Regular Ouseburn frequenters will be well familiar with the development site (soon to be housing) at the top of Stepney Bank, Norris House. This month, it has been revealed that remains of Hadrian's Wall were discovered at the site. It was widely thought that the route of the Wall likely crossed this area but this discovery has uncovered exciting physical evidence. Our resident Hadrian's Wall expert George Davies has highlighted key findings from the post-excavation report to share the findings. 

August 2022

The work done by PCA (Pre-Construct Archeology) at Norris House on Crawhall Road has uncovered evidence of nearly every element expected of Hadrian’s Wall east of Newcastle, including the ditch, berm, cippi pits, curtain wall, a turret (3a), and evidence of collapse/destruction/robbing. Below you'll find a short summary of information taken from the archeological report detailing information about the turret. For more technical details about the findings, you can request a copy of the full archeological report by contacting [email protected].

About the Turret

“The Turret was located at the top of the western bank of the Ouseburn that would have offered an ideal strategic position monitoring movement within the valley below (especially when considering the proposed location of mile castle three at the top of the eastern bank of the Ouseburn c. 450m to the east).

This is not however where Turret 3a should be when measured from mile castle one that places it 295m to the southwest, on the Melbourne Street site (corner of Melbourne/Buxton Street and Gibson Street). This clearly illustrates that strategic positioning outweighed where the structure should be located in the original spacing scheme i.e., a milecastle every Roman mile with two equidistant turrets between.” (7.2.10)

“Unfortunately, the wing-walls of Turret 3a were too truncated to discern any great detail with only the foundations surviving. It does appear however that the west wing-wall foundation was the same width as the north wall of the turret at c. 2.46m wide placing it within the Narrow Wall gauge” (7.2.11) 

“Turrets are normally about 5.79m by 5.79m externally with internal measurements of between 3.67m to 3.96m and [side] wall widths of 0.81m to 1.22m. There are known variations in turrets that are usually attributed to the different legionary builders such as the overall size of the turret, width of walls, door position and type of threshold. The walls were usually mortared. Turret 3a is much larger than the average turret however the width of its foundation trenches are comparable with those east of Newcastle i.e. 2.30m to 2.65m” (7.2.13)

“The foundation trench of T3a was however much deeper at 0.64m (north wall) than at St Dominic’s where the footings were laid in 100mm deep trench. The greater depth may be due 6 to the structure needing deeper foundations as the land sloped down towards the Ouseburn to the east.” (7.2.13)

“The largest known turret was at Melkridge (T40b) that was 5.79m east/west internally, 0.03m wider than Turret 3a (although as the foundation trenches are slightly wider than the walls, T3a may in fact have the larger internal area). The unusually large size of Turret 40b was thought to be attributed to the wide area within view of the structure with MC30 and MC50 being visible in clear weather. Development within urban Tyneside makes it difficult to ascertain but T3a may have had a similar panorama with the forts at Wallsend 4.3km to the east and Newcastle and Benwell 1.1km and 4.3km to the west respectively.” (7.2.14)

“The investigation at Crawhall Road has demonstrated that the potential for significant archaeological remains relating to Hadrian’s Wall can survive in the more built-up areas of urban Tyneside” (8.1)

“It would appear that the turret only survived as it was situated on the lowest part of the site with any remains of the Wall to the south-west on the higher ground truncated by later activity. The elevation of the unnamed lane to the east of site was recorded at 34.51m AOD with the top of the Wall within the eastern section of site at 35.02m AOD. Although this would perhaps rule out any chance of the wall core surviving below it, it is highly likely that the foundation trench still survives to the northeast below the asphalt road.” (8.2)

Banks East in Cumbria is the best preserved turret or observation tower in the western sector of Hadrian's Wall, where the Wall, instigated on the orders of the emperor Hadrian in AD 122, was originally made from turf. Image and information: English Heritage

George's conclusion

The confirmation of the discovery of Turret 3A at Norris House is very exciting. As the report recognises, this is the only known turret east of Newcastle and is also exciting due to its unusual size.

This report does a reasonable job outlining the excavation, but I feel that more research around the dimensions is warranted, especially around turret design at other sites. They don’t appear to have considered much about the common design elements of other turrets along the Wall. While the interior could reasonably have been larger for the reasons they’ve put forward, they haven’t put any thought into why the side wall foundations are so thick. At other turrets, including T40b, the maximum side wall thickness is 1.2m, whereas 3a from their estimation would have side walls as thick as the curtain wall itself, in the area of 2.5m.

In addition,PCA (Pre-Construct Archeology) haven’t accounted for the usual ‘recess’ feature seen in all other turrets, where the internal area of the turret is inset into the curtain wall, making the wall itself thinner in the turret. With these differences as seen in the ground and the fact that it has not been fully excavated (at least partially on Historic England’s recommendation), I think more work needs to be done to fully understand the unique nature of this turret and the relationship between its unusual size and its location.

A view of the Hadrian's Wall remains

Remains of a well