Binchester Roman Fort, named Vinovia by the Romans, is located just over 1 mile outside of the town of Bishop Auckland. The fort is the largest in County Durham and dates from the 1st century AD, a time when Roman occupation was still a relatively new concept for Iron Age Britain. During this phase of expansion, Rome endeavoured to extend control over its new British territories by building forts, such as Binchester, and establishing a Roman presence in the North East.
The site for this important fort was chosen due to its proximity to the River Wear, whilst also being adjacent to Dere Street, a vital supply and communications route. Binchester’s location ensured the fort’s longevity, with a Roman presence there until as late as the early 5th Century AD.
Binchester was a sizeable fort and excavations have indicated that whilst initially built using wood, it was later rebuilt in stone and brick once the Romans felt secure in their surroundings. Excavations have also uncovered the remains of defensive structures, such as earthwork banks and a ballista (heavy missile launcher) platform, which suggest that the Romans were conscious of potential threats from the local population and so sought to prepare themselves accordingly.
Whilst Binchester was primarily built to house cavalry regiments from across the Empire, a thriving vicus (civilian settlement) also grew outside of the fort’s gates. A once brightly-painted bathhouse with seven-foot walls, along with an inscribed alter to the goddess Fortuna, are some of the site’s most significant finds. Of particular interest are the well-persevered remains of the bathhouse’s hypocaust (underfloor heating) system, which provide an opportunity to view the most intact system of its kind in Britain. A second bathhouse, located outside of the fort, affords visitors the opportunity to see a Roman bathhouse in an even better state of preservation, with walls still standing to a height of six feet above Roman floor level.
The site is in the care of Durham County Council and is open every day between 1st April to 31st October. There is an entrance fee (Adult £5, Child £3, Concessions £4) to enter the site, however during the summer regular events, including a Roman Festival weekend in July, are included in admission. A car park, shop, toilets and limited refreshment facilities are available on site, along with accessible parking and toilets which ensure the site is suitable for all visitors.
De la Bedoyere, G. (2013) Roman Britain: A New History, Thames & Hudson Ltd., London.
Britain Express (n.d) ‘Binchester Roman Fort’, online https://www.britainexpress.com/counties/durham/roman/binchester.htm
Durham County Council (n.d.) ‘Binchester Roman Fort’, online http://www.durham.gov.uk/binchester
The Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham and Northumberland (n.d.) ‘Excavations at Binchester Roman Fort’, online http://www.aasdn.org.uk/binchester.htm