Newcastle upon Tyne town defences: Gunner Tower


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1019278

Date first listed: 18-Jan-1930

Date of most recent amendment: 23-Apr-2003


Ordnance survey map of Newcastle upon Tyne town defences: Gunner Tower
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Newcastle upon Tyne (Metropolitan Authority)

National Grid Reference: NZ 24541 63931


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

Between the Roman and 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 time 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 east 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 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 of 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 flat space of ground between a defensive wall and a ditch in order to defend it). The ditch, known as the King's Dykes was completed in 1316, some time 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 identified. 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 important. The buried remains of Gunner Tower on the south side of Pink Lane are known from partial excavation to survive reasonably well. The preservation of the remains of the tower will provide a valuable insight into the construction techniques employed in the medieval period. Gunner Tower is a rare survival, one of a small number remaining from an original 17 towers; taken together with the surviving sections of the defences it will add greatly to our understanding of how the defences of Newcastle upon Tyne developed.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument is situated on the south side of Pink Lane within a recess formed by the adjacent buildings and includes the upstanding remains of a tower, part of the town defences of Newcastle upon Tyne. The tower, known as Gunner Tower, is situated on the north western side of the circuit and was constructed towards the end of the 13th or beginning of the 14th century. The tower is also a Listed Building Grade I. Further sections of the town defences to the north west and south 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 ditch, except on the south side where they were bounded by the River Tyne. Gateways were built at the principle 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 semicircular stone structure visible at the site today is not an original feature; upon excavation in 1964 it was revealed to be a 19th century reconstruction built on the line of the outer face of the tower's west wall encasing the remains of Gunner Tower within. The western half of Gunner Tower was partially excavated in 1964 when its foundations were uncovered standing two courses high. The bottom course was composed of large stones set on their sides with a second course of stones, laid flat and bonded with mortar. A single block of dressed ashlar was found at the north west corner of the tower. The rear wall of the tower, formed by the curtain wall, was a maximum of 2m thick and the side walls of the tower were about 0.8m thick; it was considered that the narrow side walls represented only the inner face of the tower and that the reconstructed 19th century wall was built over the site of the original outer face of the tower. The partial excavation in 1964 also revealed the existence of Roman activity prior to the construction of the medieval tower; this included areas of burning, a pottery vessel containing a cremation and several pieces of Roman pottery. Overlying these remains were medieval deposits containing several pieces of late 13th or early 14th century pottery. The tower was leased to the Company of Slaters and Tylers in 1821 when it was converted into a meeting hall. The tower stood to its full height until 1885 when its upper courses including the parapet were dismantled. The stone wall and railings on the north side of the monument are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 32751

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Harbottle, B, 'Archaeologia Aeliana ser 4' in An Excavation At The Gunner Tower, Newcastle Upon Tyne 1964, , Vol. XLV, (1967), 123-37

End of official listing