Corbridge Roman Fort & Town

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View from the Courtyard building north of the Stanegate towards the Principia

Then Romulus, proudly clad in the tawny pelt of the she-wolf who nursed him, will ensure the future of the race, will found the martial walls and from his own name call them Romans. I have no fixed boundaries to their dominions, no fixed term to their rule, I have given them empire without end.” (Virgil, Aeneid 1.275-83)

Britain was occupied and governed by Rome for almost 400 years and Caesar’s conquest of Gaul brought Roman civilisation to the doorstep of the country. The world of warrior kings and peasants, barbaric splendour and primitive squalor that confronted the legions of Rome was in contrast to the very structured and hierarchical system of Roman society. Cicero, in his Letter to his Brother Quintus 1.1.27, describes a “race of people among whom civilization did not just arise” and as Virgil notes, the Romans considered themselves as “masters of the world, the people of the toga” (Aeneid, 1.275-83). Dependent upon its ancient customs and heroes (Ennius, Annales), the Roman state sought to establish protracted peace upon the barbarians (Tacitus, Agricola 1). The term empire derives from the Latin imperium – its fundamental meaning was ‘command’ and up until the end of the Republic, this remained its primary sense. The geographical extent of the Roman empire at its largest, when Hadrian inherited its territory in 117 CE, encircled the Mediterranean, known in Latin as Mare Internum or Mare Nostrum, and included lands which reached as far as northern England and the Rhine in Germany, and in the south and east touched the North African desert, the Nile and the River Euphrates in Syria (Graham, 2015). The communities of the south east of Britain developed dramatically with the use of coins becoming widespread, market centres were constructed and political organisation changed to a more unified state system. Peace and material prosperity was achieved on an unprecedented level as the Roman historian Tacitus refers to in Histories 4.74: “There were always wars until you submitted to our laws”. In such an atmosphere of exuberance, towns grew and wealthy landowners built sumptuous villas for themselves which were adorned with exceptional mosaics and paintings. The Romans were firmly established over the whole of southern and central England by about AD 47 and although the bleak Pennine heartland was a difficult territory to conquer, by AD 79, what is now England and Wales was firmly under Roman occupation (Branigan, 1980). The security of the province of Britannia depended on mighty fortifications and from the 1st century onwards, the Romans maintained a fleet in British waters to guard against pirates and raiders. The only land boundary in the north was defended against the Caledonians first by the Antonine Wall and subsequently by the formidable coast-to-coast bastion of Hadrian’s Wall. One of the greatest changes in lifestyle in many parts of the empire was the growth of cities. Regions with only villages, such as Britannia, inland Gaul and Spain, experienced the largest growth due to the emergence of enormous cities at the top of settlement hierarchy (Woolf, 2012). The Roman remains beside the River Tyne at Corbridge were identified in the 16th century as those of a town named Corstopitum in a list of Roman routes (Hodgson, 2015).

What man can be so frivolous and lazy that he does not wonder how it has come about, and under what kind of political regime, that almost the entire civilized world has in less than fifty-three years been brought under the sole rule of Rome? These events are unprecedented.” (Polybius, Histories 1.1.5)

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Civilian building/shop east end of the Stanegate

Give ear then, as they say, to a very fine story” (Plato, Gorgias 523a).

The centuries prior to the Roman invasion lowland Northumberland was largely cleared, settled and cultivated by farmers. A generation after Claudius invaded southern Britain in AD 43, the Roman army first penetrated Northumberland in the AD 70’s. Anti-Roman forces took over from the regime of Queen Cartimandua, ruler of the northern Brigantes, in AD 69, after which the Romans resumed their advance northwards under the Emperor Vespasian. The first military activity at Corbridge stemmed from the governor Julius Agricola who set out to invade Scotland and complete the conquest of the island. Corbridge was a key position on the invasion route east of the Pennines. Tacitus tells us that his father in law Agricola “served his military apprenticeship in Britannia” and “got to know his province… never shirked and was always energetic; careless, never” (Agricola 1). The Roman name of Corbridge means ‘hosting place’ in Celtic which suggests a meeting place or centre for the people of south-east Northumberland and the Tyne Valley. Its true name Coria is recorded in writing tablets found at Vindolanda Fort just 12 miles to the west. Starting life as a fort in about AD 86, the site was garrisoned for almost 40 years before the building of Hadrian’s Wall, which began on higher ground to the north, and controlled the Tyne crossing of the main invasion route into Scotland. The last of a series of timber forts was replaced with a legionary supply base in about AD 160 and the town which grew around it remained a vibrant urban centre until its abandonment in the early 5th century. Ploughing had largely levelled the ruins of Corbridge during the 18th century yet the 1906 excavations started to reveal the extent of the town. A pre-Roman building existed at Corbridge as archaeologists discovered a circular gulley in 1952 beneath the remains of the forts. It is believed that this was likely to be the drainage gulley around a timber roundhouse and a smaller structure was found within. Roman baths were found in 1955 at Red House farm which is half a mile west of the present site and was the first Roman occupation. The fort at Corbridge is situated on a gently rounded elevation above the River Tyne 25 miles inland from the North Sea. The Cor Burn valley provides protection to the west of the site with Hadrian’s Wall 2.5 miles to the north. Corbridge commanded the junction of two main Roman roads, the north-south road between Scotland and York (named Dere Street by the Saxons), and the west-east road from Carlisle named Stanegate. What remains at Corbridge represents only the nucleus of the later Roman town with the entire site covering roughly 40-50 acres of the surrounding fields (Hodgson, 2015). 

What you see before you, stranger, now mighty Rome, were grassy hills before the days of Trojan Aeneas… These golden temples grew for terracotta gods, content to live in simple houses built without art.” (Propertius, Elegies 4.1. 1-6)

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Column bases of the granary portico

Rolleth the stone as he sweateth in toil yet never advanceth?” (Cicero, Tusculan Disputations).

Augustus established the military system which lasted until the third century and the army was composed of two parts. The senior part was a citizen army commanded by a senator of middling status and gradually these legions became a permanent feature of the frontier areas. Soldiers were not limited to just warfare – they were also involved in public building by surveying land and they provided security at customs posts at provincial boundaries. As well as undertaking building work, a soldier was also a skilled carpenter. In 1st century Britain, this involved cutting turf for the ramparts, every soldier was trained to build such ramparts, and timber for the parapet, gates and buildings. Once Roman rule was established, building and maintenance is likely to have been the principle occupation of the army (Branigan, 1980). As “peace between nations was impossible without soldiers” (Tacitus, Histories 4.74), there was never a military formation that could equal the power and efficiency of a Roman legion. Most of the legions based in Britain during the first 15 years of the occupation were split into detachments that, amalgamated with units of auxiliaries and cavalry, garrisoned forts up and down the country. Irrespective of size, all were originally built of timber and turf and within the defences were a headquarters building, a granary, stables and barrack accommodation. The garrison role of the army was established following the end of the conquest wars and the timber and turf forts were gradually replaced by stone. Although almost all fortifications were built in stone from the 2nd century onwards, building was still the work of the legions who added stonemasonry to their long list of skills. Particular achievements of units were very often commemorated with inscriptions and would include the names of commanding officers and the reigning emperor. Such inscriptions detail the restoration and repair of almost every type of military building. There were few places in the empire where it will have been odd to meet a soldier (Boardman, Griffin & Murray, 1986). The vast majority of military units were based on the frontiers with the larger camps of northern Britain, the Rhineland, the Danube provinces and Africa eventually resembling cities, equipped with monumental walls and gates, stone-built amphitheatres, bathhouses and shrines (Woolf, 2012).

In the beginning the City of Rome was ruled by kings. Lucius Brutus established freedom and the consulship. Dictatorships were taken up from time to time… Augustus took control of the whole state, worn out as it was by civil war, with the First Citizen.” (Tacitus, Annales 1.1)

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North west corner of the west Granary

Anaximander of Miletus imagined there arose from heated water and earth either fish or fish-like creatures… then at last the creatures broke open, and men and women emerged who were already capable of feeding themselves.” (Censorinus, On Birthdays 4.7.1-5)

Ensuring that there was sufficient food in store to see the troops through the winter was a constant preoccupation of every garrison commander. Large stone granaries were features of every permanent fort – walls were buttressed and the floors raised to keep the contents dry. Papyrus found at the Syrian outpost of Dura Europos reveals that soldiers were collecting and obtaining their staple foods and were not growing it or harvesting it for themselves (Andrews, 2015). The cliche that an army marches on its stomach is a familiar one however, even when not marching, a military unit required a lot of food. The most basic element of the Roman diet was grain and was made into bread or porridge. Also needing to provide grain for cavalry horses and other animals, the policy was to obtain it from within the province where the army was based and also to get supplies as locally as possible (Andrews, 2015). Tacitus indicates that local farmers were expected to provide grain for the army (Agricola 19) and in Britain at least, it appears that this was a form of taxation and the local people were also required to deliver grain to its destination. Both the papyrus from Dura Europos and the Agricola suggest that grain for the troops had to be transported by road so not only were roads an essential component of communication, they were also vital for the efficient supply of grain and other goods to the troops. In remote communities such as northern Britain, roads would be built, largely by the army, connecting regions and locations to make it easier for merchants and traders to reach them. Not only did the troops require essential items, other provisions that made garrison life more comfortable would also be needed. All Roman soldiers needed olive oil, which was considered essential, as a food item but also used in the baths in place of soap and for lighting. The British Queen Boudica says of the Roman army: “they require kneaded bread and wine and oil, and if any of these things fail them, they perish; for us, on the other hand, any grass or root serves as bread, the juice of any plant as oil, any water as wine…” (Dio Cassius 62.5). In Britain and parts of Gaul providing such ‘basics’ would involve long distance transport in comparison to other parts of the empire where supplies of olive oil and wine were locally plentiful.

