Defence, Warfare and Military activity: Military sites

In Cheshire a number of reports have been published since 2006 on the legionary fortress and associated settlement at Chester (Ch). They include the excavations at 25 Bridge Street in 2001 (Garner et al 2008), within the western and southern extramural settlements undertaken between 1964 and 1989 (Ward et al 2012), and the report on at Gorsestacks immediately to the north of the Roman fortress between 2005 and 2008 (Cuttler et al 2012). Publications are also being prepared for Roman activity found at the former Odeon site on Hunter Street and the eastern part of Gorsestacks. The Hunter Street excavations revealed robbed out Roman walls close to the centre of the Roman fortress. Several phases of road metalling were found with a pair of drains and there were signs of a side road or alley leading north off the main road. An earlier timber phase of construction on the north side of the road was identified, and later sandstone rubble wall had cut through it and sill-beam features. Pottery dated from the late 1st to 4th centuries (Wilson 2015, 309). The first of the reports on the excavations carried out on the site of Chester Amphitheatre between 2003 and 2005, dealing with the evidence for the Roman period, has now been published (Wilmott and Garner 2017).

A number of sites have been investigated within the Roman fortress itself although are only available as grey literature reports, including the former George Street Centre (Dodd 2016) which revealed evidence of Roman clay extraction and burial, Bollands Court (Dodds 2015) where a complex sequence of Roman deposits were recorded, the Weaver Street car park (Garner 2015) where the remains of Roman granaries were preserved in situ, and the west end of Hunter Street (Cresswell and Daffern 2015) where the remains of the western fortress defences and intramural structures were identified and preserved in situ. Notable extramural sites were investigated also to the north at Tower Wharf (Towle 2013) and nos 51-56 Upper Northgate Street (Poole 2013) where Roman ditches, a burial, and wells were recognised.

Joint Service Cente, The Wiend, Wigan, Greater Manchester (courtesy of GMAAS)

A new insight into the character and status of the long-known site at Wigan (GM) has come from a major programme of archaeological excavation for the Grand Arcade shopping development off Millgate, Wigan (2004-5) (Zant 2008; Miller and Aldridge 2011). The Ship Yard site produced the first identified remains of a Roman fort at Wigan. Waterlogged deposits in one of two V-shaped ditch included numerous wooden pegs of oak, typical of those used by Roman army for tents, and probably dated to the late 1st century (Miller and Aldridge 2011, 28-30). The second and larger excavation at Stairgate yielded a substantial stone-walled Roman building containing three hypocaust chambers), a cold bath, dressing areas and colonnade (with stone column fragment). Externally there were rubbish pits and remains of an aqueduct. The excavators concluded this was a bath house for a cavalry fort and dated late 1st century AD to around AD 160. A little 3rd-century pottery was recovered from this site, suggesting the site was not completely abandoned.

Further evidence for the fort was found at the Joint Service Centre on the west side of Millgate. The previous interpretation of timber workshops was re-assessed and it was concluded that the structural evidence related to a late 1st century AD Roman barrack blocks, thus lying within the Roman fort. After demolition in the early 2nd century, a series of iron-working hearths was constructed, used for iron smithing. There is no sign of 3rd or 4th century Roman activity on this site (Zant 2011; Miller and Aldridge 2011). The site has been partially published, with a monograph planned.

At Castleshaw Roman Fort, Oldham (GM), the site was re-excavated and showed that there were no defensive ditches on the east side of the fort, even though a rampart was present. A possible road and evidence for structures outside the rampart suggest the presence of a previously unrecognised annexe. Within the fort, the archaeological remains were multi-phased with evidence for timber buildings, roads and drains, hearths, workshop floors and industrial waste pits. It would appear that, following abandonment, parts of the northern half of the former fort were re-used in the later fortlet phase. The east gate was exposed, and a section of road was recorded where it left the gateway. There were at least two phases of Roman road, the first belonging to the timber and turf fort dated AD 79. The gate structure was supported by large oak posts set in substantial post-pits (Wilson 2015, 306-8). A Conservation Management Plan was produced for the scheduled monument (see http://www.castleshawarchaeology.co.uk/documents.htm; Nash et al 2014; Wilson 2015).

Castleshaw Roman Fort 2014 excavations, Oldham, Greater Manchester (courtesy of Friends of Castleshaw Roman Forts and SUAVE Aerial Photography)

At Vicarage Fields and Quay Meadows, Lancaster (L), geophysical survey and community excavations have been directed by the ‘Beyond the Castle’ project. The Quay Meadows work revealed what may be Roman riverside activity and a well within the NE wall of the fort (link to project).

