The presence of the pub suggests that it was a coaching stop, well situated to serve passengers and horses travelling along the Roman Road, called The Old Durham Road, from Chester-le-Street to Newcastle (and vice versa).
The Old Durham Road through Birtley (the A6127) went up The Long Bank,
(B1296). The A6217 and the B1296 were originally connected and were the
same road. It was, and still is, quite a haul up The Long Bank!
The Old Durham Road is highlighted in orange on the next map.
The name "LongBank" is highlighted in bright yellow on the next map.
The inn was also well situated to serve travellers from South Shields who came along the Wreken Dyke, later named Leam Lane (B1288). It was a convenient "meeting of the ways". Another public house, the Coach and Horses, was built to serve the locals and, as it name suggests, travellers passing through. There was another inn of the same name at the bottom of the Long Bank. The mode of long distance travel (e.g. Newcastle to London) changed in the 1840s with the contruction of the railways but the local roads were still well used.
The structure of the Wreken Dyke has been
examined at two locations.
Location One, to the east of Long Bank and north of Ravensworth Avenue, is highlighted in green on the next map.
This section of Wreken Dike has been described as 19 feet wide with a foundation layer of large stones and an upper layer of small sandstones. There was no mention of a middle layer of gravel. Nevertheless, the road was well cambered and had sandstone blocks used as kerbs. It was also noted that the road was heavily worn in the centre. This description suggests a substantial and frequently used road.
Location Two: the structure of the Wreken Dyke near High Eighton was investigated. The site was located between High Eighton highlighted in amber on the map below and the wagonway to its right.
It was found to be 17.5 feet wide and built in three layers of 6-inch and 8-inch sandstone blocks. There were also kerbs, but there was no longer any trace of the small surface metalling.
This structure does not follow the recognised engineering of a Roman Road ... which would include a substructure of stones and gravel topped by paving stones. It is clear however that near High Eighton good use was being made of the sandstone which was quarried locally and in abundant supply.
Map 2. Shows the Roman
Roads: Wreken Dike and Old Durham Road 1921
The Wreken Dyke is highlighted in purple
The name "Wreken Dike" is highlighted in green
The name Corn Pit Engine House is highlighted in turquoise
The Old Durham Road is highlighted in orange
The name "LongBank" is highlighted in bright yellow
Leyburnhold Gill is highlighted in pink
Next to Leyburnhold Gill, the Coach and Horses is highlighted in blue
High Eighton is highlighted in amber
On the above map the Wreken Dyke would appear to end at the site of the Corn Pit Engine House ... which is, or is certainly very near to, the site of the "Angel of the North" today. See photo below.
Unusually, the Wreken Dyke takes a sharp turn at High Eighton and then
another one a few hundred yards later. This was not logical in Roman
times. Either the map has been misread or there was a structure, possibly
a major building or buildings, which had to be circumnavigated.
The following 1862 map shows that these virtually 90 degree bends in the road were in fact part of the Wreken Dike. The name "High Eighton" is highlighted in turquoise, as are the words "Wreken Dike" in the bottom left-hand corner.
On Map 1 "Wreken Dike" is named next to The Camp Ground.
On Map 2 "Wreken Dike" is named next to the section of the Old Durham Road called The Long Bank.
On Map 3 "Wreken Dike" is named next to the Corn Pit Engine House.
Moreover, excavation of the "Wreken Dike" has occurred near to High Eighton.
According to the evidence, the only course for the "Wreken Dike" is to turn sharp left at High Eighton and then sharp right towards the Corn Pit Engine House.
Therefore, as the map has not been misread I can only suggest that there was indeed a structure, probably a building or buildings, which had to have been gone round.
I am suggesting "Site A" in the map below as my first choice
for a Roman settlement, and "Site B" as my second choice.
Map 4: "Site A" is my first
preference for a Roman settlement or structure of some description.
"Site B" is my second preference.
A short distance further south, near the Coach and Horses Inn, where
the Roman Road was crossing Leyburnhold Gill, the
major earthworks of the Old Durham Road were
different to those of the Wreken Dyke. They were more traditionally Roman.
Leyburnhold Gill is highlighted in pink on the map below.
Next to Leyburnhold Gill, the Coach and Horses is highlighted in blue on the map below.
During an excavation in 1938-9 the causeway/bridge was discovered to be 26 feet wide, with a cambered mound of gravel, 18 inches thick at the centre. This mound of gravel was placed directly upon the sandy subsoil without any base, which suggests that an engineered base was not considered to be a necessity and that the sandy subsoil was considered sufficiently firm. Sandstone blocks had been laid upon the gravel for 6 feet on the west side and 2 feet on the east to act kerbs. This would indicate a lot of foot traffic.
