Cataractonium Roman forts and town


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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

North Yorkshire
Richmondshire (District Authority)
North Yorkshire
Richmondshire (District Authority)
Brough with St. Giles
North Yorkshire
Richmondshire (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SE 22364 99026, SE 22466 99355, SE 22858 98640

Reasons for Designation

Five types of town are known to have existed in Roman Britain: coloniae, municipia, civitas capitals, Roman provincial capitals and Roman small towns. The first four types can be classified as `public towns' because each had an official status within the provincial administrative system. Roman small towns are settlements of urban character which lack the administrative status of public towns, but which are nevertheless recognisably urban in terms of morphology, features and function. They tend to lack the planned rectangular street grids, public buildings and well-appointed town houses of the public towns and instead are generally characterised by mainly insubstantial timber or half-timbered structures. Some small towns possess an enclosing wall, while others have masonry or earthwork defences. Additional features include temples, bath houses, ovens, kilns and cemeteries. Roman small towns began to emerge in the mid-first century AD. However, the majority of examples appeared in the later first and second centuries, while the third and fourth centuries saw the growth and development of existing establishments, together with the emergence of a small number of new ones. Some small towns had their origins in earlier military sites such as fort-vici and developed into independent urban areas following the abandonment of the forts. Others developed alongside major roads and were able to exploit a wide range of commercial opportunities as a result of their location. There are a total of 133 Roman small towns recorded in England. These are mainly concentrated in the Midlands and central southern England. Some examples have survived as undeveloped `greenfield' sites and consequently possess particularly well-preserved archaeological remains.

Roman forts served as permanent bases for units of the Roman army. In outline they were straight-sided rectangular enclosures with rounded corners, defined by a single rampart of turf, puddled clay or earth with one or more outer ditches. Some forts had separately defended, subsidiary enclosures or annexes, allowing additional storage space or for the accommodation of troops and convoys in transit. Although built and used throughout the Roman period, the majority of forts were constructed between the mid-first and mid-second centuries AD. Some were only used for short periods of time but others were occupied for extended periods on a more or less permanent basis. In the earlier forts, timber was used for gateways, towers and breastworks. From the beginning of the second century AD there was a gradual replacement of timber with stone. Roman forts are rare nationally, as one of a small group of Roman military monuments, which are important in representing army strategy and therefore government policy, forts are of particular significance to our understanding of the period. All Roman forts with surviving archaeological potential are considered to be nationally important.

Henges are ritual or ceremonial centres which typically date to the Late Neolithic period (2800-2000 BC). They were constructed as roughly circular or oval-shaped enclosures comprising a flat area over 20m in diameter enclosed by a bank. One, two or four entrances provided access to the interior of the monument, which may have contained a variety of features including timber or stone circles, post or stone alignments, pits, burials or central mounds. Henges occur throughout England with the exception of south eastern counties and the Welsh Marches. They are generally situated on low ground, often close to springs and water-courses. Henges are rare nationally with about 80 known examples. As one of the few types of identified Neolithic structures and in view of their comparative rarity, all henges are considered to be of national importance.

Beginning in the fifth century AD, there is evidence for the immigration of settlers into Britain from northern Europe, bringing new religious beliefs. This evidence includes distinctive burial practices and new forms of pottery, metalwork and other items. Anglian cemeteries are dated to the early Anglo-Saxon period, from the fifth to the seventh centuries AD. With the conversion to Christianity during the late sixth and seventh centuries AD, these pagan cemeteries appear to have been abandoned in favour of new sites, some of which have continued in use up to the present day. Burial practices included both inhumation and cremation. Anglian inhumation cemeteries consist predominantly of inhumation burials which were placed in rectangular pits in the ground, occasionally within coffins. The bodies were normally accompanied by a range of grave goods, including jewellery and weaponry. The cemeteries vary in size, the largest containing several hundred burials. Around 1000 inhumation cemeteries have been recorded in England. They represent one of our principal sources of archaeological evidence about the Early Anglo-Saxon period, providing information on population, social structure and ideology.