A small crop is enough, it is enough if it possible to rest in a bed and lighten the limbs on a familiar couch. How pleasant it is lying there to listen to wild winds” (Tibullus, Elegies I. I.43-46).

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West granary view towards the Courtyard building

Let’s eat, if you don’t mind. This is the sauce of all order.” (Petronius, The Satyricon and the Fragments)

The granaries at Corbridge are the best preserved of the standard military type anywhere in the Empire and what remains today are likely to be those built under Septimus Severus (AD 193-211). The floors were raised on dwarf walls above a ventilated basement to keep the contents cool and dry with buttresses supporting the thick outer walls. In front of the doors facing onto the Stanegate were loading platforms covered by porticoes – the fine and impressive column bases can be seen at the edge of the road. When the Stanegate was rebuilt at a higher level in the late 3rd or early 4th century, all except the outermost eastern bases were raised and by the late 4th century, the road had risen far above the granary entrances. The west granary is likely to belong to the legionary supply depot of the 160’s when a walled compound surrounded the granaries. Part of this is still visible but all earlier work in the east granary was obliterated by the Severan rebuild of AD 198-209. In about AD 674 there was still upstanding Roman buildings at Corbridge when Saxon masons took stone to build the new church, ordered by Wilfrid Bishop of York, at Hexham three miles away. The crypt of this church was rediscovered in 1725 and many reused Roman stones can be found in the walls. Along with ornate architectural fragments, blocks with tooled decoration from the bridges at Corbridge and Chesters still survive in the crypt along with inscriptions and a slab marking the building of the granaries under Septimus Severus. A significant number of coins found on the site show that the granaries were still in use in the late 4th century, which was then operated by the civil authorities who collected tax in the form of grain (Hodgson, 2015).

Meanwhile Rome was growing. More and more ground was coming within the circuit of its walls.” (Livy, The Early History of Rome)

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West granary

The ancients made the inhabited world round” (Agathemerus, Geography 1.1-2).

The Stanegate forms one of the most recognizable landmarks among the remains at Corbridge. Separating the vast courtyard building, known as Site XI, a fountain and the granaries on its north side from the remains of two legionary compounds to the south. The Stanegate follows what was one of the main roads through the fort, the via principalis, which connected the east and west gates (Hodgson, 2015). Prior to the Roman conquest there were no roads in the modern sense in Britain at all. Forming only artificial ways in the country, log causeways were built in Somerset to connect one settlement with another across a few miles of boglands from about 3000 BC. Apart from one or two timbered causeways in marshy areas, there were no paved or surfaced roads and rivers were the main trade arteries. Some of these routes were gravelled in places and used as secondary roads by the Romans but for the most part, they provided the base of an efficient and comprehensive transport system (Branigan, 1980). A 25ft long scroll known as the Peutinger Table details all the main roads and routes from Hadrian’s Wall to Ceylon with more than 500 towns and relay stations shown and symbols to indicate types of accommodation offered. Originally published in the mid 4th century AD, the Table was designed for the imperial courier service and for high officials. A surviving 12th century copy has the section covering most of the province of Britain missing however, it appears in another document – the Antonine Itinerary which was compiled in the reign of Emperor Caracalla (AD 211-217). More than 6000 miles of major Roman roads in Britain, as well as many more miles of minor roads and local trackways, have been traced from studying the Antonine Itinerary and other ancient documents. Originally built to carry military traffic, the main roads were the supply routes for the garrison forts with other roads that were built to link as yet unconnected towns with one another and intended for civilian traffic. 

Not one of all the people who have drawn maps of the world has set it out sensibly.” (Herodotus, Histories 4.36.2)

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East Granary

Nero’s architects and engineers did not balk at effects which Nature herself had ruled out as impossible.” (Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome)

The great courtyard building (below), known as Site XI since its discovery in 1908, is situated north of the Stanegate and is a square surrounded by ranges. The central area of the fort was later covered by the large courtyard building which belongs to the town and legionary supply depot that replaced the fort. On the west side of the courtyard part of the north range of the principia of the last fort still remains. The principia was the headquarters building of the fort and on the opposite side of the enclosure is the remains of the commander’s house, praetorium. As the courtyard building was never finished, these fort structures were never fully cleared away. The entrance to the courtyard is in the centre of the south range which was divided into rooms that opened onto the Stanegate. Although most of the masonry has been taken for building material over the centuries, the preserved remains are impressive. Huge blocks with heavily rusticated faces are tightly jointed and surmount a fine moulded plinth. Closely paralleled in plan to store buildings at Continental legionary bases and by certain markets in Rome, it is thought likely that it was intended as the forum for a new city of a new legionary fortress. Indicative of an important imperial building project is the quality and scale of the craftsmanship which is clearly evident in the remains at Corbridge. The south range was completed and used but the court was never fully levelled and the upper blocks at the north end of the east range remain undressed. Construction is believed to have begun in the 160’s or 170’s and possibly the Marcomannic Wars on the Danube in the later 160’s was the reason for the abrupt abandonment of its construction (Hodgson, 2015).

So in expectation and enthusiasm alike I was quite alert, and I studied each feature with some care. I imagined that at any moment the statues and portraits would parade about, that the walls would speak, that oxen and other cattle would prophesy, that the very sky and the sun’s orb would suddenly proclaim an oracular message.” (Apuleius, The Golden Ass)

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North west corner of the Courtyard building looking towards the Principia and shrine

The general herd, whom philosophers call the laity, trust Homer and Hesiod and the other myth-makers in these matters” (Lucian, On Funerals 1-9).

On the opposite side of the praetorium in the courtyard enclosure is the remains of the square shrine (aedes). Here is where the standards and the pay chest were kept where it could be protected by the gods. There are vertical slots in its inner wall faces which show where originally a timber structure stood before being encased in stone. Along with a pantheon of Greek and Roman gods, the Persian cult of Mithras was imported to areas of Britain where horned warrior gods and stone heads were still worshipped by the Celts (Branigan, 1980). The Roman civic and military authorities were generally tolerant of the religious practices of the peoples they conquered and where possible, assimilated the gods of conquered territories into their own religious system. While the Romans worshipped numerous gods, the Celtic world consisted of countless divinities and most appear to have been very localised. Inscriptions indicate that some deities were worshipped over a wide area whereas others, such as in the vicinity of Hadrian’s Wall, were known only within a small neighbourhood. The inclusion of these gods in Roman inscriptions indicates that the imperial government made no attempt to suppress these native cults. Many Romano-Celtic temples were built over the remains of Iron Age sanctuaries and most of the British temples of Roman times consisted of circular, square or polygonal shrines surrounded by either a veranda or a covered cloister. The floor was sometimes laid with mosaic with the walls of the shrine generally painted and entrances flanked by imposing columns. As the army was recruited from all parts of the Empire, they brought many new gods to Britain but officially, the legions owed their chief devotion to Jupiter. Each New Year’s Day new altars were dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus with the old altars ritually buried. Essentially a public religion with communal rituals (sacra publica), the interests of the gods always lay in promoting the success of the Roman state and was above all in the business of state, political and military action (Beard & Crawford, 2012).

The most important respect in which Roman civil society surpasses that of other states seems to me to be how it treats the gods. Among the Romans it is a source of cohesion: I mean their respect of the gods… nothing is treated as more important than this” (Polybius, Histories 6.56.6-8).

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Sculpted vexillum (left) and fluted pilaster (West Compound Principia)

Chaos was first of all, but next appeared Broad-bosomed Earth, sure standing place for all” (Hesiod, Theogony 116-118).

The way we try to understand how societies work remains firmly based in a tradition of political science that can be traced directly back to classical Greece. From the earliest records we know that Rome attributed its growth and success through the virtue of her men and the favour of her gods – as is evident from Roman texts and monuments. Roman prosperity derived from the proper management of relations with their gods and although there were no detailed codes of ethics, the Romans believed their support might be lost by neglecting their cult or through acts of impiety. Most peoples of the ancient world believed in a plurality of gods and paid cult to a number of them. Rituals were designed to establish their wishes and to win divine favour with animal sacrifice almost always involved. There were rituals to mark the departures of generals and their returns, rituals preparing for battle and temples dedicated to a deity following battlefield successes. Reputations could be established through military and political achievements or divine associations and were recorded in literature, family tombs, immortalised in stone in a relief or by the dedication of a temple. The primary function of a temple was religious – it provided a home for a god and a focus for cult practices (Andrews, Fear & Perkins, 2006). The craftsmanship of the legionaries is evident in the quantity and quality of religious sculpture and architectural stonework discovered at Corbridge. After AD 160 Corbridge was the permanent home to two detachments from different legions and an inscription dedication to concordia, or harmony, between these intensely proud detachments indicates that no rivalry existed. A sculpted panel (above left) shows the vexillum (flag) of a detachment of the 2nd Legion and was originally from the west compound principia. The vexillum has a decorated textile banner hanging from a cross-bar, topped by a damaged wreath, and with a carrying handle in the shape of a bird. Vexilla appear on numerous sculptures along Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall in Scotland. The vexillum gave its name to detachments (vexillationes) of soldiers posted away from their parent unit. The relief of a pilaster (above right) bedecked with roses is believed to be from a panel that was once in the west principia. The relief of two goddesses, Fortuna (goddess of fate and chance) and Ceres (goddess of cereal crops) is depicted below. Fortuna stands holding a cornucopia and a rudder, with a globe by her right foot symbolising how she gave plenty to the empire and guided people towards good fortune. Ceres is seated and appears to hold a long flaming torch and a loaf of bread, a reference to her as a corn-mother and as lighter of darkness. This dedication would have been made to ask for a good harvest. Ceres is the Roman name for Demeter and the cult was established on the Aventine Hill in 496 BC. When the city of Rome was under attack from the Etruscans, the city was threatened with famine. The Sibylline Books were consulted and they advised the introduction of the cults of Dionysus and Demeter. Essentially the Corn Goddess, Demeter was the divinity of agriculture (Grimal, 1991). Fortuna was often depicted with a rudder to symbolize that she steered the course of people’s lives and during the Imperial period, each emperor had his own personal Fortuna.

