Maryport

 

Beyond Birdoswald, Hadrian’s Wall rather peters out as far as the modern visitor is concerned. It continued mostly as a turf wall across the farmland of modern Cumberland until it comes to Carlisle.  Here there was a major fort lying to the north of Carlisle across the river at Stanwix, which has been partially explored. At Carlisle itself there was a major Roman settlement, indeed it may have been the formal Roman town of Luguvalium where a lot of work has been done recently both along the Lanes, which have been redeveloped as a modern shopping centre and in the forecourt of the great castle itself

The wall then continues for 5 further miles ending at Bowness-on-Solway. Here there is little to see but there is a tradition that when the pilgrims reach Bowness, they pilgrims take off their shoes and socks and walk down over the sands to paddle in the sea.

This however is not the end.  The Solway Firth is not all that wide and the intrepid barbarians could get on their boats and land on the coast.  The Romans therefore erected a line of defences along the Cumberland coast.  There was no wall but a number of mile castles which archaeologists have called mile fortlets to distinguish them from the mile castles on the wall, with two turrets between them.  The system was worked out largely by Richard Bellhouse, who was a veterinary surgeon whose job it was to inspect all the farms in the area.  And being an amateur archaeologist,  in inspecting the farms he discovered the Roman defensive system.

There is one major fort at Maryport. The fort itself has been preserved and the line of the defences are clear to see, but the fort has never been excavated.

To the north however there was an extensive civilian settlement, where there was a mystery.  In the 18th and 19th centuries,  numerous altars were dug up.  They were all to Jupiter  Optimus Maximus – the great Jupiter.  And it appears that a new altar had been erected every year and dedicated by the commandant of the fort, but was then abandoned.

Recently the pits in which they were discovered have been re-excavated and have been shown that they were not originally to contain the altars, but had been dug out in the late Roman period where they formed the base of a large timber building and the altars had been used simply as convenient packing stones.

The altars however and other archaeological stones were collected by the Senhouse family, the local landowners and stored at their country house.  When this was burnt down, the stones were removed to a new museum at Maryport.  This was originally a Victorian Naval battery in a fine position overlooking the sea, but this has been transformed into the Senhouse Museum and is one of the finest collections of Roman carved stone in the North, but in a rather remote situation.  It is well worth visiting, as indeed is Maryport itself which was built as a new town in the 1750s and flourished at first as an iron making centre.  It then collapsed and is only now beginning to revive as an interesting town with a fine museum.

 

 

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