Designed by Thomas Harrison and Robert Stephenson the High Level Bridge spanning the Tyne between Newcastle and Gateshead is a Grade I-listed structure described as “one of the finest pieces of architectural ironwork in the world.” Since its official opening by Queen Victoria in 1849 the bridge has withstood the Great Fire of Newcastle and Gateshead in 1854, and the vastly increased weight and amount of rail and road traffic. Before the King Edward VII Bridge was built, around 800 trains and engines crossed the bridge every day. As of 2008, an eight-year, £43million restoration and strengthening is underway to ensure the bridge’s long-term survival.
The north end of the bridge is in an archaeologically sensitive area within the former castle precinct. This promontory overlooking the Tyne has been a naturally commanding position since prehistory, with prehistoric remains being found nearby. The Roman fort and settlement occupied the same site, and the abandoned fort was used as a cemetery by the Anglo-Saxons. The conquering Normans saw the strategic position of the site and built a timber fort, later replacing it with a stone keep. The castle precinct grew to some size before being made redundant by the city walls in the late 13th century. From this point the castle precinct became a kind of housing estate with people building houses and shops inside the castle’s outer walls and even occupying the Black Gate which became a slum tenement in the 19th century, as was much of the surrounding area.
AAG have provided archaeological monitoring, survey and evaluation not only of the bridge itself, a historic structure in its own right, but to the area around the bridge, where Roman, medieval and post-medieval remains can be found inches below the surface. This project reflects the perfect synergy between archaeology and development, where the archaeological work has helped date and identify phases of early construction and underlying factors relevant to the construction project.