Biglands House (milefortlet 1) and associated parallel ditches, part of the Roman frontier defences along the Cumbrian coast


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Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Biglands House (milefortlet 1) and associated parallel ditches, part of the Roman frontier defences along the Cumbrian coast
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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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 20921 61965

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 in the second half of the first century AD when a military road, the Stanegate, was constructed along with a series of forts. There is evidence that the Tyne-Solway route was being recognised as a frontier by the start of the second century AD, but the line was consolidated in the early second century AD by the construction of a substantial frontier work, Hadrian's Wall, in c.120 AD. Subsequent attempts to establish the boundary further north, between Clyde and Forth, failed by c.160 AD. Hadrian's Wall then remained the frontier of the Roman Empire in Britain until c.400 AD when Roman armies withdrew from Britain. For most of its course, the 70 miles of Hadrian's Wall running from coast to coast comprised a continuous stone wall (which in places was first temporarily built of turf) with permanent structures sited at intervals of one Roman mile (milecastles) and at third of a mile intervals (turrets) between the milecastles. At a later date, the Wall was strengthened by 16 full-size garrison forts built either on, or close to, the Wall. To the north of the Wall, for most of its length, lay a substantial defensive ditch and to the south a complex of banks and ditches provided east-west communication and demarcated the frontier zone from the province. To the west of Bowness-on-Solway, where the Wall reached the sea, however, the frontier had a different character and served a slightly different purpose. At the western end of the Wall a system of milefortlets and towers, spaced similarly to the milecastles and turrets along the Wall, extended the frontier system for at least 27 miles down the Cumbrian coast and helped control movement across the estuary of the Solway Firth. In places these milefortlets and towers were supplemented by lengths of palisade fences. 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. The frontier works along the Cumbrian coast survive as earthworks or buried archaeological remains, the latter sometimes visible on aerial photographs. They survive in this form largely as a result of the more ephemeral materials of which they were built (timber and turf instead of the stone of Hadrian's Wall land frontier) rather than because of poor survival of archaeological remains. Components of the coastal frontier which have surviving archaeological remains, whether visible or not, will generally be considered of national importance.

A combination of aerial photography and limited excavations have shown that buried remains of Biglands House milefortlet 1 and an associated defensive system of parallel ditches survive well. The monument will contribute to any further study of the Roman frontier defences along the Cumbrian coast.


