Roman Fort on Lease Rigg

Overview

Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
1428339
Date first listed:
12-Aug-2015
Location Description:
Centred on Bessie Garth, Grosmont Lane, Egton Bridge, North Yorkshire, YO22 5AU

Map

Ordnance survey map of Roman Fort on Lease Rigg
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Location

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

Location Description:
Centred on Bessie Garth, Grosmont Lane, Egton Bridge, North Yorkshire, YO22 5AU
County:
North Yorkshire
District:
Scarborough (District Authority)
Parish:
Egton
National Park:
NORTH YORK MOORS
National Grid Reference:
NZ8145804184

Summary

Timber-built Roman fort and annex established in AD70-100 and reoccupied briefly around AD120-140, surviving as low earthworks and buried deposits. Investigated by archaeological excavation in 1976-80 by Brian Hartley and R Leon Fitts.

Reasons for Designation

Lease Rigg Roman fort is scheduled for the following principal reasons: * Period & survival: as a good example of a late first century timber-built Roman fort, retaining evidence of its internal layout and buildings; * Group value: with the contemporary forts of Cawthorn Camp, providing a greater insight into Roman military strategy than by just considering one fort in isolation; * Documentation: for the additions to our understanding of the fort provided by the reports of previous excavations.

History

Roman forts served as permanent bases for the auxiliary troops of the Roman Army. 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 outline, they were normally straight sided rectangular enclosures with rounded corners, defined by a single rampart of turf or earth, with one or more outer ditches. Although varying in size according to the number and type of troops that they were built to accommodate, internally forts were typically laid out with a headquarters building (principia) to the centre, flanked by a house for the commander (praetorium) on one side and one or more granaries (horrea) on the other, with most of the rest of the fort's interior being taken up with ordered rows of barrack blocks with a scattering of ancillary buildings. In earlier forts these buildings, along with the gateways, towers and breastworks built to strengthen the ramparts, were constructed of timber, gradually switching to stone construction from the second century AD. Roman forts were also often provided with a bath house, although these were frequently sited 100m or more away. Many Roman forts attracted civilian settlement (vicus), typically extending along one of the approach roads to the fort. Some forts also had defended annexes. Roman forts are rare nationally and provide an important insight into Roman military strategy. Their archaeology also provides important information about the economy of Roman Britain.

Lease Rigg Roman Fort was identified as early as 1817 when its earthworks were described by the antiquarian Revd. George Young. The ramparts were investigated via very small scale sample excavation by Raymond Hayes in 1945 and then again in 1958 by J G Rutter. The Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England carried out a survey of the fort in 1976 which prompted a programme of archaeological excavations by Brian Hartley and R Leon Fitts in 1976-80. These excavations took the form of several slit trenches and two larger trenches sampling sections of the defences as well as parts of the interior. The results of these excavations, along with a reconsideration of earlier information, were published in 2009 (R Leon Fitts).

Excavation evidence indicates that Lease Rigg Roman Fort was first established and occupied in the Flavian period (circa AD70-100, possibly circa AD80 under Agricola's governorship) and then reoccupied briefly at some point between around AD120 and AD140. These two periods of occupation probably coincided with the occupation of the forts at Cawthorn Camp (NHLE 1007988) west of Pickering, around a day's march to the south east.

The fort's buildings were generally of timber construction, although remains of a later building in stone were also identified. Quantities of bent nails and other evidence indicate that the fort was deliberately taken to pieces when it was finally abandoned in the early-to-mid second century AD. On the west side of the fort there is a defended annex which appears to have been much less intensively used than the main part of the fort. The style of construction of its defensive ditch is similar to others dating to the Flavian period, suggesting that the annex was constructed during the first main period of the fort's occupation.

The main fort is narrower than is typical, thought to have been in response to the local topography. Although its internal area is thought to have been sufficient to have accommodated a full infantry cohort of 500 men, the layout of the interior and the apparently limited provision of grain storage suggest that it was designed as a headquarters, but with a large detachment of troops stationed elsewhere. Fitts also suggests that the fort may have been used at least partially for cavalry.

Excavation evidence suggests that the Romans disturbed a Bronze Age burial when the fort was constructed, but did not identify any evidence of settlement either before or after the lifetime of the fort.

Details

PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS: Roman fort with defended annex surviving as low earthworks and buried archaeological deposits.

