Visitors to the village of Piercebridge will find not one, but two Roman sites to enjoy – a Roman bridge and a Roman fort.
The first bridge to be built at Piercebridge was constructed to cross the River Tees at the point where the Roman road, Dere Street met the river. Built during the 1st Century AD, the location became particularly popular with merchants who wished to benefit from the trade links offered by both the river and road. Around 150 AD the wooden bridge was destroyed by flooding, thus the Roman army built a new, predominantly stone bridge further downstream, the remains of which are what can be seen today.
Later, during the 3rd century AD, a large fort was built to the south of the bridge to house auxiliary cavalry. Believed to be called Morbium by the Romans, the fort conformed to the traditional ‘playing card’ layout with a headquarters in the centre surrounded by the requisite barracks, workshops, granaries and hospital. All Roman forts were built to adhere to specifications outlined by specially trained surveyors and architects. Whilst no British forts can be attributed to any one surveyor or architect, unique evidence uncovered at Piercebridge has identified Attonius Quintianus as a military surveyor working in Britain’s northern territories at this time.
Following the withdrawal of Rome’s forces during the 5th century AD, the fort and bridge were initially used by the local populace. However, the bridge later became disused following the river’s change of course, whilst the fort’s use subsequently dwindled and in later years the current village of Piercebridge developed directly above what remained. Whilst much of the site is covered by the existing village, interesting remains are still visible, of note are the foundations of the vicus’ bathhouse and the fort’s drainage system. Furthermore, aspects of the fort’s defensive structures can be seen, such as the remains of the ‘V’ shaped ditch that circled the fort to ensure optimum use of the Roman javelin that was thrown from the walls during an attack.
Both the bridge (English Heritage) and fort (Darlington Borough Council) are open every day – entrance to each site is free. Free parking for both sites is available in the car park of the nearby George Hotel. Whilst neither site has its own refreshment facilities, Piercebridge has a selection of cafes and pubs, along with a village green perfect for picnics.
De la Bedoyere, G. (2013) Roman Britain: A New History, Thames & Hudson Ltd., London.
Britain Express (n.d) ‘Piercebridge Roman Fort and Bridge’, online https://britainexpress.com/counties/durham/roman/piercebridge.htm
Castlefortsbattles.co.uk (n.d.) ‘Piercebridge Roman Fort and the River Tees/Dere Street Roman Bridge’, online http://www.castlesfortsbattles.co.uk/north_east/piercebridge_roman_fort_roman_bridge.html
English Heritage (n.d.) ‘Piercebridge Roman Bridge’, online https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/piercebridge-roman-bridge/