Britannia, by William Camden

Observations upon the Picts Wall, in a Journey made between Newcastle and Carlisle, in the Year 1708, on purpose to Survey it.

Stanwick. Big F FROM the foot of the Bank of Stanwick, a little Village (where the Wall crosses the Eden, and so runs directly West to Blatum Bulgium) it runs directly East through a pleasant level Country (curiously embellished with great plenty of Corn, Meadow, and Pasture-grounds) for eight miles together; in all which space the Wall is for the most part quite taken away for the building of the neighbouring houses; only, one observes where the Ridge of it has been, and also the Trench all the way before it on the North, as also some of their little Towers or mile-Castles on the South-side.

Hence, it runs up a pretty high Hill, which lies directly north of Naworth-Castle,Naworth-Castle. and so continues for about two miles, but still in inclosed grounds; in this space, all the middle part of the wall is still standing.

Hence, to the crossing of the Irthing,Irthing. for above three miles, it runs through a large Waste for the most part, where generally you see the whole breadth of the wall entire, i.e. eight foot, and five foot, and, in some places, about six foot high. Also, in several places you see a fair front of Ashlers for little spaces together, which is generally more visible on the North side than the South, by reason the front on this side is for the most part taken away for the building of the neighbouring houses, whereas on the North side there are nothing but great Wastes. Half a mile on this side the river Irthing, at a place called Burdissel,Burdissel. adjoyning to the Wall, is to be seen the foundation of a very large Castle about one hundred and forty yards square; the thickness of the Walls about four foot and a half, and a deep Vallum or Trench round it.AElia

Where the Wall crosses Irthing is a very high and deep Gill; and hard by, is Willoford,Willowford. where the Cohors prima Ælia Dacorum had their station. Hence, it runs through pretty high inclosed grounds, till it crosses the river Tippall at Thirlewall-Castle,Thirlwall-Castle. which is close by the North side of the wall, and is all standing, except part of the outside leaf of the top of the north side of it, which is fallen; the Structure is square, and has been curiously vaulted underneath, and the walls are about six foot thick; it has six little Turrets on the top; the West and East end has each of them two, and the South and North side each of them one, in the middle; the length of the Castle is about twenty yards, the breadth twelve, including the thickness of the Walls.

From the top of the Thirlewall-bank, to Seaven-Shale,Seavenshale. for eight or nine miles together, the Wall runs over the summits of steep, ragged, bare, and inaccessible rocks on the north-side, being built only at eight, six, five, four, and very often at scarce two yards distance from the very precipice. The highest part of the Wall that ever I saw standing any where betwixt Newcastle and Carlisle, is at about half a mile’s distance from CaervorranCaervorran. (which stands on Thirlewall-bank-head;) and there I observed it to be very nigh three yards high. The rest of it, to Seaven-Shale, is often quite taken away almost to the very foundation. In other places, it stands about a yard high or more; and here and there, for little spaces, one sees the front of Ashlers on the North side of it; most of the neighbouring places on the South side having been built out of the Stones dug out of the Wall. This is a very dismal Country, but more especially on the North side, being all wild Fells and Moors, full of Mosses and Loughes.

Caer-Vorran above-mentioned has been a Square Roman City, with a deep Vallum or Trench round it, one hundred and twenty yards one way, and one hundred and sixty or one hundred and seventy yards the other. Great Ruins of old House-steeds are very visible, with the tracks of the Streets; and without the South side Trench, are likewise several long streets, and foundations of houses.

At a place called the Chesters,Chesters. two miles East of Caer-Vorran, are the Ruins of another square City, much about the compass of the above-mentioned Caer-Vorran; where are likewise abundance of old House-steeds, and tracks of houses, to be discerned, as there are likewise on the South side Vallum of it.

At three miles distance from the Chesters, above, is a place called Little-Chesters,Little-chesters. to distinguish them from the other, but at a mile’s distance from the Wall, Southward, with a square Vallum round it, and full of rubbish of old houses: abundance of stones with Inscriptions have been found here; but as I was told, through the ignorance of the Country-people they have been all employed to mean uses.

