The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

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.”


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

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


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.


The Old Frontier (Hadrian’s Wall), Scottish Borders, United Kingdom

A section of Hadrian's Wall (photo by Moldovian1 for Wikipedia)

A section of Hadrian’s Wall (photo by Moldovian1 for Wikipedia)

In the Autumn 2008 edition of the magazine ‘Beautiful Britain’ there is an excellent article by the author Jock McKinnon called ‘The Old Frontier’. In this article the author tours Hadrian’s Wall, the ancient Roman frontier that stretches from the Tyne in the east to the Solway Firth in the west, a distance of 80 Roman miles (73 normal British miles!), and he uncovers the history behind the Roman wall and its stones. Here I have “quoted” in full the article which appears in the magazine. Hadrian’s Wall (Latin: Vallum Aelium), also called the Roman Wall, Picts’ Wall, or Vallum Hadriani, was a defensive fortification in the Roman province of Britannia, according to Wikipedia.

   “Standing on the stretch of Hadrian’s Wall west of the remains of Housteads Roman fort, it is still possible to imagine a Roman sentry shivering in the cold. Squinting into the distant landscape, he must have wondered what on earth he was doing in such a ‘gods-forsaken’ place, so far from the centre of his ‘civilized’ world. It is an image that has been handed down to British schoolchildren for generations. But who really were the people who built and guarded the Wall? And why was it built? The answers, if they exist at all, lie buried in ancient records as well as in the stones and soil around the Wall.”

   “The story begins with just one line of Hadrian’s biography, which describes the Emperor as ‘the first to build a wall, 80 [Roman] miles long, to separate the Romans from the barbarians’. In 117 AD, Hadrian succeeded the Emperor Trajan, whose conquests had stretched the Roman empire to its furthest reaches, from Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) in the south-east to Scotland in the north-west. It was clear to Hadrian, however, that the empire had just reached its limits. With military resources and communications stretched to their maximum, Hadrian decided to consolidate Roman hegemony by withdrawing wherever necessary to manageable borders. He knew it was more important to be able to control what the empire had conquered rather than attempt to stretch its frontiers further. And so he began a tour of the empire, including Britain, to see the problems for himself.”

McKinnon goes on to say: “Although much of Britain had been subjugated, and revolts by local tribes – such as Boudicca’s – had been brutally put down, it was clear that there was still trouble ‘up north’ caused by ‘insurgents’, to use a modern term, from the northern tribes. Although we do not know the nature of such warfare – no detailed accounts of the fighting exist – we do know that the building of the Wall began immediately after, or even during, Hadrian’s visit to the province, from 122 AD onwards.”

Section of Hadrian's Wall (photo by Velela - for Wikipedia)

Section of Hadrian’s Wall (photo by Velela – for Wikipedia)

    “Stretching 73 miles from Wallsend on the Tyne in the east to Bowness-on-Solway in the west, the Wall and its forts were built from locally quarried stone and made good use of natural features such as Whin Sill, a lengthy rocky outcrop forming a north-facing cliff. A long line of forts also stretched west, down the coast of Cumbria. Wall inscriptions show that construction was mostly undertaken by troops from three legions, one of which – the Six Victrix – had come to Britain with Hadrian himself. The construction project may well have served the additional purposes of keeping the troops occupied and boosting competition and morale, as well as indicating to the locals that the Romans were deadly serious about imposing their will on the region.”

   “Conceived as a wall up to 15 ft high and 10ft thick, with a forward ditch to make attack more difficult, the design was changed before completion, with later sections adopting a much thinner width, in places only 7ft thick. It is not known why there was this change of plan; perhaps it was to make more efficient use of the materials, or simply to speed up construction. Either way, it suggests that the need for the barrier was pressing. Indeed, it is believed that territory to the south of the Wall was just as troublesome at the time.”

  “The Wall was therefore more than a defensive barrier to keep out northern raiders. In certain spots along the route of the Wall, such as at Heddon alongside the B6318, you can still make out large earthworks. Known as the ‘vallum’, these works consisted of a flat-bottomed ditch south of the Wall, about 20ft wide and deep, flanked on either side by mounds 20ft wide and 10ft high. The vallum often diverts around the forts, showing that it was built around the same time. Crossings were built opposite the forts, through the ramparts and across the ditch, with a gate. This indicates that the system of earthworks was used to control the flow of traffic through the Wall.  So it seems that another purpose of the Wall was quite literally to divide and rule, and to control the cross-country movement of people and goods.”

The author asks: “So what do we know about the soldiers who manned the Wall? From inscriptions on the Wall and at nearby forts, it is clear that, although the legions – which consisted of men with Roman citizenship – helped with the construction of the Wall, and fought in the area, often manning forts to the north and south of the Wall, they did not form its main garrison. This was the job of auxiliaries – infantry and cavalry units of non-citizens recruited from all around the Roman empire. Amongst the remains of the fort at Chesters is a stone reused as a step on which in inscribed the name of the First Cohort of Dalmations, infantrymen originally from the region which is now Croatia. Other inscriptions record the presence of troop units from France and Germany.”

   “Chesters is a good place to begin to take in the skill of the military engineers. Because of the layout of the site, the fort is difficult to imagine, but the bath-house, with walls still reaching up to 10ft high, and the monumental foundations of the bridge that carried the Wall and traffic across the Tyne, are impressive. Also worth a visit is the small museum, which contains many of the most important inscriptions found along the Wall.”

   “Chesters was one of a series of large forts that were constructed every six to eight miles along the Wall, sometimes after its construction, to house troops. These were in addition to the much smaller milecastles, which were built  into the south side of the Wall once every Roman mile, and turrets. The purpose of the turrets and milecastles was to provide look-outs and to aid communication from fort to fort.”

   “Housesteads was another large fort and its remains are imposing even today. It occupies a commanding position, on a south-facing slope, with its north side abutting the Wall and overlooking Whin Sill. Here it is possible to see the remains of gates, granaries, a headquarters building and the commanding officer’s house.”

Hadrian's Wall from Housesteads Fort (photo by Jamesflomonosoff - for Wikipedia)

Hadrian’s Wall from Housesteads Fort (photo by Jamesflomonosoff – for Wikipedia)

   “There are still also visible remains of cultivation terraces outside the walls of Housesteads, and excavations have revealed the streets, workshops and shops that clustered around the forts of Chesters and Vindolanda. Local tradesmen would have supplied the armed forces and the expanding local civilian economy that would have gravitated towards the troops and military to serve their various needs.”

   “Amongst the most remarkable finds from Hadrian’s Wall are the famous tablets of Vindolanda. Painstaking archeology has pieced together fragments of military records and personal letters which were inscribed on the wooden tablets at the fort and then discarded, left to decay in wet, clay soil. Fortunately for us, they were miraculously preserved by the anaerobic conditions, and the retrieved texts now provide tantalizing glimpses of the everyday.”

