The Roman Fort

The Roman Fort

[All that can be seen of the fort today.]

The Roman fort at Lanchester lies half a mile south-west of the village on the line of Dere Street, originally a military supply route running from York to the Firth of Forth, later becoming the main supply route to Hadrians wall from the fortress at York.
There is very little to see on the surface at the site in Lanchester although a geomagnetic survey has revealed the complete plan of the fort.
The fort is on private land and there is no public access. It is however possible to view the site from the lay-by on road B6296 where there is an information board giving details of the fort. Visitors are not to trespass on the site.

Built in AD 140, the fort covered six acres and housed foot soldiers and cavalry, probably in the region of 1000 troops.
In many Roman forts the only 'Romans' were the officers with many of the remaining troops being from other parts of the Roman Empire. In the case of Lanchester or Longovicium, as it was then known, there are references of units from Lingones, (spain) and Suebi (Germany) stationed at the fort.
Lanchester is the only fort on Dere street that is in a good state of preservation, it has been in the possession of the Greenwell family since 1633. They have allowed no development to damage the site or its surrounding area.
Knowledge of the site is derived partly from chance discoveries made over the years in the course of stone robbing, cultivation and from a limited excavation and examination undertaken in 1937.

In each of the four sides of the fort there was a gateway, each appearing to have been flanked by guard towers. At each corner and also at intervals around the perimeter, there were smaller towers, probably used as look out posts or for signalling. One of these towers was the subject of an excavation in 1937.
[Roman altar.] Scarcely anything is known of the internal buildings of the fort. Two rooms probably from what could have been the commandants house, both warmed by hot air from beneath, were discovered in the middle of the 19th century, a barrack block and a bath house have also been identified.
Outside the wall traces of a civil settlement have been found and a Roman cemetry to the west of the fort was revealed during the ground clearance for the construction of a major gas pipeline in 1981.
There are also references made to the discovery of two aqueducts, first described by John Hodgson, curate at Lanchester 1804-6. Although the supply of water for normal drinking purposes was within easy reach of the fort, demands for other purposes could only be met by bringing in water from further afield. The aqueduct supplied this water to the fort, first fed by a reservoir created by the damming of two streams, some three miles to the west of the fort.

Owing to its proximity to the village, the fort has undoubtedly proved a easy and convenient source of building materials. The monolithic columns on the North side of the parish church are Roman and in all probability came from the colonnade of the headquarters building.
Many inscribed stones are said to have been found in the course of stone robbing, most of these probably being broken up due to shear ignorance and lack of understanding. Those that have been salvaged and recorded form an invaluable base for the history of the fort. Some such inscribed and stones, sculptures and finds of coins are now held in the Dean and Chapter Library at Durham and the Blackgate Museum in Newcastle upon Tyne.

The Roman altar (pictured above) which stands in the porch of the church was found in 1893 just north of the Roman fort at a spring on the Alderdene Burn. The Altar dedicated to the goddess Garmangabis dates from about 244 AD.

A number of other Roman forts were built along the length of Dere street. In County Durham these were at Binchester (Vinovia) and Ebchester (Vindomora).
At Ebchester the line of the fort rampart can be seen on the north side of the A694. The angle turret and curve of the rampart are visible at the N-E, N-W and S-W corners of the fort site. A number of inscribed stones can be seen in St. Ebba's Church, they include a Roman altar to the god Jupiter.
At Binchester (1.5 miles north of Bishop Auckland)the remains of the commanding officer's house can be seen along with the best preserved Roman military bath house in Britain, and a interesting stretch of Dere Street.
There are also other Dere street forts at Catterick (Cataractonium), Piercebridge (Morbium) and Corbridge (Corstopitum).

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Photographs Copyright © 1999, Lynn Hedley

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