Solway Plain - past and present by the Holme St Cuthbert History Group

In 122 AD, the Emperor Hadrian visited Britain and ordered the construction of a wall from the mouth of the River Tyne, on the east coast of England, to the Solway Firth. The wall was completed to Bowness-on-Solway by 138 AD.

Map showing line of Hadrian's Wall and coastal forts

Hadrian also ordered the building of a chain of forts, milecastles and lookout towers, along the coast, from Bowness to St Bees Head, to provide defence against attack by sea. These were linked by a road rather than a wall. Two of the major forts were located at Beckfoot (Bibra) and Maryport (Alauna). These were occupied by the Romans until around 407 AD.

Lintel from Beckfoot Roman Fort Roman Cremation Urn found at Beckfoot
Some 'finds' from the Bibra Roman Fort at Beckfoot, now on display at the Senhouse Roman Museum in Maryport.

Above, a lintel which is thought to have been part of the fort and, right, an urn from the Cremation site.

The site of the fort at Beckfoot was excavated in 1879. Much Roman pottery was found outside the area of the fort itself. This suggests that a vicus, a civilian settlement, was located there and was probably occupied until the 5th century. There is also a cremation site, south of the fort.

Archeological excavations at Beckfoot

Further excavations, on the site of the Roman cemetery, were made during the summer of 2006 by a team from Lancaster University but few finds of any significance were made.

Swathey Hill Roman Fort from the air

The fort at Swathy Hill, south of Allonby, is the most easily seen of the line along the coast. The others were of a broadly similar layout

The fort at Maryport was situated on low cliffs, overlooking the Solway. The troops who manned the fort came from all corners of the Roman Empire. At different times there were Cohorts of about 1,000 men each from Spain, Croatia and Germany.

Many altars and other interesting artefacts have been found around the fort at Maryport.

These include (left) a Carving of a Wild Boar, the badge of the 20th Legion, (below left) an alter dedicated to Jupiter and (below right) a sculpture of a goddess, sometimes referred to as "The Pin-up Girl"

These are now displayed in the Senhouse Roman Museum which stands near to the site of the original fort.


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Senhouse Roman Museum

Tullie House Museum, Carlisle
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