An excerpt from the book: Travels through History – North-East England
The Newcastle Metro is a wonderful system that connects most of Newcastle to the airport and the coastal towns of Whitley Bay, Tynemouth, North Shields, and South Shields – collectively known as The Coast – plus Sunderland, Hebburn, and Jarrow. It’s also rather cheap – an all day pass for the entire network costs £5.10, although most of the credit card readers didn’t work when I tried them. The famous sporting stadia of St James’ Park, Kingston Park, Gateshead Stadium, and The Stadium of Light all have Metro stops nearby. I stayed in Jesmond which was 8 stops from the airport and three stops from the city centre. The trains run underground in central Newcastle but elsewhere they are on the surface like suburban trains.
I caught the Metro to Wallsend where I hoped to find Segedunum, the Roman fort built at the place where Hadrian’s Wall went down to the banks of the River Tyne, hence the name of the town. The Romans felt that the barbarian hordes wouldn’t be able to bridge the Tyne between Wallsend and the North Sea and gain access to The Roman Empire.
If you’re coming on the Metro from central Newcastle as you approach Wallsend you’ll see a white tower on the right-hand side. That’s what you should aim for as it’s part of the visitor centre. Before you enter, make sure not to miss Sentius Tectonicus, an eight-and-a-half-feet high sculpture of a Roman centurion soldier marking the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall. Artist John O’Rourke was commissioned by North Tyneside Council to create the Centurion which is constructed from weathering steel. The sculpture contains 575 components and more than three tonnes of Corten steel – the same material used to construct the Angel of the North and links the site’s Roman heritage with the more recent industrial shipbuilding past in Wallsend.
The centurion’s name comes from an inscription recovered close to Segedunum which reveals that a centurion named Sentius supervised the building of a section of Hadrian’s Wall in the vicinity. Tectonicus refers to the sculpture’s design as an architectural man, with the centurion’s torso emerging from a Roman four-storey building.
The information inside the museum is fascinating and I didn’t expect to learn so much about the fate of various large passenger ships, built locally in Wallsend, when visiting a Roman fort. The connection is that all of the ships had the names of ancient Roman provinces. Many met a brutal end. First I will describe one ship that didn’t.
RMS Mauretania launched on the afternoon of 20 September 1906. She was the world’s largest ship until the completion of RMS Olympic in 1911, as well as the fastest until Bremen’s maiden voyage in 1929. After capturing the Eastbound Blue Riband on her maiden return voyage in December 1907 in 4 days, 22 hours and 29 minutes (New York to Cobh), she claimed the Westbound Blue Riband for the fastest transatlantic crossing during her 1909 season. Mauretania held both speed records for twenty years, but was eventually scrapped in 1935. The ship’s name was taken from Mauretania, an ancient Roman province on the northwest African coast, not the modern Mauritania which is now to the south.