John Clayton – The Man Who Saved the Wall
We have just returned from spending a week near to Hadrian’s wall. The wall was built by the Romans under the orders of Emperor Hadrian in AD122 and runs from coast to coast for 73 miles. This remarkable feat of building marked the northern edge of the mighty Roman Empire. By the late 4th century though the Romans began to evacuate northern Britain and the wall fell into decline, much of the stone was used to build General Wades military road that runs alongside it and other stone was used in the building of castles and churches etc.
This once impressive structure around 6 metres in height and 3m thick gradually disappeared back into the ground from which it had risen. The fact that there is indeed any trace left today is down to the work of one man, John Clayton.
In 1796 John Clayton’s father Nathaniel Clayton bought an estate called The Chesters, near to the wall. He had ruins of a Roman barracks and stables levelled to form a park between his mansion and the river. This wilful destruction seems almost criminal now but in the late 18th century there was little interest in archeology, this took hold in the Victorian era. However to Nathaniel’s son John this was unacceptable. When John succeeded his father’s property in 1832 he put a stop to the removal of stone from the wall and began to consolidate and even rebuild sections, making some parts safe with a turf top (now referred to as a ‘Clayton wall’ ) He also began to excavate the previously flattened Ruins.
Clayton was a trained Lawyer and Town Clerk for the city of Newcastle, He worked alongside planner Richard Grainger to accomplish much of the Neo Classical architecture of Newcastle’s city centre. Clearly a man of considerable talent, not content with merely securing his own estates his attention moved to other areas of the wall; he began to systematically purchase land along the length of the wall, setting workers out to rebuild and repair sections as he went. He also worked with the local farmers to improve the land and livestock, ensuring not only that the income from the estate could cover the cost of rebuilding but also that the work done was sympathetic to the needs of those who lived on the estate.
As I stood on the wall last week and watched the steady streams of walkers enjoying the magnificent views and remarkable architecture of this fantastic site I felt compelled to raise an sadly fictional glass to John Clayton – the man who saved the wall.