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Our Roman past is still a source of fascination

WHAT A SITE...archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler opening the museum at Arbeia in 1953.
WHAT A SITE...archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler opening the museum at Arbeia in 1953.

I REALLY do get some posers sometimes. One, recently, was: did I know whether the Romans brought their ships into the Tyne by oar or on the tide?

Er, can’t say I really know. A combination of both, I would have thought.

But it shows how much fascination there is with that era of our history.

There is a lot of looking down holes round where we live at the minute, for instance, because being so close to the fort of Arbeia, I live in hope that the deep trench work going on in local streets to stop flooding in Ocean Road will turn up an artefact or two.

Arbeia is now open again for the season, and welcomes Roman Week this weekend, with gladiator battles and other demonstrations. You can try your hand at making Roman textiles, for instance.

Going back to Roman finds, however, was one ever a feature of a school locally?

It sounds a bit bizarre, but this goes back to something I came across in a paper from 1893 when there was a bit of a dust-up between the museum and library in Ocean Road and the town’s School Board.

The School Board, it appears, was refusing to part with a stone that had been recently found at what was described in those days as ‘the Roman Station,’ saying that they planned to build it into the wall of a new school.

The school isn’t identified and there’s no indication if the plan went ahead.

Interestingly, though, there was concern even at that time about Roman artefacts being lost to the town.

A correspondent to the Gazette who raised the subject observed: “We have already lost too much of what was found at the Roman Station. We cannot afford to lose any more.”

What wasn’t lost, of course, can mostly now be seen in the fort’s museum, whose opening, just over 60 years ago, is recalled in the picture here.

On his feet giving a speech is the noted archaeologist of his day, Sir Mortimer Wheeler. Seated in the foreground, in the light mac, is South Shields MP James Chuter Ede.