ALDBOROUGH ROMAN TOWN

and ALDBOROUGH CASTLE

Aldborough Roman Fort was established in the late first century AD but was later replaced with a planned town known as Isurium Brigantum. This settlement was enclosed by town walls in the second century AD and served as a regional centre until the end of the Roman occupation. Later the Normans converted the former town’s Roman amphitheatre into a small castle.

History

 

Introduction

 

The Romans invaded Britain in AD 43 and in the subsequent decades consolidated their hold across the south and midlands. Around AD 65 the Ninth Legion (Legio IX Hispana) established a fortress at Lincoln (Lindum) but they advanced no further as the land to the north, including Yorkshire and Northumberland, was under the control of the pro-Roman Brigantes tribe. However, in AD 68 its ruler, Queen Cartimandua, was deposed and the tribe then supported an insurgency against Roman rule. Accordingly Petilius Cerialis, who was appointed Governor of Britain in AD 71, commenced the conquest of the Brigantes. He moved the Ninth Legion north to a new base in York, the centre of the tribe's territory. Satellite forts were then established across the region as the Romans sought to extend their control across the wider region. This included Roecliffe Roman Fort, approximately one mile west of the Aldborough site.

 

Aldborough Roman Fort

 

As the Romans consolidated their control of the newly conquered territory, they constructed Dere Street, a mettled road which ran between York (Eboracum) and Corbridge (Corstopitum) (it would later extend all the way to Perthshire). The road ran through the Aldborough site as it represented the optimum point to cross the River Ure. Accordingly, in the latter years of the first century AD, Roecliffe Fort was decommissioned and replaced with a new outpost at Aldborough. Little is known about this new fort but, based upon stamped military tiles found on the site, it was probably constructed by the Ninth Legion.

 

Aldborough Roman Town

 

Following the defeat of the Brigantes territory, the Romans embarked upon a re-organisation of civilian administration across the region. Previously the tribe had used elaborate hillforts to serve as their regional centres and it has been mooted that Stanwick hillfort, near Scotch Corner, was their capital. As part of the tribe's Romanisation, in the early second century AD, their caput was moved to Aldborough. The earlier Roman Fort was flattened and buried under sand to create a clear platform for the new town. The settlement was known as Isurium Brigantum which was derived from the Iron Age name for the River Ure and the name of the Brigantes tribe to indicate it was their tribal centre (civitas).

 

Like other planned Roman towns, Aldborough was laid out in a grid pattern structured around a main central road that ran through the settlement. Key administrative buildings would have included the forum and basilica whilst there would also have been substantial public infrastructure such as sewers. A public bath house was located near the west gate and an amphitheatre was built to the north-west of the town. When it was originally founded, the settlement had no defences but an earthwork rampart and ditch was added around the end of second century AD, probably for taxation and administrative purposes (such as preventing burials within the town boundary). Unlike Roman forts these defences had an irregular layout as they were adapted to the terrain, the existing street pattern and any outlying assets that also needed to be enclosed. The total area of the defended town was around 138 acres. The walls were rebuilt in stone during the late third century AD. Around the mid-fourth century, a number of semi-circular bastions added to the walls. To make space the town ditch was moved further out.

 

Roman occupation of England ended in the early fifth century AD and Aldborough's role as regional administrative centre came to an end. The town reduced in size as the population returned to a more subsistence based existence although the site seemingly remained occupied throughout the Dark Ages. By the eleventh century it was a Royal property and was recorded in the Domesday survey of 1086 as being the centre of an administrative area called Burghshire. However, the survey recorded a dramatic reduction in value of the site - from £10 in 1066 down to just £3 in 1086 - and it is possible the site was devastated during the 'Harrying of the North', William I's brutal suppression of northern England. It was probably also at this time that the road network shifted to the east when a new bridge was built at Boroughbridge thus marginalising Aldborough.

