NGRef: SO835195
OSMap: LR89
Type:

Roads
None identified

The Kingsholm Vexillation Fortress

N.G.Ref Dimensions Area
SO835195 unknown c.50 acres
(c.20 ha)

The first Roman military presence in the area of Gloucester was a vexillation-sized campaign fort at Kingsholm on the flood-plain of the Sabrina Fluvius (River Severn), about four hundred metres to the north-north-east of the later legionary fortress. The same site was later selected to house the Saxon royal palace, the original "Kynge's Holme", which was itself succeeded by the early-medieval Kingsholm Manor and then by the post-medieval Kingsholm Close. Excavations on this site in 1972 and 1974 established a foundation date of c.50AD, which coincides with the establishment of the colonia at Camulodunum (Colchester, Essex). For this reason therefore, the site at Kingsholm has been identified as a Claudian fortress of Legio XX Valeria, which was removed from its old base in Essex, leaving behind a colony of veteran soldiers.

Among the various military finds recovered from the site, those which have aroused the most interest are a bronze cheek-piece from a legionary helmet and three horse-harness pendants of a design usually indicative of an auxiliary cavalry unit. From these remains it is evident that both legionary and auxiliary troops were stationed here, so the encampment would be more properly classified as a campaign or 'vexillation' fortress, almost certainly established during the campaigns of governor Publius Ostorius Scapula against the British warlord Caratacus in 50AD. The fortress remained in service until the governorship of Marcus Trebellius Maximus sometime between ad64-66 when the Twentieth Legion were relocated into the existing legionary fortress at Viroconium (Wroxeter, Shropshire) in the Midlands and Legio II Augusta was moved from their old fortress at Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter, Devon) on the South Coast into a brand-new legionary fortress at Glevum a few hundred yards south of the - now defunct - Kingsholm fortress, which was probably demolished when the legionary move was completed, the area being later re-used as a major road-side cemetery of the Roman Colonia (see below).

Gathering Evidence for the Fortress

Evidence for a Roman military establishment in the Kingsholm area of Gloucester first came to light in 1938 when the sleeper-beams of rectangular 'military style' buildings were uncovered during the construction of air-raid shelters at Kingsholm Recreation Ground (SO836192). Excavations conducted by H. Hurst in 1972 at Kingsholm Close (SO834196) revealed two separate Roman occupation layers beneath the remains of the Saxon royal palace. The remains in the lower Roman layer were identified as a typical military barrack-block which yielded no specific dating evidence, however, the upper layer proved to be a Roman cemetery (vide infra), the establishment of which could be positively dated by finds of pottery and glass to the pre-Flavian period This proved that the underlying military remains must date before the establishment of the legionary fortress underlying Gloucester City Centre itself. Subsequent excavations throughout the Kingsholm area have helped to establish the true nature and extent of the Roman encampment.

Although the full ground-plan of the Kingsholm vexillation fortress has not been recorded, evidence of its remains are scattered over an area of around 50 acres (c.20.2 ha) to the west of the Kingsholm Road. Roman military buildings have been found at locations separated by distances of at least 250 metres (c.820 feet) within an area delimited by Agriculture House on Sandhurst Lane to the north and by the residences along Edwy Parade to the south.

The Roadside Cemetery of the Colonia

Excavation in 1964 by Gloucester City Museum and Art Gallery at 64-66 Kingsholm Road recorded a Roman grave pit lying beneath post-medieval buildings and in 1978 further pits and inhumations were discovered cutting through earlier Roman buildings during excavations at 74 & 76 Kingsholm Road; archaeologists also confirmed that the Roman road was resurfaced during the Medieval period. Subsequent Watching Briefs conducted by GCMAG and Gloucester City Archaeology Unit (later Gloucester Archaeology) have revealed further evidence of an extensive Roman civil cemetery lying along both sides of the Roman road to Vertis (Worcester, Worcestershire), many of those to the west of the road overlying earlier military buildings and metalled areas within the fortress itself.

Ending on a sour note, the unsupervised machining of foundation trenches for a rear extension at 86 Kingsholm Road in 2000 destroyed evidence of Roman metalled surfaces and inhumation burials which were subsequently scattered over the rear garden of the property. [In my personal opinion, this is mindless vandalism of our ancient historical and cultural heritage - pure and simple! An act which should have resulted in someone being prosecuted and/or suitably chastised. Togodumnus]

References and Links

http://pastscape.english-heritage.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=115281
Link to maps of the area from: StreetMap Old-Maps MultiMap