NGRef: SX1061
OSMap: LR204
Type: Fortlet

Possible Road/Trackway: NW (5) to Nanstallon

The Roman Fortlet at Restormel

SX1061 c.200 x 230 ft
(c.60 x 70 m)
c.1 acre
(c.0.4 ha)

This Roman fortlet now exists only as a small, square earthwork situated upon a promontory overlooking the River Fowey near the village of Restormel in Cornwall. A recently performed magnetometric geophysical survey confirmed bivallate defensive ditches with a turf rampart enclosing an area measuring about 60 by 70 metres; features quite typical of a small Roman fort or fortlet. It is thought that the site represents a small Iron-Age hillfort which was re-used by the Romans orginally as a military defensive encampment, later possibly as a defended settlement. The finds recovered, which included sherds of dateable samian pottery, suggest a continuous occupation from the mid-first to the early-fourth centuries, a period spanning almost the entire Romano-British era.

The fortlet at Restormel is of similar design and orientation but smaller in size than the nearby small fort at Nanstallon, which lies only five miles to the north-west on the northern side of the ridge forming the 'central spine of Cornwall' at a site overlooking the River Camel. The Camel drains northwards into the Bristol Channel whereas the Fowey drains southwards into the English Channel and the only landward route into (and out of) the south-western tip of the Dumnonian Peninsula was an ancient trackway which ran along the length of the central upland ridge running between the two outposts. The two Roman military posts were thus strategically placed to enable policing both of the main east-west landward trade-route and also of the north-south traffic using the river system, probably imposing revenue taxes upon all merchandise passing through the area.

Small Fort or Fortlet - What's the Difference?

It is significant that when the areas of the military works at Nanstallon (i.e. 2¼, 0.9 ha) and Restormel (1 acre, 0.4 ha) are combined, the resultant area (i.e. 3¼ acres, 1.3 ha) is sufficient to have housed a single cohors quingenaria peditata, a cohort of auxiliary foot soldiers with a nominal 500 men; such units actually comprised six centuries of 80 troops each, a total of 360 men. Given their relative sizes it seems likely that Nanstallon housed perhaps two-thirds of the cohort (i.e. four centuries) while a smaller force of perhaps two centuries was housed at Restormel.

The superior size of the Nanstallon station makes it likely that the regimental standards were housed in a Principia building there and that all administrative tasks for the unit would have been undertaken in the offices surrounding these standards; on this basis this station should be classed as a Small Roman Fort. It is very unlikely that the smaller camp possessed any administrative buildings and on this basis it is better to refer to the military work at Restormel as a Roman Fortlet.

See: A Second Roman Fort is confirmed in Cornwall by Steve Hartgroves and John Smith (in DAS Newsletter 98, Autumn 2007);
Fowey Estuary Historic Audit by Catherine Parkes (Cornwall Archaeology Unit, 2000 p.10);
also: An Earthwork at Restormel by M. Irwin (in 'Cornish Archaeology 14', 1975);
The South West to AD 1000 by Malcolm Todd (London, 1987).

This page is dedicated to Martin Bodman who sent me information on this and another Cornish fort at Rainsbury