‘We need to celebrate it’: Newcastle seeks its place on Hadrian’s Wall trail

Remains of Roman wall that runs along city’s West Road deserve more recognition, campaigners say

Paula Robinson lives on a neat suburban cul-de-sac of 1930s houses that also contains the remains of a gateway to a mighty Roman fort once occupied by the Asturian cavalry regiment from northern Spain. Around the corner is the Temple of Antenociticus.

Last year archaeologists found ancient pottery and deer bones in Robinson’s garden, which is close to one of Newcastle’s busiest roads, West Road. Exciting but not totally surprising as the house is on the site of Condercum, a huge hilltop outpost of Hadrian’s Wall.

All of which, campaigners argue, can be easily missed by the estimated 10,000 walkers who annually follow the 84-mile Hadrian’s Wall trail across the north of England.

When the trail gets close to the wonders of the surviving wall it veers away from the city’s west end down to the River Tyne before reaching them.

Hadrian's Wall in Newcastle

“I’m sure the trail doesn’t go down the West Road because they thought the river was prettier,” says Chi Onwurah, the Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central. “It may well be prettier, but it’s not where the wall was.”

Onwurah is due to bring the matter up in a Westminster Hall debate on Tuesday, calling for the trail to be rerouted. She says it is an important issue given the synergies between the area in Roman times and how it is today.

In Hadrian’s day the area was urban and multicultural “which is also how the west end is today,” she says.

“We need to celebrate Hadrian’s Wall being in the west end of Newcastle and by doing that you’ll understand more about Britain in Roman times and also more about Britain today.”

Hadrian’s Wall this year celebrates its 1,900th birthday, marked by a yearlong series of events under the banner of the 1900 festival. The perfect time, Onwurah believes, to right a wrong.

Paula Robinson in her garden in Newcastle’s west end, where archaeologist have found remains associated with Hadrian’s Wall
Paula Robinson in her garden in Newcastle’s west end, where archaeologist have found remains associated with Hadrian’s Wall. Photograph: Gary Calton/The Guardian

Precisely why the trail does not go down West Road is unclear, though it is fair to say a walk along the road – with its constant traffic and litter problems – is not everyone’s idea of a fun day out.

Onwurah says parts of the west end had some of the highest levels of multiple deprivation in the UK.

“It is a vibrant, multicultural but yes economically deprived area of the city,” she says. “There may well have been an element of snobbishness in the past as there was about many aspects of our cultural history, but I think the 1900 celebrations are a really great opportunity to represent the wall as it was.”

Onwurah will on Tuesday submit a series of requests to the government to better promote the wall in Newcastle. “This is about making sure the story of our nation from Roman times represents our present as well as our history.”

The MP’s intervention is welcome news to Rob Higgins, a local councillor, who is out walking a friend’s yorkshire terrier, Daisy, on the impressive foundations of Denton Hall turret on the corner of West Road and the A1.

He remembers the trail coming to Newcastle two decades ago. “We were never consulted,” he says. “I think it was about trying to have a route which went along the river and the main arteries should be avoided.”

The remains of the Temple of Antenociticus in the Benwell area of central Newcastle
The remains of the Temple of Antenociticus in the Benwell area of central Newcastle. Photograph: Gary Calton/The Guardian

He too thinks there might be an element of snobbishness but stresses: “Some of the stories about the west end of Newcastle are grossly exaggerated.”

Higgins says Roman forts such as Vindolanda and Housesteads get all the Hadrian’s Wall attention and “to our frustration the sections in Newcastle get forgotten about”.

He is keen to ensure the west end is a key player in the 1900 festival. “We’ve already got some really exciting projects involving people from the local community and schools, which will not only commemorate the event but highlight the history of the wall along the West Road.”

Overall responsibility for the trail lies with Natural England, sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Defra, however, says decisions on the route are a matter for the trail partnership.

Northumberland national park authority, which manages the route and is one of the trail partners, has been approached for comment.

Robinson, a retired Northumbria police employee, says her estate in Benwell does get tourists, but many more would be welcome. “It would be lovely to have more people who appreciate history.

“The wall here is everywhere, the whole area. I don’t know why it’s not called Little Italy.”

• This article’s main image caption was amended on 31 January 2022 to correct the spelling of Denton Turret.


Mark Brown North of England correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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