Next comes the earth, that one part of nature that for her many gifts to us we honour with the name of Mother. She is our realm, as the sky belongs to the gods. She welcomes us when we are born, nurtures us as we grow, and when we are adults sustains us always” (Pliny, Natural History 2.154).

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Relief of Fortuna & Ceres

Ethiopians say that their gods are flat-nosed and black, And Thracians that theirs have blue eyes and red hair.” (Clement, Miscellanies 7.22.1)

Discipline in the army life of the Romans was strict to the point of harshness. Centurions carried canes which they appear to have used freely with loss of rank or privileges frequent punishments. Dishonourable discharge meant losing both the shelter of the unit and more important, the grant of land or citizenship on retirement. Cowardice in battle often led to decimation – literally, the execution of every tenth man in the unit concerned with survivors placed on rations (Branigan, 1980). A statue base celebrating the discipline of the emperor (Discipulina) was found at Corbridge which supported a lost statue. Erected by soldiers of the Second Legion, dedications made to Discipulina represented a show of loyalty and adherence to the military virtues through the personification of abstract concepts such as deities. This reminded soldiers that the orders they were following had divine status. Below is a depiction of one of the Dioscuri, the heavenly twins Castor and Pollux. This pair of gods came to be seen as gods of salvation and as patrons of military equipment, especially in association with cavalry. The Dioscuri were the sons of Zeus and in Roman legends, they appeared as participants in the battle of Lake Regillus alongside the Romans. The twins became divine following their numerous adventures and a Temple of Castor stood near the Lacus Juturnae in the Forum Romanum (Grimal, 1991). A relief depicting the sun god Sol wearing a crown of rays riding towards a colonnaded building occupied by one of the Dioscuri has also been found at Corbridge. The scene is thought to have come from a temple dedicated to Jupiter Dolichenus (the Syrian sky god) and indicates how Roman gods could be associated together. Co-existing with the worship of Jupiter alone, the cult of Jupiter Diochenus, and other merged versions of Jupiter, was popular throughout the Roman army. Several reliefs from this temple have survived reused in later Roman work at Corbridge with rich evidence for several other cults with origins in the eastern part of the Empire. From AD 160 the legionaries built a series of classical temples of which ornate architectural fragments were found reused in a 4th century re-surfacing of the Stanegate. These temples were outside the centre of the site and are thought to date to the same period when the bridge across the Tyne was rebuilt as a magnificent stone structure of at least six arches, and when the granaries were rebuilt. The sanctuary of classical temples is believed to have stood in an enclave that included temples to other oriental cults as evidence has been found relating to Panthea-Cybele, the great mother goddess, and Asarte and the Tyrian Heracles, both worshipped according to mysterious occult rites at the Syrian port of Tyre. Other evidence includes several altars that are inscribed in Greek – the language of the Eastern Empire (Hodgson, 2015).

You will act more wisely if you stop speculating about heavenly bodies and discussing final causes and first causes, spit your scorn at those clever syllogisms, and counting all that sort of thing nonsense, make it always your sole object to put the present to good use and to hasten on your way” (Lucian, Menippus 17-21).

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Depiction of one of the Dioscuri

He put in so many routes and paths, so many corners and nooks and crannies, and made the routes so twisting that when someone thought they were right next to the exit they were furthest from it.” (Ovid, Metamorphoses Book 8 976-986)

South of the Stanegate are two military compounds with the remains of later buildings sunk into the subsiding ground on either side. Most of the area south of the Stanegate was excavated before 1914 but following re-examination in 1936-1943, it was recognized that the enclosures were legionary compounds. The compounds were built to house the legionary detachments based at Corbridge in the 3rd century. The respective principia faced each other down the long vista which was formed by the central east-west street. The cobble foundations of the east compound principia are poorly preserved but indicate a small building for a detachment rather than a full unit – there is no colonnaded courtyard but a mere narrow hall backed by an apsidal shrine flanked by offices. Located behind the principia are the remains of two apsidal buildings. These buildings are thought to be scholae, meeting halls for the unofficial religious associations of soldiers in the Roman army with the smaller building possibly housing a shrine. At the east end of the site are four plots which front onto the Stanegate. These buildings were probably commercial premises or official stores and were left intact for the essential role they played, similar to the granaries and Site XI, in military support. West of the principia are two buildings north of the axial street one of which is thought to have been a workshop. In the late 3rd and 4th centuries all the legionary buildings were replaced, or their uses changed, to suit the needs of the late Roman inhabitants. Originally two towers flanked a gate from the Stanegate to a side street leading to the compounds. On either side of the street is a water tank each being fed by a conduit running beneath the Stanegate from the fountain on its north side. Drains on both sides of the street carried overflow to the river. Two rectangular barrack buildings occupy the west compound each having projecting wings that contained stores or offices. Although only two of these buildings are clearly visible, the compound had five and internally they were divided by a central partition. Many furnaces, tempering tanks and iron slag was found in these buildings leading to the belief that these were the workshops of a legionary depot for the repair and manufacture of weaponry. Excavations indicate however, that the plan of these buildings was much altered during the late 3rd or 4th century when they were no longer used as barracks. The front walls were moved out to align with the fronts of the projecting wings with many new partitions inserted.

Anything generated must have a last part that is generated, and there is also a point at which the destruction of anything ends” (Aristotle, Physics)

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Military Compounds (east) south of the Stanegate

Thales says that the world is held up by water and rides on it like a ship, and that what we call an earthquake happens when the earth rocks because of the movement of the water. ” (Theophrastus, Commentary on Aristotle’s ‘Physics’)

Major settlements, forts and towns were supplied with water by aqueducts which brought water from sources often many miles distant. Following the natural contours with a very slight gradient, water in Britain was usually conducted over long distances in an open channel. After impurities had been deposited in settling tanks, gravity distributed water along systems of water pipes that were constructed of timber, lead or tile. Joints were made watertight with mortar and ceramic pipe sections were made with a constricted end to fit into the next piece. Underground and surface drains made of timber or stone took storm water, tanks overflows and waste water out of the settlement and very often, they were designed to flush out latrines on the way. The conduits at Corbridge led towards the slope down to the river. Between Site XI and the granaries to the west is an elaborate fountain (below). Built in the late second or early third century, it was the main public water supply for both legionaries and civilians. An aqueduct channel brought the water from a source to the fountain head via a covered stone conduit that enters the site 70m north of the fountain. The whole was encased in a clay bank which survives today as a grass covered mound. Only the lowest part of a wall facing the Stanegate survives but it would have formed a decorative screen hiding the utilitarian mound behind it. In front of this screen was a structure built to house the spout and was framed by columns and topped by a pediment. The surviving fragments commemorate the 20th Legion as builders of the fountain (Hodgson, 2015). Statue bases, which were later additions, have been found at Corbridge and as communal fountains were a social focus and a civic status symbol, they were often liable to lavish embellishment (Hornblower & Spawforth, 2004). The play of water was an integral part of Roman gardens and the idea of the locus amoenus (pleasant place) was firmly embodied in Roman society. One of the great benefits brought to Britain by the Romans was a proper system of town sewers. Side channels from private and public buildings fed into them and the discharge ran downhill until it emptied finally into the rivers. The supplies of water on a scale unprecedented before the arrival of the Romans were needed to service the public baths, fountains, lavatories and sewer systems they introduced. In most cases, the answer was to build aqueducts and Britain’s undulating countryside obviated the need for huge aqueducts like those in Italy and North Africa (Branigan, 1980).