Although Cataractonium is not thought to have been a Roman administrative centre, by at least the fourth century it appears to have been a significant town in Britain north of York, possibly only exceeded by Carlisle, Corbridge and the civitas capital of Aldborough. Archaeological investigations have demonstrated that the remains are both extensive and substantial, and have provided important insights into Roman Britain, whilst highlighting many more questions that are still to be answered. The prehistoric and Anglian remains, especially the henge and Anglian cemetery, add to the monument's importance.


The monument, which is in three separate areas of protection, includes the buried remains of a Roman military base and an associated civilian settlement. A prehistoric henge partly surviving as an earthwork and other pre-Roman remains are also included in the monument. In addition several features of Anglian date, including a cemetery, have been identified across the area of the monument and these are also included within the scheduling. A smaller Roman settlement at Bainesse, centred nearly 3km south east along Dere Street is the subject of separate scheduling. Further related archaeological remains are known and suspected to survive within the wider area, but these are currently considered to be better managed through the local planning system.

The monument and surrounding area have been the focus of significant archaeological investigation in the past, most notably the rescue excavations in advance of the construction of the A1 Catterick Bypass in 1958-59. Aerial photographs and geophysical surveying have shown that less than 20% of the remains of the town and forts have been excavated. The results of archaeological research between 1958-1997 are detailed in the two volume `Cataractonium: Roman Catterick and its hinterland' by P R Wilson, published in 2002.

In circa AD 80 a Roman fort was constructed to guard the crossing point on the River Swale for the main north/south Roman road east of the Pennines, known as Dere Street. A civilian settlement developed immediately east of the fort on the south side of the river. This prospered and appears to have had a major leather working industry. The settlement continued to develop, even after the AD 120s when the first fort was abandoned. A large defended enclosure was constructed on the north bank of the Swale straddling Dere Street in circar AD 140. Around twenty years later, with the abandonment of the Antonine Wall in Scotland, the fort was re-established. The town also saw new building with its timber `mansio' rebuilt in stone. The mansio was excavated in advance of the construction of the A1 Catterick bypass in 1959 and was a high status building complex designed to provide accommodation for Roman officials travelling on business. Roadside development along Dere Street, outside the defences both to the north and south of the main settlement centre also flourished with earlier timber buildings being replaced in stone. The fort was again abandoned by AD 200 and in the following century the mansio was demolished, possibly replaced by another elsewhere in the town. However the settlement still appears to have flourished, becoming increasingly urban in character, with further new timber buildings to the south of the old mansio and new stone buildings by AD 250. By this time there is also evidence of a wide range of industry and craft activity including pewter working and ceramic production. By the early fourth century, the town had been provided with a defensive stone wall with a wide outer ditch, probably at the same time as the fort was reconstructed once more. However the settlement extended beyond these defences, extending as ribbon developments along the road to the north at least. Later in the century there is evidence that some smaller properties within the town wall were amalgamated into larger, higher status units. Settlement at Cataractonium is believed to have continued after the ending of Roman rule as at least three sixth century buildings have been positively identified in the area, along with a number of Anglian style burials. The general area of the monument is also believed to be the site of the Battle of Catraeth in circa AD 600 that is documented in the poem `Y Gododdin'. In the seventh century Bede notes it as one of the royal settlements of Northumbria. However it is possible that by this time the settlement may have shifted 2km to the south east where the modern village of Catterick is now centred.

