Chesters Roman fort: Barracks

Chesters Roman Fort © David Gill

The excavated barrack buildings at Chesters lies in the north-east quadrant of the fort. The present buildings may date to a later phase of the fort (late 2nd or 3rd century).

Chesters was a cavalry fort and it appears that the troopers and their horses shared the accommodation, separated by a wooden partition.

A central gutter runs down the lane that lies between the two facing blocks.

Note the Ministry of Works ‘Barrack Block’ sign.

Roman Sites and English Heritage

Walltown Crags, Hadrian’s Wall © David Gill

Hadrian’s Wall and Stanegate


Roman Forts

Saxon Shore Forts

Roman Towns

Roman Villas

Roman Temples

Other features

Legio VI on Hadrian’s Wall

Legio VI inscription (inverted) in the Vicar’s Pele, Lanercost Priory © David Gill

A building inscription recording the work of Legio VI is built into the 13th century Vicar’s Pele at Lanercost Priory (RIB 1968), immediately below and to the left of the window. The inscription (incorporated upside down) records:

Leg(io) VI V[ic(trix)]
Pia Fid(elis) [f(ecit)]

It is suggested the stone was originally located on Hadrian’s Wall between Turret 49a and Milecastle 57.

Mann has noted a series of similar inscriptions naming Legio VI. One was observed at Birdoswald around 1599 (RIB 1916). Another comes from Milecastle 50 (High House) on the stone wall (i.e. to the north of Milecastle 50 on the turf wall) just to the west of the fort at Birdoswald (RIB 1934), and two more from Turret 50a (High House) on the Stone Wall (RIB 1938, 1939). Another was built into a farmhouse at Naworth, south of Turret 53a (Hare Hill) (RIB 1966), and another from Lanercost, south of Turret 53b (Craggle Hill) (RIB 1967).

Inscription in the Vicar’s Pele, Lanercost Priory © David Gill

Hadrian’s Wall: end signs

Bowness on Solway © David Gill

The formal end of Hadrian’s Wall is at Bowness on Solway. This is marked on the western side of the site of the Roman fort by a sign pointing not only to Wallsend (see Segedunum) at the eastern end, but also along the Cumbrian coastal defence system to the Roman fort at Maryport.  A further finger points to Rome (1150 miles).

Hadrian’s Wall: the view across the Solway

Bowness from across the Solway © David Gill

Hadrian’s Wall ‘ends’ at Bowness on Solway (Maia). The modern village clusters over the site of the Roman fort.

Bowness on Solway © David Gill

Just to the east is the fort at Drumburgh (Coggabata / Congabata) guarding one of the fords over the Solway. At high tide this looks a ‘secure’ frontier, but at low tide the mud flats are a reminder why the frontier was pushed so far to the west.

Drumburgh from across the Solway with the Lake district beyond © David Gill

Guidebooks to Housesteads

1952 [5th impress. 1960]
The Roman fort at Housesteads stands at one of the most dramatic points of Hadrian’s Wall. The site was purchased by John Clayton (see also Chesters) and the fort was excavated by Robert Carr Bosanquet, a subsequent director of the British School at Athens. During the 1930s there was a major campaign to protect Hadrian’s Wall, and in 1930 the Housesteads estate was presented to The National Trust. The first guidebook to the site was written by Eric Birley (National Trust, 1936).

1952 [8th impress. 1970]
In 1951 Housesteads was placed in the guardianship of the Ministry of Works. Birley’s guide was revised and published as a Ministry of Works guidebook (2nd. ed. 1952). This includes sections on The Site; Historical Outline; The Fort; The Milecastle; The Settlement; and The Museum. There is a fold-out paper plan inside the back cover. This guidebook continued as a blue guide into the 1970s.


