Roman forts at Metchley


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Birmingham (Metropolitan Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SP 04243 83710, SP 04270 83633, SP 04405 83747, SP 04409 83813, SP 04415 83658

Reasons for Designation

Roman forts served as permanent bases for auxiliary units of the Roman Army. In outline they were straight sided rectangular enclosures with rounded corners, defined by a single rampart of turf, puddled clay or earth with one or more outer ditches. Some forts had separately defended, subsidiary enclosures or annexes, allowing additional storage space or for the accommodation of troops and convoys in transit. Although built and used throughout the Roman period, the majority of forts were constructed between the mid-first and mid-second centuries AD. Some were only used for short periods of time but others were occupied for extended periods on a more or less permanent basis. In the earlier forts, timber was used for gateways, towers and breastworks. From the beginning of the second century AD there was a gradual replacement of timber with stone. Roman forts are rare nationally and are extremely rare south of the Severn Trent line. As one of a small group of Roman military monuments, which are important in representing army strategy and therefore government policy, forts are of particular significance to our understanding of the period. All Roman forts with surviving archaeological potential are considered to be nationally important.

The Roman fort at Metchley survives well despite later developments. Excavations have demonstrated a high level of preservation of both structural, artefactual and environmental deposits relating to an almost continual occupation of the Roman site over some 150 years. In addition the excavations have demonstrated survival of archaeological evidence for its earliest phases providing the plan of an unusual, early Claudian fort. Evidence for several phases of internal building demonstrates changes in the composition of the garrison and the function of the fort, as well as providing information for non standard structures which will contain evidence on the less well understood aspects of Roman military development. Artefacts and pottery from the site demonstrate extensive use of both imported and locally sourced pottery, with little trade from elsewhere in Britain, the exception being quern stones from the site, which derived from deposits in Derbyshire, Staffordshire and the Pennines. Environmental deposits preserved within the ditches demonstrated an excellent level of survival and included the remains of seeds, pollen and insects which provide information on the environment in the Roman period. For example there is evidence for the early clearance of nearby woodland and its later regrowth during the last phase of Roman occupation. Large areas of similar undisturbed deposits are believed to survive over a wider area of the fort and these would provide further information relating to the use and development of the fort and to the activities of its occupants over a period which saw significant changes in Roman Britain.


The monument includes the known surviving extent of the buried and earthwork remains of Metchley Roman fort in Birmingham, which lies within five separate areas of protection. Located upon a gently sloping plateau of sands and gravels surrounded by boulder clay and oriented north west to south east, the fort dominated low lying ground upon three sides, with rising ground to the north west. The standing remains include the partially reconstructed north western corner of the first century fort's northern annexe defences. The remainder of the fort survives as buried features identified by a number of archaeological excavations. These confirmed the substantial survival of buried archaeological remains including a number of structures, with associated artefacts and environmental deposits.

Historic maps, the earliest dating from 1718, show the fort surviving as a series of earthworks until 1917. Excavations in 1934-6 by St Joseph and Shotton, in 1954 by Webster and again in the 1960s and 1990s identified four main phases of Roman activity. The earliest fort was constructed around AD 40 and was approximately 200 sq m, defended by double ditches and a turf revetted rampart. Excavation within the interior of the fort provided evidence for a pair of facing barrack blocks, part of a granary, a workshop and store. The garrison at this time is believed to have included about 1000 men. The second phase of Roman activity involved the addition of ditched annexes on the northern and eastern sides of the fort and the deliberate clearance of the earlier interior structures. This was immediately followed by the construction of temporary, irregularly shaped timber-framed buildings including a store, a stable or groom's quarters and some associated fenced compounds. It is believed that the garrison was substantially reduced and the fort acted as a stores depot during this period.

Following a period of abandonment, a smaller fort, enclosing approximately 2.6ha, was built within the site of the earlier, first and second phase defences, these were recut to provide extra protection. This small fort was defended by a ditch and turf rampart, which was later reconstructed in timber. Interior buildings associated with the smaller fort included a small granary and cookhouse. The fort was abandoned around AD 75. There is evidence of some later Roman activity continuing until approximately AD 120, including evidence for recutting of the earlier fort ditches and other military style ditches dug on different alignments. This latest phase of activity is believed to represent a more sporadic military occupation of the site, which may also have involved the layout of practice camps.

Excavations carried out between 1999 to 2001 have identified a `vicus' or civilian settlement, including timber-framed buildings, hearths, ovens and trackways, extending over an area measuring up to 1ha lying to the west of the fort. The vicus is not included in the scheduling.

All modern surfaces, benches, paths and street furniture are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Jones, A, 'Transactions 2001' in Roman Birmingham I Metchley Roman Forts, , Vol. 105, (2001), 135pp


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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