Maiden Way Roman road from B6318 to 450m SW of High House, Gillalees Beacon signal station and Beacon Pasture early post-medieval dispersed settlement


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1018242

Date first listed: 13-Feb-1975

Date of most recent amendment: 18-Sep-1998


Ordnance survey map of Maiden Way Roman road from B6318 to 450m SW of High House, Gillalees Beacon signal station and Beacon Pasture early post-medieval dispersed settlement
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Cumbria

District: Carlisle (District Authority)

Parish: Askerton

County: Cumbria

District: Carlisle (District Authority)

Parish: Kingwater

County: Cumbria

District: Carlisle (District Authority)

Parish: Waterhead

National Grid Reference: NY 59293 69690


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

Roman roads were artificially made-up routes introduced to Britain by the Roman army from c.AD 43. They facilitated both the conquest of the province and its subsequent administration. Their main purpose was to serve the Cursus Publicus, or Imperial mail service. Express messengers could travel up to 150 miles per day on the network of Roman roads throughout Britain and Europe, changing horses at wayside 'mutationes' (posting stations set every 8 miles on major roads) and stopping overnight at 'mansiones' (rest houses located every 20-25 miles). In addition, throughout the Roman period and later, Roman roads acted as commercial routes and became foci for settlement and industry. Mausolea were sometimes built flanking roads during the Roman period while, in the Anglian and medieval periods, Roman roads often served as property boundaries. Although a number of roads fell out of use soon after the withdrawal of Rome from the province in the fifth century AD, many have continued in use down to the present day and are consequently sealed beneath modern roads. On the basis of construction technique, two main types of Roman road are distinguishable. The first has widely spaced boundary ditches and a broad elaborate agger comprising several layers of graded materials. The second usually has drainage ditches and a narrow simple agger of two or three successive layers. In addition to ditches and construction pits flanking the sides of the road, features of Roman roads can include central stone ribs, kerbs and culverts, not all of which will necessarily be contemporary with the original construction of the road. With the exception of the extreme south- west of the country, Roman roads are widely distributed throughout England and extend into Wales and lowland Scotland. They are highly representative of the period of Roman administration and provide important evidence of Roman civil engineering skills as well as the pattern of Roman conquest and settlement. A high proportion of examples exhibiting good survival are considered to be worthy of protection.

Roman signal stations were rectangular towers situated within ditched, embanked, palisaded or walled enclosures and were built by the Roman army for military observation and signalling by means of fire or smoke. They formed an element of a wider system of defence and signalling between military sites such as forts, camps and towns, generally as a chain of stations to cover long distances. Fewer than 50 examples have been identified in England and 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, they are of considerable importance to our understanding of the Roman period. All Roman signal stations with surviving archaeological remains are considered to be nationally important. Many medieval and early post-medieval dispersed settlements in the Borders region are morphologically similar and in the absence of documentary sources precise dating of these monuments is often difficult. The area comprises the great slope of land between the high Cheviots and the Solway, where hamlets and scattered farmsteads predominate, and where bastles and tower houses recall the social conditions of the Anglo-Scottish borders before the mid-17th century. The eastern part of this region, containing the wastes of the Bewcastle Fells and Spadeadam, was occupied by shieling grounds during the Middle Ages and the Tudor Period, and preserves the remains of associated settlement sites. The Maiden Way Roman road from the B6318 to a point 450m SSW of High House survives reasonably well and is a good example of a Roman military road which displays various engineering techniques for crossing an often difficult landscape. It is visible for much of its course as an earthwork, either a raised agger, hollow way, or terrace running diagonally down steep hillsides. Where it lies buried, particularly on the moorlands, its course can be easily plotted and followed where it has been exposed by the cutting of channels for modern drainage. Limited antiquarian investigation of Gillalees Beacon Roman signal station has shown it to be one of the best surviving examples of this class of monument in the country. Together with the adjacent Roman road the signal station played an important role in augmenting the Roman frontier formed by Hadrian's Wall. Beacon Pasture early post-medieval dispersed settlement survives well and retains significant archaeological deposits. It is a good example of this class of monument and will add greatly to our understanding of the wider border settlement and economy during the early post-medieval period.


