Information

Chesters Roman Fort


Chesters Roman Fort, originally known as Cilurnum, was built as part of Hadrian’s Wall, the famous 73-mile barrier constructed under the remit of the Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century.

Chesters Roman Fort history

Chesters Roman Fort was built around 124 AD as a cavalry fort, and housed some 500 soldiers until the Romans left Britain in the 5th century. The first unit of troops were garrisoned at the fort to guard a bridge across the River Tyne, with an inscription naming them ala Augusta ob virtutem appellata, translated as ‘the cavalry regiment styled Augusta for its valour’.

In the mid-2nd century, the Sixth Legion were at Chesters Roman Fort and undertook a programme of building work, however it is uncertain as to whether they were permanently stationed there.

By 178-84 AD the Second Asturians hailing from northern Spain were garrisoned at Chesters and would remain at the fort until the end of the Roman period. They would have witnessed the site’s heyday between 180-250 AD, when the fort and its surrounding civilian settlement would have been a bustling hub of activity. It was also then that the fort was rebuilt, and from which the current remains of the barracks date.

Chesters Roman Fort today

Today, Chesters Roman Fort is managed by English Heritage and is open to visitors. The extensive and well-preserved remains include four main gates, an altar and shrine, and several buildings such as a baths complex and the commandant’s home.

As the most complete cavalry fort in Britain, Chesters Roman Fort offers an illuminating glimpse into the lives of the soldiers who lived here and the northernmost reaches of the Roman Empire.

Within the site’s adjoining museum, there is also a large display of Roman artefacts found at the site and along Hadrian’s Wall. Highlights of these include two carved incense burners, a figurine of a ‘scotty dog’, a centurial building stone, and a statue of the Roman goddess Juno, all dated around 2,000 years old.

Getting to Chesters Roman Fort

Chesters Roman Fort is located near Chollerford in Northumberland on the B6318 road, and there is parking at the site. The nearest train station is 5.5 miles away at Hexham, from which the AD122 Hadrian’s Wall bus may be taken to the site between April and October. The 680 Tynedale Links bus service also stops at the Recreation ground, a 10-minute walk to the site.


Hadrian’s Cavalry: Bringing Horses Back To Chesters Roman Fort

Did you know that the Roman army had cavalry? And that mounted units were stationed along Hadrian’s Wall, the 73 mile-long north-west frontier of their empire? It’s not often that we get a chance to explore this neglected aspect of Roman military history. But it’s a story that we’re helping to tell in 2017, so we asked two of our experts to tell us a bit more.

Frances McIntosh, Curator of Roman Collections, explains the history of cavalry at Hadrian’s Wall and our preparations for this summer. Kevin Booth, Senior Curator of the North, introduces the atmospheric new installation which you can see at Chesters Roman Fort.


Chesters Roman Fort - History

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A History of Chester-le-Street

“The history of Chester-le-Street is a succession of vague glimpses and large gaps.”

The known history of Chester-le-Street dates back to 122 AD when a Roman fort was built along the banks of the River Wear. The site of the fort was centred on the Church Chare area. The fort was possibly called “Congangis”. The fort was a base for the legions stationed on Hadrian’s Wall. The fort was rebuilt several times before it was abandoned at the end of the Roman occupation in 407AD. Some of the remains of the Commandant’s House can be seen at the corner of Low Chare beside the Salvation Army and Parish Centre.

The next important stage in Chester-le-Street history began in 883 AD when the monks from Lindisfarne brought the body of St Cuthbert here. A wooden cathedral was built to house St Cuthbert’s remains. Chester-le-Street or Cuneceastre under Bishop Eardulph became the seat of the Anglo Saxon Bishops. Eight other bishops were based in the town. It was during these 125 years that the first translation into English of the Bible took place and the famous Lindisfarne Gospels were written here in Chester le Street.

In 995 AD the Danes were attacking the North East coast and the monks decided to move St Cuthbert’s body to a place of safety. After some time they chose the site of the now city of Durham. A new cathedral was built and Durham became the regions capital and seat of the Bishops of Durham. Chester-le-Street’s moment of glory had gone and an old saying “Durham lads have gold and brass, Chester lads have none” refers to this change in fortunes.

