Nether Denton Roman fort, associated vicus and length of Stanegate Roman road


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1018501

Date first listed: 24-May-1961

Date of most recent amendment: 15-Feb-1999


Ordnance survey map of Nether Denton Roman fort, associated vicus and length of Stanegate Roman road
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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: Nether Denton

National Grid Reference: NY 59463 64496


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

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.

The attached vicus would have comprised a cluster of buildings such as domestic residences, workshops, shops and temples, together with roads, trackways, enclosures, fields and garden plots. Such vici were similar to contemporary small towns although they lacked the planned street grid normally evident in the latter. Normally they also lacked the defences surrounding the small towns. Unlike other towns the vici were probably administered by the military authorities rather than being self-governing. The close juxtaposition of the fort and vicus allows the civilian communities to be investigated. In this instance the close proximity of the site to the Roman frontier was probably of considerable contemporary importance and activities within the vicus are thought to have been closely linked to wider activities within the frontier region. Roman roads were the first artificially made-up routes in Britain and were introduced by the Roman army from approximately 43 AD. They facilitated both the conquest of the province and its administration. Additionally Roman roads acted as commercial routes and became foci for settlement and industry. They provide important evidence of Roman engineering skills as well as the pattern of conquest and settlement. A combination of chance finds, antiquarian investigation, limited excavation and aerial photography have shown that buried remains of Nether Denton Roman fort, its associated vicus and a length of the Stanegate Roman road survive well and extensively. The monument will contain considerable information about its origin and form and will contribute greatly to any further study of Roman frontier defences. Additionally the monument is a rare example of a civilian settlement which remained in occupation after the abandonment of its associated fort.


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


The monument includes the buried remains of those parts of the late first/ early second century AD Roman fort at Nether Denton which do not underlie St Cuthbert's Church and its churchyard, together with the fort's associated civilian settlement or vicus and a length of the Stanegate Roman road which runs through part of the vicus. The fort is located on a hilltop overlooking a bend in the River Irthing whilst the vicus, which remained in occupation after the fort had been abandoned, lies on lower ground to the south and south west. Although no surface remains are visible, recent aerial photography together with a combination of 19th and 20th century chance finds, antiquarian investigation and limited excavation, has shown that a fort measuring approximately 200m by 160m and defended by a turf rampart and outer ditch was constructed on the hilltop overlooking the Irthing. The rampart still survives as a buried feature up to 9m wide and 1.5m high. The fort was later reduced in size by the abandonment of its southern half. Strategically Nether Denton Roman fort formed part of the Stanegate frontier system which operated by transforming a military road, in this case the Roman road between Carlisle and Corbridge, into a frontier road by the building of numerous forts along its length. Once completed the Stanegate frontier ran from the fort at Kirkbride on the Cumbrian coast to the fort at Washing Well on the south bank of the River Tyne, and was supplemented by a number of manned watch towers to the north from where signals could be relayed back to some of the forts. This Roman frontier was later superseded by Hadrian's Wall, the building of which commenced in 122 AD, and Nether Denton fort is considered to have been abandoned once Hadrian's Wall became operational. Aerial photographs also clearly show crop marks representing the buried remains of the civilian settlement and the Stanegate to the south west of the fort, together with lengths of other branch roads to the south and west of the fort and a short length of the branch road connecting the earlier fort's east gate to the Stanegate. Building plots and land subdivisions within the vicus can also be clearly seen on the aerial photographs. Pottery found within the vicus indicates occupation lasting into the second half of the second century. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are Church Hill House and The Rectory and all associated outbuildings, all modern walls and fences, the surfaces of all access drives and paths, the surfaces of all cobbled and flagged areas, all telegraph poles and gateposts, all septic tanks, the brick supports for an oil tank and the concrete pads for propane gas holders; the ground beneath all these features is, however, included. St Cuthbert's Church and graveyard are 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: 27824

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Higham, N, Jones, B, The Carvetti, (1985), 62-3
Manchester University, , Nether Denton
Manchester University, , Nether Denton
Shipman, T T, 'Trans Cumb and West Antiq and Arch Soc. Old Ser.' in The Recently Discovered Remains at Nether Denton Parsonage, , Vol. I, (1869), 88-93
Simpson, F G, St Joseph, K, 'Trans Cumb and West Antiq and Arch Soc. New Ser.' in Report of the Cumberland Excavation Committee for 1933, , Vol. XXXIV, (1934), 152-4

End of official listing