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Roman Wall, Northumberland

Historical Description

Roman Wall, an ancient bulwark in Northumberland and Cumberland, from Wallsend on the river Tyne, 73½ miles westward, to Bowness on the Solway Frith. It was constructed either by Hadrian in 120, or by Severus in 197. It consists of three parts-first, a stone wall, with a ditch on itsN side; second, a vallum of triple earthworks to the S of the stone wall; third, stations, castles, watch-towers, and roads, chiefly between the stone wall and the vallum. The works proceed from E to W in nearly a direct line; they follow, for the most part, the natural configuration of the country, with only such deviations as give them positions of strength; and they rise, in many places, to altitudes of from 400 to 1000 feet above sea-level. The stone wall and the vallnm are generally within from 180 to 240 feet of each other, bat they mutually recede or approach in many places, according to the contour of the country; and they approach in one place to within 90 feet of each other, and recede in another place to a distance of half a mile. The stone wall varies in thickness from 6 feet to 9¼, is thought to have been at least 12 feet high, was built of large blocks narrowed at one end and cemented together with mortar, and had so rude a construction as to indicate that the native Britons were employed by the Romans in forming it. Long reaches of it at each end are now obliterated, but throughout the central hill region there are abundant and extremely interesting remains, the wall itself being distinctly traceable, the base and the core of rubble-stone remaining, and in some places, especially near the station ½sica, great stretches of wall 8 or 9 courses high still standing. The ditch on the N side of the wall was broad and deep, clung closely to it along even the most difficult pieces of ground, added greatly to its strength and to its comparative height, and, with trifling interruptions, even in places where the stone wall itself is obliterated, can still be traced all the way from Wallsend to Bowness. The vallum falls short of the stone wall by about 3 miles at each end, terminating at Newcastle on the E and at Drumburgh on the W. It consists of three ramparts and a fosse-one of the ramparts close to the S edge of the fosse; the other ramparts of larger dimensions, the one to the N, the other to the S, at the distance of about 24 feet; and it still, in many places, not only is very distinctly traceable, but lifts its ramparts 6 or 7 feet above the level of the neighbouring ground. The stations occur at an average distance of nearly 4 miles along the wall's line; were really garrison towns suited to the residence of military chiefs and of bodies of soldiery; seem, in some instances, though connected with the wall, to have been built before it; were of a quadrangular form, rounded at the comers; comprised, in most instances, an area of from 3 to A acres; were situated in places where an abundant supply of water could be obtained; had narrow streets intersecting one another at right angles; and were inclosed with a stone wall about 5 feet thick, strengthened probably in every case by a fosse, and in some cases also by an exterior earthen rampart. The castles stood at distances from one another of about a Roman mile, hence commonly called " mile-castles;" were quadrangular buildings, mostly about 60 feet from E to W, and about 50 from N to S; appear to have been all built about the same time as the stone wall; and were placed immediately within it, so as to have the wall's structure for their own N side. The watch-towers stood, to the number of'three, between each pair of the castles, and seem to have been little more than stone sentry-turrets. A military way, about 20 feet wide, runs S of the wall and from station to station; does not follow exactly the line of The wall, but takes the easiest coarse from point to point; and is now, over much of its length, identical with the military road formed in the 18th century by General Wade to facilitate communication between Newcastle and Carlisle. Another road ran to the S of the vallum, and at certain reaches of curvature in the wall's course gave direct communication from point to point. Some of the stations have been almost or entirely effaced, but others have left distinct traces or interesting remains, and that of Borcovicus, at Housesteads, 5½ miles NE of Haltwhistle, retains much of its original masonry, and exhibits one of the most interesting groups of Roman remains in England. Multitudes of interesting Roman relics of all kinds have been found at the stations and other parts of the wall, and are preserved in public and private museums. The best approach to the wall is from Gilsland, 17 miles E of Carlisle, on the N.E.R., from which place it is easy to trace the remains across the hills or to visit the most interesting stations-" Amboglauna" at Birdoswald, "½Esica"at Greatehesters, " Borcovicus" at Housesteads, and " Cilurnum" at Chesters. A full account of the entire work, and of its relics, is given in Dr Broce's " Roman Wall."

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5

Land and Property

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