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Bewcastle Roman fort, high cross shaft in St Cuthbert's churchyard, and Bew Castle medieval shell keep castle

A Scheduled Monument in Askerton, Cumbria

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Coordinates

Latitude: 55.0641 / 55°3'50"N

Longitude: -2.682 / 2°40'55"W

OS Eastings: 356540.372789

OS Northings: 574610.072472

OS Grid: NY565746

Mapcode National: GBR 99QW.4G

Mapcode Global: WH7Z7.SZ16

Entry Name: Bewcastle Roman fort, high cross shaft in St Cuthbert's churchyard, and Bew Castle medieval shell keep castle

Scheduled Date: 1 November 1935

Last Amended: 24 October 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1015728

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27753

County: Cumbria

Civil Parish: Askerton

Traditional County: Cumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cumbria

Church of England Parish: Bewcastle St Cuthbert

Church of England Diocese: Carlisle

Details

The monument includes the earthworks and buried remains of Bewcastle Roman
fort, together with an early eighth century AD high cross shaft, situated in
the churchyard to the south of St Cuthbert's Church which itself is located
within the Roman fort, and the upstanding and buried remains of Bew Castle, a
medieval shell keep castle situated at the north east corner of the Roman
fort.
Bewcastle Roman fort is located on a natural hexagonal plateau which is
protected on all sides by its own natural steep scarp; on the south by Kirk
Beck, on the west by Hall Sike, and on the east by Bride Gill. Unlike the
majority of Roman forts which were rectangular in plan, Bewcastle was
originally built to fit the shape of the plateau on which it was located.
Construction began in c.AD 122 and, apart from a short period of abandonment
during the mid-second century, it remained in use until the first quarter of
the fourth century. The fort is situated 9.6km north of Hadrian's Wall and it
functioned as an outpost fort of the Wall, to which it was linked with the
wall fort at Birdoswald by a road known as the Maiden Way. Earthworks
representing the remains of the fort's wall and rampart survive well on the
east and west sides and additional defence was provided on the west by an
outer ditch. Limited excavations in the fort found well preserved building
remains revealing four structural periods; Period I is dated c.AD 122-139/42;
during this phase the fort was constructed on a hexagonal plan with defences
comprising a turf-revetted rampart with at least one stone gateway and
internal buildings of both timber and stone. An inscription suggests this work
was undertaken by the cohors I Dacorum, a 1000 strong infantry garrison
originally raised in Dacia (now modern Romania). After a short period of
abandonment which coincided with the decision to move the Roman frontier into
Scotland, Bewcastle was reoccupied in c.AD 163 when Hadrian's Wall was
recommissioned. Period II saw construction of a stone fort wall and the
replacement of earlier internal timber buildings with ones of stone. A
building dedication suggests a unit of the legio VI Victrix formed the
garrison at this time. Period III relates to a fairly drastic reorganisation
of the fort's interior during the late second/early third century. Many
buildings were rebuilt or altered and new barracks were built, and this period
is thought to represent the garrisoning of the fort by the cohors I Nerva
Germanorum at a time when the frontier was being reorganised and cavalry units
were being stationed in outpost forts. Towards the latter quarter of the third
century the fort was again subjected to drastic remodelling. A new fort wall
was built on the west and north sides, reducing the area of the fort
considerably and suggesting a much reduced late third/early fourth century
garrison. Internally some of the buildings were altered, including the
bathhouse which appears to have been converted into a barrack. Coin evidence
suggests Bewcastle was abandoned during the early years of the fourth century
and this period coincides with the visits of the emperor Constantine the Great
to Britain in 312 and 314, the former date being the occasion for the
withdrawal of many troops to form the nucleus of a mobile field army. The
Roman name of Bewcastle is unknown, although two candidates have been offered;
Banna, a name connected with at least two other forts in the area, and Fanum
Cocidi, the shrine of Cocidius, which according to the seventh century
compilation of countries, towns and rivers known as The Ravenna Cosmography,
was in the general area of Bewcastle. Cocidius was a native god honoured at
certain forts on the Roman frontier and at Bewcastle his dedications occur on
silver plaques found during limited excavation of the headquarters building.
Bewcastle high cross is located to the south of the church in St Cuthbert's
churchyard. It consists of a richly carved sandstone cross shaft standing 4.4m
high and set in a sandstone socle or base. The cross dates to the early eighth
century AD. Although the cross head is missing the shaft is carved with a
quality of artwork unsurpassed in England for this date. The west side of the
shaft depicts three human figures and a lengthy runic inscription. The top
figure is heavily worn but is interpreted as St John the Evangelist. The