The author, Jock McKinnon, in his article makes mention of the other Roman frontier, the Antonine Wall, about 100 miles to the north. He says of this: “Another frontier, this time of earth banks, ditches and wooden palisades, was built about 100 miles further north 20 years later, during the reign of the Emperor Antoninus. The purpose of this second barrier may have been to create a controllable ‘neutral zone’ to Hadrian’s Wall further south, indicating that there was still a threat from unrest, but it would have doubled the military forces needed to patrol both frontiers and the region and it was abandoned by about 170 AD.”

   “Hadrian’s Wall itself was finally abandoned much later, not until the late fourth century, although finds at Birdoswald fort show that it continued to be used by a community, probably as a defensive enclosure, into the fifth or six centuries, long after the Romans and Hadrian had become a distant memory. Subsequently, much of the stonework was dismantled and reused for building work, and it’s only the remote stretches of the Wall and forts that can be seen today.”

   “It is sobering today to stand on the Wall, where that imagined soldier once stood, knowing that although it was obviously important at the time to emperors, their troops and local people – whether they supported it, hated it, or earned money as a result of it – it really matters little now whether the Wall was successful or not. All the time, money and manpower spent to quell a distant province proved fruitless. Except, that is,  for what the Wall can still tell us about our distant past.”


McKinnon, Jock., The Old Frontier, Beautiful Britain, Vol 3 Number 3 Autumn 2008, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, 2008.’s_Wall





Blackstone Edge Roman Road, Littleborough, Lancs-Yorks Border

Blackstone Edge Roman Road.

Blackstone Edge Roman Road.

OS Grid Reference: SD 9617 1680. Blackstone Edge Roman Road is located 2 miles east of the town of Littleborough – running almost parallel to the A58 Littleborough to Halifax road. Blackstone Edge ‘Roman Road’ is a cobbled ‘road’ surface traversing the bleak moorland for about 2 miles or so along Blackstone Edge on the Lancashire-West Yorkshire border. The road has a deep groove running down the centre. It is a Scheduled monument initially thought to be of Roman Origin. This road is still marked on Ordnance Survey maps as a Roman Road but nowadays the most widely accepted theory is that it is an early turnpike road from circa 1735.

Until recently popular opinion had it that before the Romans there were no roads in the British Isles. This is not a correct interpretation of the situation. Ancient routes such as the Ickneld Way existed long before AD43. The Romans did build roads and this was one of the reasons for their great success. Roads aided administration as the Empire became ever larger. Roads aided the quick movement of troops to deal with insurgencies and incursions, and they helped to facilitate trade. However the evidence shows that similar structures usually of timber existed from Neolithic Times. More sophisticated structures existed in the Bronze Age using stone and Timber. The Iron Age saw the introduction of gravelled streets as at Danbury and Silchester.

Roman Roads typically consist of a consolidated embanked and cambered core of earth, chalk or stones (the agger), which was then surfaced with compacted stone or gravel. The wider zone was then often defined by boundary ditches, and sometimes further drainage ditches, or trenches from which material for the agger was dug.

Blackstone Edge ‘Roman Road’ (at almost 6 metres in width) does not conform strictly to this approach and the other problem with Blackstone Edge ‘Roman Road’ is that the groove running down the centre is unusual, and has therefore led to other theories about its origin, though similar grooved drainage ditches are known from Roman sites around the country.

It has been suggested that this channel may once have accommodated a cable that was used to winch vehicles up the incline. In keeping with this theory a circular foundation block can still be seen at the top of the incline this solution to the problem being hinted at in the Turnpike Act of 1734. On the other hand, some experts believe that the central channel was used to help vehicles brake as they descended the steep incline down towards Littleborough and others propose that it was merely a drainage duct.

Blackstone Edge Roman Road, today.

Excavations first took place in 1923/24 under Ian Richmond. In 1965 James L Maxim ‘A Lancashire Lion’ proposed that it was a turnpike road dating from 1735 – immediately following the Turnpike Act of 1734. Possibly built on or next to an earlier, probably Medieval Packhorse Route. Maxim proposed that the central groove was for cables assisting cables to negotiate the steep incline with the circular “foundation” acting as a pulley. However, a further survey in 2012, which involved fieldwork and reviewing the evidence, questioned some of these assumptions. Why was work undertaken to create deep and wide cuttings, and what appears to be a terrace on one side? Further the packhorse way closely follows the road using one of the cuttings. The survey came to the conclusion that it might have to be reconsidered as a Roman Road. Another possibility is that none of these apply and it is, in fact, a more modern, perhaps 19th century moorland track that has long been associated with the quarrying of stone.

The Roman road that runs over Blackstone Edge linked the large Roman legionary fortress of MAMVCIVM (Manchester) to the smaller fort of VERBEIA (Ilkley) and is some 36 miles long. Some historians have, perhaps, wrongly called the fort at Ilkley (OLICANA).

About a mile up the moorland path from the A58 (where the Roman road officially begins) stands Aiggin Stone, a boundary-stone that is inscribed with some Latin letters and a cross; its name is perhaps a derivation of “agger” the material from which the Roman road was constructed.

                                                         © Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.



Sudbrook Camp, Portskewett, Monmouthshire

Iron Age hillfort, Sudbrook. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Iron Age hillfort, Sudbrook. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Os grid reference: ST 5053 8732. About half a mile south of Portskewett, Monmouthshire, on the cliffs overlooking the Severn Estuary, is the Iron-Age Sudbrook Camp, a promontory fort with its well-defined earthworks still largerly intact, although suffering somewhat at its south-side due to coastal erosion. It is known to have been inhabited from roughly the mid-2nd century BC up to at least the 1st or perhaps mid-2nd century AD – at which time it may well have been in use as a Roman trading post. The earthworks are located by going along Sudbrook road and, at the end of Camp road, they are some 50 metres to the south-west, close by the ruins of a 13th century church, some railway buildings, and the Severn Railway Tunnel (Gwent Levels). A coastal path traverses the camp. Caldicot village is 1 mile to the west, while the M4 motorway and the Severn Bridge, are half a mile to the east; the town of Chepstow is roughly 4 miles to the north.

Plan of Sudbrook Camp (After V.E.Nash-Williams) 1936.

Plan of Sudbrook Camp (After V.E.Nash-Williams) 1936.

Sudbrook Camp is made up of triangular-shaped earthworks. The whole site is 1.4 hectares: the inner section is approx 78 metres between the cliff and the first ditch, 109 metres across south to north and 280 metres in width west to east, but a section at the south-side has eroded away due to cliff falls, and so the camp would have been larger. A section at the north-side ‘may’ have been destroyed due the houses and also Sudbrook and Camp lanes . However, the rest is still resonably well-preserved, in particular the fairly deep ditches, three ramparts at the west and two ramparts at the east – indeed the defensive ramparts still stand up to 5.2 metres high, according to the work ‘Prehistoric Sites of Monmouthshire’ by Children & Nash. At the far south-western side of the camp stands a World War II concrete lookout post. Rather oddly the interior of the camp is sometimes used as a football pitch!

