Castleshaw Roman Fort signpost

In Focus

Project Gallery 

Current residents oblivious of the survey   Risks and Issues - is the entrance to the site too cluttered?  
View NW along western rampart of fortlet   Risks and Issues - the hazard posed by the old trenches  
Remnants of the old field layout   Risks and Issues - is graffiti an issue?  


Castleshaw Roman Fort

Securing Your Heritage

Seated on the exposed eastern slopes of the Castleshaw Valley, Castleshaw Roman fort stands as testimony to the force and governance of the Imperial army. However, Castleshaw is proving to be so much more than another dot on a military campaign map. Through years of detailed archaeological excavation and research we are now beginning to understand how the fort, and later fortlet, formed part of an integrated landscape of conquest. On a more domestic level, discoveries are also being made about the day-to-day organisation and administration of the site, giving us a rare glimpse of what life might have been like for an ordinary auxiliary soldier posted to this bleak outpost on the edge of the empire.

The site lies on the course of the Roman military road from Chester to York; a day's march from the main fort at Manchester which controlled the western end of the important trans-Pennine pass. In AD 71, after ten years of relative peace in Britain, the Emperor Vespasian launched a new offensive to subjugate those native tribes which still held out against Roman rule. The Northern Campaign, led by the governor Agricola, was intended to bring about the defeat of the Brigantes, a powerful tribe who held all the land between the Humber and the Tyne. The first fort at Castleshaw was built around AD 79 as part of this campaign.

.he gave the enemy no peace from the devastation of sudden raids: conversely by his clemency, after he had overawed them sufficiently, he paraded before them the attractions of peace. Tacitus, Agricola (xx.2) (on the conquest of the Brigantes)

It was initially a standard auxiliary fort covering 1.2 hectares and enclosed by a turf rampart and ditch. However, this was occupied for a relatively short period of time and fell out of use some time around AD 90. It was replaced a few years later (c.AD 105) by a much smaller fortlet, the outline of which is clearly visible on the site today. This would have housed only around 80 men, and was probably served by a small civilian community (a vicus) located just outside the southern ramparts. The fortlet remained in use until the AD 120s when it was finally abandoned.

Interest in the archaeology and history of the site began in the mid 18th century when it was re-discovered by the famous Manchester antiquarian, Thomas Percival, in 1751. Since then a number of important excavations and surveys have been conducted, including a series of modern investigations in the 1980s undertaken by GMAU and Oldham MBC to interpret, landscape and present the fortlet site (works completed in 1989). In 1958, the importance of Castleshaw as a national heritage asset was recognised in its designation as a Scheduled Monument. Today, the site is a key educational resource; the nearby Castleshaw Centre regularly organising educational visits and activities. It is also a popular recreation area for local people and visitors who come to explore the remains and enjoy the natural landscape and stunning views out across the reservoir and surrounding uplands.

The current owners, United Utilities, have worked closely with English Heritage to ensure the good condition and upkeep of the monument, but there are still factors which affect the preservation and public enjoyment of the site. Like many of the country's upland heritage assets, its exposed location makes it prone to natural erosion and vulnerable to potential anti-social problems like vandalism and litter. However there are also other issues which need to be addressed including the hazards posed by the exposed trenches and spoil heaps from previous excavations, control of vegetation, footpath erosion, visitor access (particularly for the disabled), and site displays and interpretation.

In order to address these risks and issues, and ensure the future of the forts, the Castleshaw Working Party (CWP) has been set up to look at the long term management of the site. It comprises individuals from a number of different fields and institutions who are committed to securing the future of this nationally significant monument. As the first part of this process NAA have been commissioned by the CWP to undertake a Conservation Management Plan to help understand just what it is that makes the Castleshaw forts and the surrounding valley so special and ensure that this is protected and enhanced into the future.