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Part of a Roman fort and its associated vicus and remains of a pre-Conquest monastery and a Benedictine priory on Castle Hill

A Scheduled Monument in Castle, Lancashire

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Latitude: 54.0514 / 54°3'4"N

Longitude: -2.8056 / 2°48'19"W

OS Eastings: 347357.184182

OS Northings: 462013.228873

OS Grid: SD473620

Mapcode National: GBR 8PVL.DF

Mapcode Global: WH846.WF6H

Entry Name: Part of a Roman fort and its associated vicus and remains of a pre-Conquest monastery and a Benedictine priory on Castle Hill

Scheduled Date: 12 November 1928

Last Amended: 24 April 2002

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020668

English Heritage Legacy ID: 34987

County: Lancashire

Electoral Ward/Division: Castle

Built-Up Area: Lancaster

Traditional County: Lancashire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Lancashire

Church of England Parish: Lancaster St Mary with St John and St Anne

Church of England Diocese: Blackburn


The monument includes the upstanding and buried remains of the northern
parts of Lancaster Roman fort and its associated civilian settlement or
vicus, together with the buried remains of a pre-Conquest monastery and a
Benedictine priory. It is located on the top and the northern slopes of
Castle Hill and extends beneath the present Priory Church of St Mary and
its churchyard, the modern and former vicarages and their gardens, the
garden of No. 2, St Mary's Gate, the garden of No. 100 Church
Street, and north into Vicarage Fields. The buried remains of the
pre-Conquest monastery are considered to lie beneath the priory church,
while the buried remains of the Benedictine priory and its associated
precinct and precinct wall are considered to lie beneath the priory church
and within land to the north and west.

Lancaster Roman fort, the Roman name of which is unknown, was constructed
during the latter quarter of the first century AD and, apart from
occasional periods of abandonment, it remained in military occupation
until the early years of the fifth century. The fort was strategically
located to command the lowest bridging/fording point of the River Lune and
was connected by a series of Roman roads with forts to the north, south,
north east and south east. A combination of chance finds and 20th century
limited excavations have revealed that the first Roman fort was
constructed about AD 80. It was rectangular in shape with rounded corners
and was defended on its north, west and east sides (its south side not yet
having been ascertained) by a clay-and-turf rampart and two `V'-shaped
ditches. The north wall of the rampart ran east-west a little to the north
of the Old Vicarage and measured about 187m long. Inside the rampart
excavation found an intervallum road and remains of timber buildings
thought to be barrack blocks. Later in the first century the fort was
remodelled by extending the northern defences some 37m further north and
rebuilding the timber barracks. An inscription from a tombstone discovered
in the late 18th century suggests that the fort may at this time have been
garrisoned by the Ala Augusta, a cavalry unit. Following the first century
development there appears to have been a short period of abandonment which
may have coincided with Roman military policy to develop the Stanegate
road as a northern frontier of the province. The fort was reoccupied very
early in the second century and an inscription found beneath the priory
church and dated to about AD 102 records building work here. The enlarged
late first century fort formed the basis for the reoccupation, and a stone
revetment wall almost 2m thick was added to the front of the clay-and-turf
rampart with at least one new ditch with a timber palisade on the inner
lip of the ditch being located outside the wall. Traces of the intervallum
road were found adjacent to the new fort's north west corner as were
traces of internal buildings of an unspecified nature. The buried remains
of a ditch running north-south through Vicarage Field is thought to be a
drainage ditch associated with a Roman road running north from the fort to
a crossing of the River Lune. If so, this would suggest that the fort's
north gate may be located a short distance east of Vicarage Lane.
Coin-loss evidence suggests that the fort was abandoned during the
mid-second century coinciding with a military advance into Scotland.
However, coin-loss figures also suggest activity within the vicus during
this period indicating some form of occupation. Futher coin-loss figures
suggest that the fort was briefly reoccupied in the latter half of the
second century only to be again abandoned by the end of the century. By
the mid-third century a building inscription indicates that the fort was
again in use and occupied by a cavalry garrison, the Ala Sebosiana, whilst
an altar found a short distance up the Lune valley in the late 18th
century suggests that a Numerus Barcariorum or `unit of boatmen' may also
have formed part of the garrison at this time and may even have formed the
entire garrison during the remainder of the fort's lifetime. About AD 330
a major new military fort was constructed here on a different alignment
from the earlier forts. A surviving upstanding fragment of this structure,
a masonry stub known as The Wery Wall which formed the defensive wall, is
located in the eastern Vicarage Field and represents the core of a
polygonal external bastion, presumably situated at the northern angle of
the wall's circuit. This wall, which was about 3m thick, ran in a south
westerly direction and has been located by limited excavations in the
former vicarage grounds and was also reported in the late 18th century at
a point south west of the priory church and in part running west of the
castle. A fragment of the south wall of this fort, which is noticably not
parallel to the north wall, was also noted in the 18th century and a
further fragment was located at the southern end of Mitre Yard in the
1970s. Overall the structural fragments of this fourth century defensive
wall suggest that the fort was a Saxon Shore Fort construction wherein the
bastions were used for mounting pieces of heavy defensive artillery, thus
indicating a new phase of static defence to which Roman military
philosophy had moved. The fort's north wall was protected by at least one
ditch. The abundance of fourth century pottery and coins suggests a
well-used site extending into the early years of the fifth century, at
which point the Roman occupation of Britain ceased. Excavation and chance
finds in the area of the vicus in Vicarage Fields include remains of a
large stone-built courtyard building complete with a bath-house range of
buildings which is thought to have been the residence and offices of an
important regional official or, alternatively, a `mansio' or official inn.
It is located in the eastern Vicarage Field and remains partly exposed
after excavation and consolidation. This building overlay two earlier
phases of timber buildings of uncertain function dated to the late second
century. Construction of the fourth century Wery Wall and its defensive
ditch necessitated the destruction of the bath-house and associated large
courtyard building as part of the vicus area was taken in within the
boundaries of the new fort. Nearby are the buried remains of a Roman
building of uncertain function lying parallel to the courtyard building,
whilst further west a number of Roman strip buildings were found flanking
the road leading from the north gate of the pre-fourth century fort.
Chance finds located during construction of a railway line on the northern
edge of Vicarage Fields in 1849 suggest the existence of a shrine or holy
well towards the northern edge of the vicus.