Camp road to the north-west cuts-off the earthworks, as do the ruins of Holy Trinity Church at the far south-eastern side. The entrance to the camp can clearly be made out at the north-side between the ditches and ramparts; this connected up to an ancient trackway which was used by the Silures tribe, and later by the Romans, linking the site to their newly established town at Caerwent ( Venta Silurum) ‘market town of the Silures’, which later became Caer Guent (Fortress Venta), some 5 miles to the west.

Sudbrook Camp would have been inhabited by an ancient Celtic tribe in the Iron Age (150 BC) and, later in 30 or 31 AD, by the Silures, a fierce tribe who worshipped a cat-like diety. The Silures ruled the south-eastern part of Wales. But at this time they were being put under pressure by the Roman legions making their way up the Severn estuary – led by one Julius Frontinus – who set out to invade Siluria, and at which time the Celtic chieftain Caradoc (Caractacus) had fled from north Wales to Sudbrook Camp, or maybe Llanmelin hill-fort, one-and-a-half miles north-west of Caerwent. Caractacus eventually ended up in Rome where he was pardoned by the emperor Claudius (after 51 AD). The Silures were ‘allowed’ to remain at Llanmelin hill-fort until about 70 AD. However, Frontinus did not make much of an inpact, and it was not until 51 AD that the Silures tribe had their so-called ‘last stand’ when attacked and routed by Ostorius Scapula and the XX legion, according to Roy Palmer in his book ‘The Folklore of (Old) Monmouthshire’.

There is evidence to think that after the routing of the Silures tribe from the camp the Romans used the place as a trading-post and, 17 metres below the cliffs in the estuary, there was a natural harbour facility that was used by the newly conquering Roman legions as ‘a possible docking facility’ and naval base (beach-head) for their sailing vessels – up until at least the late 1st century AD, or even the mid-2nd century AD – Bryan Walker’s work ‘The Archaeology And History Of Ancient Dean And The Wye Valley’.

Archaeological excavations were carried out at Sudbrook Camp between 1934-36 at which time many artefacts were found including: bones of oxen, pigs, sheep and goats and, also fragments of iron, glass, Roman bricks and coins. During the excavations the remains of two V-shaped ditches were discovered between the ramparts (north-west side) of the main bank which, would have been done in four stages. Two steep-sloping revetments of uncoursed drystone walling were uncovered on the inner scarp – ‘Prehistoric Sites of Monmouthshire’ by Children & Nash.

The sad-looking grey ruins of the 12th or 13th century Holy Trinity Church stand at the far south-eastern side of the earthworks, now alas almost hidden by ivy, bushes and trees, with only the front bell-tower gable-wall and a few ruined rear walls still standing; its graveyard has nearly gone over the cliffs. But the main part of the ruin dates from the 17th century, other earlier parts being from the 13th-14th centuries, notably the chancel, while the nave walls may be 12th century. Sadly the church was abandoned and left to the elements in the 1790s, due probably to the erosion of the nearby cliffs – Fred Hando ‘Hando’s Gwent – A Centenary Tribute’.

Fred Hando says of the ruin: “There is no great charm in the grey ruins of Holy Trinity, Sudbrook. It is difficult to account for its erection here, unless it was a private chapel for John Southbrook, who is mentioned in the Wentwood Survey of 1276”. He goes on to say that: “Holy Trinity at Sudbrook was in use, it seems, to the end of the Eighteenth Century. Bradney tells us that one of the last to be buried there was Captain Blethin Smith of Sudbrook, who left instructions that his corpse was to be borne to the grave by six seafaring men”. Captain Smith’s will was dated 1755.


Barber, Chris., Exploring Gwent,  Regional Publications (Bristol) Limited, Clifton, Bristol, 1984.

Children, George & Nash, George., Prehistoric Sites of Monmouthshire, Logaston Press, Little Logaston Woonton Almeley, Herefordshire, 1996.

Hando, Fred., Hando’s Gwent – A Centenary Tribute, (Ed by Chris Barber), Blorenge Books, Abergavenny, 1987.

Houlder, Christopher., Wales: An Archaeological Guide, Faber And Faber, London, 1978.,_Monmouthshire

Palmer, Roy., The Folklore of (old) Monmouthshire, Logaston Press, Little Logaston Woonton Almeley, Herefordshire, 1998.

Walters, Bryan., The Archaeology And History Of Ancient Dean And The Wye Valley, Thornhill Press, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, 1992.


London Stone, Camden, Greater London

London Stone (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

London Stone (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Os grid reference: TQ 3267 8090. Hidden-away in a recess at the front of what was the Bank of China on Canning Street, Camden, London, close to the Cannon Street Underground Station, is the so-called London Stone, a relic perhaps of Roman Londinium. Sometimes also called ‘the Brutus Stone’ or ‘Britto Stone’ after the Celtic leader of the same name who was hailed as king of what would become London, according to The Legend. It is actually a squat round-shaped stone that is now much diminished in size and which may, in fact, have been a 15th century boundary stone? The stone’s location is close to the corner of St Swithins Lane and nearly opposite Bush Lane. St Paul’s Cathedral is 1 mile to the west while the river Thames and London Bridge are about a quarter of a mile to the south of Canning Street.

London Stone and its former stone surround (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

London Stone and its former stone surround (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

At the front of the W.H.Smith building at no.111 Canning Street in a specially designed stone recess stands the curious ‘London Stone’, a round-shaped stone that could be part of a Roman altar that was dedicated to the goddess, Diana, so says Geoffrey Ash in his great work ‘Mythology Of The British Isles’. It was apparently set-up by Brutus, grandson of Aeneas of Troy, a self-styled king of what would become “London”. Brutus is said to have had a palace on the site of the present Guildhall about 1 mile to the south-west, beside the river Thames. The stone is 1 foot 5 inches high by 1 foot 9 inches wide and is made of Limestone that was quarried in Rutland, though it has been suggested that it is Bath stone? It sits securely behind a decorative iron grill, fronted by a very nicely-carved outer recess made of Portland stone, at the top of which there is an information plaque; the inner recess is surrounded by thick glass for extra security.

The stone originally stood at the north-side of Canning Street – where it was set into a niche in the south wall of St Swithin’s Church, close to the Mansion House, according to Janet & Colin Bord ‘Mysterious Britain’. St Swithin’s church was demolished after it suffered from being bombed during the 2nd World War; the stone was moved to the Guildhall museum, then eventually to its present site in Canning Street.

According to documentary evidence the stone was in existence in 1100 and 1188, and in the 16th century it was mentioned again by the antiquary John Stow, who was to describe it as: a great stone called London Stone, fixed in the ground very deep, fastened with bars of iron, and otherwise so stronglie set that if carts do runne against it through negligense the wheeles be broken, and the stone itself unshaken”. In the work ‘Mysterious Britain’ the Bords say that: “Although there is no tradition of it being used as a stone of initiation, the London Stone is of great intiquity and was held in veneration by the citizens who would make binding pacts across it and issue proclamations from it”.