Chester-le-Street Parish Church stands on the site of the original cathedral and was built in the 13th century and dedicated to St Mary and St Cuthbert. The spire (50 metres or 156 feet) was added in 1409. The statues known as the Lumley warriors resting by the nave wall date from the reign of Elizabeth 1st. The Church registers start in 1582. The Ankers House Museum celebrates the lives of a number of anchorites who lived in the anchorage cells. The museum houses artefacts from Roman and Saxon times and tells the story of the town.

The Middle Ages saw “Chester in the street” as the head of the Manor of Chester Deanery. The church was the centre for local and diocese government. Many documents from this period have survived. The seats of two of the leading families in the area, the Lambton's and the Lumley's were near by. The medieval field system with large fields about the town continued up to the eighteenth century.

By the early eighteenth century Chester-le-Street was at the heart of the developing coalfields. The Great North road ran through the town en route from London to Newcastle. The main inns Lambton Arms, Queens Head and Kings Head were all coaching Inns. The engine works developed by members of the Murray family exported standing engines to all parts of England and abroad. The railways finally came to Chester-le-Street in 1867 and the impressive eleven arched viaduct has dominated the lower end of town since then.

Chester-le-Street was the head of the Chester Poor Law Union and the local government of the area was centred on the town. It was one of the largest wards in the area and the parish was one of the major parishes in the Bishopric.

By 1900 Murray’s engines were long gone and the town was a centre for trade, employment, amusement and entertainment for the colliery villages which surrounded it. Horner’s factory was for 50 years the home of Dainty Dinah toffee and the massive chimney was a feature of the skyline.

Following the First World War the expansion of motorised transport brought Northern buses and many other private bus companies to the town. The rise of the motorist caused great problems to the narrow Front Street and the By Pass built in the 1930’s was to relieve the traffic congestion.

The Town has expanded on three sides, new housing estates stretch nearly to Waldridge, Pelton and Birtley. The Front Street has hardly changed in area since 1900, but over the Twentieth century many family businesses have come and gone. The massive Co-operative Society Building has dominated the town both before the fire of 1932 and since with its Central Premises. Other shops such as Woolworth’s, Burtons and Boots have been in the Front Street most of the century.

The turn of the millennium has brought a different development to Chester-le-Street with the building of the Riverside complex. The home of Durham County Cricket Club, the Riverside has had coverage on television screens all over the world. The spectacular backcloth of Lumley Castle and the River Wear is now a familiar scene to cricket lovers.

“What a history the place would have, could it be fully and accurately recorded!”


Chesters Roman Fort and Museum – Hadrian’s Wall

Pick up a Chesters Fort takeover trail sheet from the admissions team and get ready for a Roman adventure. The Emperor has ordered you to run the fort, choose a character and use your trail to pick up tips to help you with your new job. Will you be the Commander, a messenger, a musician or a guard?

Stop off at the museum along the way to inspire your inner archaeologist, pack a picnic to eat by the river and run wild amongst the ruins. Enjoy family activities during the school holidays too.

School visits

Bring Roman Britain to life with a visit to one of the Roman Empire’s northern outposts on Hadrian’s Wall. Chesters Roman Fort is one of the most complete in Britain, with baths, steam room and officers’ quarters to explore.

BATHHOUSE AND RIVER VIEWS

A place to relax on Hadrian’s Wall for both Roman and modern visitors, Chesters is home to a spectacular Roman Bathhouse.

The tranquil riverside spa on the banks of the North Tyne would have been a relaxing and social environment for the weary soldiers. The complex of rooms offered soldiers hot, cold and steam baths as well as a changing room-cum-clubhouse.

Bring a picnic and enjoy the wonderful views from the site of the bathhouse.

MUSEUM OF ROMAN FINDS

Browse the recently updated Clayton Museum to discover a myriad of Roman finds, and find out about the ‘saviour of the Wall’, John Clayton.

A keen antiquarian, John Clayton (1792-1890), excavated many sites, discovering hundreds of altars, pieces of jewellery and religious artefacts, during his lifetime of excavations along the Wall.

These finds are cared for in the museum, which contains some of the most famous items, on behalf of the Trustees of the Clayton Collection. The museum first opened in 1896 and still has many of its original Edwardian display cabinets.

