Newport Arch is the only 1,300-year-old Roman arch in Britain still used as a daily commuter, connecting the city with the main Roman road to York

March 15, 2024

Newport Arch in Lincoln is the only Roman arch in Britain still in use for daily transportation.

Exploring GB

Constructed in the 3rd century AD, around 1,300 years ago, the Newport Arch originally served as the north gate of the Roman city walls.

It gave access from the city to Ermine Street, the main Roman road north to York.

The whole structure would have risen to a height of 26 feet above ground level.

Exploring GB

The arch as we see it today is merely the upper section of the inner arch; the outer section was destroyed in the 17th century.

Today, it’s a protected monument and Grade I listed building by Historic England, recognising its architectural and historical significance.

Built about 200 AD, it is still being used by traffic some eighteen hundred years later.

Archeological discoveries In the mid-1954, two cottages to the north of the Co-operative Society’s shop were demolished, and their site was made available for archaeological excavation by the Lincoln City Council.

The archaeologist who carried out the excavation was able to show convincingly that much of the Roman gateway which survived below ground had served as the foundation for a mediaeval gateway built on the same spot.

Exploring GB

It was below the remains of this later gateway that the evidence which had eluded the early antiquaries and archaeologists for so long was finally brought to light.

Below the foundations of the west side of the mediaeval gateway lay the curved front of a massive Roman gate-tower which survived to a height of 1.8m.

On its western side the base of the tower adjoined the front face of the Roman Town wall which had been built about 100 AD and which was still standing at this point to a height of 1m.

On the eastern side of the front of the tower, Thompson discovered both sides of the front face of the side passage which had been previously recorded in 1824 and again in 1937.

This passage had been blocked up, probably in the late Roman period, in a similar way to the south face of the eastern side passage.

Exploring GB

The layout of the gateway was now at last apparent – a central carriageway 7.3m in depth and 4.87m wide, with a pedestrian passageway 2.1m in width on either side, and two massive flanking gate-towers with curved fronts projecting a little in front of the town wall.

Newport Arch, for long the only visible component of this monumental structure, is simply part of the rearward face of what would have been an extremely imposing entrance into the Roman town.

By analogy with the Roman East Gate, excavated between 1959 and 1966, there seems every likelihood that the Newport gateway replaced an earlier timber gateway of military construction.

The timber gateway had been refurbished with a stone facing at the time that the site of the Roman fortress was handed over to the civilian authorities for development as a town in about 100 AD.

No evidence of this suggested earlier gateway was however found in 1954.

Exploring GB

The medieval gateway

The two stone walls projecting from the north side of Newport Arch are of mediaeval date, and are all that remains standing above the modern ground surface of the mediaeval successor to the Roman gate.

The 1954 excavations showed that the Roman gate had been mostly destroyed by the time the mediaeval gate was constructed and that its layout was different to that of its predecessor.

Gone were the two pedestrian passageways, and only the central carriageway was now retained in use.

Little is known of its original appearance, although an eighteenth-century drawing by R.D. Poilicy shows part of the later gateway from the north.

Two mediaeval arches can be seen in front of Newport Arch with flanking walls projecting a little further forward, perhaps originally forming part of a ‘barbican’ or defended enclosure in front of the gate.

Exploring GB

The northernmost arch may perhaps have been in a position similar to that of the front arch of the Roman gate, giving a carriageway 4.87m wide and about 10.6m long.

The position of the sourthern arch is shown today by the pair of buttresses built against the north face of Newport Arch.

On either side of the gate passage there may have been square or rectangular towers, but insufficient evidence is available for an accurate reconstruction.

The date at which the gate was erected is also not known for certain.

The excavator believed the gate to have been built in the late eleventh or early twelfth century, but until further excavation is carried out here this must remain a possibility rather than a fact.

Exploring GB

The 1964 disaster

In May 1964, a heavy lorry travelling south through Newport Arch struck one of the stones in the arch. The crown of the arch and part of the superstructure collapsed on to the roof of the lorry.

In the restoration which followed, the stones were each numbered and their positions recorded before they were removed by crane and the lorry released.

The damage to the arch was found to be far more serious than originally believed, and almost the entire arch ring had to be removed and reconstructed around a timber frame- work.

The operation was carried out by the City Engineer’s Department and the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments Works Department, and took place between 18th May and 3rd August 1964, when the gate was once again open to traffic.

Someone who recently visited the site said: “Stand there, touch the wall and concentrate on the legions of romans that passed under this arch.

Exploring GB

”There are now only a few places in the world where you can do this and Lincoln has one of them.

”Just mesmerising especially when you see the photos on display including the lorry that nearly demolished this monument to another time.”

Another person added: “Newport Arch is the last vestige of the old Roman city walls of Lincoln. As such it’s an interesting place to go and see if you’re interested in history, but there isn’t really much to do except look and take a few pictures.

”Saying that, it is one of the many places in Lincoln which demonstrates how Lincoln has grown and developed organically throughout the centuries.”

If you’d like to visit, the address is: Bailgate, Lincoln, Lincolnshire, England, LN1 3DQ.

Exploring GB

If you enjoyed this blog post, please follow Exploring GB on Facebook for daily travel content and inspiration.

Don’t forget to check out our latest blog posts below!

Thank you for visiting Exploring GB.