English Heritage produced by a guidebook by J.G. Crow (1989). The guide carries advertising for Gateway. This fully illustrated (but black and white) guidebook starts with a Tour of the Fort, and then moves outside: Milecastle 37; Civil settlement; Knag Burn gateway. There are then sections on Northern Britain under the Romans, and a History of Housesteads Fort, including images of Bosanquet’s excavation. It includes a reconstruction by Richard Sorrell after Alan Sorrell.


The current English Heritage guidebook is also by Crow (2012). It contains numerous colour photographs, plans, and historic photographs. It leads with a tour of the fort and then features outside; there is a section on ‘the fort in its landscape’. There are a number of special features including the garrison, and gambling and crime.

This is one of a series of forts on or near Hadrian’s Wall that have (mostly) English Heritage guidebooks: Wallsend, Corbridge, Chesters, and Birdoswald.

Chesters Museum

Chesters Museum © David Gill

The collection in the site museum at Chesters Museum was formed by John Clayton (1792-1890) [ODNB]. He inherited the Chesters estate in 1832. The museum opened in 1903. The original layout was by the Egyptologist Sir Wallis Budge (1857-1934).

ODNB notes, ‘In the early twenty-first century the Clayton collection at Chesters Roman Fort and Museum—under the care of English Heritage—remains an internationally recognized site of Roman history and Victorian collecting practices’.

Chesters Museum © David Gill

Tucked inside my MPBW guidebook is a paper guide to the museum by Grace Simpson, the Honorary Curator. The sections include: History of the Museum; The Inscriptions; The Building of Hadrian’s Wall, with sub-sections on the Centurial Stones, Milecastle Inscriptions, Fort Inscriptions, Chesters Garrisons, The Second Ala of Asturians; Religious Sculptures, with a sub-section on Tombstones; Objects in the Show-Cases, with sub-sections on the Chesters Diploma, the Clayton Corn-Measure, the Water-Mill Stones, and Roman Flooring. The guide was printed by the Oxonian Press, Oxford.

Guide to Chesters Museum


Hot Bath at Chesters

Roman bath-house at Chesters © David Gill

The main bath-house at Chesters lies to the east of the Roman fort and alongside the river North Tyne. Interestingly the Ministry signs use the English, rather than Latin, terms for the rooms. Thus the Hot Room is preferred over caldarium. (The present English Heritage guide designates this as the ‘Steam Room’.) This room also contained a ‘Hot Bath’ on its west side (now described as ‘Apse containing hot water fountain’).

David Breeze in the 14th edition of the Handbook to the Roman Wall describes the caldarium as a  ‘hot room’. He interprets the apse as the location of ‘the warm bath’.

The site was placed in the care of the Ministry of Works in 1954.

Leading Visitor Attractions: English Heritage

Stonehenge © David Gill

The Visitor Figures for 2015 are now available (ALVA). The top English Heritage attraction is Stonehenge with 1.3 million visitors (no. 21) and showing an increase of 2.0% on 2014.

This is followed by:

  • no. 89: Dover Castle (331K)
  • no. 107: Osborne House (248K)
  • no. 133: Tintagel Castle (193K)
  • no. 144: Kenwood (159K)
  • no. 151: Audley End (150K)
  • no. 152: Whitby Abbey (146K)
  • no. 153: Clifford’s Tower (144K)
  • no. 162: Carisbrooke Castle (112K)
  • no. 163: Wrest Park (108K)
  • no. 166: Housesteads (107K)
  • no. 167: Battle Abbey (106K)
  • no. 168: Kenilworth Castle (106K)
  • no. 171: Eltham Palace (95K)
  • no. 176: Bolsover Castle (88K)
  • no. 180: Walmer Castle (76K)
  • no. 182: Pendennis Castle (73K)
Bolsover Castle © David Gill

South Shields (Arbeia) Roman Fort

South Shields Roman Fort © David Gill

The Roman fort at South Shields guards the mouth of the Tyne. The fort probably dates to the 160s, and major reconstruction took place in the early 3rd century. The site was first identified in 1875, and further excavations took place after the Second World War. The west gate was reconstructed in 1988.


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