Brampton Old Church Roman fort and the medieval Church of St Martin


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Brampton Old Church Roman fort and the medieval Church of St Martin
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Carlisle (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
NY 50983 61495

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 indentifiable. 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. The Stanegate military road linked Corbridge and Carlisle, both of which were also situated on important north-south routeways. It also extended west of Carlisle towards the Cumbrian coast. The construction of a series of forts along the road line allowed many troops to be stationed in this crucial frontier zone and ensured that the area could be closely patrolled. A series of smaller watch towers were also built to help frontier control. The Stanegate frontier was consolidated during the late first and early second century AD and helped crystallise Roman tactics and military expectations in the area. The function of the Stanegate road and its forts was changed by the building of Hadrian's Wall. Initially at least, the Stanegate's support function was enhanced, but as the new frontier line became more fully established its strategic importance declined.

A parish church is a building, usually of roughly rectangular outline and containing a range of furnishings and fittings appropriate to its use for Christian worship by a secular community, whose members gather in it on Sundays and on the occasion of religious festivals. Children are initiated into the Christian religion at the church's font and the dead are buried in its churchyard. Parish churches were designed for congregational worship and are generally divided into two main parts: the nave, which provides accommodation for the laity, and the chancel, which is the main domain of the priest and contains the principal altar. Either or both parts are provided with aisles, giving additional accommodation or spaces for additional altars. Most parish churches also possess towers, generally at the west end, but central towers at the crossing of nave and chancel are not uncommon and some churches have a free-standing or irregularly sited tower. Many parish churches also possess transepts at the crossing of chancel and nave, and south or north porches are also common. The main period of parish church foundation were in the 10th to 11th and 19th centuries. Most medieval churches were rebuilt and modified on a number of occasions and hence the visible fabric of a church will be of several different dates, with in some cases little fabric of the first church being still easily visible. Parish churches are found throughout England. Their distribution reflects the density of population at the time they were founded. In regions of dispersed settlement parishes were often large and churches less numerous. The densest clusters of parish churches were found in thriving medieval towns. A survey of 1625 reported the existence of nearly 9000 parish churches in England. New churches built in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries increased numbers to around 18,000 of which 17,000 remain in ecclesiastical use. Parish churches have always been major features of the landscape and a major focus of life for their parishioners. They provide important insights into medieval and later population levels or economic cycles, religious acitvity, artistic endeavour and technical achievement. A significant number of surviving examples are identified to be nationally important. Despite the use of the northern half of the fort as a churchyard, limited excavation and chance finds in both the northern and southern half of the fort indicate the survival of well preserved remains of the Roman fort's defences and internal buildings, and further undisturbed evidence of the fort's layout and occupation will exist. Additionally the area of the graveyard occupied by the demolished part of the medieval Church of St Martin has remained unused for later burials, thus it will contain undisturbed evidence of the church and its 14th century fortified tower. Local tradition claims that the church is one of the earliest sites in Cumbria to be used for Christian worship, and evidence to support or refute this tradition will survive.


The monument includes the late first/early second century AD Roman fort at Brampton Old Church, and the upstanding and buried remains of the medieval Church of St Martin which is located within the northern half of the Roman fort. The fort is part of the Stanegate system, the first Roman defensive system running across the Tyne-Solway route. It is located on a spur of ground which falls steeply to the River Irthing on the north and west sides. The fort is visible as a low rectangular platform measuring approximately 125m north-south by 118m east-west and would have held a military unit of 500 men. Limited excavation, largely within the southern half of the fort, by Simpson and Richmond in 1935 found that it had been defended by an outer ditch measuring 4.3m wide by 1.5m deep behind which lies a berm 4.3m wide which separated the ditch from a turf and clay rampart 4.8m wide laid upon a foundation of river cobbles and sandstone. A gateway was found at the mid- point of the south side and limited excavation of the fort's interior found well preserved stone foundations of two granary buildings, the headquarters building, a barrack block, and a building interpreted as either part of the commanding officer's house or a workshop. Roman pottery found during the excavation was dated to the late first/early second century AD. Carefully sealed post holes indicate that the fort was deliberately dismantled, presumably at the time Hadrian's Wall and its associated forts became operational. Local tradition states that a church dedicated to St Martin, teacher of the late fourth century/early fifth century AD Scottish saint, Ninian, used the abandoned Roman fort as a shelter. The earliest documentary evidence for the church dates to 1169 when it is mentioned as a gift at the dedication of Lanercost Priory. It was partly constructed of reused stone from Hadrian's Wall. A fortified tower was added to the west end of the church during the 14th century as defence during the Border Wars and this tower is depicted in a sketch made during a survey of Hawkhirst in 1753. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries the church was granted initially to the Dacre family in 1536 and then the Howard family after 1569. The construction of a new chapel in Brampton town centre led to the closure and part demolition of St Martin's old church in 1789. The tower and nave were demolished leaving only the chancel which was modified and continued in use as the church. The old oval churchyard, whose eastern boundary still remains as the present churchyard boundary, also continued in use and this was extended in 1861 and 1889. During these extensions a number of discoveries were made including Roman foundations and amphorae. In 1861 the chancel was extended at its eastern end and a porch added at its western end. During the 1960s the churchyard was closed and in 1978 the church was declared redundant. In the early 1980s consolidation work was undertaken on the church. Prior to this work a survey of the graveyard gave an idea of the size of the medieval church prior to demolition; alignment of pre-1788 gravestones suggest that the church did not extend more than 16m to the west and no further south than the present chancel. The upstanding remains of the church are Listed Grade II*. All paths, fences, walls, gravestones, the gate to the churchyard, and a shed to the north of the church are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath all these features is included.

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
Selkirk, , Brampton in Olden Times, (1907), 118
Robinson, J, 'Trans Cumb and West Antiq and Arch Soc. New Ser.' in Notes on Brampton Old Church, , Vol. LXXXII, (1982), 73-89
Simpson, F G, Richmond, I A, 'Trans Cumb and West Antiq and Arch Soc. New Ser.' in The Roman Fort On The Stanegate And Other Remains at Old Church, , Vol. XXXVI, (1936), 172-82
Whitehead, , 'Trans Cumb & West Antiq & Arch Soc. Old Ser.' in , , Vol. IV, (), 548
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,
SMR No. 4591, Cumbria SMR, St Martins Church, (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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