Rainfall is the result of the vapour which is sent up from the earth under the influence of the sun.” (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 1.6.4-7)

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The Fountain House

As soon as the darkness was dispelled and a new sun ushered in the day, I rose from my couch the moment I awoke from sleep, for I was generally buoyed up, and most eager to discover the weird and wonderful features of the place.” (Apuleius, The Golden Ass)

The remains of the succession of forts buried beneath the later town were explored from the 1940’s to the 1970’s and revealed that Fort I was founded in about AD 86 and built of timber, it had posts set in trenches over a metre deep. The Vindolanda Tablets show that Corbridge was an important centre in the AD 90’s when soldier’s from Vindolanda were detached here. Following wars on the Continent at the beginning of the 2nd century, troops were withdrawn from Britain and in about AD 105 Corbridge was burnt down. All forts were abandoned north of the Tyne – Solway isthmus, on which Corbridge lay, and a new fort was built at Corbridge as part of a new frontier line – the Stanegate Frontier. Occupying a key position, the new fort (Fort II) and its buildings were enclosed within a turf rampart, again of timber construction, with posts set in trenches. The emperor Hadrian decided to strengthen the Stanegate Frontier in AD 122 with his great wall. It was once believed that Corbridge was abandoned after new forts were built along Hadrian’s Wall but evidence has instead revealed that the site was modified at this time (Fort III). Although it is not known what military unit was present at the time, the principia was given its stone shrine, the granaries were moved to the east side of the fort and the barracks were rebuilt. Corbridge became the scene of frantic activity in AD 138 when Antoninus Pius succeeded Hadrian and reversed the frontier policy in Britain. The fort was rebuilt (Fort IVA) within the existing turf rampart and for the first time, stone was used extensively in the main buildings. An inscription shows that some soldiers of the 6th Legion were stationed at Corbridge in about AD 158 and in AD 161, the auxiliary unit Cohors I Vardullorum dedicated an inscription at the fort. The last major modifications were made to the fort at this time (Fort IVB) which included the rebuilding of the barracks in stone. The earliest evidence for temples at Corbridge are building fragments and a dedication of the AD 160’s by the 6th Legion and found reused in the later town. Site XI is likely to date to the same period and combined a warehouse and macellum (market). By the time of the breach of Hadrian’s Wall in AD 180 or 181, Corbridge was already acquiring the character of a town. When the old fort defences were finally removed, it’s possible that the town may even have been given official status as a civitas capital (a regional capital). By the early AD 200’s an extensive civilian town had grown up around the core of the legionary garrison and supply depot. The streets of the town extended into the fields outside the modern enclosure and aerial photographs have shown that these streets were lined with strip-houses, long half-timbered buildings with a narrow street frontage. The inhabitants would have manufactured and traded all kinds of goods from foodstuffs, pottery, glass, jewellery, textiles, leather and provided services from medicine to innkeeping (Hodgson, 2015). The museum at Corbridge has an outstanding collection of artefacts, inscriptions, sculptures and objects from Hadrian’s Wall. Providing a vivid picture of everyday life and work, hundreds of tools and other small objects give an insight into the lives of individuals. The framework of a new town was based upon its street system. There were two roads, laid out at right angles to each other, from which side streets ran off at regular intervals to form a grid of rectangular building plots called insulae (islands). Although all the major towns attempted to follow this pattern, no town in Roman Britain had a perfectly symmetrical street system (Branigan, 1980). Major organized building works took place as late as AD 370 but Corbridge appears to have been rapidly abandoned when Roman administration in Britain collapsed in the early years of the 5th century. Despite the continued removal of stone in the following centuries, the 16th century antiquaries John Leland and William Camden were struck by the upstanding remains and in 1725, Roger Gale described “the circuit of of the walls” as visible. The site was levelled by agricultural work in about 1810.

Then the cake seller with his varied cries, the sausage man, the confectioner, and all the vendors of food hawking their wares, each with his own distinctive intonation” (Seneca, Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales, Volume I).

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Civilian building/shop east end of the Stanegate

You, traveller, who make your way along the path with your foot laced up, halt, I ask you… I traversed the doctrines of Pythagoras and the views of the philosophers, I read the lyric poets and the holy epics of Homer… At the same time I enjoyed diversions and amusements.” (Musa Lapidaria, A Selection of Latin Verse Inscriptions, CIL II 6435)

The longest period of unification the western world has ever known slowly began its demise from the middle of the 3rd century onwards. The garrison of the province of Britain was gradually weakened by the demand for troops on other frontiers and by the removal of units to support the imperial throne. The same period saw the coast under constant threat by raiders from the Low Countries, the Western Isles and Ireland. The great forts that were built along the coast from Brancaster to Portchester, the forts of the Saxon Shore, kept Saxon and Frankish raiders at bay and Hadrian’s Wall secured the northern frontier so even with a depleted garrison, the province remained fairly safe. Simultaneous attacks in AD 367 however saw the Roman army largely powerless before the invaders and for the first time, the fabric of Romanised life in Britain was threatened. Theodosius, the last of three generals appointed in quick succession, drove out the invaders and reorganised defences and improved fortifications. By AD 410 the last of the regular army had departed and so had the Roman administration. After about AD 402, no new imperial coinage entered Britain and after four centuries of an established Roman monetary system, money became scarce and drastically affected the economy. The Roman system of local government was maintained in some towns until the mid 5th century but pestilence and famine brought the final curtain down upon a number of towns. Plagues in the western provinces in the 5th and 6th centuries were referred to by several late Roman writers and the Venerable Bede noted that “a terrible plague struck… and in a short while destroyed so large a number that the living could scarcely bury the dead.” Although Christianity was not Roman in origin, the Church increasingly came to be the vehicle of Roman culture and civic values (Boardman, Griffin & Murray, 1986). The end of the western Empire in AD 476 was an event that no one at the time much noticed yet the centuries of great change following the departure of the Romans still left a legacy which survives to this day. The dramatic history of Roman Britain has left us with remnants of many relics of occupation, road patterns, preserved remains of baths, temples, palaces, villas, walls and forts – some of which have become permanent features on the landscape. The prominent components of its archaeological heritage have seen archaeologists, art historians and social scientists of every kind joining the science of classical antiquity that was first established by the philologists of the 19th century. Conservation is firmly established in law and it is rare for Roman monuments to be threatened with demolition (Woolf, 2012). The sense of excitement in piecing together a great movement through history that has left so many traces in the world we inhabit today remains undiminished.

I hope my passion for Rome’s past has not impaired my judgment; for I do honestly believe that no country has ever been greater” (Livy, The Early History of Rome).

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North east corner of the Courtyard building view towards the Compounds

Felix Qui Potuit Rerum Cognoscere Causas

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Column bases west Granary

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Little Langdale: Castle Howe Hill Fort

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“The valley rings with mirth and joy; Among the hills the echoes play A never never ending song, To welcome in the May.” (Wordsworth, 1800)

Made up of many interrelated features the English landscape has been marked by man’s endeavours over thousands of years. Formed from the rocks, moulded by time, etched by rivers and ice and clothed with a mantle of green vegetation, the basic skeleton of the landscape has been superimposed on by man’s work. All settlements are a vital part of the living environment and consist of a myriad of villages with hamlets and farmsteads found in every part of the country. The concept of geographical determinism has been at the heart of all studies of settlement since the late 19th century as the theory was first developed however, most of the specific determinants of settlement location are likely not concerned with the physical nature of a site at all. The complexity of rural settlement is such that the typical medieval nucleated village, clustered round a focal point, was regarded as the normal form. The reality is very different as such villages are only one facet of a very complex settlement pattern that also includes hamlets, farmsteads and cottages. The history of archaeology shows that the concentration in certain areas by the first archaeologists looking for prehistoric remains led to the belief that open light-soiled upland areas were the preferred places for settlement. As a result, the widespread ideology that all other areas were impenetrable forests or too marshy to be settled spearheaded a myth about prehistoric people which has never been eradicated. This concept suffered a severe blow from the 1920’s with the development of aerial photography. This technology began to reveal the existence of thousands of archaeological sites that were quite invisible on the ground as they had been flattened by centuries of cultivation. As a result of differential crop growth, certain conditions and certain times of the year, these sites could be seen from the air. The following decades of research revealed that later prehistoric and Roman man lived, in considerable numbers, in all the major valleys of England. The evidence of crop marks showed indications of settlement on limestone plateaux, heathlands and sandstone hills and although the basic hypothesis remained, the areas of apparently preferred settlement expanded. With the discovery of Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age, settlement on the Pennine moorlands, Bronze Age occupation on the clay farmlands of the Midlands and Iron Age and Roman farmsteads deep in the present woodlands of the country, what has finally emerged is the realization that early man lived almost everywhere in England and that he was not controlled by his environment to anything like the degree that was always believed (Taylor, 1983).

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West face

The direct prehistoric contribution to the landscape is small with the archaeological evidence for occupation heavily dependent on the events and changes that have taken place since our prehistoric ancestors. The early prehistoric people had a nomadic existence living in temporary structures whereas the development of agriculture from the Late Bronze Age, and especially the Early Iron Age, led to the appearance of more permanent settled villages. The people of the Early Iron Age lived mostly in single farmsteads or in small hamlets and the single farmsteads have the distinct possibility of having been continuously occupied ever since their beginning in pre-Roman or Romano-British times. Visible evidence of these early farms are the lynchets or cultivation terraces and it is likely that a great deal of the farmsteads of the Iron Age date have been abandoned at some date and reoccupied in medieval times under the pressure of a rising population (Hoskins, 2013). All the evidence of history and anthropology suggests that the great myth concerning primitive people and their alleged freedom to move about, untroubled by restrictions of boundaries or territorial limits, is unfounded. Human society appears to have had clearly defined areas of land which groups of people operated in, whether they were hunters, pastoralists or farmers. The well defined type of defensive site, and the territorial divisions, was a significant feature in the later Bronze Age and was very often the precursor of the later Iron Age Forts (Taylor, 1983). The later prehistoric period, known as the Iron Age, extends roughly from about 800 BC to the Roman invasions in AD 43. The period takes its name from the appearance of iron tools in the archaeological record and from the point of view of the history of settlement in England, it is the time when all the trends that were developing in the later Bronze Age intensified. There was an escalation in arable farming with numerous large grain storage pits found in settlement sites. There was a continuation of woodland clearance and some areas of former pasture were ploughed up to supply the greatly increased food production. There is also evidence of further expansion of agriculture in the richer claylands and in the high moorlands and mountains. With an increase in population more settlements were created which in turn has led to the discovery of far more of the Iron Age period than from all the rest of the prehistoric period. They have been found on all types of soils, in almost every position and in every part of England, except the highest moors of the Pennines and undrained marshlands. The density of Iron Age settlements was significant and the general size increased compared to those of the later Bronze Age. There was still considerable settlement ‘drift’ and movement on to new sites however, there were many more places that appear to be occupied for two or three centuries before any obvious movement takes place (Taylor, 1983).