In Cumbria a large body of new work over the last decade has consisted of extensive geophysical surveys at military sites, shedding new light on the extent and layout of the extra-mural settlements and some fort interiors. At the coastal fort of Ravenglass (C) a community archaeology project was complemented by a magnetometry and resistivity survey which indicated that more of interior of fort survives than previously supposed. Four barrack blocks (or four pairs of smaller blocks) which occupied the east end of the fort were identified, complementing the six already known from previous excavations on the west side. A possible principia was also identified (Adcock 2013). This arrangement may be explained by division of fort into two, with four cavalry turmae housed in the east section and six infantry cohorts housed in the west. This is typical for an equitata cohort (standard infantry with additional cavalry) and is supported by the Ravenglass diploma of AD 158 which records the equitata cohort here. The barracks alignment suggests that the front of the fort faced west towards the sea, which supports the 1970s conclusions regarding the north gate and via principalis but it is contradicted by earthwork evidence which shows that north and south gates lay towards the east end of the fort (Hunter-Mann 2015).

Geophysical survey at Ambleside fort (C) identified a number of features including internal structural remains, and external features, such as former defences. The outline of the fort is visible, along with some internal structural elements, including the via principalis and two of the corner turrets. Some defences and ramparts are also visible. Externally, the outer defences are particularly clear in the resistivity data, especially at the north-east corner. Settlement evidence may be present, particularly in the field to the north of the fort beyond the outcropping rock, but the nature of the responses makes interpretation difficult and conjectural. A feature of particular interest is a linear response with wide halo just to the north of the fort platform, suggested to be a buried structure. There is evidence for the line of the road out of the fort through Borrans Park. There may also be evidence for settlement in this area, although the data is complex and there are no obvious patterns (Taylor 2013).

At the auxiliary fort of Maryport (C), with its extensive adjacent civil settlementnorth and north-east of the fort,several excavations have taken place following geophysical survey. One was a community archaeology excavation aimed at answering a series of academic research questions (Zant and Rowland 2015). Geophysical survey between 2000-2004, and again in 2010, on the fort and extra-mural settlement revealed a highly detailed plan of the settlement and showed a series of regular building plots extending for several hundred metres on either side of the road leading from the north-east fort gate (Biggins and Taylor 2004; Biggins et al 2011, Fig 2).

Excavations to the immediate north of the Roman fort at Stanwix (C) recorded a cobbled area which might be a parade area or possibly a market (Martin 2010). A military-type ditch, running north-south, was superseded by an extensive cobbled surface, laid in the 2nd century or later, which produced a total of seven Roman coins dated from AD 119-337, with a well nearby. A rectilinear timber building appears to have post-dated the ditch, as did the extensive cobbled surface, which was interpreted as a possible parade ground or market area, although the suggestion of an area ‘for quartering animals before procurement to various parts of the Roman military’ is attractive, given its location close to the putative line of road through the fort at Stanwix and the Wall, and access point to the major urban centre of Carlisle. The cobbled area to have remained in use from the 2nd to at least the mid-4th century.

At Low Borrowbridge (C) geophysical survey by OAN in 2015 revealed in detail internal features of the visible fort including the principia (headquarters building), praetorium (commanding officer’s house) and a possible granary (Wegiel and Zant 2016). Resistivity and magnetometer surveys to the south and south-east of the fort have identified ditched enclosures.

Despite the substantial nature and distinctive signature of many Roman military sites, new sites have continued to come to light since 2006, notably the relatively slight remains of short-lived temporary camps. In the north of the region a newly discovered temporary Roman camp at Castle Lane, Castlerigg (C) wasidentified by geophysical survey and trial excavation through one of its ditches, and was thought to be a broadly 1st-century marching camp (Graham 2010).

Geophysical survey at Caermote, Bewaldeth (Cu) suggests an initial larger fort layout with four gates and four roads. The survey has also revealed a road with apparent built structures on either side running north-south in the smaller fort and a possible corner tower in the south west (Graham 2008). Examination of LiDAR data has revealed several new sites, including a possible temporary camp at Bewcastle (C) (Wilson 2016, 303, fig. 11), and a possible Roman fortlet and road NE of Farndon (Ch) (Hardwick 2017, 36). The existence of a possible fort at Wayoh Bridge, near Bolton (GM), was also confirmed by LiDAR (Wilson 2016, 317).


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