The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


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Caerwent Roman Town, Monmouthshire, South Wales, Part 1.

Caerwent Roman Town Walls, South Wales,

Caerwent Roman Town Walls, South Wales,

OS Grid Reference: ST 4692 9062. The Roman town of Venta Silurium, founded by the Romans in 75 AD, is now the modern village of Caerwent in Monmouthshire, and is located just to the south of the A48 road and just west of the M48. It is 5 miles west of Chepstow and 11 miles east of Newport. The modern village is built around the Roman ruins, which are some of the best preserved in Europe. Large sections of the Roman town walls are still in place, according to Wikipedia. The River Severn is a couple of miles to the south. In the village is the medieval church of Saints Stephen and Tathan, an ancient foundation which may date back to the early 6th century AD? Housed in the church porch are two Roman inscribed stones. The Roman legionary fortress of Caerleon is 8 miles to the west.

Under the Romans Caerwent was known as Venta Silurium (Silurum) or in translation ‘market of the Silures’. The Silures had been an Iron Age tribe occupying south-east Wales and had presented an irritation to the conquest for the Romans. In the early days of the invasion they had sheltered the Romans’ public-enemy-number-one, Caratacus, until he fled to what he thought was the safety of Cartimandua’s Brigantines. She handed him over to the Romans, a good will gesture the Romans would not forget. Gradually following the establish-ment of the legionary Fortress at Caerleon around AD 74 and a series of auxiliary forts across the south – the Silures were subdued. In accordance with Roman Policy of Pax Romana once subdued the Silures were encouraged to settle, although for a time they remained under military rule. The cost of military rule was enormous so it would not have been long before a civil administration would have been established. The administrative capital Venta Silurium was sited astride the mainroad from Gloucester to Caerleon. The town sits on a slight rise in the middle of a valley surrounded by good agricultural land in an area that had been occupied by the Romans since AD 50.

Caerwent Roman Town Walls (Illustration).

Caerwent Roman Town Walls (Illustration).

The Extant Remains:  The total circuit of the wall exceeds 1 mile en-closing an area of 4 acres divided into 20 plots (insulae). The walls are the best preserved of any Roman town in Britain. The internal and external roads would have been of rammed gravel with cambered sides to allow rainwater to run off; and the local civitas (administration) was responsible for repair and resurfacing. The early settlement appears to have had a sprawl of properties along the main road. But the layout we see today is later, possibly even as late as the early third century, which might account for certain oddities – the walls are not square – the insular somewhat jumbled. The actual population was probably about 3800 individuals at its height. Public buildings are of the standard Roman variety.  A Forum Basilica complex occupied the whole insulae VIII; the site of several temple complexes are known and one is visible to the east of the Forum Basilica, another has been excavated to the south in insulae XII, and a third is possible outside the east gate. Whilst the largest houses show evidence of private baths. Public baths have been excavated in insulae XIII.  A mansio which was a kind of inn frequen-ted by members of the Postal Service and other officials has been located in insulae XVIII to the left of the south gate. This was a courtyard building with a forecourt where the weary traveler would have dismounted. Several rooms had hypocausts, at least one having a mosaic floor. A latrine lay in a corner of the courtyard surrounded on three sides by a sewer, suggesting the building was not just a domestic building.

Caerwent Roman Town Wall (photo: Mortimer-Cat - Wikipedia).

Caerwent Roman Town Wall by MortimerCat – Wikipedia).

The Town Walls:  The town had 4 gates. The main ones were the West and East gates opening onto the town’s main thoroughfare. The West Gate originally had a double arched carriageway flanked on either side by a square tower projecting out in front of the wall. Little now survives except part of the south tower and its masonry floor. The west wall, however, built of limestone running from the west gate to the south-west corner survives in places to a remarkable 5 metres (17 feet) and is backed by an earthen bank. From these remains the wall is believed to have been about 7.5 metres in height (25 feet) with a walkway and parapet – none of which survives anywhere along the wall. The wall would also have been originally vertical on both sides. But the method of construction can be determined from this section of the wall. Rows of limestone were laid front and back and the core then filled in with more pieces of limestone and mortar leaving a distinctive herringbone pattern. The wall was clearly built in sections and by different gangs.

Unlike the West Wall the South Wall is not completely straight but bows outwards in its middle section. It also stands to a magnificent 5m (17 feet) in parts. Also, unlike the West Wall the remains of six hollow 5-sided towers (bastions) project from the walls but not bonded to the wall – meaning they are later additions probably 4th century. A new outer ditch had to be made to allow for the towers. The fourth tower from the west is the best-persevered standing to a height of 4m (13ft). Internal joist holes in this tower suggest there were originally two wooded floors beside the ground floor with a top platform also of wood. The South Gate consisted of a single arched carriageway. The piers survive and may originally have supported an overhead chamber. Both sides of the passage were originally recessed allowing the heavy doors to swing back. The carriageway was made up of stones and iron clinker with a slab-lined culvert. At a later date the carriageway was blocked.

The East Wall is also bowed. As with the West Wall there are no external towers. Sadly all that remains of the East Gate, which was constructed the same as the West Gate is the inner angle of the south tower. The East Wall is some 30m shorter than the west wall so avoiding a marshy area and taking advantage of higher ground.

The North Wall is the least well preserved of the four walls. Surviving to just 1.8m (6 feet) in height in parts but it is known that, like the South Wall, it had 5 towers of which little sur-vives. Like the South Gate the North Gate is not centrally placed though the plan is similar with a single carriageway. Sockets for the gates can still be seen. Again and probably in the late Roman Period the North Gate was blocked off – being filled in with rubble from other demolished buildings. The North West Tower of the gate survives to a height if 2.4 metres (8 feet).

