The Roman fort, vicus, bridge abutments and associated remains of Hadrian's Wall at Chesters in wall mile 27
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
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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 90968 70009
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
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
The wall fort, its associated civil settlement and the remains of the bridge, survive well as both upstanding and buried remains. Chesters is one of the best surviving examples of a Roman fort. It has produced significant archaeological finds including a very large number of inscriptions. The bridge is one of a series carrying the Wall over major rivers. It was a monumental construction and further demonstrates the scale of the construction of the Wall and the skill of Roman engineers. The fort and its associated remains contain rich archaeological deposits which will contribute significant information on the development of the frontier system over time. In addition 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 section of Hadrian's Wall and associated features
from the bridge abutment on the east bank of the River North Tyne in the east
to the woodland on the east side of the Chesters property in the west. This
section of frontier, which includes Chesters fort (known to the Romans as
Cilurnum) occupies a broad stretch of river terrace on the west bank of the
The Wall is visible intermittently as an upstanding feature in this section.
Short sections of Wall are upstanding at the junctions with the fort
on the south sides of the east and west gateways. There is a 6.7m length of
consolidated Wall to the east of the fort which is in the care of the
Secretary of State. West of the fort the Wall line is denoted by an amorphous,
discontinuous mound up to 0.4m in height. There are no visible upstanding
remains west of the ha-ha (sunken wall), which forms an element of the
landscape gardens of Chester House. The wall ditch is discernible to the east
of the fort as a ploughed down upcast scarp. For the most part it survives as
a silted up feature below the surface. To the west of the fort the ditch
survives as a discontinuous depression, 0.3m deep.
Turret 27a which occupied part of the site before the fort was built was
discovered by excavation during 1945. It was found to lie about 42m west of
the inner face of the east gateway.
The bridge abutments and piers which carried the Wall and Military Way over
the River North Tyne survive well as upstanding monuments. These features are
now consolidated and in the care of the Secretary of State. There is also a
section of consolidated Wall and tower base adjoining the east bridge abutment
on its west side. These features are also in the care of the Secretary of
State. Excavations of the abutments by Bidwell and Holbrook during 1990
have shown that there were two clear phases to the bridge; the early
Hadrianic structure and the larger and more imposing one of third century AD.
The precise location of the vallum around Chesters has not yet been confirmed.
Aerial photographs show the possible start of it from near the west bank of
the North Tyne, but around the fort the course is conjectural.
The course of the Roman road known as the Military Way, which ran along the
corridor between the Wall and the vallum linking turrets, milecastles and
forts, survives well in the section between the North Tyne and the fort. The
line of the road is clearly defined on the ground leaving the fort by the east
gateway and heading towards the Roman bridge. Initially it is a depression and
then becomes a causeway with a maximum height of 0.8m with a kerb to the south
visible for 1.3m. There are no upstanding remains of the road to the west of
the fort. However, the antiquarian Horsley considered that the Military Way
exited Chesters and then converged gradually with the north mound of the
vallum where they continued united for a considerable distance.
The Roman fort at Chesters, which is in the care of the Secretary of State,
was built to guard the North Tyne crossing of the Wall. Excavation has
demonstrated that the fort was constructed after, and overlies, the Wall. It
encloses an area of 2.1ha. The fort wall is exposed in a number of places
round the circuit. Elsewhere the outline of the fort is shown by a scarp which
survives to a maximum height of about 2m. The upstanding masonry is best
preserved in the south east corner where it survives to a height of 1.9m. Well
preserved visible remains in the interior include the consolidated remains of
the headquarters building, commanding officer's house and some barrack blocks.
Buried remains will survive below the ridge and furrow cultivation inside the
The site has been excavated at various times from 1796 up to the most recent
investigations during 1990-91. Extensive amorphous earthworks within the fort
probably show the position of the backfilled trenches and spoilheaps,
resulting from the various excavations.
An extensive civil settlement, or vicus, is located outside the fort on the
south side. It occupies an area of level ground bordered to the east by the
steep cliff down to the river's edge. Its buildings and roads are known
largely from the evidence of aerial photographs. The settlement is orientated
around the road leading south from the fort and a road which bisects it at
right angles. A well, believed to be Roman, survives as an upstanding feature
immediately outside the garden of Chesters house.
The well preserved remains of a bath house are visible to the east of the fort
about 30m uphill from the present course of the river. It had a paved floor,
hypocaust and an outflow drain, as well as various hot and cold rooms. An
interesting and unique feature of this bath house is that when it was
discovered in the 1880s the remains of 33 human skeletons, two horses and a
dog were found. There is a however some doubt as to exactly where around
the bath house they were found.
A quantity of monumental masonry has been found by the river at the point
where the ha-ha wall joins its bank, suggesting that this was the location
of the cemetery. More recently an altar has been found in the river bank
closer to the fort together with a fragment of architectural masonry.
A road runs from the south gateway of the fort to the Stanegate Roman road
which lies further south. Aerial photography has shown that this road runs
along the crest of the river bank south of the ha-ha wall.
All English Heritage fixtures and fittings, field boundaries (with the
exception of the ha-ha which is included) within the area of the monument are
excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath them 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.
- Legacy System number:
- Legacy System:
Books and journals
Bidwell, P T, Snape, M E, The Roman fort of Chesters and its environs, (1993), 20
Bidwell, P T, Snape, M E, The Roman fort of Chesters and its environs, (1993)
Bruce, J C, Handbook to the Roman wall, (1863), 117-120
Bruce, J C, Handbook to the Roman wall, (1863), 109-111
Bidwell, P T, Holbrook, N, 'English Heritage Archaeol Rep 9' in Hadrian's Wall Bridges, (1989), 1-47
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