NGRef: SO8688
OSMap: LR139
Type: Fort, Camp
 alt=

Neronian/Flavian Auxiliary Fort and Annexe at Greensforge, Staffordshire. (Frere Britannia pl.14a). The north-eastern defences of Marching Camps 1 and 2 can be seen at left, centre.
Roads
S (16) to Droitwich (Droitwich Spa, Hereford & Worcester)
N (13) to Pennocrvcivm (Water Eaton, South Staffordshire)
Possible road: NNW (16) to Uxacona (Redhill, Shropshire)
Probable tactical road: NW (22) to Viroconivm
Possible tactical road: ESE (12) to Metchley (Metchley, Birmingham)

The Greensforge Site

"KINGSWINFORD. - There is said to be a Roman camp, on the level ground called Ashwood Heath, near Greensforge, in the parish of Kingswinford. It is square, easily to be traced, and lies on the south-east side of the road. It measures 206 yds. in length and 160 yds. in width, containing an area of 6¾ acres, and is surrounded by a single ditch [O.S. Staffordshire, 25 in., lxx, 4]. It used to be known as 'Wolverhampton Church Yard.' The road crosses it, and the western side is the most perfect. Coins have been found in the locality. The camp at Chesterton in Shropshire, on the same road, is said to resemble it very closely [Ante, 'Ancient Earthworks' ; Camden, Brit. (add. by Gough), ii, 380 ; Plot, Nat. Hist. Staffs. 406 ; Erdeswick, Survey of Staffs. 374 ; Cox, Mag. Brit. v, 35, 46 ; Stebbing Shaw, Hist. Staffs. ii, 233 ; Pitt, Hist. Staffs. i, 5, 193]." (V.C.H. Staffordshire)

A Little Local History

Mr. Green's forge was one of the four original forges used by Dud Dudley in 1621 to produce his cast-iron products. The old forge was later converted into a large corn-mill and eventually demolished in the 1890's. In 1772 the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal was cut through the area paralleling the course of the Smestow Brook on the east. There has been a hostelry located at Greensforge dating from before the cutting of the canal. The site of the original tavern was in the car-park opposite the modern 'Navigation Inn', which current building dates from 1985 and is owned by Greenall's Breweries.

The Navigation Inn, Greensforge The Old Bush Inn, Hinksford The Old Bush, Swindon The Greyhound, Swindon GREENSFORGE A (Claudian Fort) GREENSFORGE B (Neronian/Flavian Fort) Greensforge 1 (Marching Camp) Greensforge 2 (Marching Camp) Greensforge 3 (Marching Camp) Greensforge 4 (Marching Camp) Greensforge 5 (Marching Camp) Swindon (Marching Camp)

Roman Military Complex

The Roman military complex at Greensforge consists of two forts and five marching camps, mostly situated on a southward projecting tongue of land lying between the narrow and marshy valley of the Smestow Brook to the west, and the broad valley of the Dawley Brook to the south-east. The topography here provides excellent defensive positioning against an enemy threat from the west. A couple of the marching camps lie anomalously on the western bank of the Smestow Brook, and seem therefore, to have been built to defend against an attack from the east; possibly during the Revolt of Queen Boudica of the Iceni in 60/61AD.

An Important Roman Road Junction

Aside from the roads mentioned above, there is also evidence to suggest that an ancient east-west trackway, known as the Hen Ffordd or the Old Road, linked the Greensforge complex with Forden Gaer in Wales. The eastward extension of this road communicated with Metchley.

The Smestow Brook

It must be noted that the Smestow Brook should now be called the Smestow River. The brook was dredged in the early 1990's to reduce the annual problem of flooding, and spoil placed on the west bank. The dredging increased the depth of the stream to about four feet, which resulted in the Smestow being officially upgraded from a mere brook to a noteworthy river. However, as most of the available maps and all of the available literature refer to the Smestow Brook, it shall be so called within these pages.