The width of the causeway of the Wreken Dyke (17.5 feet wide), in contrast to that of the Old Durham Road (26 feet wide), suggests that the latter did indeed carry more traffic and was an important arterial road. The Wreken Dike could be considered as a secondary road.
The Old Durham Road was a section of the Roman Great North Road stretching from London to York (Ermine Street 193 miles), and then on up to Durham, Chester-le-Street, Wrekenton, Gateshead and Newcastle.
When the Romans built their roads on causeways it was primarily for drainage purposes. In the pouring rain of the cold North East the excess needed to flow straight off the road so that the foot and chariot traffic could continue in relative safety. The conditions on the Long Bank in the snow would have been treacherous.
The route from Chester-le-Street to Gateshead on the Old Durham Road (Roman) in the sixteenth century was described as 'seven miles by mountainous ground, with pasture, heath, moor and firres '. In the early 1800s Gateshead Fell was described as 'a wild, spongy, dark moor'.
Unfortunately the time for excavating Site A for Roman buildings has long passed, since the area has now been built upon. Site B however is a different story as it is a Golf Course. My Grandparents lived opposite the Golf Course in the 1960s at 8 Western View. My Grandad acquired quite a collection of golf balls. Sadly he never mentioned the Romans or the Wreken Dyke and neither did my parents, despite the fact that they lived at Eighton Banks.
The Old Durham Road is the Roman Road which ran in a northerly direction
from Durham to Chester-le-Street, then through Birtley (the A6127) and up
The Long Bank, (B1296) to Wrekenton, where, after the long climb, it continued
on to Gateshead and Newcastle. The A6217 and the B1296 were originally connected
and were the same road.
The Old Durham Road is highlighted in orange on Map 2 above.
The name "LongBank" is highlighted in bright yellow on Map 2 above.
At Wrekenton there was another Roman Road, the Wreken Dike, which branched off in a north-easterly direction to the Roman Fort at Arbeia, now called South Shields, at the mouth of the River Tyne. However, as recorded by William Brockie and as shown in the above map, the Wreken Dike did not stop at Wrekenton, rather it continued on to at least Beamish. The Wreken Dike and the Old Durham Road formed a crossroads at Wrekenton.
I referred to this junction earlier as "a meeting of the ways". Wrekenton would lie approximately half-way between Chester-le-Street, in Roman times known as Concangios, and Arbeia. It also lay approximately half way beween Beamish (Roman name not known) and Arbeia.
Whether travelling from Concangios (Chester-le-Street), Arbeia (South Shields), Newcastle (Pons Aelius) or Beamish, Wrekenton would have been a welcome refreshment or overnight stop ... as it has been for hundreds of years.
Imagine back in Roman times climbing up the Long Bank on foot, horse or chariot, in the bleak wintery weather. Imagine trying to keep a foothold in the driving rain or snow. Imagine the slush or the black ice on the road and trying to keep warm in the bitterly cold conditions. Imagine that biting north-easterly wind cutting through to the very bones. (I remember one Winter's morning about ten years or so ago, standing at the bus stop at The Galleries, stamping my feet and thinking, "By, it's caald." It was on the television that evening that it had been minus ten degrees!) Imagine being marooned at Wrekenton due to the snow drifts. (My Mam often recalls the snowfall in 1939 at Eighton Banks ... six foot deep. They opened the back door to a wall of snow. Life came to a standstill except for the men out clearing the roads.) In the warmer weather, yes it does happen sometimes, the travellers would have been thirsty and tired.
It is only logical that there had to have been somewhere to stay at Wrekenton, both for the horses and the people. This meant stables, accomodation, stable hands, servants, cooks and so on. For the amount of traffic passing through, Wrekenton would have been an important refreshment and/or overnight stop. Moreover, because of the strategic postion of Wrekenton on an elevated plateau, which was ideal for defence, lookouts and beacon stations, there was most probably a military barracks there as well.
Wrekenton's strategic position on an elevated plateau overlooking
the valley, and at the confluence of two main roads, lends itself to the
positioning and building of a Roman fort and settlement.
In the "Notitia Dignitatum" of the 4th/5th century, Concangios (Chester-le-Street) is listed as being situated between Lavatris (Bowes, Durham) and an as yet unidentified Dictium.
Also in the Notitia Dignitatum of the 4th/5th century, the as yet unidentified Dictium lies between Concangios (Chester-le-Street) and Arbeia (South Shields).
There is only one possible site which fits these two descriptions ... by the crossroads at Wrekenton, the meeting of the ways, a meeting place.
Moreover, Wrekenton's strategic position on an elevated plateau overlooking the valley, and at the confluence of two main roads, lends itself to the positioning and building of a Roman fort and settlement.
The Roman place name of "Dictium" has its stem in the Latin verb "dico - dicere" which means "I speak - to speak". Our words "diction" and "dictation", for example, are of Latin derivation from the verb "dicere".