Little is known of the history of the fort and vicus areas after the
withdrawal of Roman forces from Britain until the founding of a
Benedictine priory in the late 11th century. However, the finding of a
number of fragments of early Christian carved stone crosses from beneath
the priory church offers clear evidence of Christianity on the site and
this, taken with the discovery of numerous early ninth century coins from
the priory's immediate environs, has led to the belief that here stood one
of the numerous unnamed monasteries founded under St Wilfred between the
seventh and ninth centuries. Documentary sources indicate that Lancaster
Priory was founded in 1094 by Roger, Earl of Poitou, who bestowed upon the
Benedictine Abbey of St Martin of Seez in Normandy the Church of St Mary
of Lancaster. The priory stood on the same site as its present-day
successor but little above-ground fabric is left of the original structure
due to major rebuilding work, particularly during the 15th and early 20th
centuries. Buried remains, however, survive well as indicated in 1911 when
reflooring of the present chancel revealed Roman walls and the apsidal
presbytery of the Norman priory church. Remains of the domestic buildings
associated with the priory have not yet been located but due to space
limitations thay are expected to lie to the north of the priory in the
space now occupied by the King's Own Memorial Chapel and the garden of the
vicarage. There is evidence that the priory had its own precinct with a
wall and gatehouse. Leland, writing in the early 16th century mentions
ruined walls of the suppressed priory being visible, and in 1928 limited
excavation in western Vicarage Field next to Vicarage Lane found the
well-preserved remains of a room or turret. A map dated 1610 depicts a
gatehouse-like building in this vicinity and this evidence, taken with the
results of examination of one of a series of nearby linear earthworks in
1971 which appears to be the remains of the precinct wall or bank,
revetted with stone, suggests that the priory had a precinct wall and
gatehouse controlling an access route from the medieval bridge across the
River Lune to the north. During the 15th century the status of the priory
changed gradually from a monastery to that of a parish church.

St Mary's Parish Church and Priory is a Listed Building Grade I; a 19th
century chest tomb and effigy, an 18th century funerary memorial and an
18th century sundial in the priory churchyard are each Listed Grade II;
the 19th century former Vicarage in Priory Close is a Listed Building
Grade II, as is the 18th century summerhouse in the garden of No. 2, St
Mary's Gate.

