Exploring the Past in Tyne and Wear

Tyne and Wear is a metropolitan area on the north-east coast of England that centres around the mouths of two rivers. The city of Sunderland is at the mouth of the Wear River, while the boroughs of North Tyneside and South Tyneside are to the north and south of the Tyne River mouth respectively. Newcastle is further inland, on the north side of the Tyne, while Gateshead is opposite to the south. The eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall is here, and the area has a rich Anglo-Saxon monastic tradition.

It was in this area that the Venerable Bede was born, sometime in 673, a year before the founding of the twin monasteries of St Paul’s at Jarrow and St Peter’s at Monkwearmouth. At the age of seven Bede was sent to join the monastery at Wearmouth, where except for a few visits to other monasteries he remained all of his life leading a strict monastic life. He died at the monastery in Jarrow. Bede is best known for authoring History of the English Church and People, amongst a number of other books; he is considered one of the most learned men of his time. The ruins of both monasteries, about 12 kilometres apart, are open to the public. The two are joined by the Bede Cycle Way and Bede’s Way Walk.

If culture and a vibrant nightlife is what you are after, Newcastle makes for a perfect weekend break: the city is easy to get to, it has a World-class museum, and there are a number of great sites on Hadrian’s Wall within easy reach – whether you use public or private transport.

CONTENTS: List of Sites | List of Museums | Archaeology Groups | Links


Weekend Break in Newcastle & Hadrian’s Wall

Newcastle is a perfect location for a weekend break to Hadrian's wall. The city of Newcastle upon Tyne makes for a good destination for anyone wanting a city-based weekend break that includes a short visit to some of the sites on Hadrian’s wall. Besides being within easy reach of such important sites as Housesteads and Chesters Roman Fort, the Great North Museum in the city itself has the largest collection of antiquities from the Wall, something from each site in fact. And of course Newcastle has its own fascinating Medieval history, for which a visit to the New Castle is a must. Newcastle has a vibrant nightlife, and is known for some excellent restaurants and a range of hotels to suit everyone and all budgets… Continue Reading.

Popular Tours and Activities in Tyne and Wear via GetYourGuide


Archaeology & History Sites in Tyne & Wear

Arbeia Roman Fort

Arbeia was a coastal supply town for Hadrian's Wall. Strategically placed overlooking the mouth of the River Tyne, this Roman fort was built in about 160 AD. When Hadrian’s Wall was built some decades later Arbeia became the maritime supply fort for the Wall. Archaeologists have excavated what are the only permanent stone-built granaries yet found in Britain. Many foundations are exposed for visitors to see but the site is known for the actual size reconstructions of some buildings, including the West Gate, the Commanding Officer’s house and a soldier’s barrack block – described as the finest Roman reconstructions in Britain. [Website]

Benwell Roman Fort (Temple & Vallum)

The only surviving, visible vallum crossing at Benwell, Newcastle. Benwell Roman Fort was the second fort along Hadrian’s Wall. Very little of the site survives today, but two features of the fort have been preserved amongst the houses of the Benwell housing estate. One of these is a vallum crossing, which is the only surviving vallum crossing along Hadrian’s Wall. The second feature is that of a small, single apse temple that was in the vicus that lay beyond the fort, which was dedicated to Antenociticus. The head of a sculpture depicting Antenociticus is all that remains, and this can be seen in the Great North Museum. This local god is not know from any other site in Briatin. … Read More.

Blackgate – Newcastle

The Black Gate, once the Barbican of the New Castle after which Newcastle takes its name. Although separated from the castle keep by a large railway line, the Black Gate was in fact the gatehouse that made up the defensive entrance of the castle’s north gate. Built between 1247 and 1250, the gatehouse was the last of the defensive structures to be added to the castle. What remains is an arched passageway, flanked on either side by the guard’s chambers. The second and third floors were added in the 17th century. From 1883 the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne rented the building, which it used as a museum up until 1959 and then as a library and meeting place until 2009. [Website]

Copt Hill

Copt Hill is a typical Neolithic round barrow, about 2.4 metres high and 20 metres in diameter, dating to about 4000 BC. The site was first excavated in 1877, when it was revealed that the cremated remains of a number of individuals were placed below the barrow in the early Neolithic. Later, during the early Bronze Age, four cremations and four inhumations were added to the barrow. The barrow is now covered by trees.

