Housesteads fort, section of Wall and vallum between the field boundary west of milecastle 36 and the field boundary west of turret 37a in wall miles 36 and 37


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Scheduled Monument
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Northumberland (Unitary Authority)
Bardon Mill
Northumberland (Unitary Authority)
National Park:
National Grid Reference:
NY 78838 68489

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.

Housesteads Roman fort and its associated features in the section of Hadrian's Wall between the field boundary west of milecastle 36 and the field boundary west of turret 37a survives well as a series of upstanding and buried remains. Significant information on the development of the frontier system over time will be preserved. Housesteads is probably the best preserved Roman fort on display in England. It has produced many significant archaeological finds including quantities of statuary, altars, inscriptions, pottery and small finds. The silted ditches will contain environmental evidence which will allow the character of the surrounding area in the Roman period to be better understood.


The monument includes Housesteads Roman fort and the section of Hadrian's Wall and vallum and their associated features between the field boundary west of milecastle 36 in the east and the field boundary west of turret 37a in the west. This section occupies the crest and down slope of the escarpment, defined to the north by Housesteads Crags and Cuddy's Crags and to the south by the B6318 road. Throughout most of this section Hadrian's Wall survives as an upstanding feature. To the east of the fort a 320m section of the Wall is consolidated and in the care of the Secretary of State. Within this stretch of consolidated Wall there is a gateway, 3.7m wide, at the low point of the Knag Burn. Possibly used by civil rather than military traffic, it consists of a single passage flanked by guard chambers on either side. Pivot holes at back and front show that there were two sets of doors. Between milecastle 36 and the stretch of consolidated Wall, the Wall survives as a turf-covered mound overlain on its north face by a modern field wall made from reused Roman masonry. West of Housesteads to Rapishaw Gap the well-preserved remains of the Wall have been consolidated. At Rapishaw Gap itself the Wall has been mostly robbed out and a modern field wall overlies its south face. Beyond Rapishaw Gap the Wall again survives as a consolidated upstanding feature. The wall ditch was only constructed in the short gaps between the steep crags. On Clew Hill the 35m section of ditch is up to 13m wide and 2m deep with tumbled Roman masonry from the Wall in its base. Between Housesteads Crags and Cuddy's Crags the ditch is visible though it is prone to silting and water-logging. Possible remains of the ditch upcast, known as the `glacis', survives to the north of the ditch as an amorphous spread of material covered by turf. At Rapishaw Gap the ditch is heavily silted and overgrown with rushes, though it is still visible to a depth of 1.3m. A modern trackway truncates the west end of this ditch. To the north east of Housesteads fort, and at the foot of the crags on which the Wall is located, a number of medieval shielings have been identified. These were used seasonally by shepherds controlling summer grazing on open lands to the north. Additionally a linear earthwork, identified as a prehistoric field boundary has been identified as well as Roman quarries. Two circular earthworks, one known as the Fairy Stones, may be of prehistoric or medieval date, although their function is not yet fully understood. Milecastle 37 is situated on the crest of Housesteads Crags with extensive views to the north and south. It is visible as an upstanding structure which has been partly reconstructed and consolidated. The walls have a maximum height of 2.2m internally and the single barrack block in the east half survives to 1m in height. The milecastle was partly excavated between 1988 and 1989 by Crow when it was shown that the north gateway of this milecastle had been deliberately blocked and then later partly demolished. Turret 36a, located in 1911, occupies the crest of Kennel Crags. It is visible as an irregular turf-covered platform measuring 17m north east by 6m south west, and up to 1.1m high. No internal features are visible and it is partly overlain by stone which has tumbled onto it from the adjacent Wall. Excavations during 1946 showed that the turret had narrow walls and a door in the east side. Turret 36b was built before Housesteads fort, occupying part of the crest of Housesteads Crags later overlain by the fort. The foundation courses of the turret have been exposed by excavations within Housesteads fort. It survives as an upstanding structure which has been consolidated and is in the care of the Secretary of State as part of the fort. Turret 37a was located on the crest of the scarp on the west side of Rapishaw Gap. It survives as a buried feature beneath a turf cover. The turret was deliberately demolished in an early phase and the Wall was rebuilt across the site. 