The monument includes the buried remains of all but the south east corner of Biglands House milefortlet together with the buried remains of a c.210m length of the linear defensive system, here comprising parallel ditches aligned north east-south west. The linear defensive system has been identified in part by a combination of aerial photographs, excavation and geophysical survey along the Cumbrian coast, but in particular between Bowness-on-Solway and the northern shore of Moricambe. Within the sequence of milefortlets along the Cumbrian coast this one has been identified as number 1. It was originally of turf and timber construction and is located on the low ridge of a raised beach adjacent to Campfield Marsh and Biglands House Farm. The milefortlet was first identified from aerial photographs taken during the late 1940s which clearly showed the crop marks of much of the milefortlet's infilled defensive ditch enclosing a subrectangular area measuring c.50m north-south by 40m east-west. Faint surface traces of this defensive ditch can still be seen. Limited excavation by Bellhouse in 1954 located the milefortlet's east rampart. A more extensive area excavation undertaken by Potter in 1975 found that the milefortlet had undergone three main phases of occupation during the second century AD. Phase I is dated c.AD 125-140 by the excavator; the milefortlet was defended by a single ditch up to 4.5m wide and 1.5m deep and a turf rampart c.7m wide. Access was by a gateway 3.6m wide and 1.6m long on the mid- point of the north side through which ran a lightly metalled road. Internally this earliest fortlet had a breadth of 14.5m and a length of approximately 20m. The principal surviving features were two cooking areas walled with turf and set into the inner lip of the north rampart either side of the milefortlet's entrance. Associated post holes suggest these features were roofed, probably as a simple lean-to. Post holes and wall trenches representing part of a rectangular structure, probably a barrack block, were located to the east of the fortlet's central roadway while to the west of the roadway a rectangular floored area measuring c.4.5m by 3m was interpreted as the site of another barrack block. The Phase I occupation ended with the deliberate demolition of the fortlet at a time consistent with the construction of the Antonine frontier in Scotland, suggesting troops were moved northwards from Cumbria to man the new frontier. Phase II is dated c.AD 155-159; there is no closely datable archaeological evidence, but the most appropriate historical context for this phase is the brief re-commissioning of Hadrian's Wall by Roman troops in response to a revolt in the Brigantian territory of northern England. The milefortlet was rebuilt and again defended by the single ditch and a rampart, the latter with timber revetting in front and a width of up to 6.5m. The gateway was built on the lines of the earlier entrance, the principal difference being a much thicker road surface. Internally the plan of the second period fortlet closely followed that of the first; in the north east corner the turf-walled cooking enclosure was replaced by a timber-built rectangular lean-to measuring 6.75m by 3.7m. A hearth, an oven and scattered potsherds show that this was one of the main cooking areas of the fortlet. Another hearth was found overlying the Phase I cooking area in the north west corner, and faint traces of a rectangular barrack block measuring up to 7m by 4m were found to the west of the central road. This second occupation phase also ended with deliberate demolition of the milefortlet at a time consistent with the Roman re-occupation of southern Scotland and the Antonine Wall, and again suggests that troops were moved northwards once more. Phase III is dated c.AD 163-180 by a combination of Roman pottery and a coin. This period coincides historically with the second Roman withdrawal from Scotland. The milefortlet was rebuilt on a slightly smaller scale; it was again defended by a ditch and rampart, the latter measuring up to 9.5m wide and timber revetted at the front. A secondary ditch 1.5m wide and 0.35m deep was cut between the rampart and ditch on the north side but may have functioned as a drain rather than a defensive feature, and the gateway was drastically remodelled into a narrow passageway 1.5m wide running diagonally throught the rampart. Internally two hearths were found in the west side of the fortlet but later ploughing has damaged some of the archaeological deposits of this final period. However, a cluster of finds on the west side of the central road suggests that this continued to form the main area of activity occupied by a single barrack block. Historically the final abandonment of Biglands may relate to the military campaigns of Ulpius Marcellus, Roman governor of Britain in the early 180s, who fought the northern native tribes at this time. The associated parallel ditches were first identified on aerial photographs taken in 1975. These showed the crop marks of two ditches c.46m apart running across two fields to the north east and approaching the front and rear of the milefortlet. Limited excavation showed that the forward ditch originally measured c.1.5m wide by 0.8m deep and that it was subsequently recut on at least two other occasions. The rearward ditch was of a simple single-phase with a well-defined square `ankle-breaker' sump at its base. All gateposts, post and wire fences, garden fences, a telegraph pole and the surface of all paths and the farm track 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.


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

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Books and journals
Bellhouse, R, 'CWAAS Research Series' in Roman Sites On The Cumb Coast: A New Schedule Of Coastal Sites, , Vol. III, (1989), 12
Bellhouse, R L, 'Trans Cumb and West Antiq and Arch Soc. New Ser.' in Roman Sites On The Cumberland Coast, 1954, , Vol. LIV, (1954), 35-6
Higham, N H, Jones, G D B, 'Archaeological Journal' in Frontiers, Forts and Farmers: Cumbrian Aerial Survey 1974-5, , Vol. 132, (1975), 17
Higham, N H, Jones, G D B, 'Archaeological Journal' in Frontiers, Forts and Farmers: Cumbrian Aerial Survey 1974-5, , Vol. 132, (1975), 21
Higham, N H, Jones, G D B, 'Archaeological Journal' in Frontiers, Forts and Farmers: Cumbrian Aerial Survey 1974-5, , Vol. 132, (1975), 17-21
Jones, G D B, 'Britannia' in The Solway Frontier: Interim Report, , Vol. 13, (1982), 287
Potter, T, 'Britannia' in The Biglands Milefortlet And The Cumberland Coast Defences, , Vol. 8, (1977), 149-83
AP no. DI 016, St Joseph,J.K., Biglands House milefortlet 1, (1949)
RCHME, Cumberland Coast Events Record, (1995)


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.

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