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Castle Howe towards Hollin Crag

One of the most important features of the period is the growing number of defensive structures, or hill forts, scattered all over the country. These sites indicate a critical need for defendable locations either as permanently occupied protected places or as temporary refuges in times of danger. The consolidation of the older pattern of territories into a hierarchy of local estates, tribal areas and kingdoms is evident in the spacing of these forts. The variety and complexity of Iron Age settlement is vast with, at the simplest level, isolated farmsteads which were usually on high downland or moorland. In some areas, the main Iron Age settlement appears to be a type of site referred to as a ’round’ which are usually circular enclosures and bounded by a stone wall and outer ditch. In many cases these sites occupied hill slope positions usually with between two and six circular stone houses, set around a courtyard, and clearly interpreted as small agricultural hamlets. In northern England the earliest Iron Age sites of 5th or 6th century date seem to have been semi-fortified. These sites are known as palisaded enclosures which were small groups of timber houses surrounded by a wooden stockade. Later in the period the stockades were replaced by well built stone or earthen ramparts (Taylor, 1983).

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Castle Howe towards Wrynose Pass

By virtue of the fact that we can still see the remains clearly in many parts of the country, the one type of Iron Age settlement that is the best known are the great hill forts. While few of the multitude of farmsteads, villages and hamlets are visible on the ground, the hill forts are marked on all modern maps and their substantial ramparts are clearly evident enclosing countless hilltops and spurs. Although common, the hill forts form only a very small proportion of the settlement pattern as the less obvious sites are by far where the greatest percentage of the population lived. Hill forts, with an emphasis on warfare, also provide evidence of the great variety of form and usage and indicate the growing stability of Iron Age society. Showing considerable diversity in size, hill forts occupy striking locations and often have massive earthworks. Surrounded by one or more circuits of banks and ditches, as the name implies, hill forts are defended places and were built across Europe. Although there are 3000 hill forts in the British Isles, the very large sites are contained in Wessex, the Welsh marshes and the southeast. The smaller hill forts are found in Northumberland and the south-west with a few in eastern England, the Pennines or the north-west. The first hill forts were univallate, with one line of defences, and although they could occupy large areas, they were slightly built. By around 400 BC many hill forts had developed into bivallate (bounded by a double line of ramparts) and multivallate (more than one rampart or defensive circuit) forms and at the same time, many of these sites were abandoned. Although there were fewer hill forts, the surviving sites became more elaborate and imposing and remained in use until around 100 BC when they were replaced by a very different type of settlement. The form and size of hill forts is extensive due to conforming to the shape of the ground it occupies. Small hill forts have one entrance, larger ones two, and usually will face east with a second entrance almost always facing west, irrespective of the natural topography. This pattern is reflected in contemporary farmstead enclosures and is likely to reflect Iron Age beliefs. Often situated on scarp edges and overlooking lower ground, hill forts are thought to have controlled valleys or vales. While defensive in nature the lack of evidence of warfare taking place at such sites indicates that the role of hill forts as settlements, food stores or meeting place was perhaps more significant than their role in conflict (Bowden, 2015). The layout of hill fort sites was heavily dependant upon the topography of the location but the main living accommodation occupied the highest position on the hill or crag. Such hill forts are exposed to the full fury of biting winds and the existing bracken and grassy banks give no hint of the formidable ramparts that once defended them (Childe & Simpson, 1961).

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Castle Howe towards the Langdale Pikes

Castle Howe hill fort is located on an area of high ground in the Little Langdale Valley with a rocky knoll forming the highest point of the site. Access to the summit is via the western face and at the base of the knoll on this side are a series of rock cut ditches. On the north and south sides of the knoll are rectangular levelled areas which have been interpreted as artificial hut platforms. A hut circle is thought to have occupied a levelled area at the northern end of the knoll and there are several ditches surrounding the site. Castle Howe is at the eastern end of Wrynose Pass and overlooks the Roman road from Ambleside to Ravenglass. The hill fort at Castle Howe and its close proximity to a medieval moot at Fell Foot suggests that there has been a long tradition of association for the local community in this area.

Castle Howe Hill Fort is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

No mountain profile in Lakeland arrests and excites the attention more than that of the Langdale Pike” (Wainwright, 1958)

Little Langdale: Seven Intakes Medieval Settlement

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The tumbled stone wall enclosing the settlement

Very little of England, even in inhuman places, has escaped being altered by man in some subtle way or other. The landscape as we know it today is almost entirely the product of the last 1500 years which began with the earliest Anglo-Saxon villages in the middle of the 5th century. With landscapes of such historic depth and physical variety, any attempt to study the development of the English landscape can be thought of as a series of compositions of varying magnitude – like a piece of music. Only when we know all the themes and harmonies can we begin to appreciate its full beauty, or discover in it new subtleties every time we visit. A programme of symphonies, magnificent views, an architectural mass of sound – in discovering the essence of simpler and smaller landscapes may we understand and appreciate the logic that lies behind the beautiful whole. The Anglo-Saxon settlement was spread between about 450 and 1066. During this time England became a land of villages with compact villages, of varying size, found in all counties and accompanied originally by the open-field system. The 20th century historian Sir Frank Stenton (1943) notes that there was “no single type of settlement” and “innumerable isolated farmsteads bearing Anglo-Saxon names remain as memorials of the process.” A great number of new villages were founded from the late 9th century onwards following the Scandinavian conquest. In the 10th century numerous Norwegians who settled in the north-western counties of England left characteristic traces of their presence in the place names of this region, such as the thwaites of Cumberland and Westmorland. By the time of the Norman Conquest most of the English villages had made their appearance and by 1086, little towns were planted in a landscape that was predominantly green country.

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A scattering of hamlets and single farmsteads in remote clearings were found in the west and north of England in particular. Small fields of irregular shape were characteristic of the more difficult regions of England and much of the country was still densely wooded. Oak trees were found in their tens of thousands in medieval England and from rising ground, England must have seemed “one great forest before the 15th century, an almost unbroken sea of treetops with a thin blue spiral of smoke rising here and there at long intervals” (Hoskins, 2013). In the centuries following the Norman Conquest, it was not difficult to find considerable tracts of uninhabited country as huge parts of the landscape were set aside as royal game preserves and subject to a special law, the forest law. The Norman kings introduced their own forest laws into settled and cultivated country which often involved the destruction of a number of villages and many farms. The making of New Forest by William the Conqueror is just one example. The existence of royal game preserves on such a huge scale discouraged new settlement and would have made existing farming difficult. The private parks of the 13th century represent the origins of the country house parks as we know them today. Knowsley is first mentioned in 1292 and similarly, Hatfield Park has its history rooted in the 13th century woodland of Hertfordshire. From the 12th century onwards, the Cistercian houses were responsible for numerous changes in the landscape. Usually settling in a wilderness brought into cultivation, the Cistercians also destroyed settled villages and farms to create an artificial wilderness. Many monastic granges were created for arable farming and their extensive sheep farming, large-scale drainage of marsh and clearance of woodland is less evident on the moorlands. The little pastoral farms created from moorland was largely the work of peasant households resulting in either a single farmstead or a small cluster of three or four – a hamlet. High moorland was was left to the curlews and the mountain sheep as it was incapable of supporting the life of a medieval family.

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Stone foundations of the three roomed longhouse

A great number of new buildings were added to the landscape between 1350 and 1500. The building or rebuilding of a large number of bridges in stone took place in the late 14th and early 15th century as many of the 12th and 13th century bridges were too narrow or too unsafe. Many of these beautiful medieval and ancient structures can still be found in the landscape. The sparkle of freshly cut stone was evident throughout the country during the 15th century and numerous fortified houses were constructed at this time. Unlike other medieval writers, Chaucer (1478) pleasantly refers to the scenic heaths in The Canterbury Tales:

His dwelling was full fair upon an heath

With green trees shadowed was his place,

A sky-blue surcoat good of length he wore,

And by his side a rusty blade he bore;

Wild places were generally taken for granted (Hoskins, 2013) and the 18th century novelist Daniel Defoe depicted the more usual attitude towards wild landscapes describing Bagshot Heath as “a vast tract of land…which is not only poor… horrid and frightful to look on, but good for nothing.” At the beginning of the 16th century, England was a green and quiet agricultural country with more sheep than human beings. Although there was an immense destruction of timber, from iron workers and woodland cleared for corn and cattle, the extent of woodland at the beginning of the century was still considerable. William Cholmeley spoke of “the unsatiable desyre of pasture for sheep and cattel” in 1553 and in 1641 “numberless numbers of goodly oaks” were replaced by sheep and oxen “grazing upon a Carpet Green” (Hoskins, 2013). By 1550 most English people were still living the in dark, squalid dwellings of their medieval ancestors which were generally built of a timber frame with walls of reinforced mud. The rebuilding or enlargement of farmhouses in the countryside began in the 1560’s and continued until the 1620’s. Stone built farmsteads with mullioned windows became a common feature of the landscape with northern dwellings often sheltered by sycamore trees which were introduced into England at the end of the 16th century. The botanist John Gerard notes that the sycamore is “a stranger to England” (1597). The sycamore was widely planted in the upland and exposed parts of England as a windbreak for farmhouses as it withstands sea and mountain winds better than most. The low-browed farmstead of moorland stone and stone slate roof, with burnished sycamores on the windward side, thus became the very characteristic northern scene.

“A stately sycamore, That spreads, in gentle pomp, its honied shade” (Wordsworth, 1814).

