The fort and Roman walled town of Durobrivae and its south, west and east suburbs, immediately south and east of Water Newton Village
- 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.
- Huntingdonshire (District Authority)
- Huntingdonshire (District Authority)
- Huntingdonshire (District Authority)
- Water Newton
- National Grid Reference:
- TL 11675 96560, TL 11873 97057
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.
Durobrivae is untypical of Roman small towns both in its size, and in possessing possible public buildings: it is also rare for a town of this size to survive untouched by later development or by intrusive excavation. The good survival of the walled town, its cemeteries and industrial and domestic suburbs and its outlying villas offers the possibility of a better understanding of its development as a civic and industrial centre. It will also offer insight into the relationship of villa and town in Roman Britain, and into the relationship of the town with other settlements in the wider Roman landscape, the suggested administrative complex under Castor village and the possible Fenland Imperial estate. Its low lying situation suggests that features may contain waterlogged deposits with well preserved organic material. The town's proximity to the fort is significant in understanding the role the fort played in the process of conquest and pacification in the early years of Roman rule; but the town may also contain evidence of the transition from Roman to Anglo-Saxon occupation and culture. Aerial photographs also show a developing landscape from the Neolithic to the Roman period, of which the large henge-like features are a significant and little understood part. Although the barrows and any upstanding features of the larger monuments have been reduced by ploughing, the ditches still survive as buried features. They will contain valuable evidence relating to the date of construction and the function of the monuments, as well as evidence for social organisation, and in the cases of the barrows, funerary remains contained within burial pits may provide evidence of the the nature of the funeral rituals employed.
The monument includes the buried and surviving earthwork remains of the fort
and walled Roman town of Durobrivae, its west, south and east suburbs and
extramural cemeteries, as well as the buried remains of earlier prehistoric
structures. The area covered lies on the first terrace gravels, to the south
of and just above the floodplain of the River Nene, and occupies a stretch of
land about 2kms long and 1km wide both north and south of the A1 to the east
of Water Newton village.
The first systematic investigation of the town and surrounding area were
carried out by Edmund Tyrell Artis, house steward to Lord Fitzwilliam in the
early 19th century. Artis conducted a series of excavations between 1820 and
1827, identifying buildings within the town, its suburbs and wider area, as
well as extramural cemeteries and pottery kilns. These were carefully
recorded, and in 1828 he published a plan of the town and its suburbs, as
well as drawings of individual buildings. Since then there has been little
excavation either within the walled area or beyond. Between 1956 and 1958 E.
Greenfield on behalf of the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments carried out
excavations on four different areas in advance of road work to widen the A1:
three of these were on the south side of the road, while two trenches were
cut through the south town wall. In 1957 the Water Newton Research Committee
was set up to undertake further investigation in advance of work to by-pass
Water Newton and Sibson, and carried out several excavations in 1958. Our
best understanding of the site, however, is based on the extensive coverage
of aerial photographs, beginning with those taken in the first half of the
20th century. These have been used to produce a detailed map of parts of the
walled town and its suburbs.
The fort, which has never been excavated, was discovered and first
photographed by O.G.S. Crawford in 1930. It occupies a slightly raised
position to the south of and overlooking the River Nene, and is placed to sit
neatly within a spur of the 10m contour. Rectangular in plan, it has rounded
corners and entrances at the centre of the three sides that can be seen. Its
double or triple ditched defences enclose an area about 170m by 130m.
Lying 216m east of the fort is the north-west gate of the walled town, where
Ermine Street passes through on its straight north-easterly route to the
River Nene crossing. The town was unplanned, and seems to have grown
organically as an irregular arrangement of side streets on either side of
Ermine Street. The town wall came later enclosing an area of about 20ha in
the form of an irregular polygon; Greenfield's trenches across a section to
the south revealed dry stone footings backed by a clay ramp, and indicate a
date in the late 2nd century AD. The wall survives as a low earthwork. To the
south-east and north-west it can be seen sloping away gently from the town,
falling by about 1.5m, but along its north-west side, where the top defines a
field boundary, it falls away more steeply. Ermine Street is also visible
within the walls as a bank about 1.5m high, crossing the town on its long
axis from south-east to north-west. The only other visible feature within the
walls is a low mound in the south-west quadrant, also recorded by Artis, and
measuring now about 40m in diameter: aerial photographs show this to be
surrounded by a ditch forming an irregular polygon enclosed by a circle. This
mound was later used for burials, probably in the immediate post-Roman
Aerial photographs reveal not only the pattern of streets but also individual
buildings in considerable detail. Houses or shops of varying size and plan
line Ermine Street and the side streets, but in the northern half of the
walled town there are two substantially larger, possibly public, buildings
very close to each other. Of similar size, both appear to be built around
courtyards. The first is set in a right angle between Ermine Street and a
side street, its long axis facing onto Ermine Street. The second is almost
immediately to the south, aligned on a side street. Behind the first building
to the west is a walled precinct containing three small structures, two
square and one round, which may be interpreted as small Romano-Celtic shrines
Extensive suburbs surround the walled town. From the south-west gate the road
runs south-west to Irchester, with suburban occupation concentrated on either
side for a distance of about 400m. In the south-eastern suburbs the route of
Ermine Street is lined with small buildings and enclosures. Greenfield's
excavations revealed eleven buildings in this area dating to between the 2nd
and 4th centuries AD, separated by metalled yards and lanes.
