Corbridge Roman Town

Corbridge Roman Town

Corbridge Roman Town was a thriving ancient Roman settlement near Hadrian’s Wall that served as a military garrison, supply centre, and hub of civilian life. Today its well-preserved ruins may be explored, affording guests an insight into the world of Roman Britain.

Corbridge Roman Town history

Before Emperor Hadrian built his famous 73-mile wall, a succession of forts occupied the site of Corbridge from around 85 AD. These forts were built at a crossing of the River Tyne, and sat along one of the main routes northwards at the junction of Dere Street and the Stanegate – two of the most important Roman thoroughfares.

In 128 AD, Corbridge was modified to provide support for Hadrian’s Wall, built just 2.5 miles north, and became a key site for soldiers passing through on their way there. In the early 160s AD, Corbridge also became a base for legionaries, hosting the Twentieth Legion and Sixth Legion. Its original name, Coria, means ‘hosting place’ in Celtic, symbolising its role as a meeting place at the northwestern frontier of the Empire.

Following its occupation by the legionaries, a vast rebuilding program began at Corbridge. Its granaries were rebuilt, alongside a huge warehouse and market complex consisting of a number of rooms around a central courtyard, indicating its use as an important supply centre.

By the 3rd century, Corbridge had grown a thriving civilian centre around its military garrison and supply centre, and was the capital of the local administrative division. After the Romans’ departure from Britain in the 5th century however, it was rapidly abandoned and fell to ruin.

Corbridge Roman Town today

Today, Corbridge Roman Town is managed by English Heritage and is open to the public. Visitors can explore the roads and remains of the town, which include its well-preserved granaries, houses, workshops and markets. Most of the remains date from the 3rd and 4th centuries, with a small amount of wall from the original 1st century fort visible within the courtyard building.

The site’s accompanying museum offers one of the best collections of Roman artefacts in the country, and includes a fascinating array of items from the ancient town. Highlights include the Corbridge Lion, a magnificent stone statue once featured atop a Roman fountain, a gaming board complete with counters, die, and shaker, and the ‘hunt cup’, an ornate pottery vessel depicting a hunting scene.

Also within the museum is the Corbridge Hoard, found inside a chest buried over 1,900 years ago by a Roman soldier. Inside, a number of artefacts were unearthed including a suit of Roman armour used in the first reconstruction of its kind.

Getting to Corbridge Roman Town

Corbridge Roman Town is located half a mile north-west of the village of Corbridge, on a minor road off the A69. Free parking is available at the site, with additional parking in Corbridge by the river. Corbridge train station is a 25-minute walk to the site, while the 686 bus service runs to the Roman Town entrance stop directly outside. A number of other bus services run into the centre of Corbridge, from which it is 15-minute walk to the site.


Corbridge

The village of Corbridge is located in south Northumberland, 16 miles west of Newcastle and 3½ miles east of Hexham. It stands in an elevated position on the north bank of the river Tyne, within a parish and deanery of the same name.

Corbridge has a long history, recorded from early times. The Romans created a town and administrative centre here, called Corstopitum. The Roman road known as Watling Street passes through the parish. Corstopitum was known as a centre where the surrounding British people lived and worked much as they had before the Romans came.

The Anglican church of St. Andrews is the parish church of Corbridge, and is thought to have been consecrated in 676AD. St. Wilfrid is supposed to have built the church at the same time that Hexham Abbey was constructed. It has changed several times throughout the centuries, with a Norman doorway still in evidence, as well as a lych gate constructed in memory of the soldiers killed in the First World War. There are only three fortified vicarages in the county, and one of these is at Corbridge. Built during the reign of Edward II in the thirteenth century, the vicar's pele is to be found in the southeast corner of the churchyard, said to have walls 4 feet in thickness and built mainly from stones taken from Corstopitum. The register for St. Andrews dates from 1657. Later on in the town's ecclesiastical history, Wesleyan, Primitive and Free Methodist chapels were all built too.

