Piercebridge Roman Fort & Bridge, County Durham

Piercebridge Roman Fort (pictured): The part-excavated remains of Piercebridge Roman Fort (Vinovium) lie to the north of the river and can be accessed via the modern bridge in the village. A large proportion of the substantial 11 acre fort now lies under later buildings, but a section of the eastern elevation is now preserved and on permanent public display. Built in the late 3rd century, cAD270, Piercebridge Roman Fort was the southernmost of four County Durham forts that were constructed along Roman Dere Street, which terminated at Hadrian's Wall. The other three forts to the north were Binchester, Lanchester, and Ebchester. Piercebridge Roman Fort appears to have followed the standard Roman plan, being rectangular in shape with towers at each corner. In the centre of each elevation of perimeter wall would have been a substantial gate through two of which Dere Street would have probably passed. Internally Piercebridge Roman Fort would have comprised of several barracks blocks, granaries, workshops, the headquarters building, and the commandant's house. The garrison bath house was usually situated outside of the main fort complex.

The visible remains consist of a length of the eastern wall, containing the robbed out remains of the eastern gate. In the now lawned area, between the wall and the original defensive outer ditch, can be seen several rectangular pits that were used as further defence. These would have been filled with large wooden stakes and covered with undergrowth, giving the impression of firm ground to any unsuspecting attacker. Immediately beyond the fort wall was a road or path, below which ran a drain that is still very well preserved today. Beyond this are the remains of a more substantial building, built on footings of river pebbles, believed to have been part of the fort commandant's house. To the north of the site, in the yard of an adjacent house, are the remains of his private bath house. Although there is no public access to these, they can be viewed by simply looking over the fence.

Piercebridge Roman Bridge: Piercebridge is a quaint and unassuming village that straddles the River Tees just north of Scotch Corner, in County Durham. Well 'off the beaten track' the site receives few visitors today, but its ancient stones hide a much more important history than most could imagine. Not only are the part-excavated remains of a substantial Roman Fort in evidence, but also fragments of a Roman Bridge, one of only two that survive in the country (the other being Chesters Bridge on Hadrian's Wall).

The site of Piercebridge Roman Bridge lies to the south of the river and can be accessed via a footpath near to the George Hotel. Although it is usually referred to as a 'bridge', there has been much debate over the interpretation of the remains here, and many sources believe that it could be a dam and spillway. Both theories are not without their problems, but one thing that is certain is that, whatever its purpose, the river was certainly being controlled in some manner at this particular point.

Initially confronted with a mass of tumbled stones it is quite difficult to understand how the structure may have looked. At the far edge of the site however, there is a section in a much better state of preservation. One of the piers and the southern abutment still survive to a good height, as well as an area of paving that was designed to prevent river erosion. Holes in the masonry where timber supports for the deck were once located can still be seen, as can the iron tie straps that, after nearly 2000 years, still hold together the close-fitting pavement blocks. The site is believed to have been the second river crossing in the area, and would have been of timber construction on stone piers.


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