Holme Lea, Bowes

Project Profile

Project Title :

Holme Lea, Bowes, Co. Durham

Client :

Mrs Close

Type of Work :

Archaeological monitoring and post-excavation analysis

Project Gallery 

The earliest Roman road and northern building   Remains of the southern building with road surface beyond  
 Recording of the northern building and flagged floor   Cleaning of an archaeological horizon  
Fragment of inscribed Roman amphora   The well, under excavation  


Holme Lea, Bowes

The Romans at Bowes: excavating part of the vicus attached to the Roman fort at Bowes (Lavatris )

A programme of archaeological monitoring and excavation, undertaken recently by NAA at Holme Lea, Bowes, has revealed remains associated with both the Roman and medieval period.

During the 1st century AD the Roman fort of Lavatris was constructed on the course of the Stainmore Pass, equidistant between the forts at Greta Bridge and Brough. The fort remained occupied into the 4th century AD when it was finally abandoned but the later medieval village of Bowes grew up on and around the former site. The housing development was located 50m to the east of the outer defences of the fort, in what would have been the heart of the vicus, a civilian settlement associated with the military centre.

Investigations revealed significant remains of the Roman settlement, paralleling the period of occupation of the adjacent fort. The earliest 1st century phase of settlement included a series of ditches, which may have defined the northern edge of an east to west aligned trackway, together with a number of pits. Following this primary phase of occupation, a substantial cobbled road was constructed, overlaying the earlier ditches. This may have been the main road from the eastern gate of the fort. The remains of at least two stone buildings were investigated flanking the road to both the north and south; both of which retained parts of their internal floors - one metalled and the other flagged. One of the buildings was located at the point where the main east to west road appeared to meet a second road running south.

Over time, the east to west road was re-surfaced and a substantial curb was constructed along its northern edge, part of which formed a covered drain against the wall of one of the earlier buildings. Towards the end of the Roman period the buildings fell out of use and the walls were robbed of their facing stones. One of the structures was found sealed below a demolition deposit that comprised stones from the core of the walls mixed with sherds of 4th century AD pottery.

The finds assemblage from the site included large quantities of pottery, including many high status wares and two vessel sherds bearing graffiti. Fragments of vessel glass, a small number of coins and items of personal adornment - including a fragment of glass bangle and a brooch - were also found. Iron hobnails from the soldiers' boots were recovered from the road surfaces, evidence of a well trodden thoroughfare.

The excavation also identified material associated with the re-occupation of the site in the medieval period. The current village of Bowes grew up alongside the 12th century castle, which was constructed within the earthworks of the earlier Roman fort. The village was laid out on either side of a central green, now named The Street, with a back lane to the rear of the southern properties. The housing development was located on the south side of The Street within a toft and croft plot, characteristic of the village's medieval layout.

Evidence from the medieval period comprised the backfilling of a well, which may have been Roman and a number of pits. It was difficult to gain an understanding of the function and spatial arrangement of these pits due to the limited area of investigation but it seems likely that some may have been post-pits associated with a timber built structure facing onto the medieval street frontage, and some were simply rubbish pits. Glazed pottery - including some 13th century wares - an iron hoop from a cask or barrel and a copper alloy strap end, were all recovered from the excavation.