Corbridge suffered, as did many other settlements in the county, from the border warfare which was particularly prevalent between 1300 and 1700. Raids were commonplace, and it was not unusual for the livestock to be brought into the town at night and a watch placed to guard either end of the street for marauders. The bridge over the Tyne at Corbridge dates from the thirteenth century, but has not survived. The present bridge was erected in 1674, an impressive stone structure with 7 arches.

Stagshaw Bank fair, held traditionally on July 4 th , was one of the most famous of the country fairs. It included a huge sale of stock, and was proclaimed each year by the bailiff to the Duke of Northumberland. Today the County Agricultural Show is held in the fields outside Corbridge each year, a very popular rural event, drawing people from all over Northumberland as well as further afield.


Cowbridge (Roman town)

Cowbridge was a small castra in Roman Wales within the Roman province of Britannia Superior. Today the contemporary settlement, Cowbridge, has a population of roughly 3,600.

Its name in Latin is unknown, although it is the strongest candidate for Bovium (corrected from the ablative Bomio) of the Antonine Itinerary. Its remains have been discovered beneath Cowbridge in the Welsh county of Vale of Glamorgan, previously Glamorganshire.

A Roman bath house or Thermae, abandoned by the early 2nd century, has been discovered which had bricks stamped by the 2nd Legion, suggesting perhaps some kind of early military establishment on the site. There were certainly funerary monuments of persons of status at this early period, including a fine sculpted lion. The settlement later became a ribbon development of typical timber and stone strip buildings within ditched enclosures fronting a north-south Roman road. Industry included agricultural processing and large scale iron working. Occupation continued into the 4th century.


Corbridge Roman Town - History

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    Coria was a fort and town, located 2.5 miles (4.0 km) south of Hadrian's Wall, in the Roman province of Britannia. Its full Latin name is uncertain. Today it is known as Corchester or Corbridge Roman Site, adjoining Corbridge in the English county of Northumberland. It is currently in the guardianship of English Heritage and is partially exposed as a visitor attraction, including a site museum.

    he place-name appears in contemporary records as both Corstopitum and Corie Lopocarium. These forms are generally recognised as corrupt. Suggested reconstructions include Coriosopitum, Corsopitum or Corsobetum. However, the Vindolanda tablets show that is was locally referred to by the simple form, Coria, the name for a local tribal centre. The suffix ought to represent the name of the local tribe, a member of the Brigantian confederation, but its correct form is, as yet, unknown.

    There is evidence of Iron Age round houses on the site, but the first Romans in the area built the Red House Fort, half a mile (800 m) to the west, as a supply camp for Agricola's campaigns.

    Soon after Roman victories in modern Scotland, around AD 84, a new fort was built on the present site with turf ramparts and timber gates. Internally, barrack blocks surrounded a headquarters building, a commander’s residence, administrative staff accommodation, workshops and granaries. It was probably occupied by a 500-strong cavalry unit called the Ala Petriana, but was destroyed by fire in AD 105. A second timber fort was built guarding a major crossing of the River Tyne at a time when the Solway Firth-Tyne divide was the Roman frontier. Around AD 120, when Hadrian’s Wall was built, the fort was again rebuilt, probably to house infantry troops away from the Wall. About twenty years later, when the frontier was pushed further north and the Antonine Wall built, the first stone fort was erected under the Governor Quintus Lollius Urbicus.

    After the Romans fell back to Hadrian's Wall in AD 163, the army seems to have been largely removed from Coria. Its ramparts were levelled and a major rebuilding programme of a very different nature was instigated. A series of probable temples were erected, followed by granaries, a fountain house and a large courtyard complex which may have been intended to become a civilian forum or a military storehouse and workshop establishment. It was never finished in its original plan.

    Burnt timber buildings may relate to Cassius Dio's reference to enemy tribes crossing the frontier, but by the early 3rd century there was more construction. Two compounds opposite the supposed forum were built as part of a military supply depot within the town. It was connected with both the Second and the Sixth Legion and may have been part of the supply network for Septimus Severus' northern campaigns.

