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Roman forts at Metchley

A Scheduled Monument in Edgbaston, Birmingham

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Latitude: 52.4514 / 52°27'4"N

Longitude: -1.9388 / 1°56'19"W

OS Eastings: 404255.892635

OS Northings: 283715.827258

OS Grid: SP042837

Mapcode National: GBR 5QM.S3

Mapcode Global: VH9Z2.BNW4

Entry Name: Roman forts at Metchley

Scheduled Date: 10 July 1950

Last Amended: 10 March 2003

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020977

English Heritage Legacy ID: 35120

County: Birmingham

Electoral Ward/Division: Edgbaston

Built-Up Area: Birmingham

Traditional County: Warwickshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): West Midlands

Church of England Parish: Edgbaston St Bartholomew

Church of England Diocese: Birmingham


The monument includes the known surviving extent of the buried and earthwork
remains of Metchley Roman fort in Birmingham, which lies within five separate
areas of protection. Located upon a gently sloping plateau of sands and
gravels surrounded by boulder clay and oriented north west to south east, the
fort dominated low lying ground upon three sides, with rising ground to the
north west. The standing remains include the partially reconstructed north
western corner of the first century fort's northern annexe defences. The
remainder of the fort survives as buried features identified by a number of
archaeological excavations. These confirmed the substantial survival of buried
archaeological remains including a number of structures, with associated
artefacts and environmental deposits.

Historic maps, the earliest dating from 1718, show the fort surviving as a
series of earthworks until 1917. Excavations in 1934-6 by St Joseph and
Shotton, in 1954 by Webster and again in the 1960s and 1990s identified four
main phases of Roman activity. The earliest fort was constructed around AD 40
and was approximately 200 sq m, defended by double ditches and a turf
revetted rampart. Excavation within the interior of the fort provided
evidence for a pair of facing barrack blocks, part of a granary, a workshop
and store. The garrison at this time is believed to have included about 1000
men. The second phase of Roman activity involved the addition of ditched
annexes on the northern and eastern sides of the fort and the deliberate
clearance of the earlier interior structures. This was immediately followed by
the construction of temporary, irregularly shaped timber-framed buildings
including a store, a stable or groom's quarters and some associated fenced
compounds. It is believed that the garrison was substantially reduced and the
fort acted as a stores depot during this period.

Following a period of abandonment, a smaller fort, enclosing approximately
2.6ha, was built within the site of the earlier, first and second phase
defences, these were recut to provide extra protection. This small fort was
defended by a ditch and turf rampart, which was later reconstructed in timber.
Interior buildings associated with the smaller fort included a small granary
and cookhouse. The fort was abandoned around AD 75. There is evidence of some
later Roman activity continuing until approximately AD 120, including evidence
for recutting of the earlier fort ditches and other military style ditches
dug on different alignments. This latest phase of activity is believed
to represent a more sporadic military occupation of the site, which may also
have involved the layout of practice camps.

Excavations carried out between 1999 to 2001 have identified a `vicus' or
civilian settlement, including timber-framed buildings, hearths, ovens and
trackways, extending over an area measuring up to 1ha lying to the west of the
fort. The vicus is not included in the scheduling.

All modern surfaces, benches, paths and street furniture are excluded from the
scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.

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

The Roman fort at Metchley survives well despite later developments.
Excavations have demonstrated a high level of preservation of both structural,
artefactual and environmental deposits relating to an almost continual
occupation of the Roman site over some 150 years. In addition the excavations
have demonstrated survival of archaeological evidence for its earliest phases
providing the plan of an unusual, early Claudian fort. Evidence for several
phases of internal building demonstrates changes in the composition of the
garrison and the function of the fort, as well as providing information for
non standard structures which will contain evidence on the less well
understood aspects of Roman military development. Artefacts and pottery from
the site demonstrate extensive use of both imported and locally sourced
pottery, with little trade from elsewhere in Britain, the exception being
quern stones from the site, which derived from deposits in Derbyshire,
Staffordshire and the Pennines. Environmental deposits preserved within the
ditches demonstrated an excellent level of survival and included the remains
of seeds, pollen and insects which provide information on the environment in
the Roman period. For example there is evidence for the early clearance of
nearby woodland and its later regrowth during the last phase of Roman
occupation. Large areas of similar undisturbed deposits are believed to
survive over a wider area of the fort and these would provide further
information relating to the use and development of the fort and to the
activities of its occupants over a period which saw significant changes in
Roman Britain.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Jones, A, 'Transactions 2001' in Roman Birmingham I Metchley Roman Forts, , Vol. 105, (2001), 135pp

Source: Historic England

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