Haltonchesters Roman fort, settlement and Hadrian's Wall and vallum between the field boundary east of Haltonchesters fort and the Fence Burn in wall mile 21


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Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Haltonchesters Roman fort, settlement and Hadrian's Wall and vallum between the field boundary east of Haltonchesters fort and the Fence Burn in wall mile 21
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Northumberland (Unitary Authority)
Northumberland (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
NY 99680 68363

Reasons for Designation

Hadrian's Wall marks one of the frontiers of the Roman Empire. The international importance of the surviving remains has been recognised through designation as a World Heritage Site. The military importance of the Tyne-Solway route across the Pennines was recognised by the Romans during their early campaigns through northern England and into Scotland in the second half of the first century AD. At this time a military road, the Stanegate, was constructed along with a series of forts. Subsequently the Romans largely withdrew from Scotland and there is evidence that the Tyne-Solway route was being recognised as a frontier by the start of the second century AD. This position was consolidated in the early second century by the construction of a substantial frontier work, Hadrian's Wall, under the orders of the Emperor Hadrian. Hadrian's successor, Antoninus Pius, subsequently attempted to establish the boundary further north, between the Clyde and the Firth of Forth, but by c.AD 160 growing unrest amongst the native populations of northern Britain and pressures elsewhere in the Empire caused a retraction back to the Hadrianic line. Hadrian's Wall was then the frontier of the Roman Empire in Britain until c.AD 400 when the Roman armies withdrew from Britain. Stretching over 70 miles from coast to coast, Hadrian's Wall was a continuous barrier built of stone in the east and, initially, of turf in the west. The stone wall was originally designed to be ten Roman feet wide and sections of this width are termed broad wall. A change of plan shortly after construction began led to a reduction in the width of the Wall to eight Roman feet, such sections being termed narrow wall. Today, stretches of both wall types survive, including some sections of narrow wall built on broad wall foundations. For most of its length a substantial ditch on the northern side provided additional defence. Where the Wall crossed rivers, bridges were constructed to carry it across. Construction of the Wall was organised and executed by legionary soldiers. From the beginning the barrier was planned to comprise more than just a curtain wall. At regularly spaced intervals of about a mile along its length lay small walled fortlets known as milecastles. These were attached to the southern side of the Wall and most had a gateway through the Wall to the north. Hence they controlled crossing points through the Wall as well as affording space for a small stable garrison. Between the milecastles were two equally spaced towers known as turrets. Together the milecastles and turrets provided bases from which the curtain wall could be watched and patrolled. Both the turrets and milecastles are thought to have been higher than the Wall itself to provide suitable observation points. It is often assumed that a platform existed on the Wall so that troops could actually patrol along the wall top; it is however far from certain that this was the case. At the western end of the Wall a system of towers, small fortlets and palisade fences extended the frontier system another 30 miles or so down the Cumbrian coast and helped control shipping moving across the estuary of the Solway Firth. As originally planned, and apart from whatever space there was in the milecastles, provision for the accommodation of garrison troops manning the Wall was left with the line of forts which already lay along the Stanegate. At some point a fundamental change of plan took place and forts were constructed along the line of the Wall itself. There are now known to have been 16 forts either attached to the Wall or in close association with it. Some overlay earlier features such as turrets or milecastles. At this stage another linear element, the vallum, was also added to the defensive system to the south of the Wall. This was a broad flat-bottomed ditch flanked by a pair of linear banks. It shadows the course of the Wall for almost all its length, sometimes lying very close to it but sometimes up to a kilometre away from it. The vallum's main function was to act as a barrier to restrict access to the Wall from the south. It also had a function in linking the forts along the Wall with a method of lateral communication. When the forts were placed along the wall line no provision was made for a road to link them. This situation was clearly found impracticable and a metalled track was therefore provided in places along the vallum between the north mound and the ditch. Later, after the withdrawal back to the Hadrianic line from the Antonine Wall, various refurbishments were made throughout the frontier line. At this stage a new linear feature was added: the `Military Way'. This was a road linking all elements of the Wall defence, running from fort to fort within the area bounded by the Wall and the vallum. Throughout its long history the Wall was not always well maintained. It was often neglected and sometimes overrun, but it remained in use until the late fourth century when a weak and divided Roman Empire finally withdrew its armies from the Wall and Britain. It now survives in various states of preservation. In places, especially in the central section, the Stone Wall still remains several courses high and the attached forts, turrets and milecastles are also clearly identifiable. Earthwork features such as the ditch, vallum and Military Way also survive well in places. Elsewhere the Stone Wall has been virtually robbed out and only its foundations survive beneath the present ground surface. Similarly, stretches of the earthwork remains, including sections of the Turf Wall, have been levelled or infilled and now only survive as buried features. Although some sections of the frontier system no longer survive visibly, sufficient evidence does exist for its position to be fairly accurately identified throughout most of its length. Whilst all the forts added to the Wall are broadly similar in size, no two are exactly alike and there is no standard internal layout. However, when originally built, all forts enclosed a fairly standard range of buildings including a headquarters building, commandant's house, hospital, barracks, stables, granaries and workshops. The size and number of barracks blocks has, in the past, been used to determine the size and type of military unit stationed there. This is a difficult exercise which remains the subject of much debate. The area outside the fort was put to a variety of uses. There was usually a bath house and normally a number of temples, burial grounds and other official establishments such as lodging houses for official visitors. Over time sprawling external settlements known as vici grew up around many forts. These housed a range of people and activities attracted by the military presence. Some of the inhabitants may have been families of troops stationed on the Wall, although it was not until the third century that soldiers on active duty were officially permitted to marry. Others may have been retired soldiers and their families. Traders and merchants are also thought to have set up workshops and shops in the vici. The most common type of building found here, as well as in other areas around forts, was the long narrow strip building. These appear to have been used for both domestic and commercial purposes.

