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Yorkshire Archaeological Reports - 6

Excavations at Bowes and Lease Rigg Roman Forts
by S.S. Frere and R.L. Fitts (2009)

YAR 1
The Roman fort at Bowes lay on the main road connecting York with Carlisle, and thence to one of the principal invasion-routes into Scotland; thus situated, it must have played an integral role in the military history of Roman Britain. At a height of c.290m (950 ft) above sea-level it guarded the eastern approach to the Stainmore Pass across the Pennines at National Grid Reference NY 993 134.

In the late fifties and sixties of the last century Brian Hartley had undertaken a series of excavations to throw light upon the ground-plans and histories of some of the Roman military sites of the northern Pennines in Yorkshire. After work at Bainbridge (1957-61) and Ilkley (1962) he turned his attention in 1966 to the fort at Bowes where he invited Sheppard Frere to join him on the direction of the work. Excavation with the aid of local volunteers and of students from Leeds and London Universities was carried out in that year and in 1967; subsequently at the request of the (then) Ministry of Public Buildings and Works a third season was undertaken in 1970 in the garden of the former vicarage in advance of levelling work to increase the size of the enclosure at the early medieval Castle Keep, a Guardianship Monument.

The purpose of the 1966-7 excavations was to examine the defences of the fort in order to determine its size and orientation, and to gain as much other information from the interior as proved possible, such as the date of foundation and subsequent constructional history. In 1966 work was also carried out in the Annexe and in the Vicus as well as part of the defences. In 1967 the southern defences and part of the praetorium (Commanderís House) were examined, nd in 1970 part of the principia (Headquarters Building) together with a small area of the Central Range to the north of it.

Roman interest in Yorkshire waned militarily after Hadrian, but renewed in the fourth century when, as a result of dangerous raids from the sea, a system of signal stations lined the coast either as a precaution for the troops deployed at York or Malton, or perhaps for local defence. Lease Rigg (NZ 815041) is part of Roman deployment into the Moors in its initial stages. The fort is situated in the north-eastern Moors overlooking the confluence of the Esk and the Murk Esk Rivers.

Each July in 1976, 1978-1980 Brian Hartley and R. Leon Fitts excavated the Roman fort at Lease Rigg at the bequest of Mike Griffiths, [then] County Archaeologist for North Yorkshire. Leeds University, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA, UA, and the Haverfield Bequest supported the project. Students from Leeds and Dickinson manned the trenches. Permission to excavate was granted by the Marquis of Normanby, his agent C.D. Shepherd, Norman Tindall who farmed the land and R. Panther the tenant of Bessie Garth Cottage. The writing of the final report was scheduled after the final summerís work but was never done, although yearly interim reports were filed and published in Britannia. The report was completed by R. Leon Fitts after the death of Brian Hartley using the notes, plans and finds stored in Brianís home in York.

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