    Information on the 3rd and 4th century town is lacking, but an elaborate house was certainly put up which may have housed an Imperial official of some kind. Coria was probably a major market centre for the mineral industries in the area – lead, iron and coal – as well as agriculture, as evidenced by the granaries. A pottery store has also been identified. When occupation came to an end is unclear. It is not even known if the site was still occupied when the Anglo-Saxons arrived to found adjoining Corbridge.


    Setting

    Roman Corbridge lies on a gently rounded elevation above the Tyne. The ground falls steeply to the river to the south, gently to the Cor Burn to the west, and to the north is level before rising to Hadrian's Wall, 2½ miles distant.

    The site lay at the junction of Dere Steet – the main Roman road north, which bridged the Tyne just west of the site – and the Stanegate, the road west to Carlisle. Dere Street entered the town west of the visible remains. Anyone travelling north to the Wall, or Scotland, had to traverse the site east along the visible main street, the Stanegate, before turning north again east of the exposed area.


    Visual Sources

    JP Gibson’s marvellous collection of pre-First World War photographs of the Corbridge excavations is held at the Northumberland Museum and Archives, Woodhorn. Many of these excavation photographs are also online, and these and others are published in MC Bishop, Corstopitum: An Edwardian Excavation (London, 1994).

    Plans and Photographs in the Historic England Archives

    Items in the Historic England Archives at Swindon relating to Corbridge include:

    • an album of excavation photographs and postcards of various sites along Hadrian’s Wall, including the Edwardian and inter-war excavations at Corbridge (AL1230)
    • an album containing photographs of the site taken in the 1930s (AL0882).

    More details of these and many other items can be found in the online catalogue. Some material is not yet listed in the online catalogue, including a large collection of aerial photography for a full search, please contact the search team.

    Copies of images and documents can be ordered through the website or by contacting the archive. For details of current charges for these services see the archive price list.


    A Brief History

    Because Hexham lies close to Hadrian’s Wall and the important Roman military supply base of Corbridge it has often been speculated that the town must itself have been a Roman settlement. However, no evidence has ever been found to substantiate this. In the crypt of the Abbey, which dominates the town’s skyline, there are certainly Roman stones but these were brought from the ruins of Corbridge by Saint Wilfrid in 674 when he founded a monastery on the site. Overlooking the east-west route of the Tyne valley, Hexham was certainly of strategic importance from the time of St.Wilfrid onwards. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records the murder of King Ælfwald by Sicga at Scythlecester (which may be modern Chesters on the North Tyne) in 788 and that he was buried in the church of Hexham.

    The town’s name possibly originates from Wilfrid’s time. One theory is that it derives from the Old English Hagustaldes ea and later Hagustaldes ham, the elements possibly denoting a younger son who takes land outside the settlement, which could have referred to the land of Hexham west of the older settlement of Corbridge. This period was the focus of a special issue of Hexham Historian 7, and an article on the excavation of the Roman bridge piers at Corbridge is in Hexham Historian 15. However, the modern form appears to derive from Hextildesham, in use from the late 12th century when the hamlets of Cockshaw, Priestpopple and Hencotes merge around the Market Place. Hextilda was a Saxon/Scots heiress of Tynedale and benefactress of the priory.

    The current Hexham Abbey (pictured) dates largely from the 12th century onward when it was refounded as a priory in the wake of the Norman Conquest. The architecture of the Early English priory was described in Hexham Historian 23, and its priceless medieval paintings in Hexham Historian 21. The Moot Hall stands on the far side of the market place from the Abbey, an imposing medieval tower, as is the Old Gaol just beyond, the oldest purpose built prison in England. The Priory’s estates are described in the our publication The Black Book of Hexham, the first translation into English of this and other important medieval documents.

    Fortifications such as these were important in this border region. Hexham suffered from the border wars with the Scots, including attacks from William Wallace who burnt the town in 1297. In 1312, Robert the Bruce demanded and received £2000 from the town and monastery in order for them to be spared a similar fate. For more than two centuries afterwards Tynedale and Hexham were vulnerable to raids by ‘border reivers’ and usually responded in kind on the Scottish side of the hills.