Denton – Hadrian’s Wall

A section of Hadrian's Wall on the outskirts of Newcastle. The ‘new castle’ from which the city takes its name is built on the Roman fort that served to guard the bridge crossing the Tyne River. Initially, this was the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall, until the Wall was extended to Wallsend. Nothing remains of that fort now, and it is not until you get to the outskirts of Newcastle, Denton and Benwell, that you find reconstructed parts of the Wall. There are three sections of wall in Denton, alongside the A69 – the main road out to Hadrian’s Wall, one of which is 65 metres long with a turret. In the corner is a platform thought to have been a base for a ladder that provided access to the parapet walk.

Hasting Hill

A Neolithic round barrow, about 1 metre high and 12 metres in diameter. Although there is very little to see at the site, other barrow, excavations at the site in 1911 recovered a number of cremations and inhumations (some of which were placed in cists) dating to the Neolithic and early Bronze Age. These remains and the funerary urns and other associated grave goods are now in the Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, Sunderland.

Hylton Castle

The ruined 14th century Hylton Castle, in Tyne and Wear. The ruined castle dates to the 14th century, the stone castle having been built on the site of an older timber fort built after the Norman invasion by the Hilton family. It stayed in the family until 1746. Beside the castle is a ruined 15th century chapel dedicated to St Catherine of Alexandria in 1157. An important feature of the ruins is a set of the heraldic symbols of local gentry, including Richard II’s white hart badge. The parklands are open to the public where visitors are free to walk about the castle and chapel, but the interior of the castle is inaccessible. Photo. © Craigy/Wikipedia

Jarrow Anglo-Saxon Monastery

The church at St Paul's Monastery, Jarrow. © English Heritage Although St Paul’s Church in Jarrow is still a functioning parish church, it contains the oldest dedication stone in England. And, the chancel is formed from the walls of a 7th century church – one of two churches of St Paul’s Monastery. St Paul’s Monastery was founded in 681 AD by the Abbot of the nearby St Peter’s Monastery at Monkwearmouth. The monastery at Jarrow was home to Bede, who was one of the greatest Anglo-Saxon scholars and English historians. It was at St Paul’s that Bede died, writing up until his death. He was buried at Jarrow but later transferred to the cathedral in Durham.

Monkwearmouth Anglo-Saxon Monastery

A carved stone from St Peter's monastery, Monkwearmouth. A monastery was founded at Monkwearmouth in 674 AD by Benedict Biscop on land donated by king Egfrid of Northumbria. When the pope exempted the monastery from external control the king was so happy he gave the abbot more land at Jarrow to build a twin monastery. The two were so close they functioned as one monastery in two places for about 200 years. The extensive library as a result of Benedict’s travels to Rome made this an important centre of Anglo-Saxon scholarship. The church was attacked by Vikings and Danes and later rebuilt in Norman times, making this one of the oldest parish churches in England. [Website]

Newcastle Castle

The new castle after which Newcastle takes its name. Following the Norman Invasion of England in 1066, in 1080 William’s son Robert Curthose built a timber fort on the site of what was the first Roman fort on Hadrian’s Wall and then an early Anglo-Saxon church and graveyard. Much of the castle keep we see today dates to the first stone castle that was built about none hundred years later by King Henry II. The castle was an important stronghold during the Medieval period and various wars between England and Scotland. Many of the features of the castle were destroyed in 1840 making way for the railways. A newly restored Castle Keep opened to the public in 2015. [Website]
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Newcastle City Walls

The city walls in Newcastle were built for defence in the 13th and 14th centuries. In 1265 a tax was levied for the first time to pay for the construction of a defensive wall around the town, to protect the town from the Scots. As there are records the tax continued to be be paid for one hundred years, it is thought the building of the wall ended mid 14th century. In all the wall is about 3 kilometres long, 2 metres thick, and just over 7 metres high; with six main gates and 17 towers that just out from the wall. Large sections of the wall were destroyed in the 18th and 19th centuries, but it is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument. Pink markers on the map above indicate those parts of the Medieval wall that are still standing.