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Common to all types of country dwellings was the hall, parlour, kitchen, larder, pantry and chambers throughout the first floor. The destruction of timber had taken place with no provision for its replacement so the effect on external designs of houses was considerable. This rapid decline of timber saw the increase in favour of stone or brick, or a mixture of both (Harrison, 1577), and the materials provided by different geological regions of England marks a natural division of rural building. In most of the north of England timber was superseded by various kinds of local stone with cottages consisting of the simplest types of mud, clay lump or turf cabins (Summerson, 1953). The first stone builders were hunters, shepherds and tillers of the soil who made simple shelters with whatever materials were most readily to hand. Over the course of time, stone came to be accepted as the best material for manor houses, public buildings and for bridges. The barns, cottages, small town houses and farmhouses eventually followed this progression and between 1200 and 1900, there was some radical changes in the art of architecture (Clifton-Taylor, 1983). Cumbria had plentiful supplies of stones which could be worked easily with the pink shades of granite predominating the landscape. Along with the igneous rocks of Cumbria, slate was not only used for roofs but also for walls. As sand for mortar was not readily available in the Lake District, most of the old walls were bedded into clay. Varying tremendously according to the nature of the local stone, the boundaries of fields are often stone walls which are specially characteristic of hilly districts. These structures were extremely well built with countless miles of dry walling still found across the landscape.

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The tumbled stone wall enclosing Seven Intakes close to the River Brathay

One of the main features of all settlement in England is its mobility. After relatively short periods of time, original sites were abandoned completely or the settlements were shifted a short distance away. Old dwelling places were often incorporated into the fields of descendants of the first occupiers of the site and later generations removed the stones, ploughed the ground, grazed it, built their own settlements on top of it and then ploughed it again, many times. While individual houses, farmsteads, hamlets and even villages had short lives, a feature of settlement that recurs throughout all later periods is “settlement drift” (Taylor, 1983). Where the evidence is much more complete, the phenomenon of settlement drift is apparent and can be explained by changing patterns of communications, the pressures of economic events or as the result of the landowner. This process involves the gradual movement of a site up or down a hill slope, or in a circle. The archaeological evidence for rural settlement in the late Saxon and early medieval period reveals a continuously changing pattern with the landscape still primarily one of dispersed settlement. There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that a large number of medieval villages were deliberately created, often on older sites but sometimes on new ones and connected with a rising population. The climate became much colder and wetter from the late 13th century which increased the chances of crop failures and by the early 14th century, general economic decline had set in all over the country. The landscape today contains the remains of what may be referred to as temporary colonization. Consisting of herdsmen’s huts and used only in the summer, some of these sites are visible from their earthwork remains. There are numerous shielings, or summer dwellings, in the north of England with many built and used well into the 17th century. Many former shielings had become farmsteads associated with small areas of arable land even by the 11th century in Cumbria (Taylor, 1983).

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Many farm buildings, especially barns and cow-houses, were built of clay. Full or jointed crucks usually carried the roof loads but the quality of clay walling was such that roof trusses could be carried on walls independently. In the absence of good quarried stone, cobbles (found in riverbeds or fieldstone areas) were used and may be split like flint to give a flat face to a wall. This technique was used in the Lake District with rounded cobbles only used in walling with the aid of bonding stones which ran along the wall as well as across it. The steep sided valleys of the Lake District has been home to farming that has had to be shared between the bare eroded fells and the sometimes lush valleys. Many expanses of broken land lie in between with rocky outcrops. Some little evidence of timber-frame construction survives hidden in some of the barns of Cumbria but most farm buildings now to be seen are of good building stone – whether slate-stone, limestone or sandstone (Brunskill, 1982). The work of the medieval centuries can generally be distinguished by the irregular pattern left on the landscape – abrupt bends in banks and roads and winding ditches contrast starkly to the long straight lines of later drainage and wide empty spaces between infrequent farmsteads.

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View towards Seven Intakes from Fell Foot

Located on flat ground 210m south west of Fell Foot is the dispersed medieval settlement of Seven Intakes. Also referred to as Vicars, this irregularly shaped enclosure includes the remains of at least one, possible two buildings situated just south of the River Brathay. The well defined stone foundations of a three-roomed building measuring approximately 26m long survive with traces of stone cobbled flooring in one of the rooms. The longhouse is a very ancient building type in this country and excavations suggest that the standard medieval family farm may have consisted only of a longhouse and a small barn. The longhouse was a dwelling house reached by way of a cross passage which also provided the sole or a subsidiary means of access to a cow-house and its loft above. The full significance of the cross passage, evidence of which remains at Seven Intakes, is not fully understood however, it is suggested that it may have acted as a feeding passage for cattle (Brunskill, 1982). Longhouses continued to be built in parts of England until the 18th century and many examples survive in Cumbria. The remains of a smaller rectangular building is located a short distance to the north with a stone bank running from the north west corner to the south bank of the river. A tumbled stone wall encloses the settlement on all sides except the north with traces of a smaller enclosure adjacent on rising ground to the south west (Burkett, 1970). The settlement lies in the Cumbria-Solway sub province of the Northern and Western Province – one of three broad Provinces created on the basis of each area’s distinctive mixture of nucleated and dispersed settlements. Established after the Norman Conquest, this area is characterized by dispersed hamlets and farmsteads. The archaeological remains of such settlements are considered to be one of the most important sources for understanding rural life in the five or more centuries following the Norman Conquest. The deep valleys of the Lake District provided well defined agricultural areas and great variation in local terrains. Seven Intakes is a good example of a medieval settlement and is situated in one of the most spectacular settings near the Langdale Pikes.

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Little Langdale Valley from Fell Foot

“Next comes Great Langdale, a Vale which should on no account be missed by him who has a true enjoyment of grand separate Forms composing a sublime Unity, austere but reconciled and rendered attractive to the affections by the deep serenity that is spread over every thing” William Wordsworth (1810).

Seven Intakes Medieval Settlement is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

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View from Seven Intakes to the east

Great Langdale: The Langdale Boulders

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When Europe was first coloniszed by man the area of Cumberland and Westmorland was, as was the rest of northern Britain, covered by ice during the glacial periods. The earliest settlers made their appearance at the end of the last glaciation which included small bands of hunters following herds of game and constructing temporary encampments on the coast, and on the shores of lakes and rivers. Unassociated with any permanent structure, characteristic microlithic flint equipment has been found at several sites in Cumberland – Drigg and Eskmeals are two examples. These Mesolithic settlements were followed by the first farming communities and a considerable increase in the population. One of the most important temporary encampment and flint knapping sites is located at Ehenside Tarn which was revealed in the 19th century when the tarn was drained. A series of hearths, a dug out canoe, fish-spears and throwing sticks made of wood were all preserved in the waterlogged conditions. The axe factories of Great Langdale provided extremely good examples of axes of igneous rock and the slopes of Great Gable, Scafell Pike, Pike of Stickle and Harrison Stickle are littered with flakes of these axes. The axes from Langdale were traded all over England and Scotland with the most notable concentrations being discovered in Wessex and the Upper Thames region (Pevsner, 1967).

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Thousands of enigmatic symbols can be found carved onto rocky outcrops and boulders across northern England and range from simple circular hollows, known as cups, to more complex combinations of cups, rings, grooves, spirals, lozenges and chevrons. Created by Neolithic and Bronze Age people who lived in these lands, some of these wonderful abstract designs occupy incredible locations in the landscape and can be found on prehistoric stone monuments or in burial mounds. One of the most intriguing elements of the archaeological landscape, their original purpose remains unknown. In every continent the oldest rock art so far discovered are cupules and linear grooves. Cupules can be found in very early and archaic traditions and they are numerically the most common forms of surviving rock art (Bednarik, 2007). It is unlikely that all cupules were made for similar purposes and it is thought possible that some of those found on horizontal surfaces were used for some utilitarian process. Cupules usually form groups, sometimes in the hundreds or thousands, on just a single panel and in some traditions they tend to be arranged systematically, while in others they were made randomly.

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Prehistoric carvings which have been cut into the surface of a rock is the primary definition of the term ‘rock art’. The majority of art from the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods in Britain and Ireland is unique in that it is entirely abstract and unlike that found elsewhere in Europe. In England, the majority of prehistoric rock art is found on outcrops and earth fast boulders and is described as ‘landscape’ or ‘open-air’ rock art. Associated with monumental structures, ‘megalithic art’ ranges from Neolithic stone circles to Bronze Age burial cists while other rock art consists of smaller stones which may have no prehistoric context and which have sometimes been re-used in modern structures. This particular rock art is referred to as ‘portable’ or ‘mobiliary’ art (Sharpe, Barnett & Rushton, 2008). Carved stones are usually found in clusters and most British rock art occurs in the north, across an area between West Yorkshire and the Caledonian Canal in Scotland. The majority of rock art in England is found on sedimentary rocks, such as the Millstone Grits of Yorkshire and the Fell Sandstone of Northumberland, and the distribution is thought likely to be related to the underlying geology. In western Britain, like Cumbria, carvings are also found on igneous and metamorphic rocks such as granites and schists. The single cup mark is a roughly circular hollow between 3cm and 10cm in diameter and approximately 2-3cm deep. Also common in Britain are rings and grooves which can occur individually or can be combined to form more complex motifs. The two broad traditions of rock art that have been identified in Britain are the ‘passage tomb’ art, associated with chambered tombs, and the most prevalent ‘cup and ring’ art. Created by striking the rock surface using a stone tool, some carvings have peck marks remaining visible on panels that have been protected from the elements. Although several small fragments of red ochre have been found during excavations at the Hunterheugh rock art site in Northumberland, there is no evidence that motifs were coloured (Sharpe, Barnett & Rushton, 2008). In the passage of time the meaning of rock art has become lost with no historical record of it until the late 17th century when reference is made to marks found on stones from the Newgrange passage tomb in Ireland. The local antiquarian George Tate was the first to report the ‘cup and ring’ rock art at Old Bewick Hill in Northumberland during the 1820’s. Interpreting prehistoric rock art will always present challenges given that the societies which created them used very different systems of communication and symbolism to that of our own. The symbols and their various combinations undoubtedly had very definite meanings for the people that created them as the restricted and repeated repertoire of symbols across the landscape implies a shared vocabulary. Regional variations in motifs used and where rock art was placed in the landscape also adds to the complexity of deciphering exact meanings. Factors such as geology, survival and the incomplete nature of rock art present further difficulties however, the fact that the practice of carving rocks continued for such a lengthy period suggests that the symbols had enduring significance and their power and meaning evolved for the people who lived amongst them.