Roman Temple at Caerwent by andy dolman (Geograph)

Roman Temple at Caerwent by andy dolman (Geograph)

The Romano-Celtic Temple: The remains of the temple lie to the east of the forum. Excavations were begun in 1908 and concluded between 1984 and 1991. No trace of the deity worshiped here was found. The construction was of traditional Romano-Celtic design. The extant remains show a square inner shrine (cella) with an unusual back projection surrounded by another separate room known as the ambulatory. This would have contained a statue of the deity. The entrance porch would originally have had steps, whilst the small projections at the entrance are probably the bases for pilasters (rectangular columns). The temple stands in its own courtyard surrounded by a boarder wall on 3 sides and an entrance hallway with a central doorway and a tessellated floor on the fourth side facing the main street. Few people actually entered the cella; most of the congregation would have been expected to gather in the courtyard between the hallway and the temple proper.

The Forum Basilica: A central feature of all main roman towns wherever you went in the Empire was the Forum Basilica essentially an administrative assembly hall and market place. The Caerwent example occupies the whole of insulae VIII. Building began in the early second century probably under the auspices of the 2nd Augustan Legion based at Caerleon, as the design is similar to that of the headquarters building there. It was largely rebuilt in the third century probably after structural problems were identified. It continued in use as a forum basilica until after 340 AD when it seems to have been converted into industrial units and was demolished at the end of the 4th Century. It was first excavated in 1907 and again between 1987-1992. The Basilica and the northern end of the forum remain uncovered for public view.

The basilica was 56m (182ft) by 80m (260ft) and would have towered over surrounding buildings but is small by other examples in Roman Britain. Access to the basilica was by steps some of which have survived. There was also access from the side streets. In plan the basilica comprises a great hall, and a rear range of rooms and chambers. On excavation the parts of the walls were found to have survived to 1.8m (6 ft) having been incorporated into early 19th Century farm buildings. The external walls were massive requiring foundations up to 1.8m (6ft) with Corinthian columns rising to a height of about 9.2m (30ft) rendered and painted off-white. It is believed the basilica was in excess of 20m (65ft) in height. The roof initially of tile was partly replaced by sandstone slabs at the end of the third century. The hall would have been used for public meetings and ceremonies. The chambers at each end would have served as tribunals for the local magistrates to hear cases. The rear ranges of rooms were offices for local administrators and their records, while the central room would have held a statue of the reigning Emperor, and the largest room known as the curia would have acted as a council chamber. The Forum is surrounded on 3 sides by a range of rooms entered on the fourth side from the main street through an archway. These rooms would have provided space for shops, taverns and offices, with a larger open front that would have been closed with wooden shutters. A second storey above would have provided yet more rooms.

To be continued………

Sources and related websites:-

BBC Publication, Roman Britain, The British Broadcasting Corporation, London, 1966.

Brewer, Richard J., Caerwent Roman Town, Cadw Welsh Historic Monuments, 1993.

Evans, J. Barrie, The Parish Church Of St. Stephen & St. Tathan Caerwent – A Short Guide.

Wilson, J. A., A Guide to the Roman Remains in Britain, 4th Edition, Constable, 2002.  Constable,

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caerwent

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venta_Silurum

Photo from Wikipedia website – Click below for further details:   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venta_Silurum#/media/File:CaerwentWall.jpg

http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/486475

http://cadw.gov.wales/daysout/caerwent-roman-town/?lang=en

https://museum.wales/1493/

                                                     © Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.


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Cobers Laithe Earthwork, Swinden, Near Nappa, North Yorkshire

Cobers Laithe Earthwork, near Nappa (looking north-west).

Cobers Laithe Earthwork, south-side (looking north-west).

Cobers Laithe Earthwork, near Nappa (looking north-east).

Cobers Laithe Earthwork, south-side (looking north-east).

    OS grid reference: SD 8669 5340. Sadly next-to-nothing is known about the oval-shaped earth-work or enclosure near to Cobers Laithe farm on  Swinden Moor, which is also known as Swinden Earthwork and Swinden Roman Camp, just 1 mile east of Nappa, North Yorkshire. Was it a Roman camp, as a few have suggested, or was it perhaps a Brigantian settlement – at the time of the Roman invasion? Or was it a more typical Iron Age settlement or enclosure? We don’t know with any certainty. And also it is a bit of an odd sort of earthwork-enclosure as it is intersected through the middle by a stream, and there are a numble of circular pits (bell pits), especially at the N side. The earthwork lies on private land. It is located in a field close to Mill Lane at Swinden – between Bank Newton and Nappa, just 380m to the west of Swinden Moor Head farm. On the earthwork side of the lane Ash Tree Farm is about 530m up the fields to the east.

Cobers Laithe Earthwork, south-side (looking north-west).

Cobers Laithe Earthwork, south-side (looking north-west).

Cobers Laithe Earthwork, south-side (looking east)

Cobers Laithe Earthwork, south-side (looking east)

    It is quite a large earthwork measuring roughly 107m x 87m and it used to have a smaller inner earthwork with a circular bank but this seems to have disappeared altogether, maybe due to farming and the stream. At the time of my visit the outer bank and ditch of the earthwork were deep in grass and reeds in several places, but despite that they are quite pronounced at the SE and SW sides. And at the N, NW and NE sides the bank and its associated ditch are still quite well-defined, and there is a possible entrance at the NW. But as to whether they were ramparts designed for warfare or security, we don’t know, but in my opinion I would think they were non-defensive.

