Arbeia’s landmark gatehouse celebrates 30th anniversary

Arbeia Roman Fort West Gate anniversary.'From left Head of Collections and Research at Tyne and Wear Archives Nick Hodgson with retired senior curator at Tyne and Wear Museums Paul Bidwell
Arbeia Roman Fort West Gate anniversary.'From left Head of Collections and Research at Tyne and Wear Archives Nick Hodgson with retired senior curator at Tyne and Wear Museums Paul Bidwell

A key feature of South Shields’ Roman fort is celebrating a milestone.

The unique reconstructed West Gate at Arbeia has turned 30 this month.

Arbeia Roman Fort West Gate anniversary.

Arbeia Roman Fort West Gate anniversary.

Officially opened by the Duke of Gloucester on April 6 1988 it was the only reconstructed Roman gateway in the UK erected on its Roman predecessor’s actual remains.

Inspired by Roman reconstructions like the famous 19C Roman fort at Saalburg in Germany, the ambitious reconstruction was the result of years of extensive research and planning.

The research was undertaken by Paul Bidwell OBE, retired head of archaeology at Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums.

He said: “It’s very satisfying to see the West Gate at Arbeia in South Shields see its 30th anniversary. The reconstructed gate house has become an icon for Roman Britain.

“There are no original gateways left anywhere, and as there are no surviving complete Roman buildings in the country it was a very exciting project and generated a huge amount of publicity at the time. I’m very proud to have been part of it; it gives people a real flavour of what it would have actually been like on that very spot 1,800 years ago.”

Coun Alan Kerr said: “It is wonderful to be celebrating 30 years of the reconstructed gateway at Arbeia.

“The impressive West Gate itself is one of the most imposing historical structures in the area and gives a real sense of the size and scale of Roman military architecture.” In Roman times Arbeia was a busy cosmopolitan fort which was the supply base for all the troops and people living along Hadrian’s Wall during the time of the Roman occupation.

The fort and museum has just reopened for the season following the ongoing £280,000 improvements which have so far seen new visitor information, navigational paths and platforms around the fort remains and updated displays of some of the finest objects from Roman Britain in the UK.

Thanks to £150,000 from the DCMS/Wolfson Museum and Galleries Fund, £71,800 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), £59,000 from the Arts Council England (ACE) and £30,000 from a private donor, the improvements are also to include new wayfinding hubs throughout South Shields, AV films, the development of a Roman meadow and new learning resources.

In the galleries visitors can see an intriguing mix of items from over the centuries from before and after Roman rule 1,800 years ago including Syrian and Moorish headstones for beloved freed slaves and early Christian altars.

Arbeia is open seasonally now until September 30, Monday – Friday 10am – 5pm, Saturday 11am – 4pm and Sunday 1pm-4pm and has free entry.