Cawthorn Roman forts and camp including a section of medieval trackway known as the Portergate


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

North Yorkshire
Ryedale (District Authority)
North Yorkshire
Ryedale (District Authority)
National Park:
National Grid Reference:
SE 78399 90059

Reasons for Designation

Roman forts are straight sided rectangular enclosures with rounded corners, defined by a single rampart of turf, puddled clay or earth, and with one or more outer ditches. They contained a variety of buildings and other components in accordance with their purpose as permanent bases for auxiliary units. Construction of Roman forts began shortly after the Roman invasion of AD 43 and continued until the fourth century, with the most intensive period of construction between the mid-first and mid-second centuries. The duration of use of individual examples extended in some cases over several centuries. The earliest forts were constructed with timber breastworks and wall walks on the rampart, with timber gateways and towers at points around it. From the beginning of the second century, however, there was a gradual replacement of timber with stone. A separately defined annexe comprising an enclosed area slightly smaller than the fort may be located outside the fort. These were used for a variety of purposes including storage and accommodation of troops and convoys during transit. Roman camps are usually rectangular or sub-rectangular enclosures, constructed by soldiers either as campaign or practice camps. Most campaign camps were only temporary overnight bases but some were used for much longer periods. They were bounded by a single earthen rampart and outer ditch with entrances often protected by additional defensive outworks. Both Roman forts and camps are rare nationally and are extremely rare south of the Severn-Trent line. As such, and as belonging to a small group of Roman military monuments which are important in representing army strategy and therefore government policy, forts are of particular significance to our understanding of the period. For this reason all Roman forts with significant archaeological potential are considered to be nationally important. The complex of remains at Cawthorn is rare and unusual both in the diversity of individual elements and the high level of survival. Individually each of the forts and the camp are well preserved and retain considerable detail about their construction and form. Together the group provides a rare insight into the historical development of an extensive military complex. Partial excavation has demonstrated a high level of survival of archaeological remains across the whole site. The camp is particularly unusual as it departs from the normal regular square or rectangular shape and is in this case an elongated hexagon. Study of the whole complex will contribute to the understanding of the history of the Roman conquest and occupation of northern England.


The monument includes the remains of two Roman forts, one of which has an attached annexe, a Roman camp and a section of medieval trackway. It is situated on the crest of a gentle south-facing slope at the northern rim of the Vale of Pickering and immediately south of a steep slope known as Cawthorn Banks. The whole complex is visible as a series of well preserved earthworks. Three major elements can be identified: a camp of unusual polygonal design overlain by a later fort which is probably datable to the late first century AD and, to the east, a simple fort with an eastern annexe. The westernmost fort is typically square in shape with rounded corners and measures 175m across overall. It is orientated north-east by south-west. The defences include a double bank and external ditch with a counterscarp bank formed from the material upcast from the ditch. The main rampart banks are, together, 20m wide and up to 1.5m high. The ditch is 2m wide and the counterscarp bank is 2.5m wide. There is no counterscarp bank visible on the south-western section of rampart. There are entrances placed centrally in all sides except the north where it is too close to the adjacent steep slope for an entrance here to be practicable. The entrances were defended by an external ditch crossed by an access causeway. Internally, large wooden gates would have protected the gap in the ramparts. The south-eastern corner of the fort overlies the north-west shoulder of the neighbouring polygonal camp, indicating that the fort was built later. The polygonal camp is particularly well preserved: only on the north-east side are the earthwork defences in a poor state. The camp measures 260m north to south by 95m overall at its widest point. The defences comprise a turf bank up to 1.2m high above a ditch 0.8m deep and a counterscarp bank 3m wide and 0.3m high. There are three gates along the east side each 8.5m wide. They are each protected externally by a projecting rampart curving in front of the gate and known as a clavicula. In the interior there are remains of turf built structures, mostly sub-rectangular in plan and no more than 0.3m high. Some are up to 6m across overall. These are located in the southern half and north-western corner. The camp is crossed by a medieval packhorse track known as the Portergate; this survives as a hollow way up to 0.8m deep but only 1m wide at the base. A second fort with an annexe lies 75m to the east. The main fort measures 150m by 150m although it is slightly off square in shape and thus the western edge is broadly parallel to the camp to the west and the northern edge follows the top of the scarp slope. The impressive defences are 14m across and comprise a single rampart bank, an outer ditch and a slight counterscarp bank. The rampart is 1.7m high internally and stands 2.8m high above the bottom of the ditch which is 1.6m deep. The defences on the north side are somewhat steeper where in places they incorporate the edge of the scarp slope. The gateways on the four sides are defended by both internal and external claviculae apparently replacing the earlier inturned gateways. The annexe lying on the east is approximately the same shape and size as the original fort although the defences are not as robust. There are two gateways on the north and south sides, both defended by claviculae. There are remains of internal structures in both the fort and annexe; these comprise turf walls up to 0.3m high, sub-rectangular in plan and concentrated in the south-eastern corner of the annexe and in the northern part of the fort. Partial archaeological excavations in the 1920s revealed that the defences were constructed of turf and upcast material from the ditches. The eastern fort at one time had substantial timberwork incorporated into the defences, in particular along the west side. Here evidence was found of a series of vertical posts 3m apart on the lip of the ditch, with a palisade trench some 1.8m behind. Deep holes for posts were also discovered along the rear of the rampart on the south and east sides. The internal structures were found to be built of turf; also uncovered were many pits and ovens. From the evidence available the forts are known to have been occupied in several phases with the bulk of the construction work occurring in the early first century AD. Although the few archaeological finds from the excavations have not been dated any later than AD 120, the structural evidence indicates a far longer span of occupation. In earlier studies this group of sites was interpreted as a group of training and practice camps, not permanently occupied, and constructed largely to meet the needs of Roman military exercises. Recent re-evaluation of the evidence suggests that permanent occupation of the main forts is more likely, these sites fitting into the wide network of permanently occupied and garrisoned forts established to maintain control over the north of England. Excluded from the scheduling are all National Park signs, fences, bridges and surfaces of made-up paths, although the ground beneath all these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Richmond, I A, 'Archeol J' in The 4 Roman Camps at Cawthorn in the North Riding of Yorkshire, , Vol. 89, (1932), 17-78
Richmond, I A, 'Archeol J' in The 4 Roman Camps at Cawthorn in the North Riding of Yorkshire, , Vol. 89, (1932), 17-78
Richmond, I A, 'Archeol J' in The 4 Roman Camps at Cawthorn in the North Riding of Yorkshire, , Vol. 89, (1932), 17078
Draft survey report, Survey Cawthorn Camps, (1993)


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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