Cobers Laithe Earthwork (the enclosure south-side). (the inner enclosure).

(The enclosure at the  southern-side).

Cobers Laithe Earthwork (grassy bank and ditch)

Cobers Laithe Earthwork (grassy bank and ditch)

    The oval-shaped layout of the earthwork or camp does ‘not’ look particularly Roman to me. We know the Romans always built square-shaped fortifications. Although it could have been a ‘temporary’ Romano-British camp. However, there does not appear to have been much, if any, Roman activity in the area; and the theory that there was a temporary Roman fort or camp at Long Preston, in the field near St Mary’s church, seems to have all but died a death. In all probability the earthwork here at Swinden was a Brigantian camp, settlement, or enclosure. But another distinct possibility being that this was a more typical Romano-British farmstead.

Cobers Laithe Earthwork (southern-side grassy earthworks.

Cobers Laithe Earthwork (southern-side grassy earthworks.

    The relatively flat part of the earthwork, nearest the lane and fence, is on the south-side of the little stream while the northern and, by far the largest part of the earthwork, lies just beyond the stream and up the slight slope of the field beyond. But unfortunately the stream in between the two sections has made for some very muddy and boggy conditions, and so it is not easy to reach that ‘northern’ section unless you have wellies! Its quite obvious that the steam is a ‘more recent’ feature, having gouged out the channel through the centre of the ancient earthwork. To put it another way: the stream was not here when the earthwork was constructed. It was formed from a spring further up the field over hundreds of years, but certainly ‘not’ thousands of years.

    The northern part of the earthwork is pock-marked by holes or depressions (bell pits) in the ground, which are probably the result of quarrying for coal a few hundred years or so back. This poor or cheap coal substitute being used by local farms. Some of the holes have now become ponds.

    The Pastscape website has the site of an alleged Roman camp (monument no. 45530) about a ¼ of a mile to the north-west at Swinden (OS grid ref: SD 8617 5440), though this is perhaps an error? See the website link below.

Sources and related websites:-

Click on this Geograph link for a good photo of the enclosure on Swinden Moor:-     http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2837370

http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=45530

http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=45517

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=28080

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swinden

http://www.gisburn.org.uk/nappa/

http://www.longpreston.info/history/history.html

http://mapio.net/o/1975548/

                                                        © Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities.


Ring Stones Earthwork, Worsthorne, Burnley, Lancashire

Ringstones Earthwork near Worsthorne, Lancashire.

Ring Stones Earthwork Worsthorne, Lancashire. South-eastern side.

    OS grid reference: SD 8863 3301. On Worsthorne Hill above the two Swinden reservoirs at the east side of Burnley, Lancashire, there is a rectangular-shaped earthwork which has often been considered to be Iron Age in date, but it appears to be Romano-British, and most probably mid to late 4th century AD. It is similar in design to the Bomber Camp Earthwork, near Gisburn, Lancashire. This quite large site is also called ‘Slipper Hill Earthwork’ and ‘Hameldon Pasture Earthwork’. It is conjectured to have been a Romano-British farmstead, or maybe a temporary camp, although without any “real” concrete information that is still ‘open to question’. The site can be reached from St John’s Church in Worsthorne. From here take the Gorple road going eastwards on what becomes a rough track for about ¾ of a mile. Take the track on the left just after Brown Edge Farm, climb over two stiles and continue along here for 600m, eventually climbing a 3rd and 4th wall stile. The site is in the field to the right. There is a stile but it’s on the wrong-side of the earthwork; so the two gates are in the way and the site seems to be on ‘private land’. You can probably reach the earthwork from a path at the the north-western side of the field.

Ring Stones Earthwork (western side)

Ring Stones Earthwork (western rampart looking south).

    This quite large rectangular earthwork measures 56m x 41m and has very well-defined outer banks (ramparts) that are curved at the corners, and there are also prominent ditches. The outer banks (ramparts) are 3 feet high in places, especially at the S, W and N sides – the bank at the E side is not quite as high. At the E and W sides the ditches are quite well-defined. The NE side has what could be an entrance with extended banks at either side running out from the earthwork for 15m – and a trackway or path traversing from east to north-west across the inside of the site, although these could be a more recent features? The NW side has a circular (banked) feature with large stones inside, which could perhaps have been a 17th century lime kiln? At the W and NW sides, in particular, the outer banks (ramparts) have large and small stones embedded into them at intervals – an indication of how these were built. At the NW side a second, smaller earthwork measuring 18 yards square can just be made out – although this is now very faint in the ground and only just visible.

Ring Stones Earthwork. The western rampart.

Ring Stones Earthwork. (Western rampart looking north).

    The author Walter Bennett in his acclaimed work ‘History of Burnley’ did a survey of the earthworks in 1946. In this he called the site: “an enclosure that is 50 yards square with ramparts 2 yards wide and 1 yard high with an outer ditch 2 yards wide.” He says of the smaller enclosure: “It is 18 yards square.” He goes on to say: “the site was excavated in 1925 at which time a gateway 7 yards wide at the SW side was paved with boulders laid in a gravel foundation. At the S side there was a drain. A regular course of large stones flanked the gateway entrance at either side, and a floor of gravel and flat stones or cobbles. The rampart was built of earth and stones. There was a well-constructed road 7 feet wide which ran towards Bottin Farm on the Worsthorne to Roggerham road.” This is ½ a mile to the west. Could this have been the ancient straight trackway which runs back down to Gorple Road, or another track that heads north-west from the site to Swinden?

