Hadrian’s Wall Exploration 6 – Great North Museum

On Monday 6 June Hannah and Julie wanted to hit the shops. I left them in Eldon Gardens and walked up to the Great North Museum. The  Armstrong statue outside is quite impressive.


In the Museum, which was known as The Hancock when we first got here, there were lots of children on school trips, but they were not in the Roman Gallery. I like the strip map of Hadrian’s Wall, but it could be more colourful and give more information.


The collection of altars and other stone work is impressive – I have photoed a selection. I wonder how much they have in store, and whether more of the Roman material could be displayed elsewhere (lots of empty rooms at Carlisle Castle).


The century of Julius Valentius of the Fifth Cohort [built this bit of the Wall].


Building stone from Halton Chesters Fort – of the Twentieth Legion Valeria Victrix decorated with the warrior gods Mars and Hercules. The boar, the symbol of the Twentieth Legion, is at the bottom of the stone. The Legion was still working on the Wall after it was re-commissioned around 158 AD.


On the left is the Tombstone set up in memory of Anicius Ingenuus, doctor to the First Cohort of Tungrians, Housesteads fort. Anicius is the youngest medicus ordinaries known from the Roman Empire. Right is the Tombstone of the baby son of Aurelius Julianus, found at Birdoswald Fort. They have expanded the display to imagine Aurelius’ reactions at being told he is moving away. That was a little close to home (when we move to Derby we will leave Gareth and Theo’s graves at Mlbourne). Aurelius comments that his friends will look after the grave; I know I have friends who will do likewise. At the bottom is a Drinking cup, found at the foot of a child’s coffin, C4 – Clavering Place, Newcastle.

DSC02260DSC02262DSC02265Tombstone set up by Delfinus, found near Housesteads; Bottom – Tombstone showing a family group of father, mother and child who may have been called Virilis, from Halton Chesters fort.


Lead coffin, found at Benwell, and a Child’s coffin from Clavering Place, Newcastle.


Face vase, probably depicting Empress Julia Domna, Chester-le-Street.


Bronze head of a figurine of Mercury, Benwell Fort.


Altars from Carrawburgh Mithraeum – left, altar dedicated to Mithras the Invincible by Lucius Antonius Proculus, Prefect of the First Cohort of Batavians – middle, dedicated by Marcus Simplicius Simplex – right, dedicated by Aulus Cluentius Habitus. It seems a long time since I walked to see them.


The scene on this relief, called a tauroctony, would have been the focus of every Mithraeum. The arched top indicates the cave in which Mithras killed the bull as the act of creation. The snake, dog and scorpion leap up to catch the blood. Mithrase is accompanied by the twin torchbearers, Coutes and Cautopates. Mithrase is born from the Cosmic Egg. They are from Housesteads.

DSC02279Left is an altar dedicated by Litorius Pacatianus, found at Housesteads. Right is the goddess Fortuna, found in the Tyne at Newcastle. Bottom is a Stone head from Lemington.


Left Head of a statue of Antenociticus, a local god adopted by the soldiers stationed at Benwell Fort. Right, altars found in the Tyne. Bronze left cheek piece from an auxiliary cavalry helmet, dredged up from the Tyne at South Shields.

DSC02292DSC02295DSC02299Left, Relief of a Hamian archer from Syria, found at Housesteads. Right, Tombstone of Marcus Aurelius Victor, found at Chesters. He is portrayed as a cavalryman, but his mount looks more like a mule. Perhaps he was in charge of deliveries of Amphora like this – QMCCAS is stamped on the handle, which indicates that its contents came from Southern Spain. It was found at Turret 44B (Mucklebank).


Relief from a water tank showing Venus bathing – High Rochester Fort.


Tombstone of Aurelia Aureliana, set up by her husband Ulpus Apolinaris, mid C3, found in the Roman cemetery on Gallows Hill, Carlisle. She wears a tunic, known as a Gallic coat, but at mid-calf length rather than the usual ankle length. She also wears a fringed stole and pointed toe shoes. She carries a bunch of poppies to symbolise the sleep of death.