ROMAN CAVALRY FORT

Take a stroll through history around the fort and grounds that straddle Hadrian’s Wall. Chesters housed a garrison of 500 cavalry troops here for about 300 years.

Today you can still see all four principal gates of the fort, the headquarters building and courtyard, hall and regimental shrine. Plus, don’t miss the ruins of an elaborate and luxurious commandant’s house.

What you see of the fort today is the result of the excavations by John Clayton. His passion for archaeology played a vital role in the preservation of the Roman sites on Hadrian’s Wall in the Victorian era.

Free Self-led Visits

They offer free entry to qualifying learning groups.
Book a free education visit, and plan your day in your own way. Explore the remains of a tranquil riverside bathhouse and imagine the bustle of the cavalry fort, which used to house over 500 Roman troops. Then visit the museum to see the large collection of Roman finds from the site, and learn more about antiquarian John Clayton who discovered them


Chesters Hill Fort

Chesters Hill Fort has never been archaeologically excavated, but it was probably built in the first millennium BC. The surrounding earthworks stand in a remarkable state of completion, particularly the ramparts and the elaborate entrance on the north-west side.

Traces of roundhouses are still visible on the site, some of which overlap with the defences. This indicates the fort went through at least two distinct phases of occupation. Some of these houses may have been occupied in the first centuries AD, when parts of Scotland were controlled by the Romans. There may have been less need for the earlier defences as the local Votadini tribe appears to have enjoyed friendly relations with the Roman army.

The enclosure measures about 115m by 45m. It is surrounded by:

  • at least six impressive earthwork ramparts encircling the interior, surviving up to 5m high in places
  • elaborate entrances to the north-west and east
  • evidence for several other settlements, pit alignments, enclosures and ring ditches, which are no longer visible today but may have been contemporary with the fort

Today, from a distance the fort appears to be a grassy hillock. However, in its heyday it would have been much more impressive. Its ramparts may have been timber laced, with upright timbers (known as palisades) along the ramparts and around the entrances.

Defensive flaw

Unlike most Iron Age hill forts, Chester doesn’t sit on the highest point of its surrounding area. It’s overlooked by high ground to the south, which would have left the houses vulnerable to attack from arrows and slingshot. Perhaps this fort was designed more for prestige than protection.

Opening times

Please continue to follow government guidance, staying 2 metres away from other visitors, and bring your own hand sanitiser with you, to help keep everyone safe.


In the early 19th century Nathaniel Clayton, owner of Chesters House and Estate, moved hundreds of tons of earth to cover over the remains of the fort as part of parkland landscaping.

It created a smooth uninterrupted grassland slope down to the River Tyne, but he collected, before they disappeared, a number of Roman artefacts, which he kept in the family.

His son, John, a noted antiquarian, removed all his father’s work, exposing the fort, excavating, and establishing a small museum for his finds. John Clayton also made excavations at Housesteads Fort, Brocolitia Roman Temple, and Carvoran, among others.


Chesters Roman Fort & Museum

Chesters Roman Fort is the most complete Roman cavalry fort in Britain - wander around the unusually well-preserved baths and steam room, and the officers' quarters. Discover an amazing collection of Roman objects and inscriptions in the Clayton Museum, re-launched in 2016.

Whilst relaxing in English Heritage's most tranquil Fort, taste the Tearoom treats inside Chesters Tearoom.

A family trail, 'Chesters Takeover' will catapult you back in time. Become a Commander, Musician, Trooper or Messenger as you explore the Fort, picturesquely located by the North Tyne river.

Each year, English Heritage hosts a range of lively events aimed at bringing the story of Chesters Roman Fort to life. Find out more.

English Heritage maintains sites on Hadrian's Wall such as Carlisle Castle, Lanercost Priory, Birdoswald Roman Fort, Housesteads Roman Fort & Museum, Chesters Roman Fort & Museum, and Corbridge Roman Town. If you would be interested in visiting these multiple sites, or any of over 400 other Historic Places in England for free, English Heritage offers both a temporary Overseas Visitor Pass, and an Annual Membership. Follow the links below for more information

Chesters Roman Fort & Museum is open for you to visit. You now need to book your timed tickets in advance. English Heritage have introduced limits on visitor numbers to help keep everyone safe, and you won’t be able to visit without your booking confirmation. If you’re a Member for English Heritage, your ticket will be free, but you still need to book in advance. There are other new steps in place to ensure everyone’s safety, so your visit will be a little different. You can find more information on visitng below.

