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Roman signal station on Mains Rigg

A Scheduled Monument in Upper Denton, Cumbria

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Latitude: 54.9797 / 54°58'46"N

Longitude: -2.6059 / 2°36'21"W

OS Eastings: 361318.680998

OS Northings: 565175.765498

OS Grid: NY613651

Mapcode National: GBR BB7V.MQ

Mapcode Global: WH90Z.Y38B

Entry Name: Roman signal station on Mains Rigg

Scheduled Date: 24 May 1961

Last Amended: 17 January 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1013605

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27672

County: Cumbria

Civil Parish: Upper Denton

Traditional County: Cumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cumbria

Church of England Parish: Gilsland St Mary Magdalene

Church of England Diocese: Carlisle


The monument includes a Roman signal station located on the northern facing
slope of Mains Rigg from where there are extensive views northwards across the
valley of the River Irthing and to the east and west. It includes the
turf-covered foundations of a rectangular stone tower measuring approximately
6.5m square with walls up to 1m thick. The tower was constructed on a raised
platform up to 1m high and measuring 14m square. Surrounding the platform on
all sides except the downslope northern side is a dry ditch up to 4.5m wide by
1m deep. There is a causeway at the south east angle which gives access across
the ditch to the platform and tower. The signal station overlooks the
Stanegate Roman road and is located roughly halfway between the Roman forts at
Nether Denton and Throp. It is visible from both forts which suggests it may
have formed part of a Roman signalling system associated with the `Stanegate
Frontier' - a fortified road dated to the late first/early second century AD
running between the Tyne and Solway which enabled the Roman troops to more
effectively defend the conquered territories to the south and police the
frontier region. This early `frontier' was quickly superseded by the
construction of Hadrian's Wall during the AD 120s, and the Hadrian's Wall
fort at Birdoswald, known to the Romans as Camboglanna, is clearly in view a
short distance to the north across the Irthing valley, suggesting that the
signal station may have also operated after the abandonment of the `Stanegate
Frontier'. Limited excavation of the signal station during the 1920s and
1960s failed to date the monument precisely.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Roman signal stations were rectangular towers of stone or wood situated within
ditched, embanked, palisaded or walled enclosures. They were built by the
Roman army for military observation and signalling by means of fire or smoke.
They normally formed an element of a wider system of defence and signalling
between military sites such as forts and camps and towns, generally as part of
a chain of stations to cover long distances. In northern England stations were
used in particular to augment the main frontier formed by Hadrian's Wall, but
elsewhere stations were constructed along the coast to keep lookout over the
sea and to signal information both along the coast and to inland sites.
Signal stations were constructed and used in Britain mainly during three
distinct periods. The earliest examples were built between AD 50 and AD 117
for use during earliest military campaigns during the conquest period. Signal
stations at this period took the form of a wooden tower surrounded by a ditch
and bank and possibly a slight timber palisade. After AD 117 towers were more
usually built in stone, some on the same site as earlier timber towers. The
latest series, in the mid-4th century AD, were more substantial stone signal
stations built mainly along the Yorkshire coast. These had a tower up to 30m
high which was surrounded by a curtain wall and external ditch.
Signal stations survive as low earthworks, or their below ground remains may
be identified on aerial photographs. Fewer than 50 examples have been
identified in England. As one of a small group of Roman military monuments,
which are important in representing army strategy, government policy and the
pattern of military control, signal stations are of importance to our
understanding of the period. All Roman signal stations with surviving
archaeological remains are considered to be nationally important.

Despite limited archaeological excavations in the 1920s and 1960s, the Roman
signal station on Mains Rigg survives reasonably well. It formed an important
part of the Roman communication system on the northern frontier and will
contribute further information to our understanding of this signalling network
in the area.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Richmond, I A, 'Trans Cumb & West Antiq & Arch Soc. New Ser.' in Excav On Hadrian's Wall In Gilsland-Birdoswald Pike Hill Sector, , Vol. XXIX, (1929), 314-5
Ferrell,G., MPP Single Monument Class Description - Signal Stations, (1988)
SMR No. 334, Cumbria SMR, Signal Tower on Mains Rigg, (1987)

Source: Historic England

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