 

Aldborough Castle

 

A castle was raised to the north-west of the village in the late eleventh or early twelfth century re-using the earthworks of the former Roman amphitheatre (a similar arrangement can be seen at Silchester in Hampshire). The fortification, which is now known as Studforth Hill but was originally called Stuteville, was either a motte or ringwork fortification and had timber defences. It was mentioned in the Pipe Rolls, Royal records of Government, for the period 1158 to 1175. It then passed into Baronial hands until circa-1205 when it may have returned to Crown ownership; a reference in the Pipe Rolls to a fortification named Vetus Burgus is believed to refer to Aldborough. However, thereafter the historical record goes silent and the castle was probably abandoned during the thirteenth century. The castle earthworks have subsequently been badly damaged by ploughing.

 

 

Bibliography

 

Armitage, E.S (1904). Early Norman Castles of the British Isles. English Historical Review Vol 14 (Reprinted by Amazon).

Bedoyere, G (2010). Roman Britain: A New History. Thames and Hudson Ltd, London.

Breeze, D.J (2011). The Frontiers of Imperial Rome. Pen and Sword Books Ltd, Barnsley.

Dando-Collins, S (2010). Legions of Rome. Quercus, London.

Douglas, D.C and Greeaway, G.W (ed) (1981). English Historical Documents Vol 2 (1042-1189). Routledge, London.

Douglas, D.C and Rothwell, H (ed) (1975). English Historical Documents Vol 3 (1189-1327). Routledge, London.

Fields, N (2005). Rome’s Northern Frontier AD 70-235. Osprey, Oxford.

Fleming, R (2010). Britain After Rome: the Fall and Rise 400 to 1070. Penguin Books, London.

Goldsworthy, A (2003). The Complete Roman Army. Thames and Hudson, London.

Ordnance Survey, Historic England and RCAHMW (2016). Roman Britain. 1:625,000 Scale. Ordnance Survey, Southampton.

Raine, A (1955). Medieval York. John Murray, London.

Reynolds, A.J (1999). Later Anglo-Saxon England: Life and Landscape. Stroud.

Russell, M and Laycock, S (2010). Un-Roman Britain: Exposing the Myth of Britannia. The History Press, Stroud.

Salter, M (2001). The Castles and Tower Houses of Yorkshire. Folly Publications.

Turner, H.L (1971). Town Defences in England and Wales. London.

Waite, J (2011). To Rule Britannia. The History Press, Stroud.

Williams, A and Martin, G.H (2003). Domesday Book: A Complete Translation. Viking, London.

What's There?

Aldborough Roman Town occupied the entire site of the modern village and the area to the immediate north and south. Most of the defences have been lost or the remains are buried underground but small sections of the wall can be seen in the English Heritage controlled museum in the southern portion of the village. Aldborough Castle (Studforth Hill) survives as earthworks which, although on private land, can be viewed from the main road.

Aldborough Roman Town. The town was laid out in a grid pattern structured around a main central road. Key administrative buildings would have included the forum and basilica (probably under the site of St Andrews church). An amphitheatre, later converted into a castle, was built to the south-east of the town.

Ninth Legion. A Roman fort was established at Aldborough by the late first century AD. Archaeological finds suggest it was built by the Ninth Legion (Legio IX Hispana) which was based at York (Eboracum). This Legion was the northernmost battle group in Roman Britain but was transferred out of the province circa-AD 122 after having suffered heavy losses.

Roman Defences. The town walls were originally earth and timber but were rebuilt in stone during the late third century AD. Several short sections are visible within the English Heritage site.

Aldborough Castle. The remains of Aldborough Castle, which is now known as Studforth Hill but historically was also called Stuteville and Vetus Burgus, can be seen in a field to the north-west of the Roman town. The earthworks have been badly damaged by ploughing and it is not clear whether the castle was a motte fortification or a ringwork.

Battle of Boroughbridge. A cross in the village centre commemorates the Battle of Boroughbridge (1322) which was fought nearby.

Getting There

Aldborough is found one mile to the east of Junction 48 on the M1. There is ample on-road parking in the village.

Aldborough Roman Site

Front Street, YO51 9EU

54.089727N 1.382199W

Studforth Hill

No Postcode

54.088088N 1.379931W

Battle of Boroughbridge (1322) Cross

Low Road, YO51 9ER

54.092570N 1.382059W