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 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.
Hadrian's Wall and vallum and their associated features between the Poltross
Burn and the River Irthing survive well as a series of buried and upstanding
remains. Significant information on the development of the frontier system
over time will be preserved.
The monument includes the section of Hadrian's Wall and vallum and their
associated features between the Poltross Burn in the east and the River
Irthing in the west.
Hadrian's Wall survives as an upstanding feature throughout most of this
section. All the upstanding sections of Wall are consolidated and in the care
of the Secretary of State. The upstanding stretch of Wall from the railway
embankment to Roman Way is also Listed Grade I. The Wall here is of narrow
wall type, 2.2m wide, set on broad wall foundation, 3m wide. It stands to a
maximum height of 2.8m west of turret 48b, but elsewhere averages 1.4m high.
The wall ditch also survives well as a feature visible on the ground in this
section. Again the ditch is best preserved to the west of turret 48b where it
has a maximum depth of 3.5m to the north and 1.7m to the south. Elsewhere the
ditch averages 0.9m deep where extant. The ditch upcast mound, usually
referred to as the glacis, survives as a broad low mound to the north of the
Milecastle 48, usually known as Poltross Burn milecastle, is situated on the
crest of the west bank of a steep gorge through which the Poltross Burn flows.
This well preserved milecastle survives as an upstanding monument and is in
the care of the Secretary of State. Internally the milecastle measures 21.5m
north to south by 18.7m across. Its walls were built to the broad gauge
including its wing walls which extended 4m either side of the milecastle.
Excavations in 1909 by Gibson and Simpson found a number of features including
the gateways. The lower courses of a flight of steps survive in the north east
corner which suggest that the rampart walk would be 3.7m above ground with the
battlements adding additional height to the overall height of the Wall. The
remains of an oven are located in the north west angle. Long barrack blocks
flanked the central space of the milecastle, both of which showed evidence of
more than one phase of construction. Further excavations took place in 1965-6
by Charlesworth for the Ministry of Works.
Turret 48a is situated on a river terrace on the south bank of the River
Irthing. It survives as an upstanding stone feature. It measures 4.15m across
and the north wall stands 1.85m high. Excavations at the turret in 1923 by
Shaw showed that the doorway was in the south west wall and several hearths
and evidence of bronze and iron working were found in the interior.
Turret 48b is also situated on the south bank of the River Irthing immediately
east of Willowford Farm. It too survives as an upstanding stone feature. This
turret was also located and excavated in 1923 by Shaw.
Both turrets 48a and 48b are in the care of the Secretary of State.
The foundations of the bridge abutment which carried Hadrian's Wall over the
River Irthing are exposed on the east bank. It survives as a large upstanding
stone feature. Excavations first took place in 1924 by Shaw, but more
scientific excavations were carried out by Bidwell and Holbrook during 1984-5.
A large tower and splayed abutment foundation represent the early phases of
the original narrow bridge. However, the more massive projecting pier
positioned further west represents the wider bridge of the later phase. This
sequence of development is mirrored at the North Tyne crossing to the east of
Chesters. The stonework was bonded with dovetail cramps still visible in the
outer stone pier of the original pair of narrow culverts. Sluices in the later
pier are evidence of a water control system, possibly for an undershot water
wheel. Excavations in 1940 by Simpson showed that the river once flowed
immediately west of the abutment in a rocky gorge. The foundations of two
further bridge piers were found, now 3m below the surface of the present river
bank. The bridge abutment is in the care of the Secretary of State.
The course of the Roman road known as the Military Way, which ran along the
corridor between the Wall and the vallum linking the turrets, milecastles and
forts, is known with certainty in parts of this section. South of milecastle
48 it survives as a low linear causeway, 5m-6m wide and 0.3m high, for a
distance of 45m. East of the milecastle it turns to the north east to descend
the gorge at Poltross Burn. Trenching across the vallum by Simpson during
1910-12 showed that the Military Way ran along the north berm of the vallum
between milecastle 48 to at least as far as Gilsland school. West of Gilsland
school the course of the Military Way is not known precisely, though it is
suggested by Holbrook and Bidwell that the modern farm track descending the
river cliff may be on the line of the Roman road.
The vallum survives mostly as a buried feature throughout this section with
few surface remains visible except around milecastle 48. The vallum ditch on
the west side of the steep gorge of Poltross Burn was excavated by Simpson in
1910 where it was shown to be revetted with a stone wall here. Further
trenching by Simpson between milecastle 48 and Gilsland school showed the
ditch to be 6.2m wide and 1.54m deep below the ground surface. South of
milecastle 48 the north mound of the vallum stands up to 1.1m high, the south
mound 0.9m high and the ditch is up to 2m deep. Elsewhere the remains of the
vallum survive as buried features below the turf cover. Willowford farmhouse
and farm buildings which are Listed Grade II, and Roman Wall Villa are totally
excluded from the scheduling.
All field boundaries, English Heritage fixtures and fittings, road and track
surfaces are excluded from the scheduling, but the ground beneath them is
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.