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, survives as a turf-covered linear mound throughout most of this section. West of Housesteads Plantation the mound is well-preserved, up to 6.6m wide in places. East of Housesteads Plantation the mound is 4m wide and 0.8m high on its south side. The Military Way crosses the Knag Burn by a double dog-leg and enters the east gate of the fort between the buildings of the extra mural settlement. West of the fort the Military Way is visible as a linear mound with an often indistinct north side. It averages between 3.3m and 6m in width. The south side is revetted by a line of boulders up to 0.6m high. The road is turf- covered with some cobbling visible in places. The approach to the west gate of the fort is blocked by two or three banks which seem to be late defences of the fourth century AD. Branch roads leading from the Military Way proper to turret 36a, milecastle 37 and turret 37a are visible in places as slight level mounds. Elsewhere their course is indicated by differing vegetation marks seen in grass colour. This differentiation in vegetation cover reflects differing growing conditions on the compacted road surface. An earlier Roman road runs from the north side of the vallum south of King's Hill westwards towards Housesteads where it is overlain by the Military Way at NY7925 6997. It survives as a turf-covered linear mound up to 6.5m wide and 0.9m high. Some metalling is visible through the turf. East of the fort the vallum survives as an upstanding earthwork. The north and south mounds have been reduced and spread by agriculture, though the ditch is up to 1.5m deep. West of the Knag Burn there is little surface trace of the vallum as it was levelled when the settlement outside the fort developed and was built over it. To the west of the fort the remains of the vallum are not obvious. However, parallel cultivation terraces and occasional banks up to 1m high denote its course. The ditch is completely silted up in this stretch. The Roman fort at Housesteads, known to the Romans as Vercovicium, occupies the prominent crest of the Whin Sill escarpment to the west of the Knag Burn. It commands wide views to the north and south, being one of the most dramatic and best preserved Roman sites in Britain. It is unusual among the Wall forts for having an east-west orientation rather than a north-south one. This is due to the constraints imposed by the topography. The fort covers an area of approximately 2ha and accommodated a cohort between 800 and 1,000 strong, being later reinforced by a cavalry unit. Its remains survive well as upstanding masonry and earthworks and buried features. The walls and gateways of the fort are exposed and consolidated. A number of the interior buildings are also exposed and consolidated including the headquarters building, the commanding officer's house, a hospital, granaries, barracks, workshops and a latrine. The fort is in the care of the Secretary of State. The fort was added to the Wall after the broad wall foundations and turret 36b were built, but before the narrow wall (which was eventually constructed on the broad wall foundations) was constructed up to the fort. The earliest activity on the site is evidenced by a Bronze Age pot found beneath one of the barracks, which had probably come from a ridge top burial cairn. Post-Roman activity on the fort site is evidenced by a bastle house which was built partly over the west tower of the south gateway. There has been a history of excavations on the fort from 1822 up to 1988. The civil settlement outside the fort, usually referred to as a vicus, is very extensive stretching for at least 200m south of the fort. It also clustered around the east and west sides of the fort. In its initial phase the vicus was situated to the south of the vallum. However, by the third century AD at the latest the vallum was levelled and the vicus was moved up the hill and constructed immediately adjacent to the fort. To the south of the fort over 20 buildings were excavated during the 1930s, although only six remain on view as upstanding buildings with consolidated stone walls. They are believed to be the foundations of a group of shops and/or taverns. Outside the fort's east gate small robber trenches demarcate the ground plans of some of the vicus buildings. On the west side of the fort, north of the Military Way, there is a series of mounds, up to 0.8m high, forming small rectangular paddocks. These may have accommodated the horses associated with the cavalry unit known to have been stationed at the fort in its later phases. Aerial