But along the Wall, and about a mile west of Seaven-Shale, are the largest Ruins that I observed any where; the name of the place is House-steeds;House-steeds. and I believe is exactly in the midst of the Island betwixt the two Seas. The extent of this City, is, as they told me, and as I guessed also by my eye, almost seven hundred yards one way, and about four hundred from south to north the other. It lies all along the side of a pretty steep Hill; but that part of the City, where the Vallum or square Trench seems to have been, is not by far so large. Vast quantities of Roman Altars with Inscriptions have been here dug-up, as also abundance of Images of their Gods, several Coins, &c. Seven or eight Roman Altars are standing there now, being lately dug-up, three or four of which have their Inscriptions very plain and legible; one is dedicated to Hercules, another to Jupiter & Numinibus, others to other Deities, and all by the Cohors prima Tungrorum, which kept garrison here; so that consequently the name of this place must be Bremeturacum, for at that place this Cohort kept garrison. I saw there also a great number of Statues; as first, the Pedestal of one that had been erected to Mars, but there was nothing left but part of the Feet, and on one of the sides of the Pedestal it was inscribed Marti. This Pedestal might be two foot long and eighteen inches broad. A second Statue was very entire, all the parts of the body being cut in full proportion out of one entire stone: the face was young; it had wings upon the Shoulders, a sort of Covering like a Mantle upon the body, and the feet rested upon a large Globe, so that I took it for a Statue of Mercury, for there was no inscription. A third was also out of one entire stone, drawn at full length in the habit of a man, with a different Mantle from the former, and in the left hand had something resembling a staff, in some parts of it streight, but in other parts bending inwards and crooked. Whether this Statue was of Jupiter (for I saw no Inscription) holding a Thunderbolt in his hand, or what else, I must leave to others to determine. There were also three Statues all cut out of one stone, and in a sitting posture, but they wanted the heads and shoulders. The bodies, thighs, and legs which remain’d, were very bulky, so as they might be so many Statues of Bacchus by their size. Two or three others there were of men and women naked.

Nigh the place where all these and other rarities were found, there was also a Column above two yards in length, and two foot diameter, lying sunk in the ground at one end. The people of the place have a tradition of some great house or palace that was at this place. This is at the Southermost part of the East side of the City, in a bottom; three hundred yards West of which, upon a little eminence, are to be seen the foundations of a Chapel; and the Inhabitants do still call it the Chapel-steed. Chapel-steed. Here lie two Roman Altars; one whereof is a very fair one, inscribed to Jupiter & Numinibus, as above. They told me they had also a Statue drawn in the portraicture of a Priest, with a Sash or Girdle about him, but being at a little distance, I did not see it; probably it might be of one of their Priests or Flamins. It is very surprizing to see the vast rubbish of old buildings that yet remains here, with the tracks of the Streets, &c.

At Seaven-ShaleSeaven-Shale. on the north side of the Wall, the greatest part of a square Roman Castle is still to be seen, standing, and curiously vaulted underneath, as that at Thirle-wall is.

From Seaven-Shale to Carraw-Brough,Carraw-Brough. the Wall runs through a level and better Country for a mile and a half: At this place, is a square Roman City with a Vallum about it; the square one hundred and twenty yards every way. Here is much Rubbish, with many foundations of houses, and tracks of streets, to be seen.

From this place, for two miles and half, the Wall runs over pretty high ground to Chollerford;Chollerford. and in most of this space, the true Wall is to be seen standing, with a front of Ashler both inside and outside. It is in many places here, about two yards high, and the breadth eight foot, as Bede describes it: and here, the Country is more pleasant and fertile, as it is likewise on the other side of the Ford; being, after we come to Portgate, for the most part all inclosed and pleasant grounds, as far as Newcastle.

At this place hath been fixed the fort Gallana, and here we find the name of the two Chesters, the Great and Little. In the Great Chesters I could observe nothing; but in the Little Chesters which join upon North-Tine, I observed a large Fort one hundred and fifty or one hundred and sixty yards square, with a Vallum about it. In this there were several heaps of rubbish; but probably the place has been some large Castle, rather than any fortified City, inasmuch as the manner of the rubbish did not so much countenance the latter.

At Walwick-GrangeWalwick-Grange. hard by, I saw a very large and fine Statue of a naked man on horseback, brandishing a Sword in his hand; and under it was written, Masulius, or Masuliius victor vix. An. xxx. There was also a Statue of a woman, drawn down as low or lower than her breasts, and under it an Inscription, which I could not very well read; but however so much I read of it, as to find she was daughter of such a one, wife to another, lived so many years, &c.