central figure is Christ shown as the reconciler and tamer of beasts. The
identity of the lower figure is still a matter of debate. When first described
it was seen as a Falconer with his eagle; it is now usually seen as St John
the Evangelist with his symbol the eagle. The south face has a panel of close
symmetrical knotwork, a small runic inscription, a length of symmetrical vine
scroll, a looser symmetrical knot panel, a large S-curve of vine scroll which
includes a carved sundial on which the hole for the gnomon still survives, and
a small knot panel above which are traces of a small runic inscription. The
sundial is the only one on a cross to survive from the pre-conquest period.
Other surviving examples are all set into church walls. On the east face there
is a single great vine scroll inhabited by birds and beasts. On the north face
there is a vine scroll, then a small runic inscription, then a knot panel,
then a large panel of chequer pattern, above this knot work, and at the top
more vine scroll above which are traces of a small runic inscription. The
shaft sits in a base which now lies mostly beneath the modern ground surface.
The inscriptions on the cross have been the subject of much academic
discussion. However, they are all severely weathered and none can be fully
reconstructed and understood. The existence of the high cross may hint at the
former existence of an early ecclesiastical establishment (a single church, or
possibly a small monastic community) within the former Roman fort. Such a
situation could be paralleled at other northern Roman forts including Old
Brampton, Kirkbride and Nether Denton.
Bew Castle is traditionally thought to have been constructed between 1296-1307
at a time when Edward I was involved in military campaigns against the Scots.
It was strategically situated within the north east corner of the Roman fort;
lengths of the fort's north and east fort ditches were widened and deepened
and cross ditches cut so as to form a moat and isolate the castle site. An
outlet channel issues from the moat's south east corner. Earth from the
ditches was thrown onto the newly formed platform and the castle erected in
the form of a shell keep. Its chief defences consisted of an outer shell wall
c.2m thick and 28m square with a rampart and battlements running around the
top. Within, a range of buildings lay up against the wall, surrounding a small
courtyard open to the sky. A gatehouse was added towards the end of the 15th
century and access to the castle was by a drawbridge. Documentary sources
state that the castle underwent periods of both decay and rebuilding during
the 15th and 16th centuries. It was garrisoned for the last time in 1639 in
response to `commotions in Scotland' and dismantled two years later by
Parliamentary forces when the garrison removed to Carlisle. Today only the
castle's south and east walls survive to anything like their original height.
The south wall stands up to 9m high and retains most of its external facing
stone. There are two windows and two fireplaces on the second storey,
suggesting that the internal lean-to buildings consisted of a low verandah-
like basement with a frontage open to the courtyard. Above this may have been
the accommodation for the garrison, underneath the owner's domestic quarters.
The main feature of the west wall is the gatehouse which is placed up against
it. The east and north walls have largely fallen and/or been robbed of their
stonework.
St Cuthbert's Church is Listed Grade II*, Demense Farmhouse and the former
rectory, now known as Banna, are Listed Grade II. St Cuthbert's Church, the
building housing the museum to the south of the church, Banna and its
outbuilding, Demense Farm and all its outbuildings, all graves and headstones,
the surface of all access drives, roads, paths, yards, gravelled areas and car
parking areas, and all modern walls, fence posts, gateposts, telegraph poles
and traffic signposts are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground
beneath all these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Roman forts served as permanent bases for auxiliary units of the Roman Army.
In outline they were straight sided rectangular enclosures with rounded
corners, defined by a single rampart of turf, puddled clay or earth with one
or more outer ditches. Some forts had separately defended, subsidiary
enclosures or annexes, allowing additional storage space or for the
accommodation of troops and convoys in transit. Although built and used
throughout the Roman period, the majority of forts were constructed between
the mid first and mid second centuries AD. Some were only used for short
periods of time but others were occupied for extended periods on a more or
less permanent basis. In the earlier forts, timber was used for gateways,
towers and breastworks. From the beginning of the second century AD there was
a gradual replacement of timber with stone.
Roman forts are rare nationally and are extremely rare south of the Severn
Trent line. As one of a small group of Roman military monuments, which are
important in representing army strategy and therefore government policy, forts
are of particular significance to our understanding of the period. All Roman
forts with surviving archaeological potential are considered to be nationally
important.