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As researchers have extended the study of rock art to include the surrounding topography, the soil beneath and the wider archaeological landscape, numerous theories have since been put forward to account for the carvings. Often found on, or close to, striking natural features such as outcrops, unusual boulder formations, plunging waterfalls, caves, rivers and cliffs, it is thought that such dramatic locations would have evoked emotional and imaginative responses and as such, possibly formed part of the mythical landscape of the past. Such connections to specific places can be created through shared social events or natural catastrophes so rock art may have been used to permanently record an attachment to special places. Some rock art points to a connection with movement across the land given the deliberate positioning of carvings on relatively high ground, often with extensive views, and possibly along route ways. Associations with specific routes are problematic since few actual prehistoric tracks have been identified yet decorated stones are often found at the entrances to possible routes inland, close to mountain passes, along the edges of valleys and overlooking natural harbours. Other rock art can often be found in locations that may suggest a strong spiritual element to the role of the carvings. Considered the domain of supernatural beings or ancestors, ‘liminal’ locations (where dark meets light, where mountains touch the sky or the sea reaches the shore) were significant to hunter gatherer communities. The occurrence of carvings in such places suggests a religious significance to the motifs and possibly used to mark the focus of links between past and present, the living and the dead or between real and spiritual worlds. The spiritual connection to place ideology is thought likely to be the most credible association between the carved boulders, known as the Langdale Boulders, and the nearby Langdale Pikes (Sharpe, 2016).

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The Langdale Boulders are two prehistoric rock art sites which consist of two large boulders of Andesitic tuff a few metres apart. In their current position when carved upon, the rocks contain multiple concentric circles, a linear feature in the shape of a chevron, numerous cup marks and many other unusual motifs. Some of the man made cup marks are surrounded by rings with others believed to have been formed by natural erosion (Beckensall, 2002). As rock art is considered to be an important element of the cultural landscape of northern England, strategies for recording, conservation and management have been introduced in order to ensure the survival of such nationally significant sites. Using a combination of visual techniques, site survey and mapping and textual recording, the recording methodology has continued to develop. Using the principle of stereo photography, where two images of the same subject are taken from slightly different positions, photogrammetry is a non intrusive method that provides a means for accurate measurement of archaeological features and artefacts through 3D recording and visualization. Presenting a 3D image as a contour model to accentuate the topography of the rock, geological and man-made features can clearly be exposed. Precluding a single view-point perspective, the ability to view the object in different ways and by providing a more accurate model of an artefact or monument than conventional 2D recording techniques, the benefits of such technology enhance the potential for accurate recording and monitoring. Together with more established techniques such as excavation and surveying, photogrammetry and laser scanning technologies are revealing new information on rock art. Although carved in stone, the rock art which survives today is extremely vulnerable. The creation of an accurate record of all rock art, the England’s Rock Art (ERA), has been fundamental to research, protection and management of this fading link with our prehistoric past. As new initiatives and projects got underway in Cumbria earlier this year, it is hoped that the research will further our understanding of this fascinating landscape and ultimately, allow the development of appropriate management strategies to ensure that the most vulnerable rock art panels are protected and preserved. 

The Langdale Boulders are a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Corbridge: Aydon Castle

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Amid the scars of ancient roads and fortifications, the slopes of hills in Northumberland conceal the austere and strong architecture of the “land of great castles” (Allsopp & Clark, 1969). The steep gradient to the Cor Burn forms a defence on three sides of Aydon Castle and its bailey with strong walls and gateway protecting the north side of the house. A wonderful survival from the Middle Ages, Aydon Castle is often recorded as Aydon Hall. Although planned as a manor house, its proximity to the England-Scotland border meant that it had to have some of the attributes of a fortress. Prehistoric and Roman remains have been discovered near Aydon yet there is no certain evidence that the site of the castle was occupied before the 13th century. First recorded in 1225, the village formed part of the barony of Bolam and combining two Old English words, meaning ‘hay pasture’, Aydon was acquired shortly after 1290 by a Suffolk landowner – Robert de Raymes. Most of what survives at Aydon was built between 1295 and 1315 and it is an exceptionally well preserved fortified manor. As one of the first areas to be raided from Scotland, Edward I granted a royal licence to crenellate in 1305. Most of the buildings were already completed by this time with a licence to crenellate more often granted when works were finished. Licences were very rarely refused as those who wanted the status of a castellated house were charged a fee by the king who could also control the spread of castles within his realm. Exercising control over the building of non-royal castles, 12th century government officials introduced the legal obligation to obtain a licence before a residence could be fortified (Friar, 2003). The earliest stone buildings at Aydon are the hall, chamber block and the garderobe/latrine wing (Summerson, 2004). The battlemented walls were built to the north between 1300 and 1305 enclosing the buildings within an inner courtyard.

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Inner courtyard stairs to the hall

Before entering Aydon Castle it is evident that it was a fortified manor house and not a fortress. There was never a gatehouse or any other form of defensive outworks and the small ditch that extended in front of the north wall would not have kept any serious attacker at bay for long. The smaller outer courtyard was characteristic of medieval architecture – providing some defence and by creating a series of entrances, it was also intended to impress. A further stage to pass before entering the castle buildings is through the inner courtyard (above). Replacing an earlier one, the present stairway dates from the 16th century and originally there was a porch at the top. The porch was later replaced by a lean-to that covered the whole length of the stair of which the roof outline is still visible on the wall. Although staircases were usual and probably of wood construction, the ladder and trapdoor were frequently used in the early part of the medieval period and most external staircases of the 13th century have since been replaced (Wood, 1994).

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Fine stone vault of the stores

The ground floor of an early medieval house was often vaulted in stone which raised the living rooms to the first floor level and thus became more defensible. The vaulted ground floor became extremely popular during the first half of the 13th century and the stores underneath the second kitchen at Aydon are particularly fine (above). Providing fireproof storage accommodation, there are three interconnected rooms that were built to hold the stores for the kitchens immediately above. The doorway into the stores has a shouldered lintel, also known as Caernarvon arch, which became common from the latter part of the 13th century onwards and there are many good examples throughout Aydon. This block was converted to stables in 1657 by William Collinson who briefly owned the estate from 1654 until his son, Henry Collinson, sold up in 1702.

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Downstairs solar

In the early Middle Ages the solar was a private bed-sittingroom of the owner and his family. With servants sleeping in the hall or in work rooms between the storage, individual bedrooms were rare. The downstairs solar at Aydon has three doorways in the west wall of the room, one of which opens onto the inner courtyard. The room was originally only accessible from above which suggests that it was a retreat for the lord’s family, likely during the winter months. The only two 13th century windows that survive are small lancets with others thought to be have been installed during the 16th century when the room was converted into a kitchen. The room features an original 13th century fireplace in the east wall which is beautifully decorated with a row of carved stone bosses (below). Aydon Castle contains several excellent and unusual examples of elaborate 13th century fireplaces.

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Carved bosses above the fireplace (downstairs solar)

The polite version of latrine, a garderobe or privie, was used in the privy sense from the 14th century. The privy chambers (camerae privatae) were attached to other rooms and were usually situated at the end of a passage. Privies were always provided with a small window or some form of ventilation – shafts could be ventilated or ventilators in the roof also occur. Unless a corbel was provided, as at Aydon, the window sill would serve as a place on which to put a light. Adjoining the upstairs solar, the location and amenities of the latrine tower at Aydon (below) suggest that this was the lord’s bedchamber. The room is lit on three sides by windows and was effectively a medieval en suite. The latrine itself is a double-decker and the small cupboard cut into the wall at the far end has the chute next to it. The shaft is concealed in the buttress at the south east corner of the room and although the latrine is directly above one on the ground floor, the upper one is set further back to prevent accidents. Later refurbishments of this chamber resulted in the addition of a fireplace and in the 1920’s, the chamber became a bathroom. By this time the latrine had been superseded by an earth closet in the kitchen garden.

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The latrine tower

The chief room in a medieval house was the hall. With a central hearth, the medieval hall developed from a barn like structure of prehistoric and Saxon times and during the earlier Middle Ages, the room could be raised to the first floor. Raised on a stone basement these first floor halls were more defensible and were in use from the late 11th century onwards. The first floor hall is found common in both town and manor houses and the high table, where the owner and his family would dine, was at the upper end of the room. The private quarters, or solar, was often at the end of the hall and eventually a separate room developed. Divided off with curtains initially, a wooden partition would be used and by the 12th century, there might be a more permanent division built in stone. Retaining the outer staircase, the hall at Aydon has no sign of a wall fireplace suggesting that it was heated from the one in the room below or from a fire in the centre of the room either in a brazier or on a stone hearth.