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The monument includes the earthworks and buried remains of a 6.58km length of the Maiden Way Roman road together with the earthwork remains of Gillalees Beacon Roman signal station, also known as Robin Hood's Butt, and Beacon Pasture early post-medieval dispersed settlement. The Maiden Way connected the Hadrian's Wall fort at Birdoswald with the fort at Bewcastle 9.6km to the north. After leaving Birdoswald the road climbs gradually over Waterhead Common and Ash Moss to its highest point on the moorland of Gillalees Beacon where, a short distance south of the summit, remains of the Roman signal station stand. Beacon Pasture settlement overlies the Roman road and lies on the moorland a short distance south of the signal station. Construction of Birdoswald and Bewcastle forts commenced during the early 120s AD and the road connecting the two forts must also have been built at this time. Where the road survives as an earthwork it can be seen either as a raised bank known as an agger upon the top of which the road surface was built, or as a hollow way where erosion of the road surface may have occurred or where the Roman engineers have taken the road through a cutting. It is also visible as a terrace running diagonally down the steepest hillslope in order to ease the gradient. Flanking ditches for drainage purposes ran either side of the road; where not infilled by natural processes these ditches survive as earthworks. Where they are infilled their location can frequently be identified by changes in the vegetation cover where the deeper, damper soil has encouraged a lusher growth. The finest surviving stretch of agger and flanking ditch lies a short distance north of the B6318. Here a length of agger approximately 200m long measures 10m wide at the base and 5m wide at the top and survives up to 0.8m high. The western ditch at this point measures 2m wide by 0.2m deep. Limited excavations of the road further north have shown it to be formed of two courses of large stones laid flat over which a layer of small stones was laid to form the road's metalled surface. The road was found to be well cambered and has large kerbstones. These excavations also found that the width of the road surface was not constant and varied between 3.7m and 4.6m. In places, particularly on the higher moorland, the road and its ditches lie buried beneath vegetation cover and no surface remains are visible. Here the course of the road can still be followed quite clearly where modern drainage channels have been cut through it exposing the road's stone foundations. Gillalees Beacon signal station lies immediately west of the Roman road. It survives as a rectangular earth and stone mound up to 2.5m high surrounded by a shallow ditch with a causeway on the east side which gave access directly from the road. Antiquarian investigation found the stone-built structure to measure approximately 6m by 5.5m externally with walls standing ten courses high. The signal station is positioned to be in full view of Birdoswald fort 6.5km to the south and its function would have been to rapidly convey information to the fort garrison if an enemy was approaching from the north. Beacon Pasture early post-medieval settlement consists of three rectangular enclosures, one north of and two south of the Roman road. The house was originally built of stone and is now visible as a turf-covered platform of stone tumble measuring 13.5m by 6.7m. It lies alongside the road overlapping the edge of the northern enclosure and its position adjacent to the road indicates that this part of the Maiden Way remained in use during the early post-medieval period. The southern enclosure measures 44m by 29m and contains ridge and furrow, indicating that arable cultivation took place here, while the smaller northern enclosure contains lazy-beds (raised earthen mounds) about 1.5m wide on which crops were grown, and thus also attests to arable cultivation. The central enclosure measures 34m by 32m and is interpreted as a stockpen. The settlement had been abandoned by 1854. Between NY60286811 - NY59886877 the protection follows the actual line of the road and not that suggested by the Ordnance Survey. The road is visible as an earthwork between NY60286811 - NY60136831 and between NY59906865 - NY59886877. Between NY60136831 and Slittery Ford at NY59896862 the road is interpreted as surviving as a buried feature. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are all modern field boundaries and all road and path surfaces, 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.

Legacy System number: 27815

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Ramm, H G , Shielings and Bastles, (1970), 47, 49
Collingwood, W G, 'Trans Cumb and West Antiq and Arch Soc. New Ser.' in The End of the Maiden Way, , Vol. XXIV, (1924), 110-16
Collingwood, W G, 'Trans Cumb and West Antiq and Arch Soc. New Ser.' in The Roman Fort at Bewcastle, , Vol. XXII, (1922), 178-81
Haverfield, F, 'Trans Cumb & West Antiq & Arch Soc. New Ser.' in Report On The Cumberland Excavations, , Vol. I, (1900), 82-3
Richmond, I A, 'Trans Cumb & West Antiq & Arch Soc. New Ser.' in The Tower At Gillalees Beacon, Called Robin Hood's Butt, , Vol. XXXIII, (1933), 241-5
SMR No. 74, Cumbria SMR, Gillalees Beacon, (1985)

End of official listing