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Healam Bridge Roman fort and vicus

A Scheduled Monument in Kirklington-cum-Upsland, North Yorkshire

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Latitude: 54.246 / 54°14'45"N

Longitude: -1.5056 / 1°30'20"W

OS Eastings: 432315.956386

OS Northings: 483482.110097

OS Grid: SE323834

Mapcode National: GBR KMXB.VP

Mapcode Global: WHC78.VJ7S

Entry Name: Healam Bridge Roman fort and vicus

Scheduled Date: 9 September 2003

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1021211

English Heritage Legacy ID: 34736

County: North Yorkshire

Civil Parish: Kirklington-cum-Upsland

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): North Yorkshire


The monument includes the buried remains of a Roman fort and associated
civilian settlement, known as a vicus, that were built on Dere Street, the
main north/south Roman road east of the Pennines. Both the fort and vicus
are bisected by the modern A1 as this road follows the same route as Dere
Street which passed through the middle of the fort. The monument lies in
two separate areas of protection, on either side of the A1. The fort lies
on the high ground on the south side of Healam Beck with the vicus
extending both north and southwards from the fort, with the northern part
of the settlement extending beyond the beck. The full extent of the Roman
settlement, and associated areas such as cemeteries, is not known. Further
nationally important archaeological remains may thus survive beyond the
boundaries of the monument.

The monument was investigated by geophysical survey and small scale sample
excavation in 1993-94. Thirteen trial trenches were excavated, distributed
across the monument, representing less than 0.5% of the monument's total
area. These investigations revealed that the fort was approximately 130m
by 130m within its defensive ditches, and thus similar, if slightly
smaller, than the fort 18km north along Dere Street at Cataractonium on
the south bank of the River Swale. Finds from the fort suggested that it
was constructed and occupied in the early to mid-second century AD, but
then probably abandoned by the Roman army. The associated civilian
settlement appears to have developed soon after the building of the fort,
but to have also been occupied in the third and fourth centuries. The
settlement developed immediately around the fort and extended as ribbon
developments along Dere Street, extending at least 400m south and 300m
north beyond the fort's defences. Properties forming this ribbon
development are believed to have fronted onto Dere Street, each set within
rectilinear ditched enclosures that extended back from the road. The
geophysical survey suggests that these enclosures included additional
buildings and small industrial areas. Sample excavation also demonstrated
the survival of cobbled surfaces, representing yards or secondary streets,
and refuse pits. The geophysical survey showed a number of features within
the area of the fort which suggests that the civilian settlement extended
into this area after its abandonment by the army. However as Healam Bridge
lies half way between the Roman towns of Aldbourgh and Cataractonium it
may have acted as a posting station for the Cursus Publicus, or Imperial
mail service, utilising at least part of the fort. One trial trench was
excavated north of Healam Beck, east of the road. This also uncovered
settlement evidence from the second and fourth centuries as well as a
human burial. The geophysical survey detected a number of pits in the
surrounding area which are considered to be further graves forming a

The eastern limits of the settlement are believed to have been determined
by the geophysical survey and sample excavation. However the full extent
of the settlement, especially to the north and west, is not known and it
is possible that it extended beyond the area of scheduling. Further
nationally important remains may thus lie outside the area of the

A number of features are excluded from the scheduling: these are the
bridges over Healam Beck, one of which is Listed Grade II, all modern
fences, walls, stiles, gates, water troughs, telegraph poles, sign posts
and all road and path surfaces; although the ground beneath all these
features is included. Fence lines defining the boundaries of the monument
lie immediately outside the protected area.

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 area outside Roman forts was typically put to a variety of uses. There
was usually a bath house and often a number of shrines, burial grounds and
sometimes other official establishments such as lodging houses for
official visitors. Over time, sprawling external settlements known as vici
developed around many forts. These housed a range of people and activities
attracted by the military presence. Some of the inhabitants may have been
families of troops stationed at the fort, although it was not until the
third century that soldiers on active duty were officially permitted to
marry. Craftsmen and merchants are also thought to have set up premises in
the vici. The most common type of building found in a vicus was the long
narrow strip building that was typically used for both domestic and
commercial purposes. The economic fortunes of most vici were linked to the
army and they normally rapidly declined following any abandonment of the
associated fort. However some, particularly those sited on transport
routes, survived and developed into small settlements in their own right,
sometimes even surviving beyond the end of the Roman period.

Roman roads facilitated both the conquest of the province and its
subsequent administration. Their main purpose was to serve the Cursus
Publicus, or Imperial mail service. Express messengers could travel up to
150 miles (241km) per day on the network of roads throughout Britain and
Europe, changing horses at wayside `mutationes' (posting stations set
every 8 miles (12.87km) on major roads) and stopping overnight at
`mansiones' (rest houses located every 20-25 miles(32km-40km)). In
addition, throughout the Roman period and later, Roman roads acted as
commercial routes and became foci for settlement and industry. Although a
number of roads fell out of use soon after the withdrawal of Rome from the
province in the early fifth century AD, many have continued in use down to
the present day and are consequently sealed beneath modern roads.

Despite being bisected by the modern A1, significant and extensive remains of
Healam Bridge fort and vicus still survive. Its importance is heightened by
its location on Dere Street half way between the Roman towns of Aldborough and

Source: Historic England


Typescript, Jones, A, Healam Bridge, North Yorks Archaeological Evaluation, (1994)

Source: Historic England

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