Ring Stones Earthwork (from the south-east).

Ring Stones Earthwork (from the south-east).

    But what makes this site interesting is the fact that a smaller, square-shaped earthwork feature joins onto the larger one at the north-western side, although this is fainter and more difficult to make out at ground level. So was this also a Romano-British farmstead, or was it something else? Almost certainly it was linked to, or was part of, the larger farmstead. It may be that this structure, and the larger one, only lasted for a short period of time because at that ‘time’ in Late Roman Britain, especially in the northern parts of the empire, daily life was becoming difficult with warring factions and tribal infighting on the increase – the Roman army now almost incapable of holding these rebellious northern, British tribes back. And soon the Roman army would retreat back to Gaul. Britanniae would then be left to its own devices! But the question must be asked: what was this Late Roman farmstead or camp doing here at the east side of Burnley?

Sources and related web-sites:-

Bennett, Walter, History Of Burnley – Vol I, Burnley Corporation, 1946.

Hall, Brian, Burnley (A Short History), Burnley and District Historical Society, 1977.

http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=45317

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1009488

https://megalithix.wordpress.com/2009/09/09/ring-stones-lancashire/


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Primrose Hill Earthwork, Gisburn, Lancashire

Primrose Hill Earthwork, near Gisburn, Lancashire

Primrose Hill Earthwork, near Gisburn, Lancashire

    OS grid reference: SD 8476 4725. Near Coal Pit Lane – about 1 mile to the south-east of Gisburn, Lancashire, there is a small, square-shaped earthwork that sits upon the north-side of Primrose Hill. But unfor-tunately hardly anything is known about this solitary earthwork apart from the probability that it dates from the Roman period. This earth-work is located beside a footpath close to Hesketh Farm. There are other Roman features in this area: 600m to the north-west is the well-defined earthwork known as Bomber Camp, and 500m to the south-east there are faint traces of the Roman road that runs from Elslack to Ribchester. The Primrose Hill earthwork can be reached from the A682 out of Gisburn, turning onto Coal Pit Lane for maybe ½ a mile, then walk along the footpath/track towards Hesketh House Farm. Via off to the north before the farm, then north-east along footpath (following tree line) for 160m to reach the low hill (Primrose Hill) on the right.

Primrose Hill Earthwork near Gisburn, Lancashire,

Primrose Hill Earthwork (in the foreground) near Gisburn, Lancashire,

    This roughly square-shaped earthwork or earthen platform on Primrose Hill is about 1m (3 feet) high and 10m (nearly 33 foot) square. It is quite prominent when viewed close-up from just below the hill itself, but from further afield it is not particularly visible and would be easily walked passed. There is a dearth of information with regard to this site – although it is conjectured to have been a Roman watchtower or signal station – the later being more unlikely due to the smallness of the earthwork. A watchtower seems more plausible due to the feature being situated on a hill with lower ground on the N side and its nearness to a Roman road on the S. If this “were” a watchtower of the late Roman period, it would have been garrisoned by only ten soldiers at any one time. The thinking being that this particular watchtower never even saw the light of day, it was quickly abandoned and never begun, leaving just an earthen platform. The nearby Roman earthwork ‘Bomber Camp’ ended its days in a similar vane – only surviving for a short period of time towards the end of the 4th century AD.

Primrose Hill Earthwork, near Gisburn, Lancs.

Primrose Hill Earthwork, near Gisburn, Lancashire.

    The author John Dixon in his work ‘Journeys Through Brigantia’, (Volume One), says of this earthwork that: “During June 1971 the site was excavated by Alan King and the Chorley College of Education. No post-holes or masonry were found, nor any finds. There was no ditch around the earthwork, but the boulder clay of the mound contained sand-stone while the drift below was more calcareous, and so it was given to be man-made.” And so with the lack of any ‘good’ credible information this Roman earthwork, if that’s what it was, shall have to remain just a miscella-neous earthwork of uncertain date – at least until further information arises.

Sources:

Dixon, John & Phillip, Journeys Through Brigantia (Volume One), Walks in Craven, Airedale and Wharfedale, Aussteiger Publications, Barnoldswick, 1990.

https://thejournalofantiquities.com/2012/06/27/bomber-camp-gisburn-lancashire/


Segontium Roman Fort, Caernarfon, Gwynedd, Wales

Segontium (Barrack Blocks) by Alan Fryer (Wikipedia)

Segontium Roman Fort(Barrack Blocks) by Alan Fryer (Wikipedia)

    OS grid reference: SH 4854 6243. The fort of Segontium lies in a well-defended position at the tip of a ridge between the rivers Seiont and Cadnant, some 150 feet above sea-level, commanding wide views of the surrounding area. Today the remains of the Roman fort look down over Caernarfon Castle.  The fort lies on the A4085 road to Beddgelert on the outskirts of Caernarfon.  The name ‘Sego’ is Celtic for ‘strong’, while the Roman name Segontium means ‘forceful river’; the name may, therefore, have links with the names of the two rivers, Seiont and Cadnant. Segontium Roman fort was built in AD 77-78.

    The fort has had an interesting 20th Century history. The site was saved from builders in 1913, excavated by (Sir) Mortimer Wheeler from 1920-23, purchased by a John Robert’s of Caernarfon who was responsible for erecting the museum, and in 1937 willed by him to the National Trust who in 1958 placed it in the guardianship of Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, who also bought the vicarage area of the site to the south – with a view to further excavation. The SE section was subsequently excavated during the year’s 1975 to 1979. Responsibility for the site now lies with CADW the Historic Environment Service of the Welsh Government. The Museum seems to be managed by a local trust Segontium Cyf. There are references on-line to visitors finding it closed. A Guidebook can be bought at other CADW sites including Caernarfon Castle.

