Piercebridge Roman Fort and Bridge
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
The first bridge across the Tees here was wooden, built around 90 AD, but some time in the late 2nd century the wooden structure was washed away as the river changed course. Estimates of exactly when this happened range from 130-180 AD. Remains of bridge timbers have been discovered under the water.
A second bridge was constructed 200 yards downstream from the original bridge. The main bridge structure was again of timber, but this time the timber was supported by stone abutments and a series of five thick masonry piers. The builders also laid down a series of paving blocks in the river bed to prevent the river from damaging the piers. Over time the river continued to change course, moving gradually northward. The southernmost abutment silted up in the 4th century, so the Romans built a metalled causeway leading to the bridge, protected by a retaining wall of limestone blocks.
The name given to the Romans for the Piercebridge fort is not known; it may have been Morbium, or Magis. Interestingly, excavations of the fort suggest a date of around 270 AD, well after the contruction of the bridge and much later than remains found in the civilian settlement, the vicus. How could this be? Civilian settlements grew up around forts, not vice versa! This anomaly has led historians to suggest that there must be a much earlier Roman fort somewhere on the site, contemporary with the bridge. This would make much more sense, but as yet no trace of such an early fort has been found.
The vicus associated with the fort was quite large, covering at least 11 acres. Up to 30 buildings have been identified, but only small sections of the settlement have been exacavated. These excavations revealed two buildings, one of which contained an altar. Hypocausts (underfloor heating tubes) were found, as well as workshops with kilns and detritus from working bronze. Just outside the vicus a small 7th or 8th century silver coin known as a sceat was found.
NB. If you live in the UK you may remember Piercebridge from an episode of the popular TV series Time Team (series 17, episode 3).
Address: Piercebridge, County Durham, England, DL2 3SW
Attraction Type: Roman Site
Location: Off the B6275 4 miles west of Darlington. Open access site.
English Heritage - see also: English Heritage memberships (official website)
Photo Credit: Chris Heaton, licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence
Opening Details: Open access site, usually accessible at any reasonable time
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