Tuesday, April 16th 2019
This is our last morning in Newcastle on this trip for we must now return to London. Our train to King’s Cross is at 13:29, giving us time for a short visit to a place of interest before we finally leave Newcastle.
After a last look around to make sure we had not forgotten anything, we left our temporary home in the gated community. Checking out is easy: close the front door and push the keys through the letterbox! The picture shows the gateway to the complex. You can see that one part of the iron gate is still open. Residents open it by tapping their electronic key fob on the plate beside the entrance. The gate remains open for quite a while which is obviously a security risk but, after all, that’s no longer any concern of ours.
For our last visit we took a bus to the east, to a town called Wallsend. You can probably guess the origin of the name but, in case not, I will explain where it comes from and why we were here.
In about AD 122, Hadrian, destined later to become emperor of the Roman Empire, was the newly appointed military commander of Britain. In order to deal with the frequent raids and incursions by the Scots and Picts from the unsubdued ‘barbarian’ lands to the north, Hadrian conceived the bold plan of building a wall from sea to sea across the narrowest part of the country. The first phase of the project took about six years to complete and at its eastern extremity the wall ended at a place called Pons Aelius, a bridge over the River Tyne in what is now the city of Newcastle. In a second phase, the wall was extended eastwards until it reached the natural barrier of the river. The design of the wall included a manned fort every Roman mile and the new section also received its fort. This was built in AD 127 and was called Segedunum. The garrison comprised 480 infantry and 120 cavalry and remained active virtually until the Romans quitted Britain around AD 410.
Hence the name of the town which is sited literally at the end of the wall (click here for an OpenStreetMap showing the location of Wallsend). We had come to visit Segedunum, or rather the ruins thereof, which is now a museum.
The origin of name Segedunum is uncertain. Many Roman sites, especially forts, include dunum in their names. This is the Latinization of a British word, possibly dunon, meaning a fortress or fortified town. Another example in Britain is Camulodunum, the Roman name for Colchester. What is uncertain, however, is the first part of the name, Sege. This possibly comes from a native word meaning ‘strong’ or ‘victorious’ but this remains a good guess, nothing more.
Before proceeding further, though, we needed to find a place where we could have breakfast. And where better than the Ritz?! Of course, this is not the proverbial Ritz but a Wetherspoons pub of the same name.
The oval plaque that you can see on the wall tells us that the Art Deco cinema called The Ritz opened in 1939. Designed by Percy L. Browne for the ABC chain, it could seat 1,636 patrons. Ceasing operations in 1962, the Ritz, like so many other defunct cinemas, became a bingo hall, a career that lasted until 2011. In 2015, Wetherspons repurposed it as a pub.
While never likely to receive accolades for haute cuisine, Wetherspoons can be relied upon to provide meals throughout the day at moderate prices and we have often found them convenient sources of breakfast during our trips.
And so to the museum which calls itself simply Segedunum. The site comprises a building which is a museum with a circular viewing platform, which you can see projecting above the roof in the above photo, and Segedunum itself, that is, the Roman fort, spread out before it.
The Roman fort itself now consists of little more than traces on the ground, in places enhanced with stones as markers. For this we can thank Victorian town planners who erected terraces of houses on the site, wiping away everything above the surface. The houses have now been demolished (and the inhabitants rehoused) and the site cleared to make the outline of the fort as clear as possible.
In the museum there is a model that shows what the fort might have looked like in its heyday. Although a settlement grew up around the fort (there was money to be made trading with the fort and the soldiers), the Roman garrison lived in the fort and had everything everything they needed, including Roman-style baths.
The viewing platform also affords a view over Newcastle and the Tyne.
This ended our explorations of the town of the Novum Castellum for this trip and we now had to catch a bus to take us to Newcastle railway station to board our train for London. Newcastle is a fascinating town that has much to offer the visitor with historical sites both ancient and not-so-ancient. I expect we shall return to discover more.