Saturday, December 04, 2004


Dig goes in deep on river's history


The Journal
By Tony Henderson

Work has started on a bid to turn back the tides of time and build up a picture of life on Newcastle's waterfront more than 800 years ago.

Archaeologists are digging on the site of what will be a new apartments block at Tuthill Stairs on Newcastle Quayside.

The Tyne Wear Museums team hopes to track back the development of a series of waterfront quaysides as land was gradually reclaimed outwards from the natural cliff face into the river.

The Tyne was then the centre of commerce and growth for Newcastle as ships arrived and left with valuable cargoes.

Riverside land for wharfs and buildings was at a premium and it is hoped the dig will show what sort of material was used for reclamation - ballast from incoming vessels or domestic and industrial waste from the town.

A small trial dig on the site has already unearthed timber dating from 1137.

But with the archaeologists digging back 17 metres from today's Quayside pavement the existence could be revealed of earlier waterfronts.

The dig could even uncover evidence of a Roman guard point for the fording and bridging point across the Tyne which was on the site of the present Swing Bridge.

Steve Speak, senior keeper of field archaeology at Tyne Wear Museums, said that as well as providing building plots, reclamation of land would have forced water through an increasingly narrow channel and this would have scoured and deepened the river.

"This in turn would have allowed bigger ships to use the river which would then have needed bigger and better quayside services and the sequence would have been repeated," he said.

The reclaimed land would have been reinforced with timber and stone walls and it is hoped the dig may show what sort of buildings were erected on the new land.

A dig at Stockbridge ahead of development behind the Newcastle Crown Court building on the Quayside revealed remains of medieval industrial workshops.

"This waterfront areas was deemed to be of such extreme value that it was enclosed within the medieval town walls but it is a period about which we know very little," said Mr Speak.

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