The place name "Dictium" could therefore be translated as "Meeting Place", a place where not only the roads met but also a place where people met, talked, exchanged views and information while having a well earned rest stop on their journey.
Similarly the name Canberra (in ACT Australia) means "Meeting Place" in the local Ngunnawal Aboriginal language. Canberra is the site of Government in Australia, where Parliament meets and politicians talk ... The word "Canberra" is the Aboriginal equivalent of the Roman word "Dictium".
In this light it now becomes apparent that the "Dike" part of the name "Wreken Dike" is a reference back to the fort and settlement of Dictium, and not as at first thought as a reference to a the Anglo-Saxon word "dic" meaning "ditch" dike" or "causeway".
Having said that however, it is very possible that the Anglo-Saxons inherited the word "dic" meaning "ditch" dike" or "causeway" from the Romans and their structure of the Wreken Dike. I would suggest that the Wreken Dike was originally referred to as "Via Dictium" meaning "The Road that leads to Dictium". Similarly today we have, for example,"Fatfield Road", the road which leads to Fatfield. I would further suggest that "Via Dictium" was later shortened to "Via Dic" and then in Anglo-Saxon times to "Dic", and finally to "Dike"in more modern times.
This commanding view across the valley
was taken from Shadens Hill,
just along the road from Wrekenton.
The alignment of the Wreken Dyke is of no doubt ancient origin, very possibly pre-Roman, leading as it does from the entrance of the River Tyne at South Shields to the strategically placed high country at Wrekenton and Eighton Banks. The landscape here was ideal for defence, lookouts and beacon stations. The well known Beacon Lough is just along the Great North Road from Wrekenton.
Beacon Lough is situated between Wrekenton and Windy Nook. As its name suggests, Beacon Lough was used as a beacon signalling station in Celtic times, it being part of a network throughout Celtic Britain. In addition to the beacon, there was also a Stone Circle at Beacon Lough, which would confirm a Celtic rather than a Roman origin of the signalling station. (In places where a stone circle had not been erected a clearing within a wood of oaks would have served the same purpose for the Celts. This clearing was called a “leah”, a name which is retained in place names like Birtley (bright leah), which is only a short distance from Wrekenton as well.)
The Wreken Dyke, highlighted in purple on the next map, divides Wrekenton from Eighton Banks, where my Dad was born in Sandy Lane. It is an ancient earthwork, a causeway, used by the Romans to construct a road leading from the Arbeia Fort at South Shields. This ancient earthwork is still clearly visible at Wrekenton today.
Modern maps of Roman Roads in England tend to show the Wreken Dyke as terminating at Wrekenton. A logical reason for this is that the Wreken Dyke beyond Wrekenton is no longer clearly visible and as a result is becoming among the forgotten roads of our Roman past. The map below is an example of this.
Nevertheless this map serves to illustrate MY OWN discovery of major importance about the main Roman Roads in County Durham.
I have discovered that the Constellation of Orion is clearly outlined in County Durham on the map below. The Wreken Dike is the Arm of Orion.
(I would point out at this stage that for many years, as well as having a keen interest in the local area in and around Washington and Eighton Banks, I also have a keen interest in astronomy. You can view my major work "Ancient Egyptians and the Constellations"(1999) at http://ancientegypt.hypermart.net )
Let us compare Map 6 with Star Map 1 above, by superimposing the diagram
of the Constellation of Orion upon the Map of Durham:
Betelgeuse = Ebchester
Bellatrix = Wrekenton
W = Gateshead / Newcastle
X = South Shields
Y = Blyth
Z = Sunderland
D = Durham City
Middle star of Orion's Belt = Brancepeth
Left-hand star of Orion's Belt = Willington
P = Piercebridge
Orion's Sword = Roman Road: Bishop Auckland to Bowes A688 on Map 6 above. It has however been more intimately interpreted ... and ends at Barnard Castle.
Orion's Right Arm and Club are represented by Dere Street NW of Ebchester and the "Other Roman Road" which leads to Alnwick.
When we follow the Roman Roads on the above Map 6 down into Yorkshire on Map 7, we discover that, unlike the constellation, Orion has legs. In fact he looks very much like the mummified Ancient Egyptian God, Osiris. Orion and Osiris are as One. The Ancient Egyptians believed that following upon sacred ritual the mummified Pharoah was deified, becoming the God Osiris who resided in the heavens as the Constellation of Orion.
The Constellation of Orion and the mummifird Osiris imposed onto the Durham and Northumberland landscape suggests that what are usually considered as Roman roads, were in fact laid down by an earlier culture. This indicates to me a race even earlier than the Celts. The presence of Orion and the mummified Osiris indicates only one possible culture ... the remote Ancient Egyptians.
The Ancient Egyptians considered the "Land of the Dead" as the "Western Land" or the "Land of the Westerners". It is my strong belief that they would have considered England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland as just such a location.