Plan of Segontium Roman Fort (after Collingwood, 1930)

Plan of Segontium Roman Fort (after Collingwood, 1930)

    Segontium fort faces south-east. In shape it is an imperfect rectangle with rounded corners 550 ft by 470 ft with four gateways. The buildings within are of a standard pattern with some exceptions and closely packed though a clear space (intervallum) which runs around the foot of the rampart separating the buildings from the wall. The buildings are arranged in three lateral blocks with the administrative buildings in the centre. Like other forts of its date the defences were originally of earth and timber as would have been the buildings. Coins relating to the reign of Edward I show the fort was used as a quarry for the building of Caernarfon Castle. A Roman Road connected Segontium with the legionary fortress at Chester (Deva).

    There are several elements to the visible remains: A wall with backing mound (the original rampart), counterforts on the interior face of the wall, corner turrets, and three gateways – the fourth at the SE having been lost during the laying of the A4085 which crosses the site. The wall dates from about AD 150 and is about 4’ thick at the base. The wall would originally have had a parapet standing in total about 18 feet high. Evidence of the original holes for scaffolding is still visible. The so-called ‘counter forts’ in base of the wall probably allowed access to the parapet via steps or ladders. Some of the turrets are, or would have been solid to carry the weight of a heavy ballista, a spring mechanism to discharge stone balls. The gateways would have been arched to carry the weight of the gatehouse. The gatehouses structure changed over the centuries as threats and needs varied.

    The internal buildings are of various dates though none earlier than 150 AD. Most show a rebuilding phase in the 4th century AD.

Segontium Roman Fort (The Principia) by JThomas (Wikipedia)

Segontium Roman Fort (The Principia) by JThomas (Wikipedia)

    Taking the middle section the Headquarters Building (Principia) succeeded an earlier timber structure. It includes an enclosed courtyard with porticoes and flagging, a roofed assembly hall later subdivided to provide additional office space, and a row of five rooms at the rear – the central room being the regimental chapel where the standard was kept. In the 3rd century an underground strong room was built into the chapel. Also in the 3rd century an apsidal room was added at the back of the building possibly to store fort records as it is the only part of the fort to have a hypocaust. The building seems to have suffered from damp much as some buildings do today. There is evidence that the builders tried to find ways of dealing with this!

    Next to this and to the NW is the Commandants House (Praetorium). Again part of the standard plan. At Segontium the house consisted of rows of rooms opening off porticoes arranged around a small internal courtyard or garden. A room at the rear, which contains a plinth, may have been the base of a shrine. Again traces of the original timber building have been found. Adjoining this building was a large yard and workshop (Fabrica) with a long subdivided shed at the far side.

    On the other side of the Headquarters Building lay two large granaries (Horrea) measuring 90ft by 19ft built to an unusual design without buttresses and the floor beams taking the entire weight of the grain above. The aim was to store a years worth of grain at each fort. The Roman Soldiers staple diet was bread and biscuits.

    There were eight long buildings to the rear at either side of the street leading to the northwest gate. Of these buildings most seem to have been barrack blocks (Centurie). The buildings were much altered over the centuries. A similar building in the NE corner may have been an additional granary or store. It was rebuilt in the 4th century as living accommodation. The barrack blocks are of a common design (an L shape) with the officer accommodation at the end and the long section for the men. Wooden particians would have further divided the walled areas. The intention was to house a century of men (actually 80 men) in each block or two troops of 30 horsemen with their equipment.

Segontium Roman Fort (Bath-House) by Wolfgang Sauber (Wikimedia)

Segontium (the Bath-House) by Wolfgang Sauber (Wikimedia)

    Excavation of the SE corner revealed a surprise. The largest structure was revealed to be a large building with a courtyard, built about AD 140, with en-suite bathhouse. It has been speculated that this was the residence of the Procurator Metallorum who would have been responsible for the extraction of metal ore in the area. The building and bath-house were demolished in the 4th century and replaced by another bath-house complex. Internal bathhouses are a feature of 4th century rebuilding so this in itself was not a surpise. However, it does not seem to have been ever finished in that a hypocaust system was never installed.

    Archaeological investigations have found a flourishing civil settlement (Vicus) outside the camp. An external bath-house has also been found. A walled enclosure built around 200 AD (230 foot by 165 foot) known as Hen Wallen (‘Old Walls’) may have had something to do with Segontium’s role as a port. The remains of this structure can be viewed 300 yards west of the fort along the A4085, turning left at Segontium Road South, then right at Hendre Street. 150 yards east of the fort near the church of St Peblig, a temple of Mithras was excavated in 1959. The building measured 48 foot by 21 foot, was partly dug into a slope, and had a slate roof. Again it dates from about AD 200. Mithras an Eastern Religion was popular amongst soldiers. It promoted the fight for good over evil and assured a life beyond the grave. There are no visible remains of the external bath-house, Temple of Mithras, or the Vicus.

    Taking the historical context Governor Agricola finally defeated the Welsh tribes in Anglesey in an unexpected lightning strike using Auxiliarie Troops, who swam across the Menai Straights with equipment and horses in AD 78. Segontium housed auxiliary troops from about AD 78. The auxiliary troops complimented the legionary troops who were stationed at Chester and Caerleon. Auxiliary troops often retained the traditional fighting skills and arms of their homelands and were not normally Roman citizens – an honour given to them after 25 years service. Auxiliary troops could be infantry usually 500 to 1000 strong or cavalry up to 500 strong.

