Research on Brough Castle

The site of Roman Brough has attracted much attention from historians over the last 150 years. The castle, despite being far more visible, has received comparatively little attention.

: Aerial view of Brough Castle, showing the outline of the Roman fort Verteris

Aerial view of Brough Castle, showing the outline of the Roman fort Verteris
© Skyscan Balloon Photography

Roman Brough

Ever since the antiquary William Camden identified the site as Roman Verteris in the 16th century,[1] local antiquaries have been aware of Brough’s ancient past, and Roman finds have been casually picked up there.

In 1866 Henry Ecroyd-Smith wrote a paper on the site, characterising it as ‘a neglected Roman station’.[2] He described the remarkable range of finds, emphasising the wealth of coins, ornaments, brooches and pewter or lead seals found in especially large numbers there.

The Roman finds have attracted much scholarly attention, most of it published in the Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society (TCWAAS).

       

Excavations

The Ministry of Works carried out limited excavations inside the keep in the 1920s. These uncovered the remains of a Roman building and established that the keep was founded on the site of an earlier tower, possibly dating from the first foundation of the castle, in about 1092–1100.

Excavations by Eric Birley in 1953 sank two small trenches, one on the western side of the site and another near its centre. The first trench was intended to locate the west gate of the fort, but no evidence of this was found. Instead, a large chalk rubble feature was found, probably representing the footings of the main fort wall.

Birley’s second trench found evidence of two stone buildings of apparently Roman date, one of which may have been the fort’s principia (headquarters).[3]

A second round of excavations in 1971–2, to the east, north-east and south-east of the fort, was carried out under the direction of MJ Jones of Manchester University in response to two road improvement schemes and a proposed new building for Brough Castle Farm. Jones’s team uncovered remains of a Romano-British cremation cemetery about 300 metres east of the castle. About 50 cremations were recorded, though many more were probably destroyed during road construction works.[4]

The archaeologists also excavated remains of a number of Roman-British buildings and – on the farm site, about 50 metres south-east of the fort – the bath-house. Closer to the fort they found evidence of Roman buildings of timber and wattle-and-daub from a number of phases, thought to form part of the civilian settlement.

In 1994–5 a programme of field-walking near the castle by the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society found three Roman coins and fragments of Roman and medieval pottery.

The remains of the forebuilding and the original entrance to the keep

The remains of the forebuilding and the original entrance to the keep

The Castle

Very little scholarly attention has been paid to the castle in comparison with the Roman archaeology. The one major 19th-century study was an article by GT Clark on the castles of Brougham and Brough.[5]

The Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (RCHME) volume on Westmorland gives a summary description (1936), which has served as the basis of subsequent accounts.[6] The RCHME carried out a further archaeological survey of the castle and fort in 1996.[7]

In the 1990s English Heritage commissioned detailed historical research and survey work on Brougham Castle. Henry Summerson’s documentary research reconstructed the later history of Brougham for the first time and demonstrated clearly how these sources could shed similar light on the history of Brough.[8]

         

The Clifford Family

The Clifford family have long been an object of interest to historians. Hugh, 13th Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, published a general history of the family in 1987.[9]

Lady Anne Clifford has exerted a particular fascination for historians. There are modern biographies of her by Martin Holmes and RT Spence[10] and her diaries have been published.[11] More recently research has been carried out on Lady Anne’s artistic patronage.[12]

Areas for Future Research

Roman Brough

The southern two-thirds of the fort has not seen significant development since the Middle Ages. Major questions relating to the layout and buildings of the Roman fort and the adjacent civilian settlement could be addressed through geophysical survey and selective excavation.

The finds offer potential for further investigation, in particular the nationally significant groups of lead seals and bronze brooches, which were last studied in detail by IA Richmond.[13] Extensive assemblages of pottery have also been found at Brough, ranging in date from the 1st to the late 4th century AD. This suggests that the fort remained in use until late in the history of Roman Britain.

Furthermore, Verteris is named in two late documents, the Ravenna Cosmographia and the Notitia Dignitatum, implying that that the fort was still occupied into the early 5th century and perhaps right up to the point where Roman forces were withdrawn from Britain.

If this is the case, the fort has an even greater potential for future research to inform us about the end of the Roman occupation of Britain.

        

The Castle

The castle has never been the subject of significant archaeological study, apart from a limited investigation within the keep in the 1920s. Archaeological survey has the potential to shed further light on the dating of the curtain walls, and on the dating and development of the hall range.

Earlier medieval layers and features may survive beneath the cobbles of the courtyard.

The Public Record Office files, from the Ministry of Works’ assumption of responsibility for the castle in 1920, will also shed light on its condition at this time, and on the subsequent repairs and investigative work.

               

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Footnotes    

1. W Camden, Britannia (London, 1586; trans. and rev. by E Gibson, London, 1722), vol 2, 990.
2. H Ecroyd Smith, ‘Some interesting features of a neglected Roman station, Brough-under-Stainmoor’, Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, new series, 6 (1866), 137–52.
3. E Birley, ‘Excavations at Brough-under-Stainmore’, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, new series, 55 (1956), 319–20.
4. M Jones et al, ‘Archaeological work at Brough under Stainmore 1971–2, Part 1’, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, new series, 77 (1977), 17–47, and ‘Archaeological work at Brough under Stainmore 1971–2, Part 2’, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, new series, 89 (1986), 141–80.
5. GT Clark, ‘The castles of Brougham and Brough’, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, old series, 6 (1882), 15–37.
6. RCHME, Westmorland (London, 1936).
7. RCHME, ‘The castle and Roman fort at Brough, Cumbria’, Archaeological Survey Report (Swindon, 1996).
8. HRT Summerson, M Trueman and S Harrison, Brougham Castle, Cumbria: A Survey and Documentary History, Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society Research Series 8 (Kendal, 1998).
9. H Clifford, The House of Clifford (Andover, 1987).
10. M Holmes, Proud Northern Lady: Lady Anne Clifford 1590–1676 (Andover, 1975); RT Spence, Lady Anne Clifford (Stroud, 1997).
11. DJH Clifford (ed), The Diaries of Lady Anne Clifford (Stroud, 1990).
12. K Hearn and L Hulse (eds), Lady Anne Clifford: Culture, Patronage and Gender in 17th-century Britain, Yorkshire Archaeological Society Occasional Paper 7 (Leeds, 2009).
13. IA Richmond, ‘Roman leaden sealings from Brough-under-Stainmore’, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, new series, 36 (1936), 104–25.

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