Sceptics will argue that there isn't any evidence of Ancient Egyptians in Great Britain ...despite Osiris / Orion being imposed upon the Durham landscape as shown above! However there is further evidence. You are invited to visit my web page "Skara Brae: an Ancient Egyptian Settlement".
A Clearer Picture
On Star Map 3 below I have outlined the Constellation of Orion to show him sitting upon the Roman Roads (originally they were probably Ancient Egyptian) of the Durham landscape. The Star Map also illustrates how the places are positioned to correspond to the stars. The Arm of Orion is represented by the Wreken Dike while Wrekenton represents the star Belatrix.
Earlier, under the heading of "WREKENTON the site of the previously unidentified Roman Station DICTIUM", I concluded that "Dike" was a derivation of the Latin place name "Dictium" meaning "Meeting Place". However, up until now I have not considered the meaning of "Wreken" in the name "Wreken Dike".
William Brockie had this to say in 1889:
My original intention was to end my web page about the Wreken Dyke here, but when I was constructing Star Maps 2 and 3 above, I inadvertently drew a line across from Wrekenton to Ebchester. I looked in amzement and said aloud to myself, "That's Hadrian's Wall!" I took out my big Road Atlas to check the layout. It fit perfectly.
"But what about The Arm of Orion, Wrekendike?" I asked myself. "And what about Orion's Bow?" I thought about the Angles, Jutes and Vikings coming across from Germany and Denmark to land at the mouth of the River Tyne, not unlike visitors from Norway today. I found my World Atlas and looked at a map of Europe. Once again the layout fit perfectly.
As a result of my inadvertent mistake of constructing a line from Wrekenton to Ebchester I have discovered new meaning for Hadrian's Wall. It was not built for defence purposes but rather as part of a master plan to mirror image a short section of the Constellation of Orion. Heaven on Earth.
Not only Hadrian's Wall, but also major Roman Roads of the North East of England, were written in the stars ... and most probably by the Ancient Egyptians.
Star Map 4: New meaning emerges for
the building of Hadrian's Wall.
It was written in the stars.
It was about ten years ago when I first recognized that the Northern Winter Sky Chart had been etched into the landscape of England and Wales. It was a chance encounter. I had been browsing through a Year Eight history book about the Ancient World when I happened upon the map below (Map 8). It was the Constellations of Canis Major and Lepus which initially caught my attention.
At the time I was familiar with the Northern Winter Sky Chart because I had painstakingly drawn it by hand for my web page "The Celestial Sphinx". In fact it was when I was drawing this sky chart that I actually discovered the Lost Constellation of the Celestial Sphinx. The Northern Winter Sky Chart which I had hand-drawn is reproduced below and labelled Star Map 5.
I was at a bit of a loss as to why there would be a sky chart in a Year Eight history book ... of which, irritatingly, I no longer have any record of the title and author. I soon learned the answer when I put on my glasses! Alongside the map was written "This map shows some of the roads, forts and towns built by the Romans." I was astounded.
Brockie 1889 refers to "Reken Dyke" as meaning "Giant's Dyke". The Icelandic word "regin" he translates as "the celestial gods". In astronomy, the Constellation of Orion is also known as "The Giant" or "The King". It can therefore be concluded that "Reken Dyke" can be translated as both "Giant's Dike" and "Orion's Dike".
The Latin word for "King" is "rex - regis". The genitive form "regis" can be considered the root of both the Icelandic "regin" ... and the "Reken Dike" ... "Regin Dike".
Copyright Audrey Fletcher 2009
New! Shadens Hill New!
New! Blackham Hill New!
In the Star Maps below I have bolded and named the Constellations of
the Northern Winter Skies which have been reproduced as part of the generally
recognised system of Roman Roads in England and Wales. Previously I have
proposed that the Romans inherited the layout from a previous culture, even
earlier than the Celts. Namely ... the Ancient Egyptians.
I invite you to compare the constellations highlighted in the maps below to those outlined in
Star Map 5 above.
The broken red lines indicating "Dere
Street" and "Other Roman Roads" outline a headless male body
which closely resembles that of the mummified Ancient Egyptian God: Osiris.
That he is headless is significant
to Ancient Celts, as the severed head was an important aspect both of their
mythology and culture.
Notice also how the "flail" forms the "Bow of Orion". The rod or handle can be interpreted as forming the Wreken Dike while the beaded strands can be interpreted as forming part of the coastline of Durham and Northumberland.
On Map 7 above, the Roman Road heading in a north easterly direction from Hadrian's Wall on Dere Street, and up beyond Morpeth, leads to Alnwick. In following the coast road back down to North Shields a shape not unlike the White Crown of Ancient Egypt is formed. This same White Crown is displayed being worn by the mummified Osiris in the picture below.