Newcastle upon Tyne town defences: section of curtain wall including Durham Tower and section of town ditch
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1019279
Date first listed: 18-Jan-1930
Date of most recent amendment: 23-Apr-2003
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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 24383 64113
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 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 accomodate a change in gradient. The wall also displays great variety in thickness and height; the height range of all of the upstanding sections of the curtain wall is 4.4m to 6.6m from the top of the footings to the wall walk. 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 which also 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 of all 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 standing remains of the medieval town wall between Stowell Street and Westgate Road survive very well. The length of curtain wall containing a single turret and tower is a rare survival being one of few remaining locations where the curtain wall and its associated structures remain upstanding and highly visible. The buried remains of the berm and ditch represent one of few remaining locations within the city where these features are thought to survive. 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.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
The monument is situated between Stowell Street and Westgate Road and lies
parallel to Bath Lane. It includes the upstanding and buried remains of part
of the town defences of Newcastle upon Tyne. The section of town defences
between Stowell Street and Westgate Road represents part of the western side
of the circuit and includes a 90m upstanding section of curtain wall, a tower
and a turret. Outside the wall there is a length of berm and part of the
town ditch; the latter survives below ground level as an infilled and buried
feature. The curtain wall, tower and turret are 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 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
The curtain wall in this section is constructed of large, square sandstone
blocks bonded with mortar. It is on average 2m wide and stands to a maximum
height of 4m; in places the curtain wall retains part of the wall walk
including the parapet and steep coping stones. The double chamfered lower
courses are visible in this length of curtain wall; as the ground level within
this area of the medieval town falls steeply from north to south, the lower
levels of the wall are stepped down in a number of places.
The tower, known as Durham Tower, is situated towards the north eastern end of
the length of curtain wall and projects 4m from its outer face. The tower is
visible as a semi-circular shaped building with a rectangular ground floor
chamber constructed of coursed and squared ashlar sandstone blocks. The tower
retains its stone vaulted roof and narrow window loops on the west and south
sides. There is an entrance on the north side which retains a narrow stone
lintel. Externally, the tower has several projecting corbels which are
interpreted as supports for timber hoardings or galleries.
There is a single turret in this section at the junction of the curtain wall
with Stowell Street. It is visible as a row of seven closely spaced corbels
projecting from the inner face of the wall walk with four courses of
In front of the curtain wall there are the remains of the berm and the
infilled and buried remains of part of the town ditch which survives below
ground level as a buried feature.
All amenity stone walls, planters, iron railings, kerbs, steps and the
surfaces of all paths 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: 32754
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Brewis, P, 'Archaeologia Aeliana ser 4' in The West Walls of Newcastle Upon Tyne, , Vol. Xi, (1934), 1-20
Holmes, S, 'Archaeologia Aeliana ser 2' in The Walls of Newcastle Upon Tyne, , Vol. Xviii, (1896), 1-25
Welford, R, 'Archaeologia Aeliana ser 2' in The Walls Of Newcastle In 1638, , Vol. Xii, (1887), 230-5
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing