Newcastle upon Tyne town defences: section of curtain wall and town ditch between Forth Street and Hanover Street


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1019813

Date first listed: 18-Jan-1930

Date of most recent amendment: 23-Apr-2003


Ordnance survey map of Newcastle upon Tyne town defences: section of curtain wall and town ditch between Forth Street and Hanover Street
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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 24825 63738


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

Reasons for Designation

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 it 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 normally 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 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 curtain wall between Forth Street and Hanover Street survive well to the height of the parapet walkway. This length of curtain wall is a rare survival, being one of few remaining locations where the curtain wall remains upstanding and highly visible. Taken together with the buried remains of the curtain wall it represents one of the most complete lengths of the circuit. The buried remains of the berm and ditch represent one of few remaining locations where they are thought to survive. The evidence retained by the fabric of the curtain wall for the siege of Newcastle enhances the importance of this section. 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 on gently sloping ground between Forth Street and Hanover Street and lies parallel to Orchard Street. It includes the upstanding and buried remains of part of the town defences of Newcastle upon Tyne. The section of town defences between Forth Street and Hanover Street represents part of the western re-entrant of the circuit originally constructed between 1311 and 1333 and includes a 122m stretch of curtain wall, a length of berm and infilled and buried ditch. The above ground parts of the curtain wall are a Listed Building Grade I. Further sections of the town defences 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 and enclosed 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 post-medieval period. The curtain wall in this section is largely constructed of coursed, square or rectangular sandstone bonded with mortar with a core of rubble and lime mortar. Where the face of the fabric is best preserved, the medieval masonry is dressed with fine diagonal tooling and some blocks retain mason marks in the form of a simple `V'-shape. Partial excavation in 1987 showed that the wall has rubble foundations laid within a shallow trench. Above the foundations, the wall has a number of internal offsets and a double chamfer course on its external face. The wall stands to a maximum height of 9.2m including the parapet walkway and parapet; the parapet stands some 1.53m above the level of the walkway and some of the original coping stones are visible. This length of curtain wall was constructed through the precinct of the adjacent Carmelite Friary, in existence until its Dissolution in 1539; excavation revealed that at the time of the wall's construction, this part of the Friary precinct was used as pasture land. Although unconfirmed by analysis of the present wall fabric, the earliest illustrations of this section of the curtain wall show it to contain a tower or two turrets. The excavations identified a thickening and slight offset of the wall footings in two places which it is thought may represent the sites of former wall turrets. Part of a cobbled surface parallel to the inner face of the wall, associated with 14th to late 15th century pottery was uncovered by excavation and interpreted as the remains of the inter-mural lane. A considerable depth of deposits, in some places up to 2m thick, had accumulated against the inner face of the curtain wall. These deposits, largely of ash, animal bone and large pieces of pottery were dated to the early 17th century and interpreted as night soil and domestic refuse dumped in this area from nearby houses. The use of the inter-mural lane for this purpose ceased with the siege of Newcastle in 1644. During the siege on the night of 19th October 1664, this length of curtain wall received two major breaches prior to the storming of the town later the same day. The first, situated at its northern end, was caused by artillery fire and was visible as a rebuilt section of walling some 55m long until the 19th century when a 25m section of this 17th century rebuilding was levelled to provide an access point, although the foundations and lower courses of the wall survive below ground as buried features. The second breach, caused by a mine, is situated at the south end of the wall immediately north of the site of the former White Friar Tower; this breach was repaired and is visible in the wall fabric as a 13m long section of rebuilt masonry. Immediately to the west of the curtain wall, the remains of the berm and town ditch lie below ground as buried features. Partial excavation at the northern end of the berm recovered some finds and features interpreted as evidence of workmen engaged in repairs to the external face of the wall. Beyond the berm to the west lies the infilled and buried town ditch thought to be 11.5m wide. The ditch is thought to have become infilled at a relatively early date in this area as it is not depicted on a plan of 1683 and other documents show that it was being leased from at least 1677. A plan of 1723 shows the area of the town ditch as open ground possibly in use as an orchard, and the area remained undeveloped until the early 19th century. By 1830 the area immediately west of the curtain wall was leased as a series of plots containing a variety of lean to structures; numerous joist holes in the outer face of the town wall show that these structures were placed against the west face of the wall. The metal plaque affixed to the northern end of the curtain wall is excluded from the scheduling although the structure to which it is attached is included. All wooden, metal and brick boundaries, street and car park furniture, the new bin store and the surfaces of all pavements and car parks are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath all of 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: 32752

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Harbottle, B, 'Archaeologia Aeliana' in The Town Wall of Newcastle Upon Tyne: Consolidation And Excavation, , Vol. ser 4 47, (1969), 70-87
Nolan, J, 'Archaeologia Aeliana ser 5' in The Town Wall, Newcastle Upon Tyne: Orchard and Croft Street, , Vol. ser 5 21, (1993), 93-149

End of official listing