Vindolanda: the military bath-house

Military bath-house, Vindolanda during conservation © David Gill

The military bath-house at Vindolanda lies on the northern side of the excavated vicus outside the west gate of the fort. The bath-house was one of the first structures to be excavated by the Vindolanda Trust as it was felt that it would provide visitors with something to see and therefore would generate income for the site. This was undertaken over two seasons in 1970 and 1971.

This view from the mid 1970s shows the view across the bath-house looking south towards the replica stretches of the stone and turf walls. Note the placing of a seat within the bath complex to allow visitors to look across the excavations. The conservation was undertaken by a team from the Department of the Environment.

This same view, some 40 years later, shows the present display of the bath-house taken from the viewing platform. Note how the grass has been replaced with gravel.

Military bath-house, Vindolanda © David Gill

Vindolanda: the Replica of the Turf Wall

Turf Wall replica, Vindolanda © David Gill

In 1972/73 the Vindolanda Trust decided to construct a possible replica of the turf wall that had formed part of Hadrian’s Wall west of the river Irthing. This photograph must have been taken in the mid 1970s as the ditch appears to have been cut relatively recently.

The replica did not meet with enthusiasm. J. McMillan, the Deputy Director of Education for Gateshead, wrote to The Times (27 April 1974) in defence of the project: ‘the replicas add another dimension to the site’. Indeed there was a libel case that found in favour of the archaeologists working at Vindolanda (‘Apology to Vindolanda archaeologists’, The Times 21 May 1974).

Vindolanda: The Ministry of Works and the Roman fort

Vindolanda, Roman Fort © David Gill

The Roman fort at Vindolanda was purchased by Eric Birley in the sale of the Clayton estate in 1929. Birley placed the fort itself into state care in November 1939. The Vindolanda Trust was formed in 1970 and the fort is now managed as part of the larger site including the vicus.

It is thought that the first fort was erected c. AD 85.

The Ministry of Works sign appears to be located at the west entrance to the fort.

Hadrian’s Wall: Milecastle 39

Hadrian’s Wall, Castle Nick (MC39) © David Gill

Milecastle 39 at Castle Nick lies to the west of the Roman fort at Housesteads. This photograph was taken in the early 1980s, prior to the excavations in 1985-87. The internal buildings have since been uncovered, and Hadrian’s Wall to the east has now been conserved and restored. Notice the makeshift ramp in the north-east corner of the milecastle providing access to the wall itself. The spoil heaps on the east and west sides of the milecastle have now been removed. The path has been moved away from the line of the wall.

Plan before you build a wall

Hadrian’s War near Gilsland © David Gill

The stretch of Hadrian’s Wall between Poltross Burn (MC48) and Willowford Bridge (below Birdoswald fort) is the most westerly section of the original stone wall. The turf wall started to the west of the river Irthing (and Willowford).

The wall had been planned to have been built to a width of approximately 10 Roman feet, but here it was constructed to a narrower scale of 8 Roman feet (but on the broad wall foundation). It appears that a more modest scheme was adopted to ensure the completion of the project.

Legionary Building Stone near Vindolanda

Inscription found near Vindolanda © David Gill

This building stone was found in a field wall near Vindolanda by the Reverend Anthony Hedley prior to 1835 (RIB 1708). It appears to show a boar, and the inscription states the name of the unit: Legio XX V(aleria) V(ictrix).

The stone is now in the museum at Chesters Roman Fort (inv. CH256).

See a building inscription for Legio VI here.

Fixed Frontiers

Walltown Crags, Hadrian’s Wall © David Gill

As you stand on the northern edge of the Roman Empire it is hard not to speculate on why Hadrian decided to replace the string of forts along the military road (the Stanegate) to a fixed military frontier. Equally important is the economic cost: of the construction, but then of the garrison and upkeep of the defences. And was it effective? Within a generation the line was abandoned and the frontier moved north to the Antonine Wall.

Coventina’s Well

Inscription from Carrawburgh (Chesters Museum) © David Gill

In 1876 a dedication was recovered during the excavation of the sanctuary at Coventina’s Well, just to the west of the fort at Carrawburgh on Hadrian’s Wall (RIB 1534). The relief shows the goddess Coventina (note ‘vv’ in the inscription). The dedication is by Titus D() Cosconianus, the prefect of the 1st Cohort of Batavians.

The unit is known at Carrawburgh from the early 3rd century AD. Aelius Tertius, another prefect of the unit, made a dedication to Coventina (RIB 1535).

The dedication is now displayed in the museum at Chesters Roman fort.

Guidebooks to Chesters Roman fort

1960 (6th impress. 1970)

The Roman fort at Chesters lies immediately to the west of where Hadrian’s Wall crossed the river North Tyne. The site, along with the Clayton Memorial Museum, was placed in State Guardianship in 1954. The official Ministry guidebook was prepared by Eric Birley, who also wrote the guides for Corbridge and Housesteads.

The sections include: the site; historical outline; the fort bath-house, bridge; civilian settlement; and museum. A foldout map inside the back cover shows the location of the fort and its environs, from Milecastle 26 to Milecastle 28. Plans of the fort and bath-house are included within the guide.

1990 (1999)

The English Heritage guide by J.S. Johnson was published in 1990. It is fully illustrated in black and white. It starts with a tour of the fort and bath-house; the museum; Chesters bridge; the Romans in the north; history of Chesters fort (including a section on the Chesters Estate and John Clayton). It includes reconstructions by Alan Sorrell.


The most recent English Heritage guide is by Nick Hodgson (who also wrote the EH guide to Corbridge). This is fully illustrated in colour. It follows the patter of tour then history. A foldout plan inside the back cover shows the layout of the adjacent civilian settlement.

One of the features includes the so-called Crosby Garrett Roman cavalry helmet.

Milefortlet 21 Swarthy Hill

Milefortlet 21 © David Gill

Milefortlet 21 lies to the south of Allonby on the Solway estuary. It is part of the extension to Hadrian’s Wall that runs down the coast of Cumbria to the fort at Maryport. It stands towards the summit of Swarthy Hill looking across the mouth of the estuary.

Swarthy Hill © David Gill

The Roman fort at Maryport is in direct sight of the milefortlet (on the horizon, to the south). The fortlet itself was excavated in 1990 and 1991, and has since been laid out for visitors.

Milefortlet 21 © David Gill

The fortlet provides good observations across the Solway to Galloway. Note the later saltpans on the edge of the shore.

Solway from Swarthy Hill, with saltpans below © David Gill
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