Roman forts served as permanent bases for auxiliary units of the Roman Army.
In outline they were straight sided rectangular enclosures with rounded
corners, defined by a single rampart of turf, puddled clay or earth with one
or more outer ditches. Some forts had separately defended, subsidiary
enclosures or annexes, allowing additional storage space or for the
accommodation of troops and convoys in transit. Although built and used
throughout the Roman period, the majority of forts were constructed between
the mid first and mid second centuries AD. Some were only used for short
periods of time but others were occupied for extended periods on a more or
less permanent basis. In the earlier forts, timber was used for gateways,
towers and breastworks. From the beginning of the second century AD there was
a gradual replacement of timber with stone.
Roman forts are rare nationally and are extremely rare south of the Severn
Trent line. As one of a small group of Roman military monuments, which are
important in representing army strategy and therfore government policy, forts
are of particular significance to our understanding of the period. All Roman
forts with surviving archaeological potential are considered to be nationally
important.
High crosses were erected in a variety of locations in the eighth to tenth
centuries AD. They have carved shafts supporting cross heads and are set
within dressed or rough stone bases called sockles. High crosses served a
variety of functions, some being associated with established churches and
monasteries, some acting as cenotaphs or marking a burial place, and others
marking routes or boundaries and acting as meeting places for local
communities. The carved decoration divides into four main types; plant
scrolls, plaiting and interlace, birds and animals, and figurative
representation often taking the form of religious iconography. The earliest
high crosses were erected by the native population, probably under the
direction of the church, but later examples were often commissioned by secular
patrons and reflect the art styles and mythology of Viking settlers. High
crosses provide important insights into art traditions and changing art styles
during the early medieval period, into religious beliefs during the same era,
and into the impact of the Scandinavian settlement of the north of England.
A shell keep castle is a masonry enclosure with few buildings and perhaps one
tower only within its interior. They are usually rounded or sub-rounded,
although other shapes are known. Shell keeps were built over a period of about
150 years, from not long after the Norman Conquest until the mid-13th
century, and provided strongly fortified residences for the king or leading
families. They are rare nationally with only 71 recorded examples, and
considerable diversity of form is exhibited with no two examples being alike.
Along with other castle types they are major medieval monument types,
belonging to the highest levels of society, frequently acting as major
administrative centres and forming the foci for developing settlement
patterns. Castles generally provide an emotive and evocative link to the past
and can provide a valuable educational resource, both with respect to medieval
warfare and defence, and to wider aspects of medieval society.
The importance of this monument as a foci for both military, civil, and
possibly religious settlement over a long period is attested by the presence
of a Roman fort, a high cross and a medieval castle. Limited excavation has
shown that buried remains of Bewcastle Roman fort survive well. This fort was
one of a small number of outpost forts associated with Hadrian's Wall and is
one of only a handful of Roman forts which was not constructed to the normal
`playing card' plan. Bewcastle high cross shaft is widely recognised as
possessing the finest surviving early eighth century AD carved artwork in
England. The high technical merit of the relief carving and the imited extent
of literacy in Northumbrian society at this time suggests a monastic community
may have been involved in the production and erection of the cross and that
Bewcastle may have been a monastic settlement. Despite a combination of
collapse and stone robbing, Bew Castle still retains substantial amounts of
upstanding medieval fabric. Its location close to the Scottish border meant
that it functioned as the first line of defence against attacking Scottish
armies and as a focal point for English military campaigns against the Scots
in the late 13th/early 14th centuries. As such it provides an insight into the
constantly changing design and defensive strategies employed in medieval
castles.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Cumberland and Westmorland, (1967), 66-70
Austen, P, 'Cumb and West Antiq and Arch Soc Research Series' in Bewcastle and Old Penrith: A Roman Outpost Fort and a Frontier Vicus, , Vol. 6, (1991), 1-50
Curwen, J F, 'Trans Cumb & West Antiq & Arch Soc. Extra Ser.' in Castles and Towers of Cumb, West and Lancs N of the Sands, , Vol. XIII, (1913), 138-41
Other
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,

Source: Historic England

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