Chesters Roman Fort & Museum is open daily 10am - 5pm. Booking is essential, follow the link to book your time: https://englishheritage.seetickets.com/timeslots/chesters-roman-fort

With Gift-Aid: Adult: £9.90, Child (5-17 years): £6.00, Concession: £9.00, Family (2 adults, up to 3 children): £25.80 OR Family (1 adult, up to 3 children) £15.90.


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Northumberland Roman Sites

Black Carts includes a well-preserved stretch of Hadrian's Wall running across a farm field, with the remains of a wall turret. This section of the Wall stretches for 460 metres, following the course of the B6318, just north of the road. The turret is also known as Turret 29A and was one of a pair built to serve Milecastle 29, to the east.
Black Carts, Chollerford, Hadrian's Wall, Northumberland, England, NE46 4BZ

The Roman site at Brunton includes a short section of Hadrian's Wall, 69 metres in length, and the remains of a turret. The turret stands to a height of 2.5 metres. Interestingly, the interior of the turret features the remains of an altar. The turret measures 12.75 by 11.5 feet internally and is set into the thickness of the Wall on its north side.
Brunton, Hadrian's Wall, Northumberland, England, NE46 4EJ

One of the least known and yet, most interesting, of the Roman sites along the course of Hadrian's Wall, Carrawburgh Temple of Mithras is a 'mithraeum', or temple dedicated to the god Mithras, a form of sun god whose cult became extremely popular among soldiers of the Roman legions.
Simonburn, Hadrian's Wall, Northumberland, England, NE46 4DB

Cawfields boasts one of the best-preserved and most scenic stretches of Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland. The wall at Cawfields stretches across a steeply sloped site and terminates abruptly in high cliffs, where the land has been cut away by quarrying. On this stretch of the Wall is a large milecastle, easily accessed on foot.
Cawfields, Hadrian's Wall, Northumberland, England, NE49 9PJ

On the east bank of the River Tyne at Chollerford stand the remains of a Roman bridge. The west end of the bridge led to Chesters Roman Fort, and the bridge carried the line of Hadrian's Wall across the river to the fort. The remains are visible on both sides of the river and can be seen from a special viewing platform beside the bathhouse at Chesters.
A6079, Chollerford, Hadrian's Wall, Northumberland, England, NE46 4EN

Chesters Roman Fort is perhaps the best-preserved Roman cavalry fort in Britain. The fort was built in the early 2nd century to guard the point where Hadrian's Wall crossed the River South Tyne. The remains are quite extensive, which makes it very easy to get a feel for the layout of many of the major buildings in the fort. There is an extensive museum showcasing major finds from the site.
Chollerford, Hadrian's Wall, Northumberland, England, NE46 4EU

Heritage Rating: ?

Heritage Highlight: Exceptional Roman bath complex
Nearest: Hotels - Self Catering - Bed and Breakfasts

There's a lot of history packed into a small site at Corbridge. There were Roman forts here for several centuries, and they played a pivotal role in Roman control over what is now northern England. The site is located at the junction of the major Roman roads of Stane Street and Dere Street. Indeed, Stane Street passes directly through the site.
Corbridge, Hadrian's Wall, Northumberland, England, NE45 5NT

When the Roman successfully invaded Britain in 43 AD, they quickly overcame the southern British tribes, despite annoyances like the revolt of the Iceni under Boudicca. It was a different story in the north, where tribes from what is now Scotland were a constant thorn in the Roman's side.
Hadrian's Wall, Northumberland, England

Housesteads is the best preserved of the thirteen permanent Roman army posts along the length of Hadrian's Wall, the famous barrier built to keep the northern tribes out of the settled Roman south.
Haydon Bridge, Hexham, Hadrian's Wall, Northumberland, England, NE47 6NN

Heritage Rating: ?