A number of features are excluded from the scheduling. These include St
Mary's Parish Church and Priory, its present floor, its churchyard wall
and all in-situ and relocated gravestones and funerary memorials; the
walls and floor of an open-air theatre together with the reused
gravestones forming the seating of the theatre; a sundial and its
surrounding steps; the timber pole supporting a beacon; the former
vicarage; the present vicarage; the summerhouse in the garden of No. 2, St
Mary's Gate; all modern walls, fences, fenceposts and railings; the
surfaces of all paths, steps, yards and access drives; all telegraph
poles, lamp posts, information boards, signposts, gates and gateposts; all
floodlights and their bases, and a bridge abutment at the north of
Vicarage Lane. The ground beneath all these features is, however,

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

Saxon Shore Forts were heavily defended later Roman military installations
previously thought to be located exclusively in south east England to
combat the threat from sea-borne Saxon raiders. Latterly it has come to be
recognised that these distinctive fortifications are more widely spread
and examples are now known from the coasts of France, Belgium, Anglesey
and at Lancaster in north west England. Their most distinctive features
are their defences which comprise massive stone walls, normally backed by
an inner earth mound, and wholly or partially surrounded by one or two
ditches. Wall walks and parapets crowned the walls, and the straight walls
of all sites were punctuated by corner and interval towers and/or
projecting bastions. Saxon Shore forts are rare nationally. As one of a
small group of Roman military monuments which are important in
representing army strategy and government policy they are of particular
significance to our understanding of the period and all examples are
considered to be of national importance.

The attached vicus would have comprised a cluster of buildings such as
domestic residences, workshops, shops and temples, together with roads,
trackways, enclosures and garden plots. Such vici were similar to
contemporary small towns although they lacked the planned street grid
normally evident in the latter. Normally they also lacked the defences
surrounding the small towns. Unlike other towns vici were probably
administered by the military authorities rather than being self-governing.
The juxtaposition of fort and vicus allows the civilian communities to be

From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD
597 monasticism formed an important facet in both religious and secular
life in the British Isles. The main components of pre-Conquest monasteries
might include two or three small timber or stone churches, a cemetery and
a number of small domestic buildings, contained within an enclosure or
vallum. The ealiest sites were not dissimilar from contemporary secular
settlements, although their ecclesiastical role may be indicated by the
existence of objects indicating wealth and technological achievement as
only the church and leading secular figures are thought to have had access
to the skills and trade networks which produced such goods. Later monastic
foundations in the 10th and 11th centuries generally had one major stone
church and a cemetery. By this time other domestic buildings were more
regularly aligned, often ranged around a cloister. Documentary sources
indicate the existence of about 65 early monasteries. As a rare monument
type and one which made a major contribution to the development of
pre-Conquest England all those which exhibit survival of archaeological
remains are considered worthy of protection.

It is estimated from documentary evidence that about 700 post-Conquest
monasteries, abbeys and priories were founded in England belonging to a
wide variety of different religious orders, each with its own philosophy.
As a result they vary considerably in the detail of their appearance and
layout, although all possess the basic elements of church, domestic
accommodation for the community, and work buildings. Benedictine
monasticism had its roots in the rule written about 530 by St Benedict of
Nursia for his own abbey at Monte Cassino, and the Benedictine monks, who
wore dark robes, came to be known as `black monks'. Over 150 Benedictine
monasteries were founded in England and as members of a highly successful
order many Benedictine houses became extremely wealthy and influential,
this wealth frequently seen in the scale and flamboyance of their
buildings. Benedictine monasteries made a major contribution to many
facets of medieval life and all examples exhibiting significant surviving
archaeological remains are worthy of protection. Despite being partly
overlain by the priory church, a former vicarage and a modern vicarage,
limited archaeological excavation has revealed that the buried remains of
the Roman military and civilian occupation of Castle Hill are extensive
and survive well. Additionally excavation has also revealed the existence
of what is considered to be evidence for a pre-Conquest monastic
settlement on Castle Hill, together with well-preserved remains of part of
the Benedictine priory known to have been constructed here late in the
11th century. Further buried remains of these features are expected to
survive on Castle Hill and its environs.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
White, A (ed), A History of Lancaster, (2001)
White, A (ed), A History of Lancaster, (2001)
Droop, J P, Newstead, R, 'Liverpool Annals of Anthropology & Archaeology' in Vicarage Fields, 1927-9, , Vol. XV-XVII, (1930), 57-72
Jones, G D B, Shotter, D C A, 'Brigantia Monograph Series No. 1' in Roman Lancaster: Rescue Archaeology in an Historic City 1970-75, ()
Jones, G D B, Shotter, D C A, 'Brigantia Monograph Series No. 1' in Roman Lancaster: Rescue Archaeology in an Historic City 1970-75, ()
Shotter, D, White, A, 'Centre for NW Regional Studies No.18' in Roman Fort and Town of Lancaster, (1990)
Shotter, D, White, A, 'Centre for NW Regional Studies No.18' in Roman Fort and Town of Lancaster, (1990)
Shotter, D, White, A, 'Centre for NW Regional Studies No.18' in Roman Fort and Town of Lancaster, (1990)
White, A, 'Contrebis' in Did Lancaster Priory Have A Precinct Wall?, , Vol. 14, (), 8-12

Source: Historic England

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