle Town Walls