To the south of these excavations is a road by-passing the walled town from
east to west, crossing the Irchester road and Billing Brook before heading
towards a villa (discovered by Artis) and a complex of enclosure ditches;
these are about 800m from the Irchester road/southern by-pass crossroads.
About 500m to the north of this and on the north-west edge of the scheduling
is another Artis villa.
The suburban area immediately to the west of Billing Brook and the walled
town is dominated by the pottery industry. Artis identified a number of kilns
here, some within the area of the abandoned fort, while the 1958 excavations
discovered five kilns south of the A1 around Billing Brook datable to the
late 2nd to early 4th centuries AD. Other features of unknown date at the
western end of the scheduled area include two substantial enclosures, both of
which can be seen in part as earthworks and also on aerial photographs. One
lies to the west of the fort, the other can be seen as an earthwork in the
paddock to the south of the Manor House in Water Newton, and on aerial
photographs to the south of the A1.
From a gate in the north-west corner of the town wall Ermine Street strikes
out for the crossing of the River Nene, and again the road is lined with
small buildings. To the north of the river settlement expands into an
extensive and apparently predominantly industrial suburb. This area is known
as Normangate Field, and is the subject of a separate scheduling, PE127.
The area immediately beyond the town walls contains a number of extramural
cemeteries. To the south, lead and stone coffins and inhumations were first
discovered by workmen during the construction of the Great North Road in
1739, and in 1998 maintenance work along the A1 revealed a total of at least
57 individual burials dating to the late 3rd and 4th centuries. Artis
discovered a mixed cremation and inhumation cemetery outside the north-west
wall, and another of inhumations only at the south end of the east wall.
Slightly further away, attached to the south side of the southern by-pass
road, and to the west of the Irchester Road, is a cemetery within a ditched
To the south of the A1 is a scatter of circular ditched features measuring
between 15m and 25m in diameter, probably Bronze Age barrows. There are also
three large Neolithic henge-like circular structures. Two of these are linked
to form a figure of eight, and lie about 80m from the town wall; the third
lies about 400m to the south of the town, close to the southern line of the
scheduling. All three measure over 100m in diameter.
Seen from the air, the most striking feature of Durobrivae is the remarkably
straight stretch of Ermine Street which bisects the town before crossing the
river and heading north-west. A short distance from the river crossing King
Street branches directly north, while just beyond the crossing minor side
roads connect the town south of the river to its northern suburb in
Normangate Field, and from there to other roads leading to the substantial
building complex in Castor village (scheduled separately as PE93), and to the
Fen Causeway to the east. Other scheduled monuments associated with the town
are three villas, two at Ailsworth to the north-west, PE125 and PE126 and one
on Mill Hill, to the east, PE128.
Durobrivae seems to have initially been established as a fort to defend the
River Nene crossing, attracting a civilian service sector which continued to
grow after the fort had fallen into disuse. Pottery was already in production
in the Billing Brook area in the late 2nd century AD, when the industry was
beginning to expand and flourish, coinciding with the probable date of
enclosure of the core of the town within a ditch, stone wall and bank. The
pottery industry was best known for its production of colour coated wares,
but also produced grey wares and mortaria. The distribution of its products
was widespread, finding a particularly strong market in the Fens. This may
indicate a close relationship with a suggested Fenland Imperial estate, in
which Durobrivae could have played a role as a processing and distribution
Although Durobrivae is classed as a small town, the walled town alone is the
largest settlement in England in this category, while the inclusion of its
suburbs greatly increases its size and complexity: however, it may have been
elevated in the late 3rd century to the status of civitas capital, the
administrative centre of a tribal area. Although the lack of evidence from
excavations both inside the walled town and in the suburbs means that little
is known about the history of its development, it appears that it continued
to thrive into the 4th century. The pottery industry was by that time
beginning to disperse to locations beyond the suburbs of Durobrivae, where
production continued into the 5th century. A hoard of gold coins dated to
330-350 AD discovered within the walled town indicates continuing affluence,
while the Water Newton treasure, a hoard of silver vessels and plaques dating
to the late 3rd or 4th century, suggests a strong and wealthy Christian
community within the town. This was discovered in 1974 near the field
boundary in the south east quadrant of the town, and is the earliest group of
Christian liturgical silver yet found in the Roman Empire.
The scheduling aims to protect the buried and visible remains of the walled
town of Durobrivae, the fort to the west, and all suburbs, cemeteries and
industrial development within the scheduling line south of the River Nene,
including two villa complexes to the west, and all features that form part of
the prehistoric landscape.
All modern road surfaces, fences, gates and upstanding structures are
excluded from the scheduling, but the land beneath them 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.
- Legacy System number:
- Legacy System:
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