The late first century Roman fort and later rebuildings were sited on the high ground on the south bank of the River Swale, on the western side of the A1. All three forts occupied the same general area, but varied slightly in orientation and dimensions, although all appear to have been approximately 2ha in area, with the earliest possibly up to 2.6ha. The buildings and yards of Thornbrough farm overlie the north eastern quadrants of the forts. Although probably mainly occupied by auxiliary troops, artefacts show that Catterick also accommodated both legionaries and cavalry at various times. Earthworks to the south of Thornbrough include those of the southern defences of the last fort. A modern field boundary may also preserve the line of a Roman wall, stones of which can be seen on the surface, these also being included in the monument. Between the forts and Catterick Road to the south, geophysical survey has indicated the buried remains of a field system together with a scatter of possible buildings and small industrial areas which are also all included in the monument. The main civilian settlement lay to the east of the forts, laid out either side of Dere Street. Aerial photographs and geophysical survey suggest that the settlement had a planned layout with a grid pattern of roads and building plots. In 1958-59 a strip about 60m wide through the western half of this area was subjected to rescue excavation in advance of the building of the A1 Catterick Bypass. This uncovered substantial well-preserved remains of buildings and associated features. In places some stone buildings survived to over 2m in height. This high level of survival will remain on either side of the A1, for example Roman remains can be identified within the upper 4m of the sides of the road cutting. The sides of this road cutting are thus also included in the monument. The defensive stone wall that surrounded the civilian settlement on the south bank of the Swale by the early fourth century enclosed an area nearly 250m by 230m. Part of this wall, on the eastern side of the town and marked on the 1:10,000 map, was restored by Sir William Lawson in the 19th century and, along with the exposed Roman stonework, is included in the scheduling. Another exposed section of walling can be seen running roughly parallel and 30m south of the river between the A1 and the dismantled railway line. The Roman settlement was not confined to within this walled area and extended beyond, mainly as a ribbon development along Dere Street. Excavation evidence suggests that this more extensive area of settlement was first established in the second century but possibly abandoned in the third century. Part of this area at least was then used as a cemetery in the fourth century. Excavation evidence also indicates that a scatter of small industrial areas and native British style farmsteads lay outside the main area of settlement.

Civilian settlement appears to have been established on the north side of the River Swale from around AD 85, mainly flanking Dere Street. By circa AD 140, a roughly rectangular defended enclosure up to 220m east-west by nearly 100m north-south had been constructed flanking the Roman Road. The nature of these defences suggest that this area was then under military control, possibly protecting a set of wharves forming a transhipment point between Dere Street and the River Swale. The full extent of this defended enclosure is included within the monument. Possibly as early as the mid-second century, but certainly by the fourth century, the civilian settlement extended beyond these defences, mainly as a ribbon development along the road, but with other activity such as industrial and cemetery areas beyond. By the fourth century the defences appear to have been abandoned and were at least partly built over. Much of the area of settlement beyond the defensive enclosure is now overlain by the modern settlement and industrial development of Brompton-on-Swale and is not included in this scheduling. However an undeveloped area to the north west, with an adjacent section buried beneath the A1's embankment, is included in the monument.

Towards the southern end of the monument there are the remains of a substantial earthwork formed by a grassed over ring-bank that mainly consists of cobbles. The eastern and south western sections of this earthwork have been removed by modern quarrying, but it was originally doughnut-shaped with an external diameter of 135m-145m and an internal one of 90m-100m, possibly with entrances through the bank to the north and south. Initially interpreted as a Roman amphitheatre, this is now considered to be a Neolithic or early Bronze Age henge monument. Its western side incorporated a chambered burial cairn that was excavated in 1995. Excavations to the east and south east in advance of quarrying also uncovered later settlement remains dated to the Iron Age as well as part of an Anglian cemetery. These are thought to extend into the unquarried areas where they are included in the monument.

In addition to the 44 Anglian burials excavated adjacent to the henge, a number of other scattered Anglian style burials and other material of around sixth century date has also been uncovered by excavation within the area of the monument. This included a Grubenhaus, a typical Anglian style domestic timber building with a sunken floor, that was identified on the north side of the river. Other similar structures and other Anglian material are expected to survive within the area of the monument and are included in the scheduling.

A number of features are excluded from the scheduling: these are all buildings, walls and other structures of post-medieval or later date, including Thornbrough which is Listed Grade II, all fences, styles, gates, water troughs, telegraph poles, sign posts and all road, path and drainage gully surfaces. The ground beneath all these features is however included. In addition, to the north of the river, all except the lowest metre of the embankment supporting the A1 is also excluded, but the bottom metre and the ground beneath is included. Fence lines defining the boundaries of the monument lie immediately outside the protected area.

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
Wilson, P R , 'Medieval Archaeology' in Early Anglian Catterick and Catraeth, , Vol. 60, (1996)
Wilson, P R, 'Excavations & Research 1958-97' in Cataractonium: Roman Catterick And Its Hinterland, , Vol. 128, (2002)
Moloney et al, Excavation of a multi-period landscape at Catterick Racecourse, Forthcoming


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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