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Corbridge Roman Site (Cumbria)

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Remains of military fort and supply base south of Hadrian's Wall.

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      21.09.2005 19:03
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      Well preserved Roman fort with moderate sized museum

      Corbridge Roman site sits in the middle of some beautiful Northumbrian countryside, part of what is now known as Hadrian’s Wall Country. The Romans first arrived in this area in AD79, at which time the south east of England had been part of the Empire for around 30 years, but the north of the country was still being opened up; the force was led by Julius Agricola, the Governor of Britain, who was marching north with the intention of extending Roman rule throughout the whole of the island. The first development at Corbridge was a basic supply depot to feed and equip the army on its route into Scotland. Around 10 years later, the depot was abandoned and the first fort built as part of a consolidation effort by the army to secure the newly conquered lands. Therefore, although Corbridge is know best known for being part of Hadrian’s Wall, the fort actually predated it, and was the longest occupied Roman structure along the line of the Wall. Pre-wall, the fort was intended to guard the key crossroads between the northbound Dere Street and the Stanegate running east to west through the Tyne valley, making it a vital part of the Roman conquest of northern England.

      The original Corbridge fort lasted until it was destroyed by fire in AD105. The remains that are visible at the site today are actually from later rebuilding work, first by Emperor Hadrian as he constructed said wall, and then later by Emperor Antoninus Pius (he of the less well known Antonine Wall, built between the Clyde and the Forth in an attempt to extend Roman influence into southern Scotland). The village of Corbridge grew up out of the vicus (an informal civilian settlement drawn to Roman forts by the soldiers’ disposable income) that was associated with the fort. The settlement grew large prosperous on these trading links, and Corbridge (then probably known as Coriosopitum) soon became a thriving, fully Romanised town complete with forum, aqueduct, temples and fountain house.

      Visitors to Corbridge Roman site will find the remains located about half a mile west of the village, and well signposted from the A69 trunk road that runs between Carlisle and Newcastle roughly along the route of the Wall; Corbridge lies about 15 miles west of Newcastle. While the site is not as big or famous as other Hadrian’s Wall attractions (such as Vindolanda, for example), it is remarkably well preserved and accompanied by a museum of reasonable size and plenty of free parking. For those of you without cars, the site can be accessed on foot from Corbridge village (which is served by regular train services from Newcastle, taking about half an hour, and Carlisle, taking about 50 minutes). The site is also a stopping point on the handy new Hadrian’s Wall Bus route (see www.hadrianswallcountry.org/findout.asp for details).

      Arriving at the site, your first port of call should be the museum building, which gives you your entrance tickets, a small shop, toilets and (surprisingly) the museum itself. The visitors facilities were remarkably good for such a small site and I was pleased to note that despite the absence of a café, hot and cold drinks and snacks were available from the shop to sustain you until you can make it into the village for a proper meal (I’m told the Black Bull pub does excellent food, although alas I am yet to try it out for myself as the day I visited, Corbridge was hosting a food festival). The shop was a pretty standard English Heritage affair, with plenty of books and expensive goods on offer – nothing notably different from any of the other site shops they run - although in my experience the quality of such merchandise is usually pretty good. I especially recommend getting a copy of English Heritage’s softback book on Hadrian’s Wall by David Breeze if you plan to see more of the Wall sites, though. I won my copy in a competition, but considering it only retails at £3.99, this well written and full colour guide has to be a bargain, and will really enhance your visit to this and other sites.

      It is entirely up you whether to approach the site or the museum first; I personally went for the site, as I felt the finds would have more of a context if I saw where they had been excavated from in the first place. The remains are in surprisingly good condition; all those of you who expect to see the odd lump of stone being interpreted as a barrack block will be pleasantly met by substantial ruins that are easily recognisable as a water trough, drainage channels and columns to even the untrained eye. The water trough is quite a remarkable feature of Roman engineering, representing what is left of an elaborate water supply system to the town: water would once have poured into this trough through the mouth of an ornamental lion crouched over a stag. The Corbridge lion has become something of a badge for this site, and we will meet him again inside the museum, where he has pride of place in the displays. The fort granaries have survived particularly well…even more so when you consider that this area was extensively ploughed in the 19th century!

