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Monday, 25 October 2010

A face in a picture - A link to Hadrian's Wall

Visitors to Wallington Hall now follow a new route, for those who have never been in the property before; they are minutes away from seeing something rather special.

In no time at all, they come to an impressive part of the building – the Central Hall. The paintings of William Bell Scott are always guaranteed to make the visitor linger and ask questions. Out of all the eight paintings that illustrate Northumbria’s history with life size figures, there is one face in the collection that will always be linked to specific parts of Hadrian’s Wall.

‘The Romans cause a Wall to be built for the protection of the South’.

The face painted by William Bell Scott, is  that of John Clayton. He is depicted as a  Centurion directing construction of part of Hadrian’s Wall. What role did he play?

John Clayton (10 June 1792 – 14 July 1890) was an antiquarian and town clerk of Newcastle upon Tyne. During the nineteenth century, he worked with the builder Richard Grainger and architect John Dobson to redevelop the centre of the city in a neoclassical style, and Clayton Street in Newcastle is named after him.

Conservation of certain parts of Hadrian's Wall can be attributed mainly to this single man, who felt the wall was worth preserving.

He first became interested in Hadrian’s Wall whilst staying at the family’s country home at Chesters. What he saw, during his time there horrified him – local farmers were using the stone from the wall and he was powerless to stop them. In a bid to prevent the farmers using stone for their building projects, he started a programme of buying up the farms and surrounding land.

In the 1830s, John Clayton bought up as much of the land containing the wall remains as he could. On his own, he began to excavate the ruins and oversee reconstruction of portions of the wall. The techniques that were used have allowed the reconstructed sections of the wall to remain in the condition we find it today.

He started by buying property around Steel Rigg and he finally gained control of land from Acomb Fell near Brunton in the east to Cawfields in the west. His land was to include some of the most important sites associated with Hadrian’s Wall: Chesters, Carrawburgh, Housesteads and Vindolanda.

 Clayton’s enthusiasm helped preserve the central stretch of Hadrian’s Wall which is now part of a UNESCO[1] World Heritage Site and a well maintained National Trail.

The best examples of the ‘Clayton Wall’ are to be found at Housesteads, and this forms the memorable central section of the National Trail.

 The 84 mile National Trail takes about 10,000 walkers every year along the riverside route in Tyneside, through farmland in Tynedale onto the grazing upland section dominated by the Whin Sill enscarpment of the Central section. It then gradually descends to the rich pastures of Cumbria and finally the salt marsh of the Solway Estuary. The walkers come from all around the country and from around the World, some to complete the whole trail in one go, others to complete small sections and those on a day out in the area.

Just as first time visitors marvel at the paintings and architecture of the Central Hall, walkers on the Hadrian’s Wall National Trail marvel at the different types of countryside they will pass through, the scenery and the legacy left by the work of John Clayton. The task of managing the unique fabric of the site, trail and adjacent corridor, coast to coast has been passed to Hadrian’s Wall Heritage Ltd.[2]

The identified painting at Wallington Hall is a fitting memorial to a man who did and gave so much to our area during his lifetime. John Clayton has his face in a painting at Wallington Hall – a link to Hadrian’s Wall!

[1] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
[2] East Peterel Field, Dipton Mill Road, Hexham, Northumberland, NE46 2JT.

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