Skip to 0 minutes and 9 seconds Consider the site of Wallsend– the fort where the end of Hadrian’s curtain wall met the river Tyne– the fort the Romans knew as Segedunum. This timeline, produced by Tyne & Wear Archives & Museum Service, gives a sense of the evolution of a single fort site. And remember, the Romans had many forts along the Wall. Indeed, they had one approximately every seven and a half miles– or 11.6 kilometres– along its length.
Skip to 0 minutes and 39 seconds Here, you can see the cultivated landscape that existed, even before the Romans arrived. These were farmed lands. The construction of the fort transforms the land, but it transforms the water, too, dominating river communications, at this point– a vital consideration for the Romans, as well, no doubt, as for local users.
Skip to 1 minute and 3 seconds We’re accustomed to speak of Hadrian’s Wall as a singular monument. And, in one sense, of course, it is. Today, scholars overwhelmingly agree that the Wall grew from an initiative of the emperor Hadrian, himself. And there are strong arguments, too, to suggest that Hadrian, a keen architect, had much to say about its overarching design.
Skip to 1 minute and 26 seconds Yet while the different structural elements we’ve encountered were, indeed, part of a larger complex, it’s important to remember that they had their own stories, and that quite different events could be taking place at different sites, at the same time. Not only that, but, of course, each site also had its own pre and post-Roman history. The fort, built in the second century, is remodelled, over time. Many of the buildings it contains are familiar from other Roman forts, but not all of them are. And at least one of the structures– at Wallsend– appears unique to the site. As elsewhere on the Wall, a small settlement can be seen, outside the fort.
Skip to 2 minutes and 21 seconds But– over time– that, too, fades. And, by the end of the early fifth century AD, all this appears to have collapsed. And we have little evidence for further activity on the site– a picture that may be contrasted with other Hadrian’s Wall fort sites, where there’s much stronger evidence for people continuing to live within the fort walls.
Skip to 2 minutes and 49 seconds With the collapse of the fort, a new landscape takes over. And, in time, many centuries after Hadrian, Wallsend becomes famed for something quite different– for its pioneering coal mines and for the world-famous Swan Hunter shipyard.
Skip to 3 minutes and 12 seconds All these developments take their toll on the archaeological remains. And indeed, the construction of a slipway for the Swan Hunter yard led to the destruction of the easternmost tip of Hadrian’s Wall.
Every settlement, fort, milecastle, turret and section of curtain wall has its own history and that history runs on well beyond the Roman period.
This video, adapted from an original produced by Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, reminds us of just how complex the story of single fort could be. It features the site of Segedunum, Wallsend, extensively excavated by the late Charles Daniels of Newcastle University, and subsequently by his PhD student, Nick Hodgson. In it you will see how the establishment of the fort transformed the landscape, but also how after the Roman period, the landscape changed and subsumed the fort.
The video reminds us of the importance of the other archaeologies that succeed the Roman period. This is particularly the case with the Industrial Archaeology of Wallsend, which attests to rapid change from the eighteenth century onwards.
The original video may be seen in the excellent museum at Segedunum in Wallsend.
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