      Interpretation is by simple text panels at key points around the site, although they were a little low and I found that even though I am short, I had to stoop rather uncomfortably to be able to read some of them. Visitors with mobility problems – particularly anyone using a wheelchair – may have difficulty in accessing the far part of the remains from the museum building as the ground was rough and uneven across the entire width of the site. Indeed, I overhead a woman complaining to staff members that she couldn’t push her mother in a wheelchair around the site because of this problem. The staff were very polite and understanding, but it appears that it would take a substantial amount of money to build walkways over the Roman stones, and money is one thing that museums are perennially short of.

      The museum itself is absolutely stuffed with finds that have been recovered from the many excavations that have taken place over the years – and are still ongoing, now that the site of the local Roman bridge over the Tyne has been found. Interpretation is basic and a little outdated, but a real effort has been made to appeal to families with what limited resources they have. The lion Gricola (based on the Corbridge lion) has been introduced as a guide for kids: wherever he appears in the displays, there is a small section of interpretation and activities that will get kids thinking about what they have seen in the museum. Activities such as quiz sheets and colouring-in are also available to keep children amused. Admittedly this is a basic approach that won’t appeal to many of today’s sophisticated kids, but I’m sure there are plenty who will love following Gricola’s trial around the museum. The rest of interpretation is in dire need of a makeover, but if you can look past that to some of the remarkable finds that the museum houses, then it is well worth a visit.

      So what is my overall opinion? I enjoyed my visit to Corbridge, but I am also aware that a lot of that enjoyment came from my being an archeo-phile, and many others will be left cold by the experience with its lack of modern interactives, hands-on activities and computer screens. Corbridge is certainly a site that fellow history geeks will get a lot out of (especially if you visit during one of the regular reconstructions staged there; they host a huge Roman festival each summer), but I felt you had to have that background knowledge and interest to appreciate it. It is not really an interpretation to inspire you to want to know more if you come to it as a complete beginner (for that, I would highly recommend Segedunum in Wallsend, Newcastle) and if you are not an English Heritage member then you may find the cost pricey for what you get.

      Recommended to English Heritage members and when special events are on.

      Recommended (just) in other circumstances.


      **Details**
      Opening Times: Open daily through the year (except Christmas Day and New Year’s Day) from 10am to 4pm (winter) or 6pm (summer).

      Entrance: Free to English Heritage members. Otherwise £3.60 adults, £1.80 children or £2.70 concessions.

