Roman signal station on Mains Rigg


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


Ordnance survey map of Roman signal station on Mains Rigg
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Carlisle (District Authority)
Upper Denton
National Grid Reference:
NY 61319 65176

Reasons for Designation

Roman signal stations were rectangular towers of stone or wood situated within ditched, embanked, palisaded or walled enclosures. They were built by the Roman army for military observation and signalling by means of fire or smoke. They normally formed an element of a wider system of defence and signalling between military sites such as forts and camps and towns, generally as part of a chain of stations to cover long distances. In northern England stations were used in particular to augment the main frontier formed by Hadrian's Wall, but elsewhere stations were constructed along the coast to keep lookout over the sea and to signal information both along the coast and to inland sites. Signal stations were constructed and used in Britain mainly during three distinct periods. The earliest examples were built between AD 50 and AD 117 for use during earliest military campaigns during the conquest period. Signal stations at this period took the form of a wooden tower surrounded by a ditch and bank and possibly a slight timber palisade. After AD 117 towers were more usually built in stone, some on the same site as earlier timber towers. The latest series, in the mid-4th century AD, were more substantial stone signal stations built mainly along the Yorkshire coast. These had a tower up to 30m high which was surrounded by a curtain wall and external ditch. Signal stations survive as low earthworks, or their below ground remains may be identified on aerial photographs. Fewer than 50 examples have been identified in England. As one of a small group of Roman military monuments, which are important in representing army strategy, government policy and the pattern of military control, signal stations are of importance to our understanding of the period. All Roman signal stations with surviving archaeological remains are considered to be nationally important.

Despite limited archaeological excavations in the 1920s and 1960s, the Roman signal station on Mains Rigg survives reasonably well. It formed an important part of the Roman communication system on the northern frontier and will contribute further information to our understanding of this signalling network in the area.


The monument includes a Roman signal station located on the northern facing slope of Mains Rigg from where there are extensive views northwards across the valley of the River Irthing and to the east and west. It includes the turf-covered foundations of a rectangular stone tower measuring approximately 6.5m square with walls up to 1m thick. The tower was constructed on a raised platform up to 1m high and measuring 14m square. Surrounding the platform on all sides except the downslope northern side is a dry ditch up to 4.5m wide by 1m deep. There is a causeway at the south east angle which gives access across the ditch to the platform and tower. The signal station overlooks the Stanegate Roman road and is located roughly halfway between the Roman forts at Nether Denton and Throp. It is visible from both forts which suggests it may have formed part of a Roman signalling system associated with the `Stanegate Frontier' - a fortified road dated to the late first/early second century AD running between the Tyne and Solway which enabled the Roman troops to more effectively defend the conquered territories to the south and police the frontier region. This early `frontier' was quickly superseded by the construction of Hadrian's Wall during the AD 120s, and the Hadrian's Wall fort at Birdoswald, known to the Romans as Camboglanna, is clearly in view a short distance to the north across the Irthing valley, suggesting that the signal station may have also operated after the abandonment of the `Stanegate Frontier'. Limited excavation of the signal station during the 1920s and 1960s failed to date the monument precisely.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


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

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Books and journals
Richmond, I A, 'Trans Cumb & West Antiq & Arch Soc. New Ser.' in Excav On Hadrian's Wall In Gilsland-Birdoswald Pike Hill Sector, , Vol. XXIX, (1929), 314-5
Ferrell,G., MPP Single Monument Class Description - Signal Stations, (1988)
SMR No. 334, Cumbria SMR, Signal Tower on Mains Rigg, (1987)


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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