The Roman Military Complex

The Auxiliary Forts

Greensforge A - Claudian

N.G.REF DIMENSIONS AREA
SO862883 c.460 x 425 ft
(c.140 x 130 m)
c.4½ acres
(c.1.8 ha)

Greensforge Fort A measures approximately 460 by 425 ft (c.140 x 130 m) covering an area of about 4½ acres (c.1.8 ha). It was the first of the two forts to be built on the east bank of the Smestow near the confluence with the Dawley, and lies at the extreme southern end of the low ridge between the two streams, immediately south of the modern road junction. The fort utilized the steep bank of the Smestow to delineate and augment its western defences, while the minor stream gave extra protection to the southern and south-eastern circuit. An outlying defensive system was later added to the north and north-east, stretching across the full width of the tongue from the Smestow to the Dawley, and affording further protection to attack from this quarter. The eastern defences of the fort are now delineated and partially destroyed by the line of the Greensforge to Ashford road, the original destruction of the fort's defences was probably carried out by the Roman military, during construction of the Roman road to Droitwich.

Greensforge B - Neronian/Flavian

N.G.REF DIMENSIONS AREA
SO 8633 8865 c.550 x 450 ft
(c.168 x 137 m)
c.5¾ acres
(c.2.3 ha)

The dimensions of Greensforge Fort B were 450 ft NE/SW by 550 ft NW/SE (137 x 168 m) and covering an area of almost 5¾ acres (c.2.3 ha). It was the second and more substantial fort in the complex, has been partially excavated, and dated to the Neronian/Flavian era c.60-ADAD80. Excavations in the south-east corner of Fort B in 1929 revealed traces of a turf rampart, composed of a double row of turf filled with sand and gravel. Burnt wattle and daub was found in the interior, indicating the existence of timber buildings. Quantities of Claudian Samian ware were found, also a penannular brooch and fibula. Aerial photographs show at least two ditches, and more than one period of occupation. The main fort has a broad turf rampart with 2 ditches and traces of 3 gates. On the S and SE sides an annexe bounded by a single ditch, and several lengths of ditch are visible. c.1860 Numerous fragments of pottery and a coin of Vespasian were found, and in the eighteenth century, a large brass of Nero, now lost. Amateur metal detecting conducted in the 1980's unearthed several coins and a fibula brooch, which have been deposited at Kidderminster Museum (JRS 1953 pp.84/5).

The Marching Camps

The area fairly swarms with Roman marching camps. There are two camps to the west and three to the east of the Smestow crossing at Greensforge itself, and another large camp lies just over a mile (two kilometres) to the north-west at Swindon (SO8590). There is also a small camp about eight miles away to the west at Quatt (SO7388), on the east bank of the River Severn in Shropshire.

Click Here for details of the Greensforge marching camps.

Tentative Building Sequence at Greensforge

  1. c.45AD Marching Camp 1 was the first to be established, as this appears to underlie Marching Camp 2, the outworks of the Claudian fort and the annexe of the Neronian/Flavian fort.
  2. c.46AD Marching Camp 3 may date to this period. There are traces of a double defensive ditch on the north-eastern circuit; this may have been a Claudian marching camp built to house a vexillation of the Fourteenth Legion during its march on the Wrekin in the winter of 46/47AD. The maximum size suggested by the meagre crop marks and local topography is large enough to house about a quarter of a legion; at a pinch, maybe three cohorts or 1440 men.
  3. c.47AD Auxiliary Fort 'A' has been positively dated as Claudian, and was probably established during the early campaigns of Ostorius Scapula, following the capitulation of the Cornovii in Shropshire.
  4. c.48AD - 55AD Marching Camp 2 was built just outside the northern defences of the Claudian fort, prior to the construction of the fort's northern outworks.
  5. c.50AD - 51AD Alternative date for the construction of Marching Camp 3. Built in response to the activities of Caratacus in mid-Wales.
  6. c.50AD - 60AD The outlying northern defences of the Claudian fort were added.
  7. c.60/61AD The Revolt of the Iceni under Queen Boudicca in East Anglia presents the scenario for a lot of activity at Greensforge:
    1. The Claudian fort was hastily dismantled and the area levelled, the garrison withdrawing to the relative safety of the opposite bank of the Smestow.
    2. Marching Camp 4 was built to house the displaced troops from the fort.
    3. Marching Camp 5 was built - possibly within days of Camp 4 - by a large force withdrawn from mid-Wales. Both of these camps lie on the west bank of the Smestow Brook, evidently to guard against attack from the east; Camp 5 is the larger of the two, housing around three thousand troops, and appears to be oriented directly towards the crossing of the Smestow.
    4. The marching camp at Swindon is sited on a scarp above the western bank of the Smestow Brook, and could also be assigned this construction date on similar grounds, perhaps built by a large force withdrawn from Viroconium.
  8. c.60AD - 80AD Auxiliary Fort 'B' has been positively dated to the Neronian/Flavian period and may have been built in the direct aftermath of the Boudiccan Revolt; such an important river-crossing could hardly have been left un-guarded after the demolition of the original fort.