Heritage Highlight: The most complete Roman fort in Britain
Nearest: Hotels - Self Catering - Bed and Breakfasts

Planetrees is a short section of Hadrian's Wall, about 15 metres long. At Planetrees the Wall is narrow and is set upon very broad foundations. This illustrates clearly the change in plan that was implemented partway through the construction of the Wall when the initial wide Wall design was downsized to allow for a much narrower wall layout.
Chollerford, Hadrian's Wall, Northumberland, England, NE46 4EQ

Heritage Rating: ?

Heritage Highlight: See where Hadrian's Wall changed from broad to narrow design
Nearest: Hotels - Self Catering - Bed and Breakfasts


Local History

The town of Chester-le-Street stands in a valley to the west of the River Wear about five miles to the north of Durham. Although this is an ancient and historic town, there are no remains from prehistory. A simple bronze axe has been discovered, but it was found along with Roman objects, and it may have been a souvenir found by a Roman soldier or civilian.

The Roman fort at Chester-le-Street, known as Concangis, was probably founded in around AD216. Many other Roman forts have been found in the area. A bathhouse with a hypocaust lies to the south and a Roman bridge has been found. Coins and many altars and inscriptions have been discovered. It is likely that as well as the fort, a civilian settlement also grew up in the area.

The site of the fort remained important. When the Vikings attacked the monastery at Lindisfarne in AD793 it began a period of great danger for the monks. After further attacks the monks left Holy Island with the body of the great St Cuthbert and sought shelter inland. After a period of wandering they ended up in Chester-le-Street, where they were given land to found a new monastery. It was here that the Bishop of Lindisfarne, Eardwulf, became the first Bishop of Chester-le-Street. This monastery remained an important centre of religion and learning. The monastery was established within the walls of the old Roman fort on the site of the present church of St Mary and St Cuthbert. The monks at Chester-le-Street carried out the first translation of the Latin gospels into Old English. The monastery remained at Chester-le-Street until Ad995, when following further raids, this time from Scotland, led to the monks seeking shelter in Durham, where the great shrine to St Cuthbert was built.

One Bishop, Egelric, built a new church here in the 11th century. A hoard of Roman coins was found during the excavation- the bishop stole these coins and ran away to Peterborough with his new found riches!

The Golden Age of Chester-le-Street ended with this movement to Durham. However, it remained an important town. The large church of St Mary and St Cuthbert was rebuilt in 1262, and a large spire added in c.1400. This church contains the remains of many stone effigies of members of the nobility from the surrounding area. A small medieval anchorage was built on the northern side of this church. A college of monks was founded at the church in 1286, though no remains can now be seen. As well as religious buildings, there were other developments in medieval Chester-le-Street. For example, a large stone bridge was built over the Wear in 1528. Chester-le-Street was also the site of a curious football game, which was played on Shrove Tuesday, with many players on each side. Although its origins are uncertain it was almost certainly of medieval origin.

In the post-medieval period Chester-le-Street remained an important regional market town, but it also increasingly became an industrial centre, and was the centre for the local mining populations. There were several industries based within the town, including an engineering works, foundries and even a jam factory.

Those of Chester-le-Street who served in the First World War are commemorated on war memorials in various locations around the town whilst many of the buildings were used by the military throughout the conflict, one of which, the Drill Hall, is still used as a Territorial Army (T.A.) Centre in the present day. The main town memorial was centrally located before being demolished and the main plaques relocated to a new memorial wall in the grounds of the parish church of St. Mary and St. Cuthbert.

Many other memorials can be found around the town that commemorate the deeds of those who fought and died in war, the majority of which can be found in churches and public buildings. Pelton Fell in the northwest of the parish, however, has a number of larger-scale memorials, including the cenotaph in the memorial park and a crescent of 24 memorial homes at Gardiner Terrace, built and named after Sir Robert Gardiner in 1922.

Historic maps of the western area of the parish south of Pelton show a late 19th century rifle range crossing the Twizell Burn through Grange Plantation to the southwest of Newfield - it is likely that the rifle range was used as a training site for troops before and during WW1.

Reference number:D6761

Please note that this information has been compiled from a number of different sources. Durham County Council and Northumberland County Council can accept no responsibility for any inaccuracy contained therein. If you wish to use/copy any of the images, please ensure that you read the Copyright information provided.


Watch the video: Chesters Roman Fort (January 2022).