The town of Wallsend in northern England is so called because it was literally the end of Hadrian’s Wall, which was built on the edge of the Roman frontier to keep the picts out of their hard won territory. It was less of a battle line than a migration deterrent, but it’s actual purpose is up for debate. The cattle raiders were too few in number to justify the expense of the wall, as were the size of marauding northern armies. It’s thought that it served a more practical purpose of acting as a customs toll booth where traded goods could be taxed and regulated.
It also made a very impressive show of Rome’s power. Look how much money we can throw at piling up these stones and manning forts all the way across your island! Hear us roar!
I think Hadrian may have been over compensating for something.
The first parts of the 72 mile wall were built in 122. That’s not a typo, and is not supposed to be 1122, that’s the year one hundred twenty two AD.
Did you know that George R.R. Martin has admitted that Hadrian’s wall was the inpiration for “The Wall” in his Game of Thrones books? I just learned that tonight, but it doesn’t surprise me. I always thought the surrounding lands he describes in the books bear a striking resemblance to this part of the UK. Pretty cool.
The wall ran east to west across northern England, terminating just west of the village of Bowness-on-Solway on the Irish Sea, and at Wallsend on the River Tyne just past Newcastle.
The fort built at the terminus of the eastern end of the wall was called Segedunum. My Girl and I visited the museum on a cold January day, indulging our history nerd tendencies and enjoying a mother-daughter geek day out.
The site was named as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987, and the museum was opened in June, 2000.
We were really impressed by the museum. It’s not huge, but the main gallery is surrounded by small alcoves each dedicated to a different aspect of life on the wall. There was a room for Roman weaponry and armor, one for displays of wealth including jewelry and silver food service, one for ancient medical practices, one for village life, one for displaying the stables and soldiers’ barracks, etc. We could have easily spent two or three hours in the museum without even venturing out to the bath house or up to the observation deck.
Upstairs is a room explaining the history of how the site was discovered and saved from eternal burial beneath a neighborhood of row houses, and how it became an important archeology site and UNESCO World Heritage site.
Many, many stairs later (be smarter than us, take the elevator) we arrived in the observation room looking over the entire field where the foundations have been revealed and preserved, and a restored Roman Bath house has been built.
The bath house is only open for fifteen minutes each hour, so we hustled through the snowy field to see it, stopping to read a few signs on the way.
The original fort did indeed have a bath house, but not this one. The original was farther down the hill, and closer to the river on a property that is now owned by a local ship yard. This fully restored copy is the most complete example of a Roman Bath house in all of the UK.
The printed guides were very helpful, and explained how the bath house was used as not only a place to get clean and warm, but a place for social gatherings. The first room we entered as we came inside was the largest of them all, and was used as a place to change your clothing, chat with friends and play games. It wasn’t just used by the soldiers, but their families as well.
The smaller rooms each had a different purpose. There was a hot room and a cold room, each having a large bath big enough to hold maybe fifteen people. The idea was to steam yourself into oblivion in the hot room, then take a bracing plunge into the cold room after you were fully cooked.
There was a steam sauna, and of course the latrines.
Who’s up for a bit of group pooping?
I think I’ll wait.
The museum is just a few minutes walk from the Wallsend Metro station, so it was an easy day out for me and my Girl, even without a car. We were obviously here in the winter, so the cafe in the museum had limited hours and was closed during our visit, but I hear it’s pretty good. It would have been really nice to grab a hot cup of coffee after our chilly trek across the field.
Even without coffee, we enjoyed our visit and I found it well worth the £5.75 we each paid for entrance.
If you enjoy your visit, and want to learn more about life on the wall take a few hours to stop in to the Great North Museum near Haymarket in Newcastle. They have a fantastic display of wall artifacts, including a model displaying the entire length of the wall that stretches across a very large room, and entrance is free.