View of the Roman Fort at Wallsend from viewing tower. Segedunum was built shortly after 127 AD at the eastern-most end of Hadrian’s Wall, near the banks of the River Tyne. Today it is the most excavated Roman fort along the Wall. The site was recently opened to the public, and besides an interactive museum there is a 35m high viewing tower that provides a view of the entire foundations of the fort, about 4 acres. One of the highlights of the site is an actual size, complete reconstruction of a Roman bath house – the only one of its kind in Britain. Excavations of the barracks block produced the first evidence of stables in Roman forts in Britain. [Website]
Take a Guided Tour of Segedunum >>


Tynemouth Priory and Castle

The early kings of Northumbria are buried in the Benedictine Priory. Dramatically situated on a rocky promontory are the ruins of a Benedictine Priory and an Anglo-Saxon castle. The priory was founded in the 7th century, and the castle was built in the 11th century. As with all monasteries at the Reformation, Tynemouth was disbanded in 1538, but the castle remained in royal ownership and continued to be developed and fortified. Later, an underground gun battery was built into the cliffs to defend the Tyne during the First and Second World Wars. Besides nearly two thousand years of history, there are stunning views up and down the coast.


Museums in Tyne & Wear

Jarrow Hall

A reconstructed Anglo-Saxon farm in Bede's World, Jarrow. Bede’s World is a multi-faceted attraction that aims to tell the story of Bede for children as well as adults. In the museum, artefacts recovered during excavations of St Paul’s monastery are used to show what Anglo-Saxon life was like 1,300 years ago. A major part of the exhibition is the largest collection in Europe of early Medieval stained-glass windows. These museum displays are complemented by an 11 acre ‘farm’; with replicas of the early Medieval domestic buildings and the closest living relatives of the animals Anglo-Saxons would have been familiar with. Photograph © Neddyseagoon [Website]

Great North Museum – Hancock

Entrance to the Great North Museum in Newcastle. The Great North Museum – Hancock re-opened in 2009, bringing together in one building the collections of three major archaeology, natural and cultural history museums in Newcastle. The museum has a substantial natural history section that is a favourite with young children, as well as a series of World culture displays, including the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Etruscans and Romans. Of local archaeology, there is a series of exhibits setting out the prehistory of the area, and then a substantial and engaging interactive permanent exhibit of Hadrian’s Wall – with artefacts from each of the sites along the Wall. [Website]
For those with an interest in Hadrian’s Wall – take a Guided Tour of Segedunum Roman Fort & Great North Museum >>

Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens

Exhibits focus on local social and industrial history of the Sunderland area – in particular coal mining and shipbuilding. The prehistoric past is also included, with display on the Neolithic funerary site at Harrow Hill. The museum is well known for its collection of Lowry paintings, and its botanical collection – with some 2,000 plants houses in the Winter Gardens. [Website]


Archaeology Groups in Tyne & Wear

Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne
The Society was founded in 1813 to promote the appreciation and understanding of archaeology and history in north-eastern England. This is the oldest provincial antiquarian society in England that encourages members whether professional archaeologists or enthusiasts who want to support the work of the Society. Each year the Society arranges an active programme of events, including lectures and outings.
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Sunderland Antiquarian Society
Founded in 1900 as a membership organisation for all who are interested in the history of the greater Sunderland region.

Newcastle Young Archaeologist’s Club
Two clubs are available, one for 8 to 14 year olds, and the other 14 to 18 year olds.

Council for British Archaeology – North
The northern branch of the Council for British Archaeology – taking in the following regions: Cumbria, Durham, Northumberland, Teesside, Tyne & Wear.
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Visiting Tyne & Wear: Links for Travellers

The following tourism initiatives cover the areas included in the ceremonial county of Tyne and Wear:

NewcastleGateshead – covers the city of Newcastle to the north of the Tyne River and the town of Gateshead to the south of the Tyne.
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North Tyneside – Whitley Bay to the north Tynemouth.

South Tyneside – including South Shields, Jarrow and Hebburn.
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Sunderland – a city on the coast at the mouth of the Wear River.
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