Fancy a day out at Greensforge?

Congratulations! You're as sad as me.

Getting There

By bus from Wolverhampton or Dudley

For those on foot like myself, the numbers 256, 260 and 261 buses operating between Wolverhampton and Dudley have authorised stops near the Old Bush Inn at Hinksford, and near the cross-roads at the opposite end of the "Mile Flat" in Wall Heath. The lack of footpaths along the "Mile Flat" makes the walk along the canal from Hinksford the better option if you dislike traffic or have children with you, however, excellent views of the northern defences of Fort B are available when walking to Greensforge along this road.

For Those on Foot

There is a pleasant walk of about a mile (1.6km) along the canal towpath beside the Smestow Brook, between Hinksford and Greensforge:

  1. Starting from the car park of 'Old Bush Inn' at Hinksford, follow the road past the Water Works to Hinksford Park residential mobile homes.
  2. Turn left before the entrance to the caravan park onto the canal towpath.
  3. Follow the towpath to the edge of the park.
  4. From here if you wish, bear right down the embankment to the banks of the Smestow Brook and continue downstream, re-joining the canal towpath after a few hundred yards.
  5. Follow the towpath to the canalboat moorings and lock at Greensforge Wharf.
  6. When about two hundred yards short of the Greensforge canal lock next to the Navigation Inn, you will be passing beneath the ramparts of the Neronian/Flavian fort (Greensforge B) on your left.
  7. Cross the road bridge over the canal and continue up to the road junction beyond the Navigation Inn.
    • The road to the left, called the "Mile Flat", cuts through the centre of Greensforge Fort B (Neronian/Flavian), roughly using the north and south gateways.
    • The road on the right at the junction, "Ashford Lower Lane", is built across the north-eastern defences of the Claudian fort (Greensforge A), of which nothing much can be seen from the road.

By Car

If you do not have a map of the area, follow these simple instructions and try not to get lost:

Both of these routes should bring you out on the "Mile Flat" road, approaching the site from the north. Watch out for the ramparts of the later fort in the fields to the right of the road.

By Helicopter or Light Aircraft

Just slap your bird down in the potato empty fields to the north of Greensforge (Grid Ref.: SO864895; 52° 30.2' N, 2° 12.0' W; c.65m above OD). I'm sure that the owner of Whitmore Supreme Potatoes would be absolutely delighted to have you drop by (vide supra).

Be careful of those overhead power-lines guys!

What's to See ?

If you thrill to the hustle and bustle of a busy high street, love window-shopping or the study of urban architecture, then you've chosen the wrong place. Greensforge consists merely of a few choice residences, a small public house, a canal lock, and loads of fields filled with either potatoes or horses. For those of you who crave wholesome country air, mingled with the sharp tang of fresh cowpat, there are superb walks to be had along the many country lanes of the neighbourhood, or along the towpath beside the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. The local pub, The Navigation Inn, makes a superb base for exploration of the area (vide infra).

The land between the "Mile Flat" and the canal, on which lies the western half of the Neronian/Flavian fort and the majority of Marching Camp 3, is currently owned by Whitmore Supreme Potatoes. The proprietor was quite opposed to me drawing any attention to his land and refused permission for me to walk in the field, even though it had not been sown with this years crop, having only a 'grass lay' in it. The fort ramparts have already suffered from the plough, but the sharp contour of the land as it slopes towards the Smestow Brook strikingly delineates the western rampart, and the complete circuit of the western defences can be tantalizingly glimpsed over the electric fence which separates this monument from public view.

