Chesters Roman Fort, Northumberland

Chesters Roman Fort is a classic example of a Hadrianic fort, purpose-built within the line of Hadrian's wall. It was originally conceived that the main garrison forts supporting the frontier would be situated a short distance to the south of the wall, but during the construction process this was changed in favour of forts, like Chesters Roman Fort, being constructed within the physical wall itself.

Chesters Roman Fort itself consisted of a rectangular stone outer wall with curved corners, surrounded by a deep outer ditch. At a point along each elevation there was a dual portalled (twin arched) entrance gate. The west, north and eastern gates would open out to the northern side of the wall, with the southern gate opening out to the more secure south side. Internally, Chesters Roman Fort followed a standard layout, about 25% of which is still visible to the visitor today. Roads would have entered the fort through the four gates and, at their intersection roughly in the centre of the fort, would have been found the main Headquarters building (sometimes known as the Principia). This would have been flanked by the commandant's house on one side, and probably two large granaries on the other. Immediately to the front and rear of these buildings would have been four blocks, usually containing stables and various workshops.

Situated behind these would be a pair of barrack blocks, totalling eight in number. Outside of the main fort complex would be the bath house. At Chesters Roman Fort the position of the Principia and the Commandants House can be seen in some detail, as well as the north eastern pair of barrack blocks and part of their associated workshops. Little else within the fort walls is currently visible although all four gates and some fragments of the outer wall have been excavated. The bath house, however, is quite substantial and is one of the more complete examples to be found.

Chesters real surprise though is the remains of a Roman stone bridge abutment. Excavations have shown that there have been two bridges on the site, the first being built cAD124 around the time of the original construction of the wall. This bridge was rebuilt on a much grander scale in the early part of the 3rd century, and it is these remains that the visitor sees today. Consisting of four stone arches supported by three river piers, the bridge had an overall length of some 189ft (57.5m). The large column that lies on the remains of the abutment is believed to be one of at least four that stood at intervals along the bridge. The Chesters Bridge abutment stands on the eastern side of the river and is open to the public, but not accessible directly from the main site.

Although not visible today, the area to the south-west and south-east of the fort would have been a thriving civilian community serving the needs of the garrison. Street layouts and the impressions of numerous houses can be clearly seen from aerial photographs, especially those taken in the drier summer months.


Chesters Roman Bridge
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