The Roman fort and associated civil settlement and a medieval tower house at Bowness on Solway at the west end of Hadrian's Wall in wall mile 80
- 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.
- Allerdale (District Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
- NY 22279 62622
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
Tower houses are a type of defensible house particularly characteristic of the borderlands of England and Scotland. Virtually every parish had a least one of these buildings. At many sites the tower comprised only one element of a larger house, with at least one wing being attached to it. These wings provided further domestic accommodation, frequently including a large hall. If it was incorporated within a larger domestic residence, the tower itself could retain its defensible qualities and could be shut off from the rest of the house in times of trouble. Tower houses were being constructered and used from at least the 13th century to the end of the 16th century. They provided prestigious defended houses permanently occupied by the wealthier or aristocratic members of society. As such they were important centres of medieval life. The need for such secure buildings relates to the unsettled and frequently war-like conditions which prevailed in the Borders throughout much of the medieval period. Around 200 examples of tower houses have been identified of which over half were elements of larger houses. All surviving tower houses retaining significant medieval remains will normally be identified as nationally important. Bowness Roman fort and its associated features survive as a series of buried remains. The Roman fort has significant archaeological potential as has been demonstrated by the archaeological investigations to date, and the surviving deposits associated with Hadrian's Wall, the Roman fort and vicus will contribute to the understanding of the development of the Roman frontier. The remains will also enable understanding of how occupation of the site continued after the Roman period and how the Roman remains were utilised and modified in subsequent periods. The remains of the tower house will provide information on the state of law and order in the Border zone between England and Scotland in the period of the Rievers. The silted ditches will contain environmental evidence which will allow the character of the surrounding environment to be reconstructered for the Roman period.
The monument includes the Roman Wall fort and its associated features and a
Medieval tower house at Bowness on Solway.
The course of Hadrian's Wall here is thought to have run from Linden House at the east end of the modern village of Bowness to join with the north east corner of the fort. It will have consisted of the Turf Wall which was later replaced by the Stone Wall. Its survival and precise line have however not been confirmed and it is thought that the line of the Wall near the fort has been lost through erosion of the sea cliff. Bainbrigg in 1601 described remains of the wall on the shore west of the fort. The Wall here, would have closed the gap between the north west corner of the fort and the sea at the western end of Hadrian's Wall. This is the equivalent of the spur wall at the east end of the Wall at Wallsend. However its precise location and survival have not been confirmed since. For these reasons, the line of the Wall is not included in the scheduling.
The exact location of milecastle 80 has not yet been confirmed although it is believed that it survives as a buried feature. On the basis of the usual spacing it is expected to be located below the remains of Bowness fort. However, erosion of the seaward face of the escarpment at Bowness may have removed some of the remains.
The course of the road known as Military Way, which ran along the corridor between the Wall and the vallum linking turrets, milecastles and forts, has not been confirmed at Bowness. However the position of the east gate of the fort has been indicated, from excavations in 1988 by Austen, to coincide with the modern east-west road opposite the house immediately east of the Post Office, and the Military Way is presumed to have entered the fort through this gateway where it is expected to survive as a buried feature. Its precise course approaching the fort has however not yet been confirmed and the Military Way east of the fort is not included in the scheduling.
The course of the vallum has not yet been confirmed at the western terminus of the Wall, although it may survive as a buried feature. Soil test pits dug in the courtyard of the old rectory in advance of the building of a new rectory in 1988 revealed a feature approximately 2m deep filled with greenish organic material characteristic of the fill of the vallum ditch found elsewhere, although as the edges were not found it is not confirmed that this was in fact the vallum ditch. A geophysical survey in 1991 to the east of the fort was unable to locate the course of the vallum, and the vallum is not therefore included within the scheduling.
Bowness Roman fort, known to the Romans as Maia, is located on a clay knoll rising to 20m above sea level at the west end of the modern village. The perimeter and overall extent of the fort have been determined by excavations since 1930. Unusually on Hadrian's Wall, the fort has its long axis east-west parallel to the course of Hadrian's Wall. Only the forts at Housesteads and Great Chesters are similarly orientated. To the north of the fort lies the Solway Firth with commanding views of the opposing coastline, although the view to the south is restricted by rising ground south of the old rectory. There are few traces of the fort's remains visible above ground and most of the remains survive as buried features. The south west angle of the fort survives as a slightly raised platform, bounded by the slight hollow reflecting the line of the fort ditches, the outermost of which was recut in the 13th century 15m wide. Excavations by Birley in 1930 and Potter in 1973 confirmed the location of the south and west defences and also confirmed the position of the west gate by locating its north guard chamber immediately north of the modern road. The structures were covered over after the excavations and will survive as buried remains. These excavations established the width of the fort north-south as 128m, while excavations by Austen in 1988 found the eastern defences between the Post Office and High Bank, establishing the east-west length of the fort as 186m. The fort occupies an area 2.38ha, making it the second largest on Hadrian's Wall after the fort at Stanwix. The north wall of the fort is thought to have been built on the line taken by Hadrian's Wall, but it has been demonstrated by excavations by Birley in 1930 and confirmed by Potter in 1976 that the northern edge of the fort has been lost through erosion of the sea cliff. Little is known of the interior layout other than buildings which were either barracks or stables which were excavated by Potter in 1976 immediately west of the Post Office. The remains were wholly excavated in advance of housing development and no longer survive. These buildings, despite being rebuilt and modified during the period of occupation of the fort, were always of timber construction. This is in contrast to the defences, where the walls, gateways, and interval towers are known from Potter's 1973 and Austen's 1988 excavations to have been initially constructed of turf and timber, but later reconstructed in stone. The bend in the modern road west of the road junction may reflect the position of the headquarters building, known as the principia, which is also likely to have been built in stone.
The extra mural settlement associated with the fort, known as a vicus, is known from excavations and observations of remains exposed during development to have extended round the three landward sides of the fort. Vague traces are visible as low grass covered mounds in the fields on the south and west sides of the village. A sewer trench cut across the field south west of St Michael's Church yielded Roman material including a gold ligula. Observation of building work east of the fort to the south east of Rampart Head by Caruana in 1984 indicated possible remains of the vicus. The full extent of the vicus has not been determined and only remains on the south and west side area are included in the scheduling.
The remains of a peel tower were recorded by Leland in 1539 and the same building is again recorded by Auditor King in 1593 as situated at the gate of the old rectory. A local eyewitness in the middle of the 19th century described its destruction at the beginning of that century, noting the massive nature of its foundations. No remains are visible on the surface but the foundations are expected to survive as buried remains.
All field and property boundaries, street furniture and road surfaces and buildings are excluded from the scheduling, but the ground beneath these features is included. The built-up area containing Bowderhead Farm and the adjacent houses south west of the `T' junction west of the King's Arms public house is totally excluded from the scheduling.
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
King, , Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, Add. Elizabeth, (1593), 349
Leland, , Itenerary Volume VII, Part I55
Birley, E, 'Trans Cumbl/d Westml/d Antiq and Arc Society' in Three note on Roman Cumberland: Bewcastle, Bowness on Solway..., , Vol. 31, (1931)
Daniels, C, 'Trans Cumbl/d Westml/d Antiq and Arc Society' in Excavations at Bowness on Solway, , Vol. 60, (1960)
Potter, T W, 'Trans Cumbl/d Westml/d Antiq and Arc Society' in Excavations at Bowness on Solway 1973, , Vol. 75, (1975)
CEU reports Sites 68 and 339, Austen, P, Site Report, (1988)
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