From Choller-ford to Portgate,Portgate. which is about three miles and half distant, the true Wall it self in some places is to be seen standing, just as I described it on the other side of the North-Tine. At this Portgate, there seems to have been great ruins of old buildings, and there is a square old Tower still standing, now converted into a dwelling-house. From Portgate to Halton-Sheeles,Halton-Sheels. at a mile and half’s distance, there is nothing but the middle of the Wall to be observed.

From Halton-Sheeles, along the Moor for two miles East (till we come opposite to Waltown)Waltown. the breadth of the Wall (which is still eight foot) is very discernible, as is also for a little way, in some places, the Ashler-front thereof, namely, two, three, or four sets of Ashler above one another; for the stones above those courses, do very often seem rather to have been set up lately.

At this Waltown (which is supposed to be Bede’s Ad Murum) I conversed with a very intelligent man of ninety years of age, and something read in History; yet I do not find that they have the least tradition of its being a Royal Vill in the time of the Kings of Northumberland, or, of either King Peada’s, or Sigbert’s King of the East-Angles, being baptized there by Finan Bishop of Lindisfarne. But there is a place called Waltown, a mile East of Caer-Vorran, in the way to the Chesters above-mentioned, where is part of a square little Fort standing, and where they have a tradition of a certain King’s being baptized in a Well hard by, which they shewed me; but then it by no means agrees with the distance of twelve miles from the Sea, which Bede makes Ad Murum to be.

From this Waltown (which stands half a mile within the Wall) for eight miles together all the way to Newcastle, the Wall runs over the top of a great deal of very high ground, but all finely inclosed; and the Country on both sides yields a pleasing prospect, by the great plenty and variety of Corn, Meadow, and Pasture-grounds. For six miles of this space, the inner part of the Wall is generally discernible by its high ridge; the outer-leafs on both sides having long since probably been taken away: but, for the latter two miles, from the foot of Benwell Hills to Newcastle, it runs along the High-street to West-gate in Newcastle; and were it not for the Ditch on the north-side, which runs generally through the Inclosures, and may be traced exactly within little more than a quarter of a mile’s distance from Westgate, it could hardly be discovered.

At Old Winchester,Old Winchester. or Vindolana, seven miles west of Newcastle, are the ruinous walls of an oblong square Fort to be discerned: the walls seem to have been five foot or more in thickness, with a Trench or Vallum round about. This Fort stands at a quarter of a mile’s distance, on the north-side.

At Ruchester,Ruchester. within half a mile of Vindolana, but on the south-side of the Wall, are visible ruins of a very large square Roman Castle, with foundations of several houses in the middle of the Area: the square, as nigh as I can guess, may be about one hundred and fifty yards; and at the west part of the square are three or four plots of ground in the very Wall (which seems to have been five or six foot thick) for little Towers. This has also a Vallum round it, and joins close to the Wall.

The last great Fort that I observed, is upon the top of BenwellBenwell-hills. hills; square, and considerably larger than Rutchester, with a Vallum also round it: By the heaps of rubbish, it appears to have been some very large and considerable Castle, rather than a City; though in one place, something like a track of a Street, with foundations of houses on both sides, is pretty observable.

Besides all these greater Forts, and fortified Cities, above-mentioned; throughout all the extent I have been speaking of, are great numbers of little Forts or Castles, which the Inhabitants thereabouts generally call Mile-Castles,Mile-Castles. as built at every mile’s end; and so I believe they really were, for, at that distance, I have observed several. They are always either exact or oblong squares; but their size or largeness is pretty different: some I have observed thirty yards square, several of them twenty five or twenty six yards from South to North, and fifteen or sixteen from West to East, including the thickness of the walls, which is likewise often different; others of them again are twenty yards from North to South, and nine or ten yards from West to East, with the thickness of the Walls.

All this space, betwixt Newcastle and Carlisle, there liesDitch before the Wall. a deep and broad ditch before the Wall to the North, even upon the highest hills, excepting only the space afore-mentioned between Caervorran and Seaven-Shale; where the vast and horrid steepness of the Rocks to the North, is more than a sufficient security to it. This ditch I generally found to be twelve yards broad at least, and every where very visible, except in some little spaces in Cumberland nigh Carlisle, where it is almost level with the rest of the ground; but any where else, the least depth is one yard and half from the North bank of the ditch; in many places two, three and four yards; and in some it is five or six yards deep, hewn out of the solid Rock. The first six yards next the North bank of the ditch generally (in the soft and eaven grounds) go all level, to the same depth. The other six rise up gradually to the foundation of the Wall in form of a Counterscarp. But upon the Hills, or in rocky and stony ground, very often only two or three yards rise up next the Wall, so as to admit the Conveniency of a walk, next the north side of the Wall. For by the tradition of the Inhabitants thereabouts, there have been many gates fixed in the Wall, and so consequently there must have been a sort of Parade or Walk next the Wall.