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East end of the hall

The social centre of the whole complex, the hall was where the lord appeared in public especially when entertaining guests. The open roof at Aydon gives space for smoke to rise and escape through a louvre at the top. The roof is not original but was replaced with one very much like it during the 16th or 17th century when repairs were made to the hall. The walls, which would have been plastered and decorated with paintings or wall hangings, would have needed constant cleaning due to the effects of smoke. There was originally a gallery at the west end of the room where musicians would play and from which a steward or servant could observe the meal. The hall was the communal living room and was also the main living and sleeping space for all but the lord’s immediate family. The room was screened off at one end from the kitchen and other service areas and the stone screen (below) was inserted during the 16th century. The wall of the hall is narrowed at the west end to give access to the doorway suggesting that the chamber block was built before the stone hall and possibly, it may have been built up against an original hall with thinner wooden walls.

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The 16th century stone screen in the hall

During the 16th century the eighth Robert de Raymes consolidated his estates and gave Aydon to Sir Reynold Carnaby in exchange for lands at Hawkwell. In the process of building up a substantial estate at Hexham, Sir Reynold placed Aydon in the hands of his brother Cuthbert. The Carnaby family made significant changes to the estate especially to the kitchen and to the roofs. Dendrochronology indicates that the timber in the roofs of the latrine block and the west wing kitchen date to the 1540’s. Following the civil wars of the 1640’s, Ralph Carnaby was heavily penalised by parliament for supporting Charles I and as a result, Aydon Castle was sold in 1654 with an estate of 300 acres of arable land to William Collinson of Tynemouth and together with his son Henry, they farmed their estate until 1702.

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Around 1830 Sir Edward Blackett, the sixth baronet, put the castle into a complete state of repair as it had long been ‘neglected and ruinous’ (Summerson, 2004). The land was once again used as a working farm and the interior was altered to provide the necessary accommodation. Members of the local Rowell family came into occupation and they stayed at Aydon for just over a century. A schoolroom was installed on the first floor of the old latrine block and as there was no electricity until 1950, oil lamps and candles were used to provide lighting. Aydon was completely self-sufficient and the Rowell family appear to have lived well. In a county guide published in 1889, the writer William Tomlinson described Aydon as “a better class farm house, though still retaining many of its ancient features.” As farming became less profitable in the early 20th century and with the roofs needing constant attention, Sir Charles Blackett, the ninth baronet, placed the castle in the guardianship of the Ministry of Works in 1966. A thorough restoration got underway which included the removal of practically all the 19th century fittings (Summerson, 2004). Surviving little changed from its original state, Aydon Castle is an outstanding example of a 13th century manor house.

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“The poetry of history lies in the quasi-miraculous fact that once, on this earth, once, on this familiar spot of ground, walked other men and women, as actual as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions.” G.M. Trevelyan: Autobiography of an Historian (1949).

Aydon Castle is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade I Listed.

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Stokesay Castle: Gatehouse

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At the time of the compilation of the Domesday Book in 1086, Stokesay formed part of a prosperous estate called Stoches. An Anglo-Saxon word which suggests the presence of a cattle farm, Stoches was held by the Lacy family who became lords of Weobley and Ludlow. The first recorded tenants appear to have built a small keep with an adjacent hall (Jenkins, 2003). Dendrochronological evidence shows that building at Stokesay did not begin until after 1285 when the local wool merchant, Laurence of Ludlow, owned the rights of the manor – purchased some four year earlier. Laurence erected the impressive manor house with crenellated tower and built walls round an inner bailey. His family occupied Stokesay until 1598.

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While Stokesay is a castle in name only, when the antiquary John Leyland passed through Shropshire in 1543 he described it as “buildid like a castel.” The title of Stokesay Castle only became common during the 16th and 17th centuries which no doubt reflected the social pretensions of its owners and as Alec Clifton-Taylor (1986) notes, “a castle was a good address.” Although a stone curtain wall was built to enclose Stokesay, the present gatehouse was not built until 1640. Nothing remains of the original gatehouse which was likely to have been of stone construction (Summerson, 2009). Unique to the Middle Ages, castles, or feudal residences, were more often than not lived in than fought over. Simple gate towers were in use throughout the medieval period, usually as secondary gates, and the ostentatious embellishment of gatehouses had their part to play from the 14th century onwards (Friar, 2003).

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The widow of a former Lord Mayor of London, Dame Elizabeth Craven, purchased Stokesay in 1620. Her son William was a soldier who spent much of his time abroad and he made permanent alterations to the appearance of Stokesay between 1640 and 1641. The gatehouse timbers are dated between 1639-1641 – when William was busy with building work. Given the ornately decorated character, the gatehouse was not concerned with defensibility. The two storey gatehouse is half-timbered and features a central passageway with a studded door. The ground level walls are close studded with the first floor jettied out above. Carved along the lintel above the entrance is the biblical story of the fall of man with the trees of life and the knowledge of good and evil at each end. Adam and Eve appear on the ornately carved brackets flanking the entrance with others exquisitely depicting angels, acanthus leaves and dragons. “A real touch of the Renaissance – what fun those craftsmen had!” (Clifton-Taylor, 1986)

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At some point the gatehouse became a refuge for a coiner and by 1877 there was a caretaker living in the building. When the architectural historian Thomas Hudson Turner visited Stokesay in 1845, he described it as “one of the most perfect and interesting buildings which we possess.” Following the death of Jewell Allcroft in 1992, Stokesay was placed in the guardianship of English Heritage and a four year campaign of restoration got underway.

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Referred to as domus defensabiles in the Domesday Book, fortified homesteads were both a residence and a personal stronghold. The inherent desire to provide a facade with a “satisfying architectural climax” (Friar, 2003) is more than evident at Stokesay. What survives at Stokesay Castle is a remarkable example of a fortified manor house and the “breezy Jacobean gatehouse is a gem” (Jenkins, 2003).

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“I do love these ancient ruins: We never tread upon them, but we set our foot upon some reverend history.” John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi (1612)

The gatehouse is Grade I Listed and a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

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Stokesay Castle: The Great Hall

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South wall

Early medieval houses tended to have halls of aisled construction but gradually the obstructive posts were omitted resulting in a magnificent building type. The 13th century carpenters were experimenting in methods which would obviate the need for aisle posts and the cruck form of roof construction, which transferred the weight of the roof to the walls, eventually made them unnecessary. There is no evidence that the hall at Stokesay ever had aisles but there was likely to have been a screen across it. Reducing the size of the hall when it was used for its principle function, a wooden screen would have provided shelter from the draughts from the screens passage which led to the service rooms – the buttery, pantry and kitchen (Friar, 2003). The hall in a medieval castle or manor house, such as Stokesay, was the nucleus of an estate and considered the most important room in a dwelling. The walls of the hall would have been plastered and whitened and some of the original plasterwork can be seen on the north and south walls at Stokesay (see above). The hall at Stokesay stands on the western side of the courtyard and was built in the early 1290’s.

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Built of sandstone rubble and retaining its extraordinary timber roof, the Great Hall at Stokesay is described as “one of the most evocative medieval halls” (Friar, 2003). Built to replace an earlier wooden hall, it comprises four bays with separate gables above each window and the doorway. The roof was originally supported by three pairs of crucks with each pair braced by two collar beams. Each cruck rested on a stone corbel above the hall floor but they were replaced by stone pilasters in the 19th century. The roof is a fantastic range of raised crucks, aisled end trusses and an unusual example of collar-purlins without crown posts (vertical king or crown posts provided extra stability). The fabulous cruck timbers cover the whole expanse of the hall and the three great wooden arches over the room are a rare survival for this period. Each supported by two horizontal collars, the topmost collars are supported below by pairs of struts. The arches are linked by purlins (the horizontal beams) which run along the side walls of the roof.

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It is unknown where Laurence of Ludlow obtained his timber however, following his death some years later, his eldest son William was recorded as buying 24 oaks from the royal woods at Bushmoor and Haycrust – five miles north of Stokesay. Under the supervision of the carpenter, trees were cut up where they fell and the same marks of arcs and circles are found in the north tower, hall and solar block. The timbers have been dated by dendrochronology to the late 1280’s and show that these buildings were erected at the same time and possibly overseen by the same carpenter. The two upper floors of the north tower are accessed from the hall via a wooden staircase (below). Similar to the roof, this staircase survives from the late 13th century and the same carpenter’s marks occur on both. Using high quality wood, the treads of the staircase are cut from whole tree trunks and the sturdy brackets supporting the landing also date to the 1290’s (Summerson, 2009).

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North wall with 13th century timber stair

Three large windows feature on the east and west walls and as was usual in the 13th century, only the upper parts of the windows were glazed. The lower levels were commonly open to the elements in fine weather and covered by wooden shutters in cold or rain. Shutters were almost invariably fitted to window openings with surfaces often painted with heraldic and other decoration. With glazing an expensive commodity, shutters were often braced like doors with pulleys and ropes used to close larger sets (Friar, 2003). The pointed trefoil head to the lights, which was much more common during the 13th century, feature at Stokesay and the hall windows have soffit cusps – more usual for the period are cusps built as part of the chamfer of the lights (Wood, 1994).

Enchanted by what he saw, the writer Henry James visited Stokesay in 1877 and remarked: “I have rarely had, for a couple of hours, the sensation of dropping back personally into the past so straight as while I lay on the grass beside the well in the little sunny court of this small castle and lazily appreciated the still definite details of medieval life.”

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North end with wooden window shutters