Iconic Hadrian’s Wall sculpture unveiled

Centurion sculpture unveiled at Segedunum

A spectacular piece of public artwork to mark the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall at Segedunum Roman Fort in Wallsend has been unveiled.

Sentius Tectonicus is an eight and a half feet-high sculpture of a Roman centurion soldier constructed from weathering steel by North Tyneside engineering firm WD Close and trainees from AIS Connect. 

His name comes from an inscription recovered close to Segedunum which reveals that a centurion named Sentius was supervising the building of a section of Hadrian’s Wall in the vicinity. Tectonicus refers to the sculpture’s design as an architectural man, with the centurion’s torso emerging from a Roman four storey building.  

Artist John O’Rourke was commissioned by North Tyneside Council to create the Centurion to provide an iconic landmark which celebrates the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall. The 2.8metre high contemporary sculpture links both the site’s Roman heritage and its more recent industrial past.  

The sculpture contains 575 components and more than three tonnes of Corten steel – the same material used to construct the Angel of the North. WD Close provided all of the materials and engineering expertise with trainees and apprentices from AIS Connect helping in its construction. The statue’s foundation and plinth was designed by Capita’s Structures team. They worked with North Tyneside Council, WD Close, artist John O’Rourke and Tyne and Wear Museums to ensure that what was produced met their requirements. This included agreeing the design by holding a meeting in the Segedunum car park to mark out the position and size of the plinth to give a true perspective of its proportions.

The foundation and plinth were subsequently built by Capita’s Construction team, which also transported the statue from the fabrication shop and erected it onto the plinth. 

North Tyneside Elected Mayor, Norma Redfearn said: “This really is a spectacular addition to the World Heritage site at Segedunum, and a fitting marker for the end of Hadrian’s Wall. 

“In creating the statue, John has managed to capture the sheer power and authority of a Roman centurion, and also a sense of this community’s industrial past through his choice of materials. 

“The piece will welcome thousands of visitors every year and will become a tourist attraction in its own right, as well as an end marker for the many people who get here by walking or cycling the entire length of the wall. 

“It was always going to take something very special to enhance the experience of visiting Segedunum, and I feel that John has achieved it. I would like to thank him once again, as well as WD Close, AIS and Capita for their support in bringing this wonderful project to life.”

John O’Rourke, Artist, said: “From the outset my concept for this sculpture was to create a soldier on the one hand, but also a spiritual warrior. I also wanted to construct a form which acted as a broader symbolic statement; alluding somehow to the region’s past, present and future. Wallsend’s more recent history revolved around the shipbuilding industry.  Making a figure which adopted industrial materials and fabrication methods ensures that the work’s structural and material substance forges those links.”

Kelly Scott from WD Close said: “This project embodies the ethos of WD Close. It’s all about putting something back into the local community, teaching valuable skills to young people and celebrating our rich heritage on the world stage.

“The Centurion has been handcrafted using traditional engineering and welding skills honed over centuries for which the North East is famous, along with the very latest advances in engineering technology.  

“We have a long-standing partnership with industrial training provider, AIS and have several high-quality apprentices in place thanks to them. These apprentices and other trainees from the AIS Connect Academy will help us to build The Centurion. This means we can pass on our expertise to an up-and-coming talented future workforce and, in turn, these young people can experience working on an iconic and worthwhile project while gaining invaluable skills.”

Kate Lovelock, Head of Partnerships and Strategic Development at AIS, said: “AIS Connect’s trainees have really enjoyed building this unique and stunning sculpture. Our aim is to inspire and motivate young people - preparing them for the world of work. This project has been perfect for that. It's given our trainees invaluable experience and a real sense of achievement. Imagine our trainees visiting Sentius Tectonicus with their children and grandchildren and knowing they’ve helped to create it – it really doesn’t get more inspirational than that!”

Ian Roberts, project director from Capita, added: “This has been a great project for us to be involved in. It has benefitted the trainees and apprentices in our design and construction teams, by allowing them to experience the full lifecycle of a project over a relatively short period of time.

“Once we understood the vision of the artist and Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, we set about creating a workable construction for the foundation and the plinth. The finished piece of work is very impressive and we’re delighted to have had a role in its creation.”

The Centurion is on permanent display at Segedunum Roman Fort.