-Advice for W.S.P.: Caput tuum in ano est, expurgiscere et coffeam olface. 1

On the other side of the "Flat Mile" the eastern half of Fort B is easily visible from the road. This field, and the others to either side of the Ashford road wherein lie Marching Camps 1 and 2 and the Claudian fort, are privately owned by Greensforge Stables and given over to the grazing of horses. The owners are under agreement with the National Trust to keep this land free from the plough. I am much indebted to the lovely Mrs. Anne Standish of Greensforge Stables, who willingly and graciously allowed me to walk in all of her fields and to take photographs (vide infra). The lower field housing Fort A is currently (January 2000) being grazed by eighteen horses.

Sincere thanks to Mrs. Standish. Esto perpetua! 2

Most of the land to the west of the Smestow Brook is owned by 'Enville Estates'. I aim to speak to these people in the near future to secure permission to field-walk in Marching Camps 4 and 5.

Greensforge Visit - 12 Jan 2000

These photo's were taken with the kind permission of Mrs Standish, the owner of Greensforge Stables, and the land to the east of the "Mile Flat" road on which the majority of the Roman military complex stands.


Fort A. (Claudian) View north along the western rampart, with the Smestow Brook on the left of the picture. The Roman legionary engineers took advantage of the steep slope above the river to augment the western defences of this, the earliest fort on the site.

Fort B. (Neronian/Flavian) View from the south-east corner angle towards the north gateway. The eastern rampart runs from the left foreground to the north-eastern angle at middle right, and the northern rampart can be seen clearly, running towards the Roman gateway in the centre of the photograph.

I was unable to take any photographs in the fields to the west of the "Mile Flat", owned by Whitmore Supreme Potatoes Ltd., as the owner did not want me 'drawing any attention to the site.' Sic!

Hostelries in the Greensforge & Swindon Area

The Navigation Inn, Greensforge [-rating 9/10.]
Proprietors: Greenall's; Landlords Joyce & Steve.
Opening Times: Every fore-noon and evening.
Telephone: (?) 273 721
Beer: Bass and Tetley bitter, Bank's mild, Murphy's and the usual Lager rubbish.
Food: Standard fare, reasonably priced, served between 12:00-14:00 and evenings 18:00-20:00, Monday to Saturday.
Comments: No accomodation. Real wood fires and Central heating (very cosy during my visits in January). Friendly and accomodating staff. This pub lies beneath the south-western corner-angle of the Neronian/Flavian fort, and is the very hub of activity in modern Greensforge, which consists of a handful of houses and a canal lock. The pub thrives not only because of it's excellent, picturesque location, good beer and decent scoff, but also because of the congeniality of the staff. A really nice place. I gotta go there again soon.
Visit the Navigation's official WebPage at www.MidlandsPubs.co.uk
The Old Bush Inn, Swindon Road, Hinksford [-rating 4/10.]
Beer: Greenall's
Food: Served between 12:00-14:00 and 19:00-22:00.
Comments: Very 'local'; an education. Handy for the bus if on foot.
The Old Bush, Swindon [Unvisited as yet.]
Beer: Hanson's
Comments: Situated at the crossroads in Swindon, on the opposite (eastern) side of the road from the Old Bush Inn at Hinksford.
The Greyhound, Swindon [Unrated as yet.]
Beer: Banks's
Comments: On the opposite side of the road from the Bush Inn at Swindon. Buses stop directly outside. I've only ever visited the place once, and I only went in to, ahem! 'utilise the facilities', so to speak, but 9/10 for convenience.

Bibliography and References

See: Air Reconnaissance of Southern Britain by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. xliii (1953) pp.84/5;
Air Reconnaissance in Britain, 1958-1960 by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. li (1961) p.123;
Air Reconnaissance in Britain, 1961-1964 by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. lv (1965) p.84;
Victoria County History - Staffordshire Vol.I, p.190-1;

Greensforge Related Lynx

www.MidlandsPubs.co.uk - The Greensforge page from the online guide to public hostelries in the Heart of England. An Ace Place!
old-maps.co.uk - Look at the 19th century map of Greensforge in this Absolutely Fantastic WebSite!

Footnotes

1 Look it up for yourself. I certainly ain't gonna tell you.
2 'May she live forever'.