The Segontium Museum Building by Eric Jones (Wikipedia)

Segontium Museum Building by Eric Jones (Wikipedia)

    The archaeological evidence suggests that at the very least Segontium was intended as a part mounted military cohort, both by its size, and the existence of what appears for some of the time to be an additional granary. In the early period of the occupation the auxiliaries at Segontium would have been detailed to keep the peace and to ensure continued mineral extraction. An inscription from the time of the Emperor Sepitimus Severus AD 193-211 indicates that, by the beginning of the 3rd century, Segontium was garrisoned by 500 men from the Cohors I Sunicorum, which would have originally been levied among the Sunici, who lived in the Rhine-Musse area, now Belguim. The size of the fort continued to reduce through the 3rd and 4th centuries. In the 4th century Segontium’s main role was probably the defence of the north Wales coast against Irish raiders. Coins found at Segontium show the fort was still occupied until at least 394 AD.

    Finally we enter the world of legend covering the late 4th century. Segontium is generally considered to have been listed among the 28 cities of Britain in the History of the Britains traditionally ascribed to Nennius, a 9th century writer, either as Cair Segeint or Custoient – and who stated that an emperor’s inscribed tomb was still present in his day. This monument such as it existed is now ascribed to Constantine, a son of a St Elen, the patron of the Sarn Helen – a series of road networks across Wales. The story of Elen also features in the 12th century Mabinogion Tales featuring one Maximus – in Welsh Macsen Wledig (possibly a reference to the late 4th century Gallic Roman Emperor Magnus Maximus 383-388). According to legend, Macsen saw Elen or Helen in a dream while he slept in Rome or in Wales, then sent out messengers to find her. Some of them eventually reached Snowdonia. Recognising the mountains and valleys Macsen had seen in the dream, they or “he” found Helen.

    Elen his future wife was the daughter of a Welsh chieftain called Eudaf Octavius. The tomb of her son Constantine (Cystennin) is said to have been moved by Edward I. The legend such as it is probably relates to whatever defences were available to the Romano-British peoples’ after the withdrawal of troops in 410 AD – under pressure from Saxon settlers from the east and Irish invaders from the west. A Celtic saint – St Peblig (Publicius) is said to have established a monastery and church at Llanbeblig – in the late 4th century? And St Peblig is recorded as being another son of Elen and Maximus. St Peblig’s remains the parish church for Llanbeblig. The building we see today is essentialy a 14th-century update of an earlier church built close to the Pagan Temple of Mithras and on a Roman graveyard. The tower was added in the 15th and 16th centuries. Other alterations were made in later centuries, including a major restoration in 1894.

Sources:

Segontium Roman Fort, G.C. Boon, Ministry of Public Buidings and Works, 1963

A Guide To The Roman Remains In Britain, Roger J. A. Wilson, Constable, 2002

https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kastell_Segontium

Click on:   https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Segontium_-_Therme_1.jpg

Video Link   http://www.dailypost.co.uk/whats-on/whats-on-news/watch-caernarfon-segontium-roman-fort-7570310

 


Haken’s Mound, Preesall, Lancashire

Preesall War Memorial on the B5270 Lancaster Road.

Preesall War Memorial on the B5270 Lancaster Road.

   OS grid reference SD 3601 4822. This is one of those strange curiosities that do seem to crop up every so often. Haken’s Mound, also known as ‘Haakon’s Mound’ and ‘The Mount’ is, in fact, the Preesall war memorial near St Oswald’s church on the B5270 Lancaster road. The large, grassy mound always has well-tendered flowers at its entrance and up to the monument, and on top of the large mound there is a substantial memorial cross which commemorates the fallen of the two World Wars. According to ‘the’ local legend and, to some extent “myth” Haken or Haakon, an early 10th century Viking chieftain, who settled half a mile or so up the road at Hakensall in Knott-End-On-Sea, was buried inside the mound that is today known as ‘The Mount”. Whether there is any real truth in this I do not know – we will probably never know. The war memorial is located halfway between St Oswald’s church and the B5377 Stalmine turning, while the very pretty sea-side village of Knott End is half a mile in the opposite direction along Lancaster road.

   The story goes that: At some point in the early 10th century AD Haken, an invading Viking chieftain, sailed up the Wyre estuary (maybe in a longboat) and, just inland between Fleetwood and Knott End, founded a settlement at a place now called Hackensall – today the medieval Hackensall Hall on Whinny Lane (OS grid ref: SD 2874 5394) stands more or less on that site. The original hall (a defensive moated building) was built in 1190 – the building there today is of 1656; it was built by the Fleetwood family. In the 19th century the hall was greatly renovated by Sir James Bourne. According to “the” Legend, it is said from his settlement Haken laid siege to the area, pillaging and murdering, but I feel that here we have much embellishment added to the actual legend itself – and one “must” be very wary of this fact. Conversely, it may be that Haken was simply a seafaring Norseman who had come to the area and wanted to lead a quiet, unassuming life there.

The Mount at Preesall, Lancashire.

The Mount at Preesall, Lancashire.