      http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/conProperty.76


      **P.S. This was my 200th Dooyoo review! :-) **

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        26.07.2003 02:29
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        The Romans came to Corbridge in 79AD, constructing a timber fort with earthen defences to supply the troops advancing into Scotland. Destroyed by fire almost thirty years later the fort was rebuilt, improved by the legions constructing Hadrian's Wall, and then completely refurbished in stone around 140AD when the Emperor Antonius Pius, abandoning his predecessor's fixed border policy, pushed north to the River Clyde and the Firth of Forth. Following the return of the northern frontier to Hadrian's Wall in 163AD the military function of the fort was downgraded in favour of a civilian settlement catering to the off-duty legionnaires. The new town prospered over the next century, expanding to an area of 30 acres before the Roman withdrawal from Britain led to its eventual abandonment. CORSTOPITUM (CORBRIDGE ROMAN SITE) A small gift shop and cash desk separate the main entrance from a museum holding impressive stone remains, relief carvings, temple friezes, shrine panels, inscribed decorative slabs, the charred remains of an armourer's workshop damaged in the fire of 105AD and shiny red imported Gaulish pottery. The most famous artefact is undoubtedly the Lion of Corbridge - a 70cm high stone sculpture originally used to decorate an officer's tomb and later adapted for use as a fountain ornament. The snarling lion stands triumphantly atop a defeated stag, head twisted to the side, tail swishing hungrily behind and claws hooked deep into the body below, pushing the antlers down into the stone base. The stag lies helpless underfoot, tongue lolling to one side as its captor's mouth opens to devour it. It's as if they have been frozen at the point of catharsis, one doomed and the other momentarily suppressing its ultimate power. The small section of the Roman town thus far excavated stands directly outside, hemmed in by small wire fences on three sides and a tall hedge on the other. Stanegate, the original main street,
        cuts through the centre of the football-pitch-sized site, replaced as the main route between Corbridge and Carlisle by the main road hidden behind the hedge and the trains cutting through the fields in the valley below, the undulating green of Northumberland spotted with white sheep and yellow crops. At the far end of the road, framed between tall trees and low lying cloud, the pointed rooftops of Corbridge peer noiselessly over the muffled sound of traffic, the tall, slender spire of St Andrew's an arrow amongst the neatly ordered rows of ivy-clad cottages, craft shops and cosy antique pubs. The buildings immediately to the left of the road, fronted by two round pillars which once supported the portico of a sheltered loading area, are the granaries for the old civilian settlement. Built in the late 2nd century, only the foundations and lower walls of the two buildings are visible today: a floor comprised of cracked flagstones resting on five parallel channels cut through the entire building to allow air to circulate and prevent the bread becoming mouldy, drainage channels running under the portico to collect rainwater, and rough, angled walls marking the external boundaries. Walk down the flight of stairs from Stanegate and squeeze through the gap between the second granary and the flat pillar base of the Fountain House building for the only surviving Roman stone fence in Britain - a single rectangular block of stone slotted vertically into a gap 20 centimetres wide and 40 centimetres high. The ingenious Fountain House was once the terminus for an aqueduct leading from the nearby river, water spouting from an ornamental fountain head into a front trough between two large statues. Only the base and side sections of the trough remain today, rough statue bases either side, a diagonal drainage channel in front and the floor of the wide aqueduct channel cutting through the grass behind. Then step back up on to Stanegate, continu
        ing along the road until you reach the first information board on the right. Across in the daisy flecked grass a few rings of stone are all that remain of a commandant's house and the headquarters building. Mounds either side mark an ancient market place and a storehouse building. The original timber fort is lost somewhere in the far corner, commemorated by a few rows of broken lines on the nearby site map. At the end of Stanegate, in the corner where the Corbridge Hoard of fire damaged armaments was discovered, a wooden viewing terrace overlooks the site, timber fort and granaries to the right, military garrison on the left, and Stanegate stretching back across to the museum building. Follow the gravel path left from the platform in the direction of the East Military Compound, fronted by the uneven outlines of residential buildings that now barely rise above grass level. Walk through the buildings until you reach Side Street, twenty-metres wide and linked to Stanegate before the construction of a wall to enclose the compounds in the wake of the northern uprising of 180AD. On either side of the road the sunken remains of once mighty walls bend their way up and down through blades of grass, raised and lowered arbitrarily by gradual subsidence into earlier ditches. Cut left across the ruins of the Temple of Mithras (the god of soldiers and traders) and step through the low remains of long barrack buildings for the West Military Compound, made up of workshops, a headquarters building and a main gate. An upright stone slab is the sole remaining section of a huge water tank that was connected to the Fountain House building, while the headquarters building itself is situated in the final corner of the field, visibly divided into six rooms with worn steps leading down to a strongroom that held the soldiers' salaries. As you gaze back over the site it requires a little imagination to appreciate the historic importance of Corbridge. Wha
        t you see before you, hidden by centuries of neglect and destruction, is the Soho of Northumberland, a Bigg Market for the legionnaires on weekend leave complete with some of the most sophisticated Roman innovations found anywhere in Britain. And if you're very, very lucky, you'll have it all to yourself. IN A NUTSHELL The excavations at Corsopitum represent a small fraction of the old Roman town and are probably not worth the journey from Newcastle on their own account. However, combined with Corbridge, Hexham or a longer tour of Hadrian's Wall, there's more than enough here to warrant a stopover of an hour or so. DETAILS Admission: Adults £3.10, Children £1.60, Concessions £2.30 Admission includes a free audio tour with detailed commentary. Opening Times: April - September 10-6 Daily October 10-5 Daily November - March 10-4 (Wednesday - Sunday) Closed January 1st and December 24th - 26th Telephone: 01434 632 349 Managed by English Heritage. GETTING THERE PUBLIC TRANSPORT The Hadrian's Wall Bus departs Newcastle Central Station at 9.25am, arriving at the site 45 minutes later. The return service departs at 5.18pm. http://www.hadrians-wall.org/Timetable.htm http://www.thisiscorbridge.co.uk/roman_villa.asp Bus numbers 685 and 602 run half hourly services between Newcastle and Hexham. The nearest stop to the site is the Angel Inn. The walk from Corbridge Rail Station takes approximately half an hour. Turn right at Corbridge Parish Church and continue in the direction of the A69. Take the second left into Trinity Terrace and follow the road for another kilometre. CAR The site is signposted from the A69. Free parking is available outside the museum building.

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