Archaeological dig at High Level Bridge reveals secrets

TIMES may seem tough in the current economic squeeze but a city centre dig suggests that our Tyneside ancestors had rather more to bleat about.

Jon Welsh on the High Level Bridge

TIMES may seem tough in the current economic squeeze but a city centre dig suggests that our Tyneside ancestors had rather more to bleat about.

Two arches of the High Level Bridge, opposite the Bridge Hotel in Newcastle, have been investigated by archaeologists.

They were called in after preliminary boreholes in advance of renovation work on the arches produced finds of sheep bones.

The dig uncovered more sheep remains, plus the bones of cows, pigs, fallow and roe deer, birds, fish and small animals.

The arches stand near what was known as Sheep’s Head Alley, the remnants of which still run behind the beer garden of the Bridge Hotel.

“The name of Sheep’s Head Alley may have been given due to poor post-medieval residents boiling up sheep heads, discarded by the butcher, to eat,” said Jon Welsh of AAG Archaeology, which carried out the dig. One of the deer bones had knife marks from skinning and filleting.

“They could have been hunting deer in medieval times outside the town walls,” said Jon.

The dig also revealed the remains of the workshop of Robert Beall, a monumental sculptor and marble mason, which occupied the area from 1861.

Sculptural work in the region known to have been produced by Bealls includes carvings on the clock tower and drinking fountain in Front Street, Tynemouth, the 1896 restoration of the Grace Darling memorial in Bamburgh Churchyard and 22 carved heads above the first floor windows of the 1900 building Worswick House and Chambers in Newcastle.

The heads on the building at the junction of Worswick Street and Pilgrim Street were carved by J Rogers, many based on faces from his family photograph album.

He worked for the Beall business for 55 years.

Pottery dating from the 12th Century was also found, as was evidence for the growing of cannabis, probably for hemp which was used in sail, netting and rope-making.

The arches in Queen’s Lane were previously used as a garage and appear in the 1971 film Get Carter.

In a chase sequence Michael Caine as Jack Carter jumps over the balustrade of the High Level Bridge and runs across the corrugated tin roof of a lean-to vehicle shelter in the yard off Queen’s Lane.

Also revealed was that during the Second World War a gun loop had been created in an existing wall to form a pill box-type arrangement to defend the High Level Bridge.

It is thought that Queen’s Lane developed as a track around the ditch of the nearby castle.

The completion of the town walls left the castle redundant and rubbish tipping began in the castle ditch in the late 14th and early 15th Centuries.

Dumping in the castle ditch and Queen’s Lane area continued into the early 17th Century, leading to complaints in 1620 that a huge dunghill measuring 98 yards long, 32 yards wide, and 10 yards high had developed and pushed down nearly 40m of the castle’s curtain wall.

By the 18th Century the area around the castle, known as Castle Garth, was described as “in a very nasty state, there being many pigstyes, dunghills, and receptacles of filth all thereabouts”, and would remain so until the early 19th Century.

It had a large number of houses and shops, and at least three pubs.

Sometime after 1811 the buildings north Sheep’s Head Alley were pulled down with the intention of building Castle Street, a more clean and orderly approach to the courts for the Sheriff and his officers.

The building of the Victorian railway through the site entailed the relocation of 650 families.


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