    As to whether Haken or Haakon was still a pagan I don’t know, but I suppose it’s possible that he was a Christian, or had recently become one? After his death this Viking chieftain was buried nearby and a large mound built over his grave. Today this burial mound near St Oswald’s church, Preesall, is locally called ‘The Mount’ or ‘Haakon’s Mound’ and it still looks very impressive, made more so ‘perhaps’ by the war memorial cross standing on top. Alas, today, there are no visible signs (earthworks) of Haken’s settlement at Hackensall, only Hackensall road and Hackensall Hall are reminders. But we will never know archaeologically whether the Viking chieftain lies buried within the mound, due to the fact that it is protected as a war memorial.

    There are a few historians that have tried to link King Cnut, himself a Norseman, with Knott End with regards to the meaning of the place, but it seems that that is ‘not’ the case as most tend to agree “now” that it takes its name from a “knot”- a hillock that is located above the estuary. This knot or hillock probably refers to the golfcourse above the shoreline at Knott End, just to the north-west of Hackensall Hall. A ghostly horse (boggart) is ‘said’ to haunt the hall.

   In the delightful little book ‘The Lancashire Coastal Way And The Wyre Way’, by Ian & Krysia Brodie, we are enlightened about the possible meaning of Knott End: “The large sandbank off Knott End is called Bernard’s Wharf – reputedly after St Bernard. Many small birds, including knot and dunlin, feed here in the nutrient-rich mud. One story says Knott End derives from these birds, another that the Norse marked the channel of the Wyre with a chain of knots or cairns, the final one being the Knott End!” There is a church named for St Bernard on Hackensall Road.

   In 1926 a hoard of Roman coins was dug-up in the vicinity of Hackensall Hall, 500 to be precise, which later came to be known as the Hackensall Hoard. The coins were found beneath a stone and had been placed inside a leather bag. “Whilst the bag was originally found to contain around 500 coins, only 339 now have their whereabouts known” (Ian & Krysia Brodie, 1993). Some of the coin hoard was eventually given to The Revoe Museum in Blackpool, while more coins went to museums and galleries across the north-west of England.

   In the work ‘Romans in Lancashire’ by D. C. A. Shotter, we are told of the possibility that the mouth of the Wyre estuary, a safe and sheltered anchorage between Fleetwood and Knott End, was in use as a port in Roman times and that the great Ptolemy, who lived in the 2nd century AD, referred to it as such: “More important, however, for the present purpose is the reference in Ptolemy to the site which he names as PORTUS SETANTIORUM……this could have been the Roman name for Lancaster; alternatively, many have felt that the site has at some time been overwhelmed by the sea, and lies off the coast at the mouth of the Wyre.”

Sources:

Brodie, Ian & Krysia., The Lancashire Coastal Way And The Wyre Way, Lancashire County Books, Preston, 1993.

http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=39399&sort=2&type=&rational=a&class1=None&period=None&county=1306799&district=None&parish=None&place=&recordsperpage=10&source=text&rtype=&rnumber=&p=465&move=n&nor=6188&recfc=4000

http://www.preesalltowncouncil.org/about-preesall.pl

Shotter, D. C. A., Romans in Lancashire, Dalesman Publishing Company Ltd., Clapham, Yorkshire, 1973.


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The Saxon Shore Forts Of South-East England And East Anglia

Map of The Saxon Shore Forts (Wikipedia)

Map of The Saxon Shore Forts (Wikipedia)

   There were originally 10 or possibly even 11 ‘Saxon Shore Forts’ (Litus Saxonicum) commanded by an officer with the title of ‘Comes litoris Saxonica per Britanniam’ or ‘Count of the Saxon Shore’. Most were built in the late third century though others have an earlier origin. Richborough incorporates older buildings, as does Reculver. Dover was already a militarised site. Nine are referred to in the Notitia Dignitatum, a military text from the late 4th early 5th century. A 10th fort may have existed at Walton Castle, near Felixstowe, but this has now been lost to the sea.

   The forts are all similar in that they are located near sea harbours or river estuaries, suggesting that their purpose was to prevent sea-borne invaders getting inland. Each could support a substantial garrison either infantry or sailors. All are of a similar structure – massive walls with bastions for mounting ballistae and surrounding ditches and, ramparts for extra protection.

    A parallel defence system contemporary with the Saxon Shore Forts the Litus Saxonicum exists on the other side of the Channel from Mardyck near Calais to the estuary of the Garonne. However this system is not as close knit with five of these forts not on navigable rivers. Rather the issue here seems to be the defence of key positions rather then a shoreline.

    From the north we have Brancaster (Branodunum) OS grid ref: TF 7821 4404 located between Burnham Market and Hunstanton, covering 6 ½ acres of standard trapezoidal shape, and with walls 9 foot thick of which nothing now remains above ground.

Mid-19th Century Illustration of Burgh Castle (Wikipedia).

Mid-19th Century Illustration of Burgh Castle (Wikipedia).

   Then Burgh Castle (possibly Gariannonum) OS grid ref: TG 4745 0461 is now well back from the sea with walls 11 foot in width and in places still 15 foot in height enclosing 5 acres. Three sides of the walls remain. Six bastions appear to have been added at a later date after the fort was constructed.

    Further south in Essex lies Bradwell (OS grid ref: TM 0313 0810) on the Blackwater Estuary (possibly Othona) with sections of 3 walls originally surviving, one with a bastion.

    On the Watsum River in Kent lies Reculver (Regullium) OS grid ref: TR 2274 6930 which was once on a broad waterway between the Isle of Thanet and the coast, but now sadly eroded by the sea. The walls of this fort were 8 feet thick surrounding an enclosure of standard Roman shape and protected by a ditch and earth rampart. Much has been lost to the sea. Also of note at Reculver are the ruins of a church founded about AD 669 by Egbert, King of Kent. There was a nave 37 feet long and a chancel with an apse. The towers, which remain, were added in the 12th Century.

