Eyewitness to Destruction

Joined: August 22nd, 2006, 9:29 pm

December 29th, 2009, 2:34 am #1

In the 1750s, Parliament authorized a new "Military Road" (much of it still in use as the B6318) to connect Newcastle with Carlisle, responding to the Jacobite uprising under Bonnie Prince Charlie. Sadly, this caused one of the most wanton acts of destruction of British ancient monuments in recorded history. Dozens of miles of the Wall (and adjacent forts and milecastles) were literally pulverized to the ground.

The Reverend William Stukeley had visited the Wall in 1725 and fell in love with it. He wrote a detailed and invaluable account of his travels, and the archaeology he encountered along the way. In 1754, upon learning what the military was doing, he wrote a letter to the Princess of Wales pleading for a reprieve. He kept a copy in his diaries, and in 1885 it was published by the Surtees Society as part of "The Family Memories of the Reverend William Stukeley, M.D."

Below is an excerpt. The entire text can be found at http://www.archive.org/stream/familymem ... 7/mode/2up. (By the way, the scanned texts at www.archive.org are an -incredible- resource for finding old and out-of-print texts about the Wall, or anything else that strikes your fancy!)

23 Oct., 1754. I wrote the following letter to the Princess of Wales, copying that I gave in July to Dr. Hill:

“The honor your royal highness has indulged me, and the discorse in particular which we had on the Roman wall in Cumberland, imboldens me [to] address the present paper to answer your royal highnesses’ questions to me more particularly, and to engage your powerful patronage to protect this most noble, most magnificent work, from further ruin, not from enemys, but from more than Gothic workmen, quite thoughtless and regardless of this greatest wonder, not of Brittain only, but of Europe.

A friend of mine who lives at the Roman wall, dining with me lately, we had some discorse about it They are now busy in making a new turnpike road, pursuant to Act of Parliament, quite across the kingdom there from Newcastle to Carlisle... He tells me, now they are making this new road, they have destroyed the old Roman wall for many miles. Their method is to take cut and squared stones of the wall, beat them to pieces, to make a foundation to this new road, and this in a country where stone is every where under their feet, for the country is chiefly a rock of stone.

Besides, there is a road made the whole length of the wall by the Romans. It was the business of the surveyors of the work to trace out this road. They would have found it pretty strait, well laid out in regard to ground, and it would have been a foun- dation sufficient for their new road. The late learned Roger Gale and myself rode the whole length of it in the year 1725, so I speak as an eye witness, and I write with grief to see so little taste, so little judgement shown by the public in this otherwise laudable undertaking.

Surely it well became the wisdom of the legislature to act with great deliberation in so important an affair, especially in regard to the preservation of this greatest wonder of Roman magnificence, not only what is now left whole or in ruins, but that ever was.


When Mr. Gale and I were there, we tired ourselves day by day in copying and drawing inscriptions, altars, milliary columns, basso relievos, plans of forts, etc., which I have still by me. Numberless we left behind, not thinking they were to be broken in pieces to make a road; that so little sense of antient grandeur and learning should be left among us, to take away even the temptation of inviting the curious to travel thither!

Well said my Lord Chancellor in Lord Lovat’s tryal, ‘a love of our country includes in itself all virtues,’ an observation from Cicero, and a very just one. It ought to be well considered by those that goe abroad to foreign universitys for education, and leave our own to languish. If anything there wants to be reformed let us bestow our time, our pains, our treasure, in that business. Omit no opportunity of inviting travellers to come among us, at least of our viewing our own country, and if we fall short of some others in some things, yet what we have is most truly valuable to us, because our own."

Sadly, Stukeley's plea fell on deaf ears and the destruction continued. Which makes his (and his contemporaries') records of what existed before the 1750s that much more precious and invaluable for our understanding of the Wall and its environs!
Reference: The Family Memoirs of the Reverend William Stukeley, M.D. Surtees Society, 1885, pp. 141-143.
Last edited by SacoHarry on December 29th, 2009, 2:39 am, edited 4 times in total.