It would appear, therefore, that over many hundreds of years folk, maybe travellers and pilgrims, have been chipping away and breaking pieces off the London Stone to take away as a relic in case it possessed some sort of magical healing power – it may well have done so – and if that be the case it would have originally been a much bigger block of stone, maybe even some sort of pagan altar in the time of the Romans, or maybe from ancient Britain, long before the Romans ever came to Britain but, Brutus who was a Celtic leader – had set his eyes on our shorline! If he did ever come to Britain and reside at London, then it would have been roughly 1100 BC?

The author James MacKillop says in his ‘great tome’ ‘Dictionary Of Celtic Mythology’ says that Brutus was a progenitor of the British people. He was leader of the Trojans and had “dreams” of the Temple of Diana beyond the setting sun. After invading the island [Britain] he defeats the mythical giant Gogmagog and then establishes law upon the land named for him – Britain (Prydain). But actually Gogmagog was killed by being hurled over a cliff by another giant called Corineus of Cornwall who was a champion wrestler of great strength and valor – Reader’s Digest ‘Folklore Myths and Legends of Britain’. Very gruesome-looking stone effigies of Gogmagog and Corineus stand inside the Guildhall in King Street. Geoffrey of Monmouth mentions the legend of Brutus and the giants in his work ‘History of the Kings of Britain’ (1136). More likely than not London Stone was a ‘Milliarium’, a stone that was used to measure road distances in both Roman times, and long after that. And there is the famous saying: ‘So long as the Brutus Stone is safe, so long shall London flourish’.


Ash, Geoffrey., Mythology Of The British Isles, Methuen, London, 1993. 

Bord, Janet & Colin., Mysterious Britain, Paladin (Granada Publishing), London, 1984.

MacKillop, James., Dictionary Of Celtic Britain, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998.

Photo Credits:

Reader’s Digest,  Folklore Myths and Legends of Britain, ( Second Edition), Reader’s Digest Association Limited, London, 1977.

The Megalithic Portal:


Rough Castle Roman Fort, Bonnybridge, Stirlingshire, Scotland

Rough Castle Roman Fort (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Rough Castle Roman Fort (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Os grid reference: NS 8435 7985. About halfway between Bonnybridge and Tamfourhill in the Falkirk region of Stirlingshire, in what “was” the ancient kingdom of Dumnonia, are the very well-defined earthworks of Rough Castle Roman Fort, a 2nd century Roman military site attached to the Antonine Wall (south side), which is ‘said’ to be one of the best preserved forts in Scotland, and certainly one of the most notable in Britain, according to the work ‘Ancient Monuments Scotland’, an HMSO guide. Although it was only a temporary fort it was well endowed with a number of military buildings and, at the east-side a bath-house, the foundations of which were discovered during a number of Archaeological excavations in the early 1900s. The fort was built upon a north-facing and very commanding escarpment, beside a ravine into which the Rowan Burn flows, which no-doubt aided the security of the fort somewhat. The town of Falkirk is 1 mile to the east and Larbert is 2 miles north.

Antonine Wall near Rough Castle (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Antonine Wall near Rough Castle (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

The fort stands at the south-side of the Antonine Wall (part of the north-west frontier) and, in particular, the section behind the fort (north and north-west side) with its deep-ditch and rampart is one of three that are extremely well-preserved, although the actual Roman wall itself, or what constituted as a wall at the time, has mostly disappeared leaving only the earthworks as a reminder. The Antonine Wall, built about AD 143, is actually a V-shaped ditch which was 15 Roman feet wide with a rampart of turf on a stone base, a military way that ran for 36 miles (40 Roman miles), linking the Firth of Clyde at Old Kilpatrick in the far west, to the Firth of Forth at Bo’ness in the east. It was built soon after AD 143 to a planned line, earlier set out by Julius Agricola (c 80 AD), by the legate Lollius Urbicus and named after the emporer at the time, Antoninus Pius; but militarily it was nothing like Hadrian’s Wall, although it was called ‘a permenent frontier’ at the time of building, and that’s what it was to remain – in the landscape at least.

Rough Castle For, a drawing by William Roy 1755 (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Rough Castle Fort, a drawing by William Roy 1755 (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

The Rough Castle fort covered about 1 acre, so fairly small compared to some of the forts in England and Wales. It was called a ‘wall fort’ because it abutted up against a Roman wall, in this case the Antonine Wall. Typically it was square-shaped with curved corners but with no lookout towers, although there were the usual four side entrances at the N.S.E.W. Built around 142 AD as a temporary fort, spaced at a two mile interval with its near neighbours – Seabeg to the west and Watling Lodge to the east; at Watling Lodge there is another well-preserved section of the Antonine Wall. But Rough Castle only lasted for just over 20 years, and by 163-4 AD the wall and its 19 small forts and 14 temporary forts were abandoned, Hadrian’s Wall further to the south being occupied instead! However, for a short period around 210-11 AD Rough Castle was re-occupied. The double ditches and ramparts of the fort, and its annexe are well-preserved, especially at the east, south, and western sides, that at the north-side being the much deeper defensive ditch and steep rampart of the Roman wall.

During Archaeological excavations in 1902-3 the foundations of numerous buildings were discovered within the fort and, in the annexe a bath-house, including: an headquarters block, barrack block, commandant’s house and a granary; also a series of defensive pits (lilia) outside the Antonine ditch on the left front of the fort were found, according to the work ‘Ancient Monuments Scotland’, which goes on to say that: “Two inscriptions identify the garrison, the 6th Nervian cohort”, one of six infantry units of up to 500 men from north-eastern Gaul who were honoured with the title ‘Brittanica’, according to the very excellent work of I. A. Richmond ‘Roman Britain’. Further excavations took place at the fort in 1932, 1957 and 1961.


Bedoyere, Guy de la., The Finds of Roman Britain, B.T. Batsford Ltd., London, 1989.

Breeze, David. J., Historic Scotland, Batsford Ltd., London SW6, 1998

Canmore/Rcahms Site Page

H. M. Stationery Office, Ancient Monuments Scotland, Illustrated Guide, Volume VI, Edinburgh, 1959.

Photo Credits (nos 1&3)

Photo Credit (no 2)

Richmond, I. A., The Pelican History Of England 1 Roman Britain, second edition, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1963.




Bainbridge Roman Fort, North Yorkshire

Bainbridge Roman Fort (Photo Credit Gordon Hatton)

Bainbridge Roman Fort (Photo Credit Gordon Hatton)

Os grid reference: SD9383 9013. The very well-defined almost square-shaped earthworks of Bainbridge Roman Fort, lie just a little to the east of the village on the opposite side of the river Bain at a place called Brough – hence the name Brough-by-Bainbridge. The Romans called this fort Virosidvm – ‘the settlement of true men’, or was it perhaps Bracchivm? Thought to have been built in the Late Flavian period – the late 1st or early 2nd century AD and abandoned by the late 4th century, it has a single ditch surrounding the north, east and south sides, leaving this northern military outpost in a resonably well-preserved state of preservation. An earth and stone platform has survived at the south-east side, has have a few Latin inscribed stones and a substantial amount of metalworking debris which now reside in a couple of museums. The north Yorkshire town of Hawes lies 3 miles to the west on the A684 and Aysgarth in the opposite direction is 6 miles, in what is a very beautiful part of The Yorkshire Dales National Park.