DESCRIPTION: The fort covers an area of about a hectare, measuring just over 170m north-south by just over 70m east-west, with an annex on the western side being slightly shorter north-south and about 40m east-west. The site is crossed by the modern Grosmont Lane, and a small area on the north side of the lane is built over with a house and hardstanding (Bessie Garth). The fort is sited in a commanding position on a spur overlooking the steep valleys to the east (Murk Esk) and north (Esk Dale) which meet at Grosmont 1.7km to the north east.

The lines of the defences of the fort and the annex are most clearly identifiable on aerial photographs, but can also be identified on the ground as low earthworks, the most obvious being steep slopes just west of the buildings of Bessie Garth and marking the eastern side of the fort on the south side of Grosmont Lane. Elsewhere, parts of the largely infilled outer defensive ditch can be seen as slight linear depressions. On the south side of the lane the western rampart of the fort can be seen as a very low, wide bank.

Excavation of various sections across the line of the outlying defensive ditch of the fort found it to be V-cut, averaging 2.6m wide and 1.5m deep, with evidence suggesting that it had been recut, possibly just once. A well preserved section of the rampart, that can still be seen as a slight upstanding earthwork on the west side of the fort just south of Grosmont Lane, was found to be 4.6m wide at its base, constructed of turfs laid on a foundation of boulders, all separated from the ditch by a 1m wide berm. Other sections excavated across the line of the ramparts provided evidence of a turf construction laid on a foundation of generally smaller stones, the outer berm generally being wider, averaging 2.4m. Other features identified included large inclined postholes interpreted as part of the revetment to the rear of the rampart, remains of ovens built into the bank and an area of ironworking slag. Excavation demonstrated that the fort lacked a northern gate but found clear evidence indicating that the east gate is on the line of Grosmont Lane and the position of the west gate is in the area of the northern part of the house, Bessie Garth. The existence of a southern gate has not been tested archaeologically, but is thought to be unlikely given the lack of a north gate and that both north and south ends of the fort overlook steep valleys. The defences of the annex appear to have been of a similar construction to those of the main fort, but of a slighter build, again with evidence that the ditch had been recut once. The position of gateways through the defences of the annex has not been tested by excavation. Excavations within the interior of the fort identified evidence of a number of timber buildings in the form of beam slots and robber trenches - the latter indicating the deliberate dismantling of buildings. None of the excavation trenches were large enough to reveal the full footprint of any of the buildings, but the sections that were revealed allowed the identification of the headquarters building (which mainly lies underneath Grosmont Lane) a granary on its east side and a possible cookhouse beyond, built into the rampart south of the east gate. South of the headquarters building, evidence was found of another multi-roomed building: although heavily truncated by ploughing, enough survived to allow its interpretation as a courtyarded house, probably representing the residence of the fort's commander. The area to the west of the headquarters building, a more typical location of the commander's house, but suggested by Fitts as the possible site of a further granary, was not tested by excavation as this lies beneath the modern road, front garden and house of Bessie Garth. In line with, and to the south of the granary, beam slots interpreted as representing the foundations for two c.30m long barrack blocks were identified, along with the surfacing of one of the fort's internal roads. A trench excavated in the south western portion of the fort failed to identify the expected evidence of further barracks, although remains of pits and gullies were identified.

To the north of the Grosmont Lane, excavation identified remains interpreted to represent two further barrack blocks, one, adjacent to the western rampart, projected to extend into the area now occupied by Bessie Garth. In the north eastern part of the fort, evidence of a stone building was excavated overlying earlier occupation levels. Various pits, including one appearing to be a flue and stoke hole for a furnace, along with finds of charcoal and a rough casting of a bracelet, suggest metalworking took place in this area. A modern pond within the eastern end of the garden of Bessie Garth has been cut through the area identified as being the location of a stone building.

The interior of the annex has had much less investigation by excavation, with just one slit trench and one larger trench opened. Neither trench found evidence of buildings or other features, although the 1976 survey identified indications of an oven built into the western rampart.

AREA OF MONUMENT: this covers the full extent of the fort with its annex and outlying ditches together with an additional margin for the support and protection of the monument which extends a maximum of 15m.

EXCLUSIONS: the house, hard standing, buried septic tank and other structures of Bessie Garth; the modern road surface; boundaries including drystone walls and fences; telegraph poles; livestock feed and water troughs together with their water supply pipes and fittings and other modern features are all excluded from the Scheduling, however the ground beneath remains included.

Sources

Books and journals
Frere, S.S., Fitts, R.L., Excavations At Bowes and Lease Rigg Roman Fort, Yorkshire Archaeological Report no.6, (2009), 205-279

Legal

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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