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Latitude: 54.9336 / 54°56'1"N
Longitude: -2.8196 / 2°49'10"W
OS Eastings: 347580.593779
OS Northings: 560192.678912
OS Grid: NY475601
Mapcode National: GBR 8CRD.C6
Mapcode Global: WH7ZY.N8J4
Entry Name: Watchclose Roman temporary camp
Scheduled Date: 12 December 1928
Last Amended: 14 July 1997
Source: Historic England
Source ID: 1010610
English Heritage Legacy ID: 26028
Civil Parish: Irthington
Built-Up Area: Carlisle Airport
Traditional County: Cumberland
Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cumbria
Church of England Parish: Irthington St Kentigern
Church of England Diocese: Carlisle
The monument includes the Roman temporary camp known as Watchclose. It
survives as a series of features, including ditches, buried below the modern
ground surface and is clearly recognisable on aerial photographs.
The camp lies 275m south of the Stanegate Roman road and 1.3km south of the
line of Hadrian's Wall. The site, which is now within the boundaries of
Carlisle airport, occupies part of a level plateau with sloping ground to the
north and south east. Horsley visited the site in the early 18th century and
described the earthworks as `very fair and visible'. The above ground remains
had been levelled by 1833 due to cultivation. The north west half of the camp
is overlain by the south west end of the main runway of the airport. The plan
of the camp as revealed by excavations in 1935 by Richmond and Hodgson has
been confirmed by the crop marks seen on aerial photographs. The excavation
revealed the ditch to be 2.4m wide and 0.9m deep, enclosing an area of 0.5ha.
None of the sides appeared exactly parallel, the west one bowing outwards and
changing its alignment at the gateway. Gateways exist at the central points
of the north, east and west sides and were all protected by external defence
The surface of the runway is excluded from the scheduling, but the ground
below is included.
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 5 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.
Source: Historic England
Hadrian's Wall marks one of the frontiers of the Roman Empire. The
international importance of the surviving remains has been recognised through
designation as a World Heritage Site.
The military importance of the Tyne-Solway route across the Pennines was
recognised by the Romans during their early campaigns through northern England
and into Scotland in the second half of the first century AD. At this time a
military road, the Stanegate, was constructed along with a series of forts.
Subsequently the Romans largely withdrew from Scotland and there is evidence
that the Tyne-Solway route was being recognised as a frontier by the start of
the second century AD. This position was consolidated in the early second
century by the construction of a substantial frontier work, Hadrian's Wall,
under the orders of the Emperor Hadrian. Hadrian's successor, Antoninus Pius,
subsequently attempted to establish the boundary further north, between the
Clyde and the Firth of Forth, but by c.AD 160 growing unrest amongst the
native populations of northern Britain and pressures elsewhere in the Empire
caused a retraction back to the Hadrianic line. Hadrian's Wall was then the
frontier of the Roman Empire in Britain until c.AD 400 when the Roman armies
withdrew from Britain.
Stretching over 70 miles from coast to coast, Hadrian's Wall was a continuous
barrier built of stone in the east and, initially, of turf in the west. The
stone wall was originally designed to be ten Roman feet wide and sections of
this width are termed broad wall. A change of plan shortly after construction
began led to a reduction in the width of the Wall to eight Roman feet, such
sections being termed narrow wall. Today, stretches of both wall types
survive, including some sections of narrow wall built on broad wall
foundations. For most of its length a substantial ditch on the northern side
provided additional defence. Where the Wall crossed rivers, bridges were
constructed to carry it across. Construction of the Wall was organised and
executed by legionary soldiers. From the beginning the barrier was planned to
comprise more than just a curtain wall. At regularly spaced intervals of about
a mile along its length lay small walled fortlets known as milecastles. These
were attached to the southern side of the Wall and most had a gateway through
the Wall to the north. Hence they controlled crossing points through the Wall
as well as affording space for a small stable garrison. Between the
milecastles were two equally spaced towers known as turrets. Together the
milecastles and turrets provided bases from which the curtain wall could be
watched and patrolled. Both the turrets and milecastles are thought to have
been higher than the Wall itself to provide suitable observation points. It is
often assumed that a platform existed on the Wall so that troops could
actually patrol along the wall top; it is however far from certain that this
was the case.
At the western end of the Wall a system of towers, small fortlets and palisade
fences extended the frontier system another 30 miles or so down the Cumbrian
coast and helped control shipping moving across the estuary of the Solway
As originally planned, and apart from whatever space there was in the
milecastles, provision for the accommodation of garrison troops manning the
Wall was left with the line of forts which already lay along the Stanegate. At
some point a fundamental change of plan took place and forts were constructed
along the line of the Wall itself. There are now known to have been 16 forts
either attached to the Wall or in close association with it. Some overlay
earlier features such as turrets or milecastles. At this stage another linear
element, the vallum, was also added to the defensive system to the south of
the Wall. This was a broad flat-bottomed ditch flanked by a pair of linear
banks. It shadows the course of the Wall for almost all its length, sometimes
lying very close to it but sometimes up to a kilometre away from it. The
vallum's main function was to act as a barrier to restrict access to the Wall
from the south. It also had a function in linking the forts along the Wall
with a method of lateral communication. When the forts were placed along the
wall line no provision was made for a road to link them. This situation was
clearly found impracticable and a metalled track was therefore provided in
places along the vallum between the north mound and the ditch.
Later, after the withdrawal back to the Hadrianic line from the Antonine Wall,
various refurbishments were made throughout the frontier line. At this stage a
new linear feature was added: the `Military Way'. This was a road linking all
elements of the Wall defence, running from fort to fort within the area
bounded by the Wall and the vallum.
Throughout its long history the Wall was not always well maintained. It was
often neglected and sometimes overrun, but it remained in use until the late
fourth century when a weak and divided Roman Empire finally withdrew its
armies from the Wall and Britain.
It now survives in various states of preservation. In places, especially in
the central section, the Stone Wall still remains several courses high and the
attached forts, turrets and milecastles are also clearly identifiable.
Earthwork features such as the ditch, vallum and Military Way also survive
well in places. Elsewhere the Stone Wall has been virtually robbed out and
only its foundations survive beneath the present ground surface. Similarly,
stretches of the earthwork remains, including sections of the Turf Wall, have
been levelled or infilled and now only survive as buried features. Although
some sections of the frontier system no longer survive visibly, sufficient
evidence does exist for its position to be fairly accurately identified
throughout most of its length.
Over 40 temporary camps of many different sizes, some of them still visible as
earthworks, have been recorded in the vicinity of the Wall. These generally
consisted of a rampart of earth quickly thrown up to surround a military
encampment. The rampart may have been surmounted by a timber palisade.
Occupation of these camps was generally short-lived and, while very few of
these examples have been firmly dated, it seems probable that at least some
were work camps used by troops involved in the Wall construction. Others may
have been created as practice camps during military training; temporary camps
were widely used during military campaigning to provide overnight security to
troops on the move.
Watchclose Roman temporary camp survives well as a series of buried features.
The rarity of temporary camps identifies them as nationally important. In
addition the silted up ditches have significant archaeological potential as
they will contain information regarding the original date and form of the
Source: Historic England
Books and journals
Richmond, , Hodgson, , 'Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland A and A Society' in The Roman Temporary Camp At Watchcross, , Vol. 36 New S, (1936), 170-172
Aerial Photograph CUCAP DI 51-52, St Joseph, K, (1949)
Source: Historic England
Other nearby scheduled monuments