Centuries old flood defences are uncovered

WORK to improve flood protection for a Northumberland village has uncovered flood defences built centuries earlier.

Environment Agency contractors remodelling a flood bank near Corbridge uncovered stonework which is thought to have been built as a flood defence 300 years ago.

Experts from TWM Archaeology had a watching brief during the work on site and moved in to investigate a block sandstone surface which was uncovered during excavations for the new flood defences.

The stonework, sloping at an angle of 30 to 40 degrees from the horizontal, was close to where Corbridge's Roman bridge was discovered but archaeologists identified it as having been built at a later date, to reinforce a bank or weir constructed parallel to the course of the River Tyne.

The Environment Agency's contractors traced the course of the weir for 40 metres. TWM believe it was designed to act as a flood defence to protect agricultural land south of the river.

Jon McKelvey, senior keeper of field archaeology for TWM Archaeology, said: "We believe the stone weir is identical to others built as flood defences in the area, some of which were probably constructed by the Earl of Derwentwater in the late 17th or early 18th century."

Archaeologists recorded the discovery before the remains were covered over again and work continued on strengthening the flood wall, which will reduce the flood risk to more than 35 properties. The 560,000 scheme is due to be completed by mid-April.

Environment Agency project manager Nigel Darling said: "The existing flood bank and wall adjacent to Devil's Water is about 1.8 kilometres long and has protected Corbridge from the Tyne's flood waters for many years.

"We are strengthening the front of the wall with clay brought over from Cumbria. At the foot of the clay bank we are inserting two-metre long sheet piles, made from recycled plastic, to help to make the defences watertight.

"We've put the piles in as far as we can without damaging the archaeological remains that were uncovered, hoping that this structure will act in unison with the plastic piles in helping to reduce seepage under the defences."

The last serious flooding in the area was in 2005, when water overtopped the wall and the flood bank, inundating nearby properties.