Items from the Aesica Hoard, found in the south gate of Aesica (Great Chesters) Fort. It was hidden in the late C3.


Moving on from Rome, it was also good to see The Rothbury Cross – regular readers will have read about this when I blogged Rothbury Church. It dates to 800 AD, a hundred years before the Linidsfarne Gospels, but clearly belongs to the same artistic tradition. Left, the cross head shows the Crucifixion with an angel grasping Christ’s halo. This is the earliest example where the Crucifixion is not on a panel, but Christ’s arms lie along the arms of the cross. Below, the shafted section – with a haloed Christ holding a book. Much of the Cross is still in Rothbury church – it is now the stem of the font. I love the idea that a historical cross, 1,200 years old, is now the base of the font, where children are welcomed into our faith. I think I have some pictures for the Order for my final service in Ponteland (Sunday 26 June, 10 am – all welcome).


There is a lot more of the Museum that I could have done – see their website – instead I walked north across Exhibition Park. This was first used for the Jubilee Exhibition of 1887. I remember visiting the Science Museum here in the late 1970s. Now the Pavilion is the home of Wylam Brewery.


I crossed the road and walked through the meadow – you would hardly believe you were less than 100 yards from Blue House roundabout. I walked through the estate past the Bishop’s House, then past South Gosforth metro station to the big roundabout by the Freeman. My plan was to cut down to the Ouseburn. Not the easiest path to find, but I got there eventually and walked south. Some beautiful rhododendrons, some lovely hidden bits, some badly signed paths, some open spaces, and the walk through Jesmond Dene was lovely.  The posh bit at the top has a website, a ruined mill, a  Visitors’ centre and a Pets’ corner. The Armstrong Bridge was built in 1878, designed to cope with mining subsidence.


South of the Coast Road it becomes tattier, with more graffiti and litter. There is quite a stretch where you are walking past allotments, all (understandably) fenced off. There is a bit where the river was culverted, and it takes a bit of navigation to find where you ought to be walking.  The Ouseburn Culvert was built in 1906, filling in the Dene which was 100 feet deep. The resulting tunnel is 2,150 feet long – see this website. There is a record of its use in WW2 here. Does Newcastle City Council still employ blacksmiths?


You come down under the railway bridge (original timber bridge 1839 John and Benjamin Green, this metal one 1869, widened 1885), the metro bridge (1982 – the first  glued segmental precast pre-stressed bridge to be built in Britain) and the road bridge (1878 to a design by Robert Hodgson. Hodgson had been Robert Stephenson’s Resident Engineer for the construction of the Newcastle High Level Bridge). Lots to read at this blog.


There are some interesting buildings and the Seven Stories home of Children’s Books which, to my shame, I have never visited – website. The tide was out. I had a tea in a little, well it’s too upmarket to be a café – website – what would the original locals make of “Whipped Feta on toast with pear and mint”? I have just found a website which gives me 363 recipes for whipped feta … my life is complete. I can die a happy man.


I walked past the tide barrier, and turned right up the Tyne. What a wonderful view.


This is the place to add an extra excitement. On Friday 17 June I had the pleasure of lunch with our friends David, Katie, Ella and Emilia. David is at HMS Calliope, and we went to watch the 1200 opening of the Millennium Bridge. I got to press the button to tilt the bridge! Thanks to Tony the Bridge Master.




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2 Responses to Hadrian’s Wall Exploration 6 – Great North Museum

  1. Dear Vicar Peter, I live in San Francisco and produce a (ad-free) history travel Web site for Americans who are going to Europe. I visited Newcastle in October 2016. The Great North Museum was splendid, and I particularly appreciate how well your photographs turned out, given the difficult lighting in the museum. You may be interested to know that I found your blog by uploading my own photo of Julia Domna to Google Images, since I wasn’t entirely certain I had matched the plaque with the correct bust.

    And the image of you pressing the button to raise the Millenial bridge–what fun you are all having! May I use it on my Web site, with credit to you of course?

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