photographs show that the remains of the vicus around Housesteads covered an area at least as large as that of the fort itself. Excavation has shown that the settlement dates, in its most developed form, to the third and fourth centuries AD. An inscription indicates that this vicus had its own local government. Beyond the vicus to the south and west there is a series of cultivation terraces running along the contours in a roughly east-west direction. They survive as upstanding earthworks and can be seen to directly overlie the vallum. These terraces are themselves overlain in parts by strip fields and early ridge and furrow cultivation. On the basis of these relationships the terraces are considered to be of Roman date and are probably associated with the vicus settlement. The Housesteads bath house was positioned to the east of the fort on a rock shelf on the slope on the east side of the Knag Burn. Its disturbed remains survive as turf-covered undulations. Investigations have shown that it was heated by hypocausts, soot being found in the flues. Nearer the Wall is a spring cased in Roman masonry, which probably supplied the baths with water. The location of two cemeteries at Housesteads fort and vicus are known, surviving as buried features below the turf cover. There is one cemetery situated to the west of the fort, south of the Military Way. Another is known to lie either side of Chapel Hill. To the south of Chapel Hill a number of tombstones have been found including one commemorating a medical officer named Anicius Ingenuus. In the low ground to the east of Chapel Hill human remains have been found during drainage works. These finds suggest the cemetery around Chapel Hill was extensive. The remains of a temple to the Persian god Mithras is located beyond the west end of Chapel Hill, close to where a spring flows. This half underground temple was located in 1822. It survives as a series of turf-covered features, some of which are visible as slight earthworks. Excavations in 1898 revealed a long nave, flanked on either side by benches for the accommodation of worshippers. Beyond this was the sanctuary which contained an elaborate relief carving of Mithras surrounded by the zodiac, together with several altars and statues to two lesser deities. The remains of a temple to the Germanic god `Mars Thincsus' is located to the north of Chapel Hill. A well found during excavation has been consolidated and can be seen on the ground. The other remains survive as buried features. Excavations during 1961 revealed the foundations of a circular shrine, 4m in diameter. Pottery recovered from the interior dated the structure to the third century AD. Other finds included an elaborately carved arched door head and inscribed stones dedicated to `Mars Thincsus'. The shrine was found to overlie part of the vicus settlement when it was situated to the south of the vallum. A series of temples are known from building inscriptions to have been located on Chapel Hill itself. Their remains survive as buried features. Several altars have been found here dedicated to Jupiter and the Spirit of the Deified Emperors, indicating that the official state cult was practised here. A Roman lime kiln is located on the west side of the Knag Burn near to the bath house. It was located and excavated during 1909 by Simpson. Its remains survive as buried features. Pottery from the interior dated the structure from the late third to the mid-fourth century AD. A bastle house was built over the remains of the east side of the south gateway of the fort in the 16th century. It survives as an upstanding stone feature, rebuilt with Roman masonry and projects out to the south of the fort. Bastle houses are defended farmhouses, usually with an upstairs doorway and no windows in the lower storey. The upper stories were lived in while the lower one was used as an animal byre. Bastle houses often occur in small groups and are characteristic of the 16th and early 17th century, being a response to the cattle raiding exploits of the border reivers. All buildings, walls, except those constructed directly on the line of Hadrian's Wall, English Heritage fixtures and fittings, timber steps, gates and stiles, and the road and the car park surfaces, 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
Birley, E, Research on Hadrian's Wall, (1961), 182-3
Bruce, J C, Handbook to the Roman wall, (1863), 153-154
Bruce, J C, Handbook to the Roman wall, (1863), 151-2
Crow, J G, Housesteads Roman Fort, (1989)
Crow, J G, Housesteads Roman Fort, (1989), 16-17
Crow, J G, Housesteads Roman Fort, (1989), 30-33
Simpson, F G, Watermills and Military Works on Hadrian's Wall: Excavations..., (1977), 152-59
Stevens, C E, 'Journal of Roman Studies' in Roman Britain in 1946, , Vol. 37, (1947), 168


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

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