    The area was also affected by conflicts arising within England itself. In 1464, the Battle of Hexham was fought somewhere to the south of the town during the Wars of the Roses, and the defeated Lancastrian commander, the Duke of Somerset, was executed in Hexham market place (more details in Hexham Historian 24). The dissolution of the monasteries during the reign of King Henry VIII saw the end of Hexham Priory, but not before some truculent resistance from the remaining priors (covered in Hexham Historian 11). The Priory’s church (shown from the north, and drawn before the rebuilding of the nave in the late 19th century) has remained as the town’s parish church since the dissolution, generally known today as ‘Hexham Abbey’. The adjacent monastic premises became a private house granted first to the Carnaby family in the 1530s. Part of the surviving building was reunited in the ownership of Hexham Abbey in 2012, and was the subject of a conservation project summarised in one of our recent publications, Hexham Abbey Revealed.

    Hexham shared in the rising local trade and prosperity generated by the growth of Newcastle from the Elizabethan period, and became renowned for its various leather related trades and lead mining in the hills to the south. Some idea of life in Hexham and the surrounding area (still known as Hexhamshire today) can be found in the collection of letters published as A Pack of Idle Sparks. Hexham’s weekly market and annual fairs became increasingly important. The market place was therefore an obvious location for the raising of the standard of the Pretender James Stuart by the ill-fated Jacobite rebels in 1715, led by the local Catholic noble the Earl of Derwentwater.

    The market place was also the location of the Hexham Riot in 1761 when a crowd protesting about changes in the criteria for serving in the militia was fired upon by troops from the North Yorkshire Militia. 51 protesters were killed, earning the Militia the soubriquet of The Hexham Butchers. One rioter, Peter Patterson, was eventually hanged as a ringleader of the riot.

    Hexham’s history has been more peaceful since then. The leather industry grew through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, becoming renowned for its gloves known as the Hexham tans. Some of the leather-working remains can be seen in the Cockshaw area of the town today. In the decades following the arrival of the railway in 1835 Hexham became something of a commuter town for Newcastle, and its insalubrious sanitation improved after a damning report by the Board of Health (see publications Dirty Old Town and Hexham 1854-1939).

    Today it remains a busy market town and a great base for touring Hadrian’s Wall and the historic Northumbrian countryside.

    If you’re looking for a book giving a good summary of the town’s history, take a look at Hexham Heritage.


    Story of mystery Roman "time capsule" burial goes on show at Corbridge Roman Town

    In 1964, a hoard found at Corbridge, in the thick of Hadrian’s Wall Country, astonished curators thanks to its well-preserved set of tools, weaponry, wax writing tablets, papyrus and other items essential to the 2nd century Roman soldier.

    Almost 50 years on, an interactive display in the Roman Town aims to give the public an entirely new picture of the contents of the iron-bound, leather-covered wooden chest, bringing together the work of Roman specialists still debating precisely why the collection was buried.

    “When the hoard was first discovered, it was like finding a time capsule from the past,” says Kevin Booth, a senior curator at site owners English Heritage.

    “It’s a stunningly-preserved piece of history which revealed a great deal about our Roman ancestors.

    “Modern-day interpretations of Roman legionary armour and re-enactors have looked to the hoard for inspiration.

    “We are very proud of the way we have presented the armour. These are very sensitive and delicate objects and it is hugely important that the new display provides the most protective environment to ensure its survival.

    “In a way, though, film showing the excavation of the hoard as it was dug up from the trench back in 1964 is just as exciting.”

    Corbridge was a vital base for military supplies and food to the Wall, later becoming a garrison town where off-duty soldiers would take their leave.

    Booth and his team are relishing the chance to stir history fans and educate visiting groups with the hoard.

    “It’s incredible that this world-renowned collection, which has influenced so many different portrayals of Roman life, is right here on our doorsteps in Corbridge Roman Town,” he adds.