The fort of Brough-by-Bainbridge lies on a low, round-shaped hill and measures roughly 99 metres by 80 metres (324 by 262 feet), an area of 1.06 hectares (over 2 acres), so quite a small Roman fort. Hardly anything survives of the inner structure ie annexe, military and living-quarters, or for that matter any associated stonework, though a 3 metre high earth and stone platform is still clearly visible outside the rampart’s SE side. The ramparts are in a good condition on three sides N, E, and S – at the west side 5 irregular spaced ditches survive, while at the north there are maybe 3 irregular ditches? And there were four gateways in the centre of each rampart. Almost certainly an ‘undefended’ civilian settlement (vicus) was established outside the fort in the 3rd century and, there may have been a regular market associated with this settlement, something that we still have in our towns today, according to Arthur Raistrick in ‘The Pennine Dales’, 1972. However there are no signs of the civilian settlement, at least not on the ground!

The fort was occupied by legions between the early 2nd and the late 4th centuries; we know this from three Latin inscribed building and military-type stones found here that rebuilding took place after it was burnt to the ground in the early 3rd century AD – the rebuilding being carried out by the VI cohort of Nervi or Cohors Sextae Nerviorum. An earlier 2nd century timber fort was replaced by one made of stone, something that happened at many Roman forts in Brittannia. Archaeological excavations took place between 1925-26, 1928-29, 1950-53 and 1956-69 when 3 stones with Latin inscriptions were discovered along with a stone bearing a crudely carved mermaid and, also substantial amounts of metalworking material and ingot moulds. It is said there are Roman stones built into a number of cottages and farm buildings in and around Bainbridge.

Roman Road at Bainbridge (Photo Credit Tom Holland)

Roman Road at Bainbridge (Photo Credit Tom Holland)

A resonably well-preserved Roman road which is known to walkers as ‘Cam High Road’ runs south-west from Bainbridge over Dodd Fell and on towards Bentham, Ribblehead and Chapel-le-dale, probably connecting up with the Roman road running south from Calacvm (Barrow-in-Lonsdale) to Ribchester (Bremetennacvm). The nearest fort to Bainbridge (Brough-by-Bainbridge) is Wensley 12 miles to the east, though no Roman road connects to it.



Photo Geograph:  © Copyright Gordon Hatton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Photo Geograph:  © Copyright Tom Howard and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Raistrick, Arthur., The Pennine Dales, Arrow Books Ltd., London W1, 1972.

Scott, Harry J., Yorkshire, Robert Hale Limited, London EC1, 1977.

Bedoyere, Guy de la., The Finds Of Roman Britain, B.T. Batsford Ltd., London W1H, 1989.

Click to access 016_2009WEB.pdf


Roman Bath, Westminster, London, WC2

Roman Bath, The Strand, London. (D. Mcleish)

Roman Bath, The Strand, London. (D. Mcleish)

OS grid reference TQ 3085 8087. In the stone-vaulted cellar of number 5 Strand Lane, off The Strand, Westminster, in a narrow alley-way close to King’s College, and next to Surrey Street, London WC2, can be found a very well-preserved Roman Bath, dating from the 2nd century AD, that is now regarded as a notable and historical reminder from the Roman city of Londinium (London), but now a curiosity of hidden-London. The bath is still in use and has been in one way or another since the late 16th or early 17th century, having been lost for hundreds of years after the Romans departed at the beginning of the 5th century AD. It seems the bath had belonged to a grand Roman villa which had stood on this site in the early days of the Roman occupation, probably the 2nd century AD, and which had stood on a raised area of land outside the city walls, overlooking the river Thames. The site is near to Charing Cross underground station and Covent Garden. The Victoria Embankment is just a short walk to the south.

The Roman Bath on the south side of the Strand is in a well-preserved condition considering its age; and is under 5 feet (1.5 metres) below street level, measuring 16 feet in length by over 6 feet in width and nearly 5 feet deep. The plunge bath as it is often called is still fed by a spring of cold water from St Clement’s Well just as it was in Roman times and, also more recently in the 17th century. Its stonework consists of bricks that are 10 inches long by 3 inches wide, all solidly packed together and water-tight. The stonework surrounding the Roman bath is very grand and it certainly looks ‘Roman’ but is it? However, the ugly iron grate-covers at the sides do not do it any justice, though they serve their modern-day purpose as inspection covers!

Roman Baths, The Strand, London (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Roman Baths, The Strand, London (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

In 1612 King James I had the Roman bath fully restored from whence it had been the property of the Earls of Essex in the late 16th century; he then continued to patronise it – as did many other royals including Anne of Denmark, his wife, and a number of royal courtiers. Then in the 18th century it was frequented by London’s wealthy and famous. In 1784 John Pinkerton the Scottish antiquarian described it as “a fine antique bath in the cellar of a house in Norfolk street in the Strand.” Norfolk Street no longer exists in name. At this time it belonged to the Earl of Arundel whose house and gardens were adjacent to the bath. In 1792 the antiquarian William Weddle Mp died suddenly after taking a plunge in the Roman bath. The famous author Charles Dickens visited the bath and then wrote about it in his book ‘David Copperfield’ recalling, perhaps, that master Copperfield had “many a cold plunge in the said bath.” The bath fell in to disuse in the late Victorian period but in the early part of the 20th century it was again restored to what we see today.

The bath is open to the general public one day a week (by appointment) and is today maintained by The City of Westminster on behalf of the National Trust. Roman artefacts have been discovered close by including: a sarcophagus and numerous items of pottery and coins, all dating from the Roman period. In September 2011 another Roman bath was found by railway workers on the south-side of the Thames at the corner of London Bridge street. A few historians have argued that the bath only dates from the 17th century, being built as a water feature or spa-bath by the Earl of Arundel, but this is now generally considered not to be the case – and so the thinking is that the bath is indeed Roman.



Romantic Britain, edt. by Tom Stephenson, Odhams Press Limited, London, WC2, 1939.


Cawthorn Roman Camps, North Yorkshire

English: Cawthorn Roman Camps. Cawthorn Roman ...

Cawthorn Roman Camps (Photo credit: Martin Norman – Geograph)

OS grid reference SE 7842 9011. On the North Yorkshire Moors at the edge of the Tabular Hills, above Rosedale Abbey and Goathland, stand the well-defined and grass-covered earthworks, ramparts and ditches of what are called Cawthorn Roman Camps; actually one Roman practice camp and two small Roman forts, side by side, just north of the road called High Lane between Newton on Rawcliffe and Cropton, some 4 miles to the north of Pickering. They are surrounded by woodland. A fairly well-preserved stretch of Roman road (Wade’s Causeway) runs due north over Wheeldale Moor from Cawthorn to Lease Rigg where there was another small Roman fort; originally it may? have connected up with the Roman camp, fort and settlement at Malton (Derventio or Delgovia?) further to the south and was perhaps 20-25 miles in length. But did the Roman road turn east at Lease Rigg and head to the coast at Ravenscar? Cawthorn camp and it’s adjoining forts were built in the late 1st to early 2nd centuries AD. At the southern-side of the earthworks are two prehistoric burial sites (tumuli) and there’s another tumulus at the north-west-side, all of which pre-date the Roman earthworks. The Whitby road (White Way Heads) is 5 miles to the east.