The Roman fort at Haltonchesters, its associated civil settlement and the adjacent section of Hadrian's Wall survive well as upstanding turf covered remains. The fort is unique in having an `L'-shaped plan and as such it is of particular interest. The site has produced significant finds including tombstones, altars and a gold signet-ring. Significant information on the development of the frontier system as well as wider social and economic developments over time will be preserved. The silted ditches will contain environmental evidence which will allow the character of the surrounding area in the Roman period to be better understood.


The monument includes the Roman fort at Haltonchesters, an associated settlement and an adjacent section of Hadrian's Wall and vallum and its associated features between the field boundary to the east of Haltonchesters Roman fort in the east and the Fence Burn in the west. The fort, known to the Romans as `Onnum', occupies the crest on the east bank of the Fence Burn astride the line of Hadrian's Wall. From the fort there are extensive views to the north where the ground rises gently, and southwards to the Tyne valley. To the west there are views along the course of the wall for 2km, whereas to the east the visibility is restricted by Down Hill 800m away. The fort survives as a turf covered platform up to 1.1m high in places. A number of surveys and excavations of the fort have been undertaken, the most recent being the survey by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England during 1989. All the surviving remains of the fort are buried below ground level. A unique feature of the fort is the western extension in the south half of the fort, which has been dated to the Severan period (third century AD). An excavation in 1959 revealed that the west wall of the original Hadrianic fort was demolished to the south of Hadrian's Wall when the fort was extended to the west. The fort enclosed an area of about 1.75ha in its early phase; increasing to 2ha after its extension. Excavations have shown that the fort was probably defended by two outer ditches in its Hadrianic phase and that these were replaced by a single more massive ditch in the later Severan phase. Aerial photographs and parchmarks show the location of a number of internal buildings and roads, as well as parts of the fort walls. The fort was probably initially garrisoned by a cohort of 500 men, part mounted, however in the Severan period it held an ala or cavalry wing of 500 men. The civil settlement outside the fort, known as the vicus, was located in the field to the south and south east of the fort. There are the remains of two buildings visible above ground, located in the only part of the field devoid of later ridge and furrow. The building to the east is 4.5m wide and at least 12m long. The less well preserved building to the west was also about 4.5m wide, but of indeterminate length. To the SSE of these buildings is a circular stone-lined well, 1.6m in diameter. The course of the Roman road known as the Military Way, which ran along the length of the corridor between the Wall and the vallum linking turrets, milecastles and forts, survives as a buried feature. It was identified by the presence of parchmarks 300m west of the fort aligned with the postulated gateway to the Severan extension to the fort. To the east the road was also identified by parchmarks within 20m of the fort, aligned with the west gateway. The course of the Wall on both the east and west sides of the fort lies beneath the B6318 road. Excavation on the west side showed that the junction of the Wall with the fort was on the south side of the west gateway. Excavation in the fort interior located the wall ditch, thus demonstrating that the Wall was built before the erection of Haltonchesters fort. The vallum survives as a buried feature. Aerial photographs show the ditch of the vallum as a cropmark to the west of the fort, ascending the hill from Fence Burn and fading about 20m from the south west angle of the Severan extension. The vallum ditch on the east side of the fort is visible as a depression in the line of the field boundary 50m to the east of the fort. Its course south of the fort has not yet been confirmed. Remains of surface quarrying are evident on the hill to the east of the fort. Here sandstone lies close to the surface and outcrops in places providing a ready source of building stone. These quarries survive as hollows and fissures in the area of Carr Crags and on Down Hill. These quarries probably have Roman origins but are likely to have been reworked in the 18th century. All road surfaces and field boundaries are excluded from the scheduling, but the ground beneath 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
Bruce, J C, Handbook to the Roman wall, (1863), 84-89
Bruce, J C, Handbook to the Roman wall, (1863), 85
Blood, K, Bowden, M C B, 'Archaeologia Aeliana' in The Roman Fort at Haltonchesters. An Analytic Field Survey, (1990), 55-62
Blood, K, Bowden, M C B, 'Archaeologia Aeliana' in The Roman Fort at Haltonchesters. An Analytic Field Survey, (1990), 55-62


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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