    Corbridge Roman Town

    Hadrian’s Wall arcs 2 km to the north of Brampton before striding out east above the Tyne Valley towards Newcastle .

    For those visitors with English Heritage membership, The Roman Wall provides a rich vein of archaeological and social history that is free and easily accessible from Brampton.

    English Heritage champions the historic places that surround us. In maintaining over 400 historic locations around England they rely on the income from just under 750,000 members and the revenue from 11 million visitors in 2013.

    Hadrian’s Wall walkers can visit many of these English Heritage owned sites on the wall from the iconic forts at Housesteads and Birdoswald to the lesser know but equally important milecastles and turrets that dot the wall.

    Off the wall though, lies Corbridge Roman Town, an English Heritage gem that is well worth a detour for wall walkers and a unique experience for visitors who don’t mind a 40 minute drive.

    Visitors to Corbridge can walk along the main street of this Roman garrison town, flanked by the remains of granaries, a fountain house, markets, workshops and temples. Astride the intersection of Roman Dere Street and Stanegate, Corbridge was initially the site of a series of important forts. But after Hadrian’s Wall was fully commissioned it developed into a prosperous town, a tempting leave-centre for off-duty Wall garrisons. Writing tablets found at Vindolanda show that troops from Vindolanda were stationed here at times, or came to Corbridge on leave.

    Abandoned after the collapse of Roman rule in Britain, the town centre has been systematically excavated, producing the fascinating array of finds now displayed in the site museum. An audio guide brings the story of Corbridge to life and the modern museum has a fascinating array of finds. It was the most northerly town in the Roman Empire and one of only two on Hadrian’s Wall, the other being at Carlisle.

    The combination of a well produce audio guide complete with sound effects and strategically sited display boards help bring Roman Corbridge to life. Standing at the end of The Stanegate, looking down the ‘High Street’ past the Granaries and the public fountain, with the sounds of shouting, horses hooves and marching feet in your ears can be quite hair-raising.

    The atmospheric display of the extensive town is equally matched by a well appointed museum in the main building, its collection of artefacts from the site well displayed, especially when it comes to the famous Corbridge Hoard. When the hoard was first discovered, it was like finding a time capsule from the past. A stunningly preserved piece of history, found in an iron-bound, leather-covered wooden chest buried in the ground, which revealed a great deal about our Roman ancestors.

    Excavated in 1964, The hoard was buried in a chest made of alder-wood. It contained spear heads bound in twine, artillery bolts, a sword scabbard and uniquely in Roman Britain, fragments of papyrus. It’s most important gift to archaeologists was the six upper and six lower units of ‘lorica Segmentata‘ which gave the clue as to how Roman armour could be reconstructed. The original spare parts and complete replica as well as the contents of the hoard shown to great effect in the museum.


    Town development [ edit | edit source ]

    After the Romans fell back to Hadrian's Wall in AD 163, the army seems to have been largely removed from Coria. Its ramparts were levelled and a major rebuilding programme of a very different nature was instigated. A series of probable temples were erected, followed by granaries, a fountain house and a large courtyard complex which may have been intended to become a civilian forum or a military storehouse and workshop establishment. It was never finished in its original plan. Α]

    Burnt timber buildings may relate to Cassius Dio's reference to enemy tribes crossing the frontier, but by the early 3rd century there was more construction. Two compounds opposite the supposed forum were built as part of a military supply depot within the town. It was connected with both the Second and the Sixth Legion and may have been part of the supply network for Septimus Severus' northern campaigns. Α]

    Information on the 3rd- and 4th-century town is lacking, but an elaborate house was certainly put up which may have housed an Imperial official of some kind. Coria was probably a major market centre for the mineral industries in the area – lead, iron and coal – as well as agriculture, as evidenced by the granaries. A pottery store has also been identified. When occupation came to an end is unclear. It is not even known if the site was still occupied when the Anglo-Saxons arrived to found adjoining Corbridge. Α]


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