In 2013, we carried out a survey of the remains of the Roman fort that lies buried in the fields just outside the village of Blennerhasset. An archaeological walkover survey using magnetometry was undertaken by Grampus Heritage and Training, a local company based in Threapland with the help of local volunteers. It took place over three weeks in February and an open day was held for people to see what was happening.
An event was held in Blennerhasset Village Hall in April when Grampus presented the results of the survey. It was very well attended by around 40 local people. There was also an opportunity for people to bring along their own finds, such as pottery from the garden or interesting deeds and documents for experts to advise on.
Summary of Results of the Blennerhasset Roman Fort Survey
In 1984, aerial photography first revealed the outline of a Roman fort, to the south of the village, in fields owned by Mrs Batty of East Farm and the Tinniswood family of Mealsgate. Pottery discovered on the site dated the construction and occupation of the fort to the first century. In February and March, as part of the From Fort to Farms project, local volunteers, led by archaeologist Mark Graham of Grampus Heritage & Training, carried out a geophysical survey on the site.
Those expecting to see walls and other remains should be warned, it’s impossible to actually see anything on the surface but, using variations in magnetism of materials in the ground, a picture was built up of what was once on the site. The volunteers, who must be sure they have nothing magnetic on their person that would disturb the readings, walk systematically to-and-fro over a series of 20 x 20 metre grids carefully set out with stakes and tapes, carrying the detecting equipment. The data gathered by the equipment is referenced against precise locations marked in the field and downloaded into specialised computer software. This gives an accurate picture of any magnetic ‘disturbances’ and creates an image that matches the outline seen in the original, aerial photographs.
The results show the foundations of a rampart and ditch system with five possible entrances, which indicates that it may have been a large ‘marching’ camp, as opposed to a more permanent structure. Inside the rampart was found evidence of two possible ovens, a possible headquarters building and faint foundations interpreted as possible beam slots.
The surprise finding, towards the end of the survey period, was a feature not seen in the aerial images; a trapezium-shaped double enclosure abutting the north-west corner of the fort. As the fort ‘respects’ (i.e. does not disrupt or impinge on) this structure, it is believed to have already been in place when the fort was built. If the structure is proven to be from the British Iron Age (from about 800 BC to the Roman period) it could well be a shrine or ceremonial site or a high status settlement in the bend of the River Ellen.
Also found during the survey were prehistoric flints that may indicate activity as far back as the Mesolithic period (4000 to 9600 BC), also a completely new find for the site. The archaeologist recommends further fieldwork and targeted excavation to begin to understand the date and function of the trapezoidal enclosure.
The survey was funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, under the All Our Stories initiative.