Richborough Roman/Saxon Fort (photo credit: Midnightblueowl for Wikipedia).

Richborough Roman/Saxon Fort (photo credit: Midnightblueowl -Wikipedia).

   Richborough (Rutupiae) beside the river Stour at (OS grid ref: TR 3245 6018) has perhaps the most imposing remains, and the longest history. It is possible that this is where the Romans landed in AD43 under the command of Aulus Plautius. Defensive ditches have been found enclosing a large area. And 40 years later a marble monument in the form of a triumphal arch 82 feet tall with a façade of Italian granite was erected ‘possibly’ to commem-orate the event. The foundations remain. There is also evidence of occupation in the 2nd Century, when it seems to have been a civilian settlement with temples, an amphitheatre and a mansio (hotel). A fort with earth ramparts with triple ditches remains of which are extent dates from the second half of the third century with a stone walled fort of standard Roman shape and bastions replacing it soon after. At this time also the monument was converted into a look-out post. Finds from archaeological digs are housed in the site museum.

    Dover (Dubris) OS grid ref: TR 3193 4133 lies buried under the modern town (Queen Street) and is more famous for its Pharos (lighthouse) explored elsewhere on this web site. The Fort dates from the 2nd Century – being reused later as part of the ‘Saxon Shore’ defence.

    Lympne (Portus Lemanis) lies on Romney Marsh (on private land) OS grid ref: TR 1170 3420 and is marked by a few walls tilted at odd angles and, an east gate. The fort appears ho have been constructed as an irregular pentagon rather than of the usual trapezoidal shape.

Pevensey Castle Roman Walls (photo credit: Mortimer - for Wikipedia).

Pevensey Castle Roman Walls (photo credit: MortimerCat – for Wikipedia).

   Pevensey (Anderida) OS grid ref: TQ 6388 0504 lies at the mouth of the River Ashbourne in Sussex. Excavations here have shown evidence of wooden buildings. Pevensey is unusual in that the walls defer from the usual square plan into an irregular oval enclosing some 10 acres. The 12-foot thick walls initially look Medieval, but are in fact largely Roman. Bastions were placed at intervals around the wall and still look very imposing today. Not only did the Normans reuse the castle building, a keep on the south eastern side, but it was again reused in the second world war; a pair of machine gun posts can be seen as can a ‘pillbox’ on top of one of the bastions.

    Porchester (Portus Adurni) in Hampshire. On Verne Hill overlooking Portland Harbour OS grid ref: SU 6242 0452, completes the group. Of a square shape the walls have gates on the west and east and a defensive ditch surrounding them. There were originally 20 bastions and 14 survive. Archaeological evidence shows that a high status Anglo Saxon residence was established later within the walls. Again the building seems to have impressed the Normans. They resurfaced the walls and built a keep in the northwest corner. Other buildings followed in the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries. In the Southwest corner there is also a large church – part of an Augustan Priory built in 1133.

    For most of the 19th and 20th Centuries two theories held sway over the reasons for the development of the Saxon Shore defences. The first was that they were there to control an existing settlement of Saxon migrants (there is some evidence of Saxon settlers in the archaeological records), the second to prevent Saxon marauders from plundering that part of the coast. Whilst this was probably the case with the second half of the 4th Century, it was not really the case with the 3rd Century, and archaeological evidence (coins) now suggests they were built in the late 3rd Century when the Saxons were presenting as troublesome pirates rather then invaders intent on plunder. It is more likely that they were established by the Gallic Emperor Cariusus – mentioned elsewhere on this website. It has also been suggested the forts were established to protect the supply of goods back and forth from and to the continent. All four theories may have merit at different times during the 3rd and 4th Centuries.

Antoninianus Carausius Coin (photo credit: Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. - for Wikipedia).

Antoninianus Carausius Coin c 290 AD (photo credit: Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. – for Wikipedia).

   Carausius reigned from 286 to 293. According to the 4th Century writer Eutropius Carausius was of Belgic origin, had joined the fleet and had rapidly risen through the ranks bringing him to the attention of the Tetrarch – the two emperors and their two assistant Caesars who ruled the Roman world. He was put in charge of dealing with the Saxon Pirates but allegations were made against him that he had been allowing the Saxons to continue their piratical activities apprehending them and seizing their loot for himself. Recalled and fearing the worst he set himself up as Emperor in Northern Gaul and Britain. This theory suggests the forts were built by Carausius to defend his territory against the might of Rome. But the Tetrarch’s resources were stretched and Cariusius was tolerated instead. In 293 the Tetrarchy recovered Northern Gaul weakening Carausius’ position and leading to his assassinated by his Chief Minister, Allectus. Constantius Chlorus took his time but recovered Britain for the Empire in 296/7; Allectus being defeated and killed near Farnham.

    Archaeological evidence shows that during the 4th Century the forts continued in use probably supplanted with a series of signal-stations, which could have provided warnings of incursions, using fire and smoke. When Rome withdrew from Britain at the beginning of the 5th Century the forts fell into disrepair. Internal buildings were mainly of wood so they disintegrated leaving just the walls as a reminder of what had been. 700 years later the walls were still standing and some of the forts were requisitioned by the Normans as defensive positions, as status symbols and, as accommodation for the elite of the new invaders.

Sources: Cottrell, Leonard., ‘The Roman Forts of the Saxon Shore’, HMSO, 1964.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saxon_Shore

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richborough_Castle

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anderitum

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carausius