Throughout all this length, the ground whereon the Wall runs, is admirably well chosen; for it is all along built uponWall built upon high Grounds. the highest ground, and sometimes makes little turnings on purpose to take it in, so as the Country on both sides generally falls lower from the Wall. And it is wonderful to observe the many great and towring mountains it runs up and down; in which respect the advantages it has are many and considerable, compared with the Mud and Earthen wall of Adrian and Severus. For that is generally carried along through bottoms and low grounds (as being more convenient for the digging of that stuff and matter whereof it was composed;) whereby it had this vast disadvantage, especially in Northumberland-wastes, that the Enemy by possessing the Hills which adjoin and over-top it, might thence easily annoy the Roman Garrisons on the South-side.

The Wall we have hitherto been speaking of, is, very little of it (contrary to what Bede hath intimated)Not built upon Severus’s Wall. built upon that of Severus. Indeed, for about four or five miles directly West from Stanwick nigh Carlisle, it seems to be built upon the same ground; but at that distance from Irthington-moor it takes a quite different rout, and the very parting of the Mud or Earthen wall from it I fairly traced. And, from that place, I question much whether ever it joined the Stone-wall again; if it did, it must be within four or five miles of Newcastle; but that it did so, I could not discover. This Mud or Earthen wall (for so all the people that live about them, call it) keeps a parallel course with the Stone-wall it self. In Cumberland, after the parting abovesaid, I observ’d it for about a mile and half to run to a quarter of a mile’s distance or more, but after that I saw no more of it till I came to Caer-Vorran; and thence, all along the Wastes, I observed it in the low bottoms at half a mile’s distance from the Stone-wall. But afterwards, for a great many miles together, it runs within one hundred and twenty or one hundred and thirty yards of the Stone-wall, and so, either at a lesser or greater distance, I continued to observe it till within four or five miles of Newcastle; and whether thereabouts, it came into the Stone-wall, I am wholly uncertain. This Mud-wall has every where a deep Trench before it to the North, but generally not above seven or eight yards broad.

All along the inside of the Wall, there seems a militaryCausway on the inside of the Wall. Stone-Causway to have run at twenty or thirty yards distance: betwixt Portgate and the Carraw one sees it pretty entire: in the Wastes, I saw little of it, and but one or two pieces of it nigh Irthing.

The Wall is generally called by all the Inhabitants that live nigh it, the PightPight-Wall. or Peaght-Wall, gutturally, and with an aspiration, scarce pronouncing the t.

The old man before-mentioned at Waltown or Ad Murum, told me that in the middle part of the Wall, and nigh the foundation, there was lately found a concavity of nine inches square, and in it some pieces of lead-pipe, as there had several times been before in the like places: And the tradition is current, through all the whole extent of the Wall, of a certain sort ofPipes or Tubes from Sea to Sea. Pipes or Tubes they had, whereby, as they tell you, in an hour’s time any momentous matter might be communicated from Sea to Sea.

As to Bede’s observation of theThickness of the Wall. thickness of the Wall (viz. eight foot) it seems generally to hold (for both on hills and in valleys, where it was any thing entire, or where the foundation could be observed, I found it of that thickness) except upon those steep and ragged hills in the Wastes, where it was little above five foot, or however not full six, thick.

As to the present condition of the Wall;Present condition of the Wall. by much the greater part of it has been carried off to build houses, and Stone-walls about Inclosures, which are very common in some parts of the Wall: As to what remains, and is not upon Wastes and Moors, it serves either as a hedge between Pasture and Corn, or Pasture and Meadow-ground, or else to distinguish possessions; so that in these inclosed grounds, where it has been too much taken away, so as not to be a sufficient fence against Beasts, one may observe it to be rough cast up by the Husbandmen themselves for great spaces together upon the old foundations. I observed a great number of houses, and sometimes whole Towns themselves, to stand at this time upon the very foundation of the Wall.

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 13:06