Extensive remains of one of the Roman Fort forts on the line of Hadrian’s Wall. The site also boats extensive remains of a Roman bath house (on which the Segedunum reconstruction is based) and a Victorian museum displaying some of the stone carvings discovered along the central sector of Hadrian’s Wall.
1. The remains of the bridge can be accessed by following the main road (B6318) to the right when leaving the fort, crossing the modern bridge and accessing the English Heritage gate just after. Note there is no parking here so cars should be left at Chesters.
Notes: Located near Hexham the site is open all year round. Extensive (pay) car parking facilities are available at the fort which is well signposted from the A69. The best way to access the bridge abutment is on foot from the fort.
A large cavalry fort Chesters boasts extensive foundations of the Roman Fort, the associated Bath House and the Bridge that carried the Wall and the Military Road over the River Tyne. Occupied for nearly three centuries it housed a force of cavalry who would have garrisoned the Wall and patrolled north of the frontier.
HISTORY OF CHESTERS ROMAN FORT
Located on the banks of the River Tyne, Chesters (known to the Romans as Cilurnum) formed one of seventeen forts on the line of Hadrian's Wall - the northern frontier of the Roman Empire between AD 122 to AD 142 and then again from the mid-second century to the end of Roman Britain around AD 409.
In the late first century, Roman occupation extended through Britain and with the defeat of the Caledonians at the Battle of Mons Graupius (AD 83), it seemed the whole island would come under Roman control. However problems elsewhere in the empire led to the withdrawal of a Legion and it was no longer viable for the Romans to hold Scotland as well as England - especially as trouble continued in the Cumberland and Pennines areas. The Romans withdrew to the Tyne/Solway isthmus and built forts along the Stanegate Road between Carlisle and Corbridge. By the time Hadrian became emperor in AD 117, it was clear the Empire could not continue to sustain expansion. No doubt influenced by war and support provided by southern Scottish tribes to the Brigantes in Cumberland, the decision was made to build the Wall.
Construction commenced in AD 122 and passed over the nearby river at this point (the remains of the bridge that carried the Wall can still be seen at the Chesters site). Originally the design of the frontier had placed forts to the rear but this was changed shortly after construction commenced with the garrisons instead moved into the line itself. Chesters Fort was built as part of this revised plan and was constructed circa AD 124. With the presence of the new outpost, a turret (27A) in the immediate proximity was demolished as superfluous.
Built in stone from the start in the standard 'playing card' layout, Chesters housed a garrison of approximately 500 cavalry and may, periodically, also have had an infantry detachment. Troops were not Roman legionaries but Auxiliaries - non-citizen solders drawn from all over the Roman empire. The first regiment seems to have been the First Cohort of Vangiones (cohors I Vangionum), a 1,000 strong mounted unit recruited from Germany and split between here and Benwell Fort.
The use of the fort during the poeriod AD 142 to circa-AD 160, during which time the Romans had advanced the frontier north to the Antonine Wall (on the Clyde/Forth line), is uncertain. However its strategic location on adjacent to the crossing over the River Tyne meant it probably continued in use. Within twenty years that Wall was abandoned and the frontier returned to Hadrian’s Wall at which point the garrison at Chesters seemed to change to the Second Wing of Astures (Ala Secundae Asturum) - a cavalry unit originalyl recruited from Northern Spain. This unit remained assigned to the fort through the third and fourth centuries and inevitably would have recruited locally in the latter years of occupation.
Chesters Fort remained occupied byRoman forces until they were pulled out of the province in the late fourth/early fifth century (the end of Roman occupation of Britain is generally cited as AD 409). The site may have remained in use even after this withdrawl: some evidence exists of continued occupation but whether this was limited to locals or the remains of a garrison fending for themselves is unknown. Over the subsequent centuries the site was quarried for its stone and was plundered until it came into the ownership of John Clayton, an individual fascinated in Roman antiquity.