The two small forts, annexe and camp are identified as ABCD. In the centre between the two forts is the temporary marching (practise) camp, which has been referred to as a ‘siege camp’ by some Roman historians. Cawthorne camp C is unusually-shaped like a coffin (elongated) and measures roughly 300 feet by 850 feet about 4-5 acres – and is located between forts D and A. There are three gateways, at the eastern-side only, and these are protected on the outsides by claviculae (cuspate gates) in the ramparts. What maybe gaps at the north-west and south-western corners could have also been ‘initially‘ gateways but these were probably closed up. But the camp has no real ‘robust‘ defensive ramparts, or very little, apart from what appear to be back-filled ditches, unlike those of fort D. The defensive ramparts surrounding the adjourning rectangular-shaped fort D are well-preserved and are 4-5 metres high, while the outer ditches or ‘workings’ are called ‘Stracathro-type’ and are some 3 metres wide and 0.7 metres in height; this fort slightly overlaps the camp at the south-eastern side and is of a later date of construction. It seems likely the camp and forts were built by the legions from York (Eboracum). Fort A with it’s annexe B (extension) at the eastern-side of the site is less well-defined; it has 4 gateways opening into the annexe section, now a low earthwork of 3 metres high. The adjoining annexe has two gateways north and south sides. These two cover an area of around 6 acres. Apparently the forts and camp here at Cawthorn were occupied in more recent times – at periods during the Dark Ages and the Viking Age, the 6th-10th centuries AD.

But why did the Romans build these forts and camp together high up on the Yorkshire Moors. Was it a show of military strength to the northern, British tribes, or was it to protect the Roman road, or even the high ground and the defense of their forts to the north-west and south. More likely they were built simply to house Roman garrisons who were on military manoeuvres and, others who were here to build the Roman road that is so well-preserved, even today. Almost certainly the soldiers could see the east coast from here and the many signal stations (warning beacons) that were situated along that coast. The site was excavated between 1924 and 1929 and the conclusion being that the camp and forts had been occupied twice for short periods only, maybe some 6 to 10 years apart, and that construction took place somewhere between 80-120 AD. Some pottery and glass beads were found during these archaeological digs.

The short stretch of Roman road, known in Yorkshire as Wade’s Causeway, runs for 12 miles between Cawthorn Roman camps and Lease Rigg Roman fort, but originally it may have started at the Roman settlement of Malton and, from Lease Rigg ran east to the coast at either Ravenscar or Whitby, a distance of 25 miles, though there is much uncertainty about this. Today, it is quite well-preserved though the top section has long since eroded away leaving it’s bare foundation stones underneath, but it’s water gulleys or ditches can still be seen at either side, allowing rain water to run off. According to legend, the road was built by an 11th century giant called Wade (Wadda) of Viking birth, who lived with his wife Bell, also a giant, at Mulgrave Castle near Whitby. Bell or Bella apparently carried large stones in her apron to help her husband build both the castle and road, according to the Legend. Their son was the famous Wayland the Smith of Viking legend!

At the southern edge of the site, in woodland, there are two prehistoric burial sites (tumuli) that pre-date the Roman earthworks by 1,500 years, dating from the Bronze-Age. These are located at SE 7845 8987 (south-side) and SE 7790 8980 (south-west side). A third tumulus, of Iron-Age date, can be found at the north-west side of fort D at SE 7780 9010. Well worth checking out.


Boyes, Malcolm & Chester, Discovering The North York Moors, Smith Settle Ltd., Otley, West Yorkshire, 1996.

Jones, Rebecca H., Roman Camps In Britain, Amberley Publishing, Stroud, Gloucestershire, 2012. 


Roman Britain.Org:


Chesterton Roman Fort, North Staffordshire

Mount Pleasant Sign at Chesterton.

Mount Pleasant Sign at Chesterton.

OS grid reference SJ 8302 4900. This Roman site in north Staffordshire is a difficult one to examine in any real detail as there are no tangible signs of earthworks showing up from the late 1st century fort, or what’s left of it, which is partly buried under Chesterton High School (now known as Chesterton Community Sports College) between Mount Pleasant and Castle Street and the recreation fields at the back where there are some very faint, linear crop-marks. Was Chesterton the Roman town (vicus) of Mediolanum – about which some Roman historians have alluded to? Quite possibly, but still some uncerainty.

From what is known the auxiliary fort was built in the early Flavian period circa 70 AD after an earlier temporary fort at Trent Vale (Stoke on Trent) – a few miles to the south had been abandoned. The fort was apparently linked to a temporary Roman marching camp at Loomer Road, 400 yards to the south, where the Roman Catholic church of St John now stands, and it’s earthworks are still said to be visible at the south-east side of the church. And at Holditch, some 800 metres to the south-east, there was a Romano-British settlement of the late 1st to early 2nd century AD. Here a number of Roman artefacts were excavated. The town of Newcastle under Lyme is one and half miles to the south of Chesterton on the A34, at the north-western edge of The Potteries.

The northern section of the fort lies under the high school buildings and the southern section under the fields and recreation areas at the back, and roughly following the field boundarie there – where some very faint linear crop marks can be made out in the large field. Apparently the mainly timber-built fort was parallegram-shaped (rectangular) and measured 365 yards by 300 yards, according to Pastscape, which would be around 4 acres all told, so a medium to large-sized auxiliary fort on the Roman road called RYKNELD STREET, which ran from Derventio (Derby) in the east to the fort at Rocester and, in the west to Salinae (Middlewich), Condate (Northwich) or, according to some, Kindeston, and then on to Deva (Chester). The fort at Chesterton would have held a cohort of 500 to 600 soldiers quite comfortably, I would imagine.

After the demolition of a house called ‘Mount Pleasant’ in 1969 excavations were carried out on the site of the fort for a period of 2 years. A defensive bank running alongside the lane, at the north-west side, was found and also the defenses of the south-eastern side, but sadly no antiquities of any note, apart from a stray silver coin found by a pupil during a school dig [June 2013], and some early Flavian pottery from the ditch. From what is known, however, its timber rampart was 20 feet wide and at the front of this two ditches made from clay and turf were some 20 yards wide; the rampart apparently was shortened or cut back and then the inner-most ditch (15 feet wide and 6 feet deep) with a square-shaped drainage channel, was filled in.

The fort appears to have been built in “one” construction phase rather unusually, perhaps, whereas many Roman forts had two or even three phases of construction. A clay oven and the remains of the cook house were discovered – the latter had been built onto the timber rampart. Between 1593 and 1603 the antiquarian, Sampson Erdeswick, recalled in his work ‘A Survey of Staffordshire’ that the surviving walls were of “marvellous thickness”. So if we take that at face value the ramparts were made of stone-worked walling of some kind – probably sandstone fragments in hard clay, although sadly all that was either robbed away or bulldozed as there are no visible signs of any stonework today. The north-west corner of the fort abutted up against a sandstone outcrop which helped form the defenses there. There was a bath-house on the site though it is uncertain whether this was situated inside or, on the outside of the fort – they were usually outside.

Chesterton Mileage Disc 2000

Chesterton Mileage Disc 2000

The nearby Roman marching camp at Loomer Road, Chesterton, measured 325 feet by 315 feet around 2 acres and was square-shaped; its earthworks are still visible at the south-east side of the Roman Catholic church of St John the Evangelist, while the Romano-British settlement at Holditch further to the south-east has all but vanished. However, quite a lot of pottery has been found on the site, as well as a pottery figure of Venus, glass beads and a bronze bell. At Trent Vale a pottery kiln from the Roman period was excavated, and at Lightwood near Longton, a hoard of Roman coins was unearthed. Many of these artefacts can be seen in the Newcastle Under Lyme museum in Brampton Park. There are some Roman antiquities from the Trent Vale site on display in The Potteries Museum at Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent. And the Chesterton mileage disc set up at the Millennium in 2000 can be found at the corner of London road (B5500) and Wolstanton road (B5369) in Chesterton and is part of the ‘Midlands Heritage Forum’. The disc displays the mileage in ‘Roman miles’ between various Roman forts and towns in England with Chesterton at the centre. Also, at ‘The Apedale Heritage Centre’ on Loomer Road, Chesterton, Newcastle-under-Lyme, there is part of the wall from a Romano-British building, information on the site at Holditch and the invasion of Britain in AD 43.


Erdeswick, Sampson, A Survey Of Staffordshire, J.B.Nichols & Son, London, 1844, 22.

Pastscape website

Thanks also to Barrie Collinson for the info on The Apedale Heritage Centre.



Winterton Roman Villa, Old Cliff Farm, North Lincolnshire

OS grid reference SE 9138 1809. At the west side of Winterton, a small town 5 miles north of Scunthorpe, in north Lincolnshire, are the oblong-shaped earthworks of what would have been the quite opulent 2nd century Winterton Roman Villa, one of two in this area. The site is located behind Old Cliff Farm just to the west of Roxby road and Top Road (A1077). Normanby Hall Country Park is 1 mile to the south-east, while the Humber estuary is just 2 miles to the north. The Romans called the Humber river Abus Fuvius. In the town of Winterton itself, to the east of North Street, is the site of another Roman villa, or a 4th century Romano-British farmstead, and few miles to the east of the town is the course of the Roman road running north from Lindum (Lincoln) to Eboracum (York) via a ferry across the river to the (civitus) Roman capital of Brough (Petvaria) on the opposite bank of the estuary. The area around Winterton was home to a Roman tile-cum-pottery manufacturing site and also an early mineral extraction site that processed iron-ore.

The villa appears to have been built in three seperate stages at different times from the early to middle 2nd century AD up until the mid 4th century AD (the Romano-British period), each newer (ancillary) building being linked via a corridor (aisle) with the most recent part of the villa at it’s western-side measuring roughly 110 by 40 feet with interior dry-stone walls and double rows of roof support posts at 8 feet apart. There was a limestone floor with two large mosaics and a water channel or gulley running beneath that with a hypercaust (underfloor heating system), and some interesting wall paintings. During excavations pottery sherds from the 2nd century AD were found under the mosaic floor. Two stone round houses also stood in the grounds of the villa.

The eastern side of the villa had been, in more recent times, demolished to make way for road widening and, during this road widening in 1968 some 4th century Bronze-workings were found. Workmen also came across a stone coffin with lead lining at the bottom. This contained the skeleton of a  woman in her early 20s who may have lived at the villa in Roman times, although a more recent date, perhaps of the Anglo-Saxon or Viking ages, has been given to her?

When archaeological excavations took place between 1958-1967 ‘broadperiod’ pottery sherds from the 2nd century were excavated; also fragments of  mosaics, a statue, parts of the hypercaust heating system and a number of other antiquities from the villa site as well as finds from the surrounding area, all of which are now on display in the North Lincolnshire Museum, formerly the Scunthorpe Museum, on Oswald Road in the town.

Just to the east of North Street (the B1207) road in Winterton are the scant earthworks of what is probably another Roman villa, or a Romano-British farmstead-cum-settlement, according to some, from the 4th century AD? This site was discovered in 1953.


Stead, I.M., Excavations at Winterton Roman Villa and other Roman Sites in North Lincolnshire, H.M.S.O (Dept of The Environment Archaeological Reports no 9), 1976.

Ordnance Survey, Historical map and guide – Roman Britain, (Fifth Edition), Southampton, 2001. 

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The Roman Lighthouse, Dover, Kent

Roman Lighthouse, Dover, Kent

Roman Lighthouse, Dover, Kent (photo credit: Garry Hogg)

OS grid reference TR 3260 4181. At the south-eastern side of Dover, Kent, along Mortimer Road on the promontory called Eastern Heights and in the grounds of Dover Castle, a 12th century Norman strong-hold, stands a ‘reasonably’ well-preserved Roman Lighthouse or Pharos, dating from around 46-50 AD (during the reign of the Emperor Claudius 41-54 AD) and, just after the invasion of Britain in 43 AD; the Roman army possibly first coming ashore here or further along the Kent coast at Walmer. There was a second Roman lighthouse at Breden-stone on the Western Heights but nothing much of that remains. The parish church of St Mary-in-Castro, a late Saxon foundation from 1000 AD, stands right beside the Pharos but is not attached.

The Romans built a large fort here in c130 AD in order to guard the harbour and sea-route for the fleet sailing from Gaul and through the English Channel. It seems likely they rebuilt the fort in the mid 3rd century. They called the place Portus Dubris or Dubrae, which eventually became the Port of Dover. A Roman road runs north-west from Dover to the Roman town (civitus) at Duruvernum Cantiacorum (Canterbury). There is also evidence to say that the mound and earthworks (hillfort) on which the castle, church and lighthouse stand dates back to the Bronze-Age or, more likely the Iron-Age? The M20 motorway is 12 miles to the west of the town.

Roman Lighthouse, Dover

Roman Lighthouse, Dover

Today the pharos is only a four-storey building at 19 metres or around 60 feet high with the top floor section being a medieval restoration, but originally it was six levels high at 24 metres or 80 feet and, maybe even eight levels high, according to some Roman historians? In the 13-14th century the lighthouse was in use as a church bell-tower and it was at this time the medieval stonework was added to strengthen the top 6 metre section, making it look more like a fortified ‘church tower’ with battlements. A flight of stone steps runs up the inside of the structure but is now cut-off at the belfry.

After nearly two thousand years the original Roman stonework on the seaward-side is looking quite weather-worn and crumbly and the entrance and window openings rather worse for wear, with gaping holes, though the top medieval section is still in a resonable state of repair. A beacon of fire would have burned every night on the top of the lighthouse enabling Roman sailing vessels crossing the channel between Gaul and Brittania to navigate their way into the harbour without coming to harm on the rocky headland. The lighthouse would have been manned all through the night by a regular ‘watch’ of sailors from the Classis Britannica naval fleet galley crews who may have camped beside the harbour and, with the help of slaves they apparently built the pharos as a replica to the design of Emperor Caligula’s (37-41 AD) lighthouse at Boulogne-sur-Mer near Calais on the northern coast of France, which was built in 40 AD; the Classis Britannica themselves coming from that area of Gaul. The fort at Dubris (Dover) was garrisoned by the Milites Tungrecani legion.


Hogg, Garry., Odd Aspects of England, David & Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon, 1968.

Ordnance Survey, Historical map and guide – Roman Britain, (Fifth Edition), Southampton, 2001.



Malham Roman Camp, Low Stoney Bank, North Yorkshire

OS grid reference SD 9152 6542. On a high plateau of Malham Moor just above Low Stoney Bank, a few miles north of Malham and just east of the river Aire, are the large rectangular-shaped earthworks of Malham Roman Camp or Mastiles Roman Camp, dating from c71 AD. The earthworks cover 20 acres (96800 square yards). The camp was a temporary military camp built during the governorship of Quintus Petillius Cerialis (71-74 AD) in order to quell a rebellion by fearsome Brigantean warriors who inhabited that area and, whose leader had been Queen Cartamandua. She had earlier formed a rather ‘fragile’ alliance with the Romans in c52 AD – although this was only destined to last a short time.

The camp is quite well-defined and has an earthern bank 0.5 metres high and 5 metres wide with traces of an external ditch. There are four entrances, three of these at the north, east and south sides have an in-turned or curved inner bank, while the western entrance is damaged by a footpath and wall passing through the centre of the camp, left to right, which is known today by country walkers as Mastiles Lane.

English: Mastiles Lane Roman Marching Camp. Th...

Malham ‘Mastiles’ Roman Camp (Photo: John Illingworth – Geograph)

The camp was probably built by either the IX or XX legions who may have also had a hand in the building of the forts at Rey Cross beside the A66 at Stainmore Summit and, Stanwick, near Richmond. There are no traces of buildings inside the earthworks – it is presumed the soldiers lived in leather tents in the middle of the camp. Some 500 soldiers or more would have marched here at any one given time during the late 1st century AD, but the site was most likely abandoned when the tribal unrest subsided within a few years. We don’t know for sure whether the camp was ever re-occupied?



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Borrans Field Roman Fort, Ambleside, Cumbria

Roman fort of Galava

Roman fort of Galava (Photo credit: Ferrous Femur)

OS grid reference NY3724 0344. About ½ a mile to the south of Ambleside, south Cumbria, along Borrans Road which is the A5059 and close to the mouth of the river Brathay*, near the northern shoreline of Lake Windermere is Borrans Field Roman Fort or, the Roman name of Galava and, or perhaps Glanibanta, according to the Ordnance Surveys ‘Historical map and guide to Roman Britain’ 5th Edition, 2001. Although the former name is the one that is now generally accepted. Or could it be that the Roman fort at Ravenglass some 18 miles away to the west on the Cumbrian coast is the one called Glanibanta (Glannobanta), rather than the usual Roman name given to it: Itunocelum? Confusing, yes it is, but these Roman names for forts and towns are always “open” to question, are they not!

This small fort stands in the area known as Waterside, Eskdale. The earthworks and foundations of the fort can clearly be seen in what is locally called “Borrans Field’ where signboards mark out the fort’s features. There were two forts on the site – the first “Flavian” fort being built in the late 1st century AD at the time of the northern campaign of the Roman general Gnaeus Julius Agricola (79-85 AD) – the second one was built over this and probably staffed by an auxiliary cohort of soldiers in the early part of the 2nd century – that is if a piece of stone with an inscription to that effect found during excavations is to be believed.

The oblong-shaped enclosure of the fort covers about two-and-a-half acres roughly 300 feet by 420 feet though Prof R.G.Collingwood of Pembroke College, Oxford, who first excavated the site and wrote about it, gave the measurements as 270 feet by 395 feet. It was surrounded by a  stone wall 4 foot thick with a clay and turf rampart 10-12 feet across at the back of that and, a ditch to the front. Towers would have been positioned at each of the four corners with four gated entrances – three of these being fairly narrow though the fourth gate (the porta praetoria) at the east-side was double-gated and had guard rooms at either side.

Galava Roman Fort Plan (After Collingwood)

Galava Roman Fort Plan (After Collingwood)

All the main buildings were situated in the middle of the fort with four other large barrack block buildings, probably of timber, around the sides of these and, as yet, not excavated. As usual there were the granaries (two buildings) measuring 60 feet in length, three headquarters blocks known as ‘the principias’ or Praetoriums roughly all 70 feet by 80 feet; also a sacellum (cellar) for altars around 6 foot square, the commandant’s house 70 feet by 80 feet and two other unexcavated buildings. Also, inner and outer courtyards as well as a ditch which could be from the late 1st century fort. According to Prof Collingwood, the fort was abandoned sometime after 85 AD but rebuilt and enlarged during the time of the Emperor Hadrian in the early 2nd century AD. Collingwood believed it was destroyed twice during the 2nd-3rd centuries. The fort of Galava was finally abandoned soon after 365 AD. Today the site is in the care of English Heritage.

Galava Roman fort stands on the course of a Roman road which runs west from here linking up with the forts at Hardknott (Mediobogdum) and Ravenglass (Itunocelum) also known as Glannobanta or Clanoventa? At Ravenglass there is a well-preserved Roman bath-house attached to the fort called ‘White Walls’ standing to it’s original height and, is probably the best preserved Roman building in the north of England. The Roman forts at Watercrook (Alavana) and Brougham (Brocavum) to the east and south-east are “somewhat” in doubt with regard to being linked strategically with the fort of Galava, although this is still open to question.

There have been a number of archaeological finds and these can be seen in the Kendal Museum. A tombstone found in the 1960s at the eastern-side of the fort is inscribed with the epitaphs of two Roman soldiers: Flavius Romanus and Flavius Fuscinus, who may have been related; also a piece of stone inscribed with the word COHORT, and some coins from the late 1st century to the 2nd century. Pottery, glass, iron and bronze objects, as well as a lead basin were also found.


Collingwood, R.G. Prof., Roman Eskdale, Methuen, London, 1914.

Collingwood, R.G. Prof., The Archaeology Of Roman Britain, Methuen, London, 1930.

Fraser, Maxwell., Companion Into Lakeland, Methuen, London, 1939.

Ordnance Survery, ‘Historical map and guide Roman Britain’, 5th Edition, Southampton, 